Outlook Live Hotmail vs Gmail, which webmail is best?

With the official launch of Outlook from beta in early August 2012, already more than a million users has signed up for the new Microsoft Outlook webmail. Between the Outlook Live Hotmail vs Gmail, which one do you think is best? Granted Gmail user based has just recently overtook Microsoft webmail, so it was time for Microsoft to get back its webmail market share.

Outlook Mail Panels

Hotmail was one of the first free webmail offered back in the late 1990s before it was bought over by Microsoft. In the early days, the storage was really small and it was better to offload your emails to your own PC (and anti-spam was a premium product). Then along came Google’s Gmail offering about 1GB storage space which was unheard of during those days (and free anti-spam feature) and to get the account is by invitation only. It took me awhile to get hold of a Gmail account, and from then since, had been a long time user of Gmail.

Now that Microsoft is coming back with a rebranding of its Hotmail brand to Outlook with a brand new interface, how was my experience with it for the past few weeks? Well it was pretty good, though it still need improvement and added feature before it could beat Gmail. For one, it lacks IMAP, and that is major disadvantage. With so many portable device such as mobile phones and tablets as well as email clients such as Office Outlook and Windows Live Mail, it would be great if the read/unread messages were sync across all devices and email platform clients. And this is where Gmail shines (including Yahoo Mail too, which has IMAP even if you don’t have Yahoo Mail Plus).

The new Outlook webmail interface is really polished and clean, unlike Gmail, and it did not have advertising on the right bar. Instead the right bar provides additional information if you link your Outlook to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and especially the ever popular MSN Windows Live Messenger. In this respect, Outlook has a tighter social website integration compared with Google. As far as Google is going with social connection, they are promoting their Google + more so unlikely they will want to integrate tightly with their rivals such as Facebook and Twitter. Although it wouldn’t hurt to give that option to us Gmail users, eh? Outlook also has a reading pane that is similar with their offline counterpart and have it on the bottom or right side. You could switch it off if you prefer to just view the message list only.

Outlook Live Hotmail webmail interface

The new Outlook interface for Live Hotmail is quite an eye candy with changeable colourful option (useful for differentiating your Outlook accounts if you have more than one) although if it has further theme skinning like Gmail for further customization and individualizing would be interesting too. Reading and composing was a breeze and many of the features were similar so not much of a learning curve if you plan to switch over. Or you could go on a pilot program and still keep your Gmail account (including keeping your Gmail email address by using the “send out as…” feature.

Tight Contact Integration with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin

Microsoft knowing that they will be enticing many Gmail users, has come up with a nifty connection with Google contacts. You don’t have to import all your contacts, just connect your Outlook Live Hotmail account to your Gmail account and viola! All your contacts are now available in Outlook webmail. Although you can’t edit those contacts, you could add in details in Outlook or you could always pop back in to Google Contacts and edit from there and whatever changes you did, would be synchronized with Outlook Contacts. Really nifty.

As a further contact connection, you could also integrate your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn contacts too and it will automatically check for similar contacts and combine them into one link contact detail. In case the contact linking algorithm made a boo-boo, you could delink to separate the contact details (which actually happened to one of my contacts).

This contact integration reminds me of my Android mobile phone where the contacts of Google, Facebook and Twitter could be linked together to make into a single combine contact file. Hopefully Google will take heed about this and come up with something, eh? So far Gmail contacts still combining only with Google+ ? I think they could do better than that!

Document Attachment Viewing

Viewing attached documents especially native Microsoft Office documents is done best with Outlook Live Hotmail. After all, it is Microsoft own product! The rendering of Office documents online is far more better than Google Docs. I always get misaligned Excel files (and extra pages) and very basic Power Point slides viewing. With Microsoft webmail, their online office web app does a much better job at it. This point makes it really good for those who work with many office documents and could possibly use the Outlook webmail for their work too!

The only downside is there is no online viewing of Adobe PDF files, it will download instead to your PC. This is where Google’s Gmail has an advantage as many work files are attached as PDF files. If you prefer to view files online and keep in webmail rather than download it, Gmail has the advantage over Outlook as far as PDF files is concerned.

As for organizing your correspondence messages, Outlook has two ways to go about it, you could create folders or you could categorized it. Categorizing is similar to Gmail labeling. So if you have gotten used to Gmail labeling style you could use the Outlook category for compartmentalizing your messages.

Outlook Live Hotmail Storage Space

As for storage space for Outlook Live Hotmail, I could not find any help files mentioning the size, though in the promotion pages, it states that it will grow with your needs. I don’t know what that means!

Searching online, I found some forum post mentioned it was about 5GB but that was some two years ago. I believe that information is out of date. As of current, Gmail is offering 10+ GB of storage, Yahoo mail is unlimited, and I suppose based on that “will grow with your needs” possibly mean it is unlimited. So there is no need to do much housekeeping to keep your storage space within limits.

I guess with the downward storage cost per byte becoming cheaper year by year, rather than impose a limit, may as well just go with unlimited. Simple messaging size are rather small, except for the occasional large file attachment, unlikely you would use up that much storage space. Even for my Gmail account which I had for years, has only taken up about 20% or about 2GB of space.

If I want to trace back some old correspondence or important info, such accumulation of old messages can come in really handy (it was truly handy when I was having a dispute with some old affiliate payment, I could dig up my old correspondence and lay the matter to rest!)

No Lab Features

Having used Gmail for so many years, the Lab features do come in very handy! Lab features such as showing the number of unread emails on your browser tab, undo send in case you change your mind or need to do some amendments as well as other nifty little features makes using Gmail a rather good experience. Granted Microsoft cannot be a copy of Google, but they could come up with something similar!

Using Outlook while still keeping Gmail

Here’s how I went about it, switch on the POP3/Forwarding feature of Gmail. You could either let Outlook pull your emails via POP3 or let Gmail forward it into your Outlook account. You may want to set Gmail to mark the messages as read when the messages hop over to Outlook at the same time still keep it within Gmail in case you find Outlook is not to your taste or use it to maintain a backup copy of your mail messages.

If pulling messages via POP3, go back to Outlook Live and goto “more mail settings” and under Managing your account, goto “Sending/receiving email from other accounts” and set up to retrieve your Gmail message. You may want to set default “From” address as your Gmail email address so that you don’t have to inform people about your new email address and you could still receive your messages. And also in case you want to revert back to Gmail if Outlook is not quite up to your expectation.

Outlook webmail options

To set up Email clients to retrieve Outlook messages

If you are using Microsoft Office Outlook or Windows Live Mail, they could easily set up to retrieve your Outlook Live Hotmail messages. However they are not able to sync read messages. [update: I stand corrected, Windows Live Mail can sync! Great! But not Office Outlook, maybe the new one could do it, I’m still using the 2007 version.]

If you are using portable devices such as iPhone, Android phone and tablets, some of the email clients can retrieve your Outlook Live Hotmail messages using POP3 protocol or Microsoft Exchange Active Sync. And as usual, they can’t sync read/unread messages. This is where Gmail IMAP service has the biggest advantage.

iPhone has its own build in connection to Hotmail, so use that. While for Android phones/tablets, depending on your luck, the provided email app could be set up to retrieve your Outlook messages (not all will work, Hotmail has very strange mail protocols).

For Android, one good app I found is the Maildroid. You could search for it in Google Play Store (Market). As for manually setting the build in email app, I managed to set it in my HTC Cha Cha, but not in my Sony Ericsson X10 mini pro or Acer Iconia A501 Tab.

You could of course use the offical Android app for Hotmail created by Microsoft+Seven. However many users found it to be mediocre, when it works it was great, or it would lag or worse, force close! Anyway, after giving it a brief run, felt that it wasn’t great, so I tried other apps or attempt to read the messages using the build in email apps using the following settings. [update: I gave this Hotmail app another go, and found it to be able to sync mail messages. I set it to push. Not sure if that’s the reason why it sync. You just have to experiment!]

You could key in the mailbox settings manually as follows:

Windows Outlook Live Hotmail POP3 settings

POP (incoming) server: pop3.live.com
POP port: 995
POP SSL required: yes
POP user name: your complete Windows Live Hotmail address (including “@hotmail.com”, “@live.com”, “outlook.com”, etc.)
POP password: your Windows Outlook Live Hotmail password
SMTP (outgoing) server: smtp.live.com
SMTP port: 25
If you run into problems sending mail, try “587” for the SMTP port instead.
SMTP SSL required: yes
SMTP authentication: yes
SMTP user name: your full Windows Outlook Live Hotmail email address
SMTP password: your Windows Live Hotmail password

Windows Outlook Live Hotmail Exchange ActiveSync server settings

For accessing incoming messages and online folders in an Exchange-enabled email program, cell phone or mobile device (not all email clients with Exchange ActiveSync will work, very frustrating):

server address: m.hotmail.com (FYI, m.live.com or m.outlook.com won’t work!)
domain: (leave empty)
user name: Your full Windows Outlook Live Hotmail address (e.g. me@outlook.com)
password: Your Windows Outlook Live Hotmail password
TLS/SSL encryption required: yes

Comparison summary

Outlook Pros

  • Has very nice polished features
  • Pretty interface and some basic colour customization
  • Very good integration with other social networks
  • Able to integrate Google contacts

Outlook cons

  • Lack of IMAP is a major disadvantage
  • Strange POP3/Exchange protocols means not every email client will work with it
  • Not able to sync read/unread with other email clients (although to a limited extent, Exchange ActiveSync addresses this but many email clients don’t work)
  • Lack of extra Lab features (they do come in very handy!)
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3 Responses to “Outlook Live Hotmail vs Gmail, which webmail is best?”

  1. Scott says:

    Hi,

    Nice write-up. :-)

    One thing, though, that many reviews of the new Outlook.com don’t mention is security. If comparing with/contrasting to Gmail, Outlook seems, IMO, to fall way behind. Gmail has better proactive security features, including two-factor authentication and a long password limit (at 60+ characters, I believe. Outlook/Hotmail/Live, on the other hand, only has *recovery* features to tout (like ‘trustedPC’ and mobile phone number for password reset), and has capped passwords at a mere 16 characters !?!? With Outlook, I feel like I and my valuables are living in a house with rusty locks on the doors and no dead-bolts. What’s the good of all their bells-and-whistles if it’s so much easier to break in there than elsewhere ? No wonder it’s perhaps the greatest email target ! :-)

    In all, like most people, I’m sure, I’d rather *prevent* the account compromise to begin with, mainly because I would positively DREAD the thought of going through the stressful process of ‘account recovery.’ Neither one of the two providers makes such recovery an easy thing. Every time I read about accounts being hacked (in online articles or at help forums), it ends up being nothing less than a logistical nightmare for the account holder trying to get it back ! And what losses to one’s email/files occur by the time one gets it back (if they do) ?

    So, I would rather trust Gmail (for it’s better preventative security) than Outlook. But if Outlook were to increase password length and introduce two-step authentication, it might be a different story.

    I say this as someone who has both Gmail and Outlook accounts, but who uses neither one with any confidence or regularity. I mainly use my MyOpera.com account and a tiny, free Hushmail account. Both services provide — again, IMO — much more responsive, HUMAN support for (free) users with account issues than any of the big providers.

    Thanks! :-)

  2. Jan says:

    Scott,
    Thanks for the comment.

    Better security is good, I guess that’s another point up for Gmail.

    I checked myopera mail, it is still in beta and it is not as advance as Gmail/Outlook Live Hotmail/Yahoo. And it only has 1GB storage space which is insufficient if you have lots of mail messages and you don’t plan to delete any email and need to keep old correspondence for reference.

    In this case Zoho.com mail would be better with 5GB (free account). Zoho would be similar as Google Apps going after the enterprise market.

  3. DeadSurvivor says:

    I’ve tried all three e-mail services. Though I like the look of Outlook, I use YahooMail because of their disposable addresses, which recently went free for all users, not just Mail Plus users

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