Gmail vs. Outlook. You may not find as many loyalists in this debate as you would in an argument over Coke vs. Pepsi or Kirk vs. Picard, but I’ve met a fair share of professionals who proclaim one email solution is inherently superior to the other. If someone’s a fan of Google products, they tend to side with Gmail, while if they’re used to Microsoft products, you can count on them liking Outlook better.
But are there any objective benefits that make one of these professional email solutions better than the other?
I’ll tell you upfront that as someone who has used both in a work capacity for years, I’m partial to Gmail. I think it’s better designed, more flexible, and lets me use EmailAnalytics to understand how I’m emailing so I can improve in the future. But that’s not to say that Outlook is without its merits.
The spoiler to this debate is that each solution has some advantages and disadvantages that make it impossible to declare a truly universal winner. That said, I’m willing to bet that after reading this article, you’ll come down squarely on one side or the other based on your personal perspectives, work history, and professional needs.
I’ll start with a high-level overview of the core differences between Outlook and Gmail, and move to a head-to-head faceoff of Outlook vs. Gmail in each of a dozen or so categories. It’s up to you to decide how you weigh the importance of those categories, and ultimately, which solution is better for you.
Core Differences Between Outlook and Gmail
Let’s start with a simple overview of Gmail vs. Outlook. First, I need to point out that this isn’t exactly a one-to-one comparison. “Gmail” refers to an email service provided by Google, along with the platform created to access that service. You’ll hear people talk about “their Gmail” as a reference both to their email account and the apps they use to call it up.
Microsoft Outlook, by contrast, isn’t an email service specifically. Instead, it’s an application designed primarily to help people manage email, which also features a calendar and other features. Many people use it as part of Microsoft Office 365, a suite of products and services (mostly accessed via the cloud) that includes Microsoft’s Exchange Server, which is a dedicated email service. It also includes apps like Microsoft Word and Excel.
What’s interesting here is that it’s technically possible to link your Gmail account to Outlook, thereby using Outlook’s interface with Gmail’s email service. In fact, you can use almost any account with Outlook—and still access it through its original dedicated app.
But for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume that you, like the majority of email users, are either using Microsoft Outlook with Microsoft Exchange Server, or Gmail with its own desktop and mobile applications. With that in mind, there are three main categories of differences we’ll need to consider:
1. Features. While at their core, Outlook and Gmail are both email service providers, they each offer a distinct set of secondary features. I’ll dig into the details in future sections, but suffice it to say, each solution attempts to offer more to the average professional than just a basic email server.
2. Design. The design is also markedly different, with differences in terms of layout, organization, and user interaction. These differences between Outlook and Gmail tend to be more subjective than the others, so if you’re used to one solution, you’ll almost certainly prefer it over the other.
3. Practicality. We can also consider variables related to the practicality of each solution, especially in a business environment. For example, costs and potential integrations have to be considered, and the learnability of each platform can affect how they affect productivity on a daily basis.
For the rest of the article, I’ll be exploring specific differences in each of these areas, and how they should affect your choices. I’ll explore them in two main sections—personal and business considerations—but don’t be fooled into thinking these sections are exclusive. Business owners will still want to consider how each solution performs on an individual basis, and individuals should understand some of the business-related features of each platform.
Gmail vs. Outlook: Personal Considerations
We’ll start by looking at differences that matter to the average user.
Both email services are free to individual users, though there are some restrictions (which we’ll dig into next). However, if you want to use the Outlook app instead of the web-hosted version of your Microsoft account, you’ll need to get Office 365. For that, the annual fee is around $60 a year, but you’ll also get access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office programs.
G Suite is Google’s version of this suite of software products, but you can access most of them (and most of their core features) for free (unless you’re a business). I’ll cover business costs in my section on business-specific considerations.
Assuming you’ve gone with a free account, Gmail will give you 15 GB of storage. The caveat there is that your 15 GB is a shared storage limit across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos; in other words, if you’re storing 14 GB of photos, you may not have much room for email.
Microsoft Outlook isn’t as clear about storage limits, but you’ll start with 5 GB of storage and will have the potential to increase that amount over time. Both solutions offer more storage for additional fees.
If you’re using free accounts, you’re going to be exposed to ads. In Gmail, your ads will appear at the top of your Inbox with the word “Ad” highlighted to make it clear that these aren’t emails. You also have the power to manage your ad preferences if you’re seeing ads that aren’t relevant to you.
In Outlook, display ads will be on the right side of your inbox, and you’ll also have the opportunity to customize the ads you see. Both solutions are similar in terms of ad prevalence, so it comes down to personal preference.
Security is a tough category to evaluate. I don’t have direct access to the architecture of either product, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. Accordingly, I can’t say for sure if one system of email storage is inherently more secure than the other, though breaches seem to be rare on both fronts.
Instead, I can only look to the products and features related to security that each company offers. Both Outlook and Gmail provide two-step authentication options and built-in spam detection. Both products also have a feature that allows you to enable “trusted sender” or “verified” icons from trusted senders. Gmail also has a feature that lets you see when and how your account was last used—one of a few Gmail tricks and hacks that can improve your security.
But for the most part, your security depends on your own personal security measures.
Here’s where things get interesting. Gmail and Outlook offer very different systems of organization, but your preference will probably depend on which system you’re used to.
Outlook follows the typical Microsoft formula, so if you’re used to using conventional PCs, it will be very familiar to you. You can create a system of folders and subfolders which you can then use to sort your emails into different categories, such as by client, by project, or even by urgency. You can also flag important messages, or pin them to the top of a specific folder. By default, your inbox will be organized into single-message entries; when someone sends a new reply to an old conversation, it will appear as an entirely new message toward the top of your screen.
Gmail does things a little differently. Instead of folders and subfolders, it employs a system of categories and labels. You can mark your emails as belonging to different categories and subcategories in the same way you might tag photos; in my experience, it’s just like the folder/subfolder system, except it’s more versatile.
Instead of flags, Gmail uses a series of marks and stars that allow you to designate messages as important, not important, or belonging to a specific category. It also has a series of up to five tabs in your inbox view, which will automatically sort your emails into categories like “social,” which covers your social media notifications, and “promotions,” which stores all your newsletters and promotional emails.
Finally, Gmail uses “thread view” by default, which collects all the messages in a given conversation into a single line item, which some Outlook users find confusing or annoying—but you can always toggle this feature off.
There’s definitely room for subjective interpretation here, so if we’re only looking at the default options, I have to call it a tie.
You might expect Google, the king of search, to have a better built-in search function in Gmail than Microsoft could conjure in Outlook. You’d be right.
In some ways, Outlook’s search feature is simpler; there’s a straightforward bar where you can type your query, then search specific folders or for emails from specific contacts. There’s a separate search for your contacts.
But in terms of practicality, Gmail’s search is far more robust. With a basic search, you can quickly turn up anything with a simple phrase. With an advanced search, you can sort through options based on variables like labels, tabs, categories, senders, recipients, subject lines, attachments, body content, date ranges, and message size.
Both services offer features that make it easy to manage your contacts. For example, both allow you to import a contact list from any other major service provider (including from each other’s service). You can also upload a CSV to add your contacts manually, which may be important if you take manual backups and lose the account.
Gmail also offers contact integration with Google+, but let’s face it, not many people are using Google+ nowadays. Additionally, both service providers recommend contacts to include on your emails when you start typing, making it easier to recall the right addresses for the right people.
Add-Ons and Apps
While Outlook does have some functionality that allows for integration with third-party apps, it’s hard to top Gmail’s openness to other add-ons. I’ve already written about 54 of my favorite apps, add-ons, and extensions for Gmail, so I won’t repeat myself here—but suffice it to say, you can embed almost any other functional app in Gmail, instantly and easily, to enhance your experience. Some function as Chrome extensions, improving your overall online experience, while others, like EmailAnalytics, are built right into Gmail so you can pull in data from your account and improve your productivity.
The sky’s the limit with Gmail, so it gets the win here.
In Outlook, you can change the appearance of your app with pre-selected or custom themes. You can also make a few changes to how your inbox works, such as how things are placed. But it’s hard to compete with the sheer number of options you have within Gmail.
Almost everything in Gmail is customizable, from the size, placement, and design of your overall Inbox to the features you use within it. You can toggle most features on or off, and even gain access to semi-hidden settings that can improve your overall experience or productivity (or both). On top of that, you can integrate with as many add-ons as your heart desires, making Gmail much better catered to individual users with specific tastes. The only downside with Gmail is its sheer popularity; the user name you want may be already taken.
The days of wondering if your email “got lost in cyberspace” are pretty much over. Every major email server is robust enough to provide a high degree of consistency in service. Every once in a while, you might find connectivity problems between your Outlook client and the email server, but this isn’t due to the email server, necessarily; it’s usually a syncing issue.
You may also experience very brief periods where your client isn’t able to access your email server, and of course, internet connections will interfere with both providers in equal measure.
If you need to strike up a quick conversation rather than sending a long-winded email and starting an ongoing thread, both providers offer options for instant messages. With Gmail, there’s a built-in Chat function you can use at any time. Outlook accomplishes this by integrating with Skype, which is a little less convenient.
Winner: Gmail (barely)
Gmail vs. Outlook: Business Considerations
Now, let’s consider some of the biggest considerations businesses need to keep in mind when deciding between these platforms.
G Suite vs. Office 365
If you’re setting up work email for your business, you’ll need to get a G Suite or Office 365 account. Because they offer a similar suite of software products, you probably won’t need both, so is one superior to the other?
G Suite offers Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Keep, Hangouts, and several other apps. Office 365 includes Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note, Skype, and several other apps. In terms of functionality and sheer number of apps, they’re about equal.
You may find that Office’s downloadable apps are more convenient than G Suite’s purely web-hosted apps. And while similar, chances are good that your employees will be more familiar with Office’s lineup of products than they are with G Suite’s.
I encourage you to compare each company’s lineup of plans, so you can truly compare apples to apples; I’m just giving a brief overview here. They’re close to equal, but excluding cost as a deciding factor (which I’ll cover next), and giving Microsoft the credit of brand familiarity (and therefore, higher productivity), I’m giving the edge to Outlook here.
So what about costs? You’d think this is one category where there’s a clear winner, since both options have an objective dollar amount tied to them. But it’s more complicated than that.
G Suite’s pricing is relatively simple. You can choose from Basic, Business, and Enterprise plans, and each tier has more storage and more features. The prices are $5, $10, and $29 per month, per user, respectively. The highest tiers here have unlimited storage.
Office 365 has a similar tiered system, with Business Essentials, Business, and Business Premium costing $6, $10, and $15 per month, per user, respectively. However, if you make an annual commitment, the prices come down significantly. The maximum storage you can get is 1 TB of cloud storage and 50 GB of email storage.
The prices are similar, but we’re also comparing apples and oranges here, so I’m going to call it a tie.
Setup and Ongoing Management
Whether you’re trusting your employees to create their own accounts or you’re having an IT person set them up professionally, you should know how easy it is to establish your solution and manage it on an ongoing basis.
Neither solution should occupy your employees for too long. Both have gone through several evolutionary periods, and are about as easy to set up as any other app. Having gone through the setup process for both, I remember Gmail being a few minutes faster and slightly more intuitive, but the difference may be negligible to a diverse audience.
Outlook offers optional desktop apps, rather than web-hosted apps, which can cost the setup process additional time. However, I don’t think the burden of time and troubleshooting is excessive for either option.
In terms of productivity tracking and employee monitoring, neither Outlook nor Gmail has a built-in solution. But there are add-ons that can help you in either app.
In Outlook, the best solution is MyAnalytics, an app that lets you see how many emails you’re sending and how many hours you’re spending on email, in meetings, and on focused work. It’s not super robust, but can give you some high-level performance metrics.
For Gmail, there’s EmailAnalytics. I’m biased here, but I truly believe EmailAnalytics is the most comprehensive and best tool for employee monitoring available. With it, you can keep tabs on not only how many emails your employees are sending and receiving, but how long it takes them to draft and reply to emails, and which contacts are taking up the most time. It’s the best snapshot you’ll get of your team’s productivity, and it’s easy to install and use.
Intuitiveness and Learning Curve
This is another subjective factor. To a user who’s totally unacquainted with modern email, both Gmail and Outlook are fairly intuitive and easy to master.
The advantage of Outlook is that most people are already familiar with it. It was the go-to email solution for a long time, and accordingly, most modern professionals are complacent using it (and may be confused or intimidated by some of Gmail’s unique features). Accordingly, if all your employees are used to using Outlook, it may be hard to get them to switch.
The advantage of Gmail is customizability. You can set it up to work almost any way you want it, which can make anyone’s email experience simple and intuitive. The problem is, it takes a while to find all the right settings and tinker around with them enough to find a way that works for you. In other words, it takes longer to get things just right.
So which is better between Outlook vs. Gmail? Again, the answer depends on your needs, though in general, I side with Gmail due to its sheer versatility. If you’re interested in switching from Outlook to Gmail, we have a super simple guide to help you through the process (just click that link). I highly encourage you to give it a try if you’ve been indoctrinated into using Outlook for the majority of your professional career.
Among all the differences between Outlook and Gmail, the most striking to me is Gmail’s openness to third-party applications like EmailAnalytics. With EmailAnalytics, you can track dozens of metrics related to your email habits, from the number of emails you send in a day to how long it takes you to respond to the average email. Try it for free for 14 days!
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