- End-to-end encryption
- Zero-access architecture
- Available on mobile
- Open source
- Free plan
- Lack of organizational features
- Missing a desktop app
In 2014, ProtonMail was being used by a handful of CERN scientists; nowadays, with more than one million users, it's one of the largest secure email providers in the world. After Edward Snowden leaked the NSA's global surveillance programs in 2013, internet privacy became a major concern to the average user. However, email, one of the most commonly used forms of online communication, was not built to be secure, and making sure messages are entirely private is not an easy skill to master. Fortunately, ProtonMail came up with a completely secure system that encrypts emails automatically, making it easy for the less tech-savvy to send messages without having to fear about eavesdropping. With its end-to-end encryption and zero-access architecture, communicating privately via email has never been easier.
There is no doubt that ProtonMail's primary concern is to provide the safest way to send (and receive) emails. Contrary to other email clients, ProtonMail does not offer some of the productive features we love, such as a built-in calendar, spell-checker, automatic translator, and task manager. However, we need to take into account that this email provider is still relatively new to the game and has a somewhat limited team. In other words, it has to focus on the most important features first, and since the main objective is to secure email correspondence, it makes sense that that's what’s being tackled in priority.
However, when it comes to email itself, ProtonMail has developed a user-friendly interface with the essential features you need in your daily life. You can add folders and labels to arrange your inbox the way you see fit, as well as create email rules to organize them the moment they arrive in your mailbox. Moreover, it also provides an autoresponder, contact groups, and a search bar. However, the latter is only able to search for email addresses and words in the subject since the message itself is encrypted – something that is not ideal if you handle a lot of emails.
Nevertheless, what ProtonMail does not offer in built-in features, it compensates for with an extensive and thorough array of security features that makes sure your emails are safe, even when contacting users outside of the ProtonMail universe.
Privacy & Security
ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption and has a zero-access architecture (the latter is essential since not everyone from your contact list is using ProtonMail).
When contacting someone who is also a ProtonMail user, things are pretty straightforward. You just need to write the email and press send; the email will be fully encrypted, and ProtonMail takes care of the public and private key.
However, things are not so simple when contacting someone using a non-secure email provider because that email client does not automatically apply the keys. Before sending the message, you have to click on the lock at the bottom where you can insert your encryption key and a hint. The other person will receive an email with a link that opens a web page where they can type the password to decrypt the message, as well as send an encrypted reply. Just don't forget to send the password in a secure way quickly since the email will auto-delete after 28 days.
That’s not where things end – if someone sends you an email from outside the ProtonMail universe, it will most likely arrive at ProtonMail's servers unencrypted. By using zero-access encryption, ProtonMail will immediately encrypt the message with your public encryption key. By combining these two types of encryption, ProtonMail makes sure it has no possible way of reading your emails. This is something you need to be aware of since ProtonMail won't be able to help you if you lose your password.
With all of this, you may already feel that your emails are completely safe, but that's not necessarily true. There are many ways hackers can access your information, such as finding your email password or stealing one of the devices you access your email on. ProtonMail knows that and ensures you have ways to secure your email box even when that happens; some of the features you can count on are two-factor authentication, anti-phishing, the possibility to log out of your account from other devices, and its VPN service, ProtonVPN.
Technically, ProtonMail is available for both desktop and mobile since it has a nice, responsive website that looks great on both devices, although, while it has both iOS and Android apps, the same cannot be said for Windows, macOS, or Linux. However, if you are a paying user, you can download ProtonMail Bridge, which is an app that runs in the background of the computer and enables ProtonMail to be fully integrated with any program that supports IMAP and SMTP. In other words, you will be able to use your ProtonMail address, with all its encryption features through Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and others.
ProtonMail's interface on the web follows the same design as some of the most popular providers, such as Gmail. Moreover, it offers some customization; you can change the size of the composer, the layout of the inbox, and you can install custom themes through CSS code as well. On mobile, the app is clean and user-friendly, taking after the typical interface you see other email providers using. One important feature on the mobile app to point out is the possibility to create a pin code that will need to be introduced every time you want to open the app, giving you an extra layer of security.
ProtonMail offers four different tiers: free, plus, visionary, and professional, the last two essentially being directed for businesses so, therefore, won't be discussed in this review.
If you go to ProtonMail's website, you will see that you have to have a Plus plan to use labels, custom filters, and folders, as well as send encrypted messages to external recipients. However, that information seems to be outdated since we were able to do all that with a free account. Nevertheless, with a Plus account, you will have more storage space, be able to send 850 more messages, have your own domain, five email aliases, and better customer support.
The lowest price you can get the Plus version for is $4 per month by choosing the yearly subscription, but you can also opt to pay monthly, which costs $5. You can pay with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or PayPal.
ProtonMail paying users have priority when it comes to customer service, but that doesn't mean free users do not get support.
Although it does not have a live chat, ProtonMail offers 24/7 customer support through email and phone, but there are other ways to find answers to your difficulties. ProtonMail's FAQ is not only easy to browse but also answers almost any question you might have. Moreover, since it's possible to write comments on all entries, you’ll often see ProtonMail answering users’ questions there, which offers an extra layer of support. On top of that, ProtonMail is quite active on social media, so you can always speak with customer support through Facebook Messenger or tweet your question on Twitter.
ProtonMail is indeed one of the most secure email providers on the market. It not only provides end-to-end encryption, but it also has a zero-access architecture, making it impossible for ProtonMail to access any of your messages. Moreover, it's user-friendly and straightforward, enabling both tech-savvy users and beginners alike to enjoy email privacy in a fast and easy way. Although it's true that it still lacks some features to boost users' productivity, such as a built-in calendar which you’ll need to use another app for, it’s a minor tradeoff for being protected from having your messages read and used by advertisers, the government, or even worse, cyber criminals.