Outlook vs Gmail: What is the best email service for your business?

Eight things to consider when choosing which service is right for your business

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When it comes to email services, Microsoft Outlook and Google's Gmail are arguably two of the most popular on the market today and often come highly recommended for both business and personal use.

Although they offer similar functionalities, both have their promoters and detractors. Here we examine some of the important deciding factors between Outlook and Gmail to help you choose the best email service for your business.

© iStock
© iStock

It should be noted that we are looking at Outlook as part of Microsoft's cloud Office 365 suite rather than as a standalone Exchange product, and looking at Gmail as part of the broader G Suite set of business software.

Read next: Linux vs Windows: What is the best operating system for business?

User experience

Outlook and Gmail both provide a simple user interface, with unique designs which make the two email services easy to navigate.

In 2018, Microsoft launched a new Simplified Ribbon feature which is designed to better align with other Office software and to reduce clutter at the top of your inbox for greater simplicity. Users are able to personalise or remove commands to suit their individual work styles and requirements.

It also features some updates to the inbox message list, so users can identify important messages. This includes bolded and flagged messages for clear visual markers.

Traditionally, Outlook’s reading pane is switched off by default but users can switch it on as they wish. The folder pane is also updated to feature favourites, personal folders and group icons.

Overall, the Outlook for Windows user experience is now simpler to navigate and customise to individual needs.

Gmail has always prided itself on providing a clean, simple inbox view and has long offered customisable features.

The main feature which tends to grab users’ interest is the conversation view of emails, which appears to make sending messages faster and easier.

Gmail also includes filters and labels for email management, with the ability to filter messages in groups of ‘from,’ ‘to’ and whether messages are with or without attachments.

Its latest update in 2018 delivered a brand new user interface with calendar and tasks embedded within the inbox and new features to snooze an email, push reminders, use automatic responses and better offline functionality. Gmail also increasingly looks to leverage the machine learning expertise at Google to make email 'smarter', with the option of ordering emails by importance, for example.

Read next: Everything you need to know about the "biggest update yet" to Gmail

Storage

Microsoft and Google both offer 15GB of free storage for their email services. However, Gmail’s storage offering is spread across Google Drive and Google Photos also, meaning it will be stretched a little thinner. It's unlikely that any business user would opt for the free service however.

Google offers unlimited cloud storage on both its business and enterprise plans, or up to 1TB for businesses with fewer than five users.

Microsoft was traditionally unclear about the storage space it provides users with, however, over the years it has since confirmed that it gives 15GB of email storage per Outlook account, which can be increased using the paid service.

Microsoft Office 365 business subscribers are provided with 50-100GB of mailbox space, depending on which plan they are on, and 1TB of total storage as standard.

Integrations and add-ons

Both Gmail and Outlook come as part of a broader office suite, housing file storage, word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools.

Google Docs, Sheets and Slides users can invite others to edit documents and collaborate in real time, either suggesting edits, making tracked changes or review the document’s full edit history.

Plus, with Gmail, you’ll be able to open an email attachment and it will launch in the relevant integration, ready for you to review, edit and so on.

Similarly, Outlook also offers easy access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote from the email client.

Both come with seamlessly integrated calendars and contacts, as well as email scheduling, filters, flags and smart searches. Outlook also houses a good variety of add-ons (or add-ins as Microsoft calls them), including online payment platforms like PayPal, and other add-ons like GitHub, Twitter and Trello.

Email sizes

Typically business users are able to exceed the default file size limit if the mail server allows it. This includes file compression or saving files to a cloud storage service such as OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive and sharing a link.

The stated maximum file size limit for email attachments in Outlook is 20MB for business email.

Gmail offers a size limit of up to 25MB, and if attachments pass this limit then Gmail automatically adds a Google Drive link for the recipient to open.

Video conferencing

Both clients offer solid video conferencing capabilities built in. Google Hangouts is very intuitive and its meeting capabilities are sleek and easy to use. Microsoft users can also integrate Skype for business with their email client and conference though its well-known interface.

Gmail Business users are able to create a Hangouts video conference with up to 25 participants, or up to 50 for Gmail enterprise users. Outlook users will get access to Skype as standard, and those subscribed to Office 365’s business Premium plan will also get access to Microsoft Teams, where they can create video conferences with up to 250 people (although, of course, not all video screens will be able to show at the same time).

Both Outlook and Gmail make it easy to send a video conferencing request, whether it be through Hangouts or Teams, via email. All the recipient has to do is click on the link and follow the instructions, normally taking only a few minutes.

Security

There are few differences between Outlook and Gmail's security features. Both provide two-step authentication and AI-powered spam filters.

You’ll also notice that both offer a ‘verified’ sender option, to make sure only trusted addresses can contact you.

Interestingly, Google has been working with machine learning algorithms to reduce the amount of phishing attacks its users receive. It will now label an email with a colour coded warning system. If a message is deemed malicious it is marked red, while lesser risks are marked yellow.

Like with most security concerns the biggest threat to a business is the people, so common sense and good training practices should always be applied.

Read more: How to encrypt Gmail

Latest features

Gmail

Gmail celebrated its 15th birthday at the beginning of April and has released three new updates as a means of celebration. Gmail has long been a pioneer of email innovation and these newly released updates pay homage to that.

Firstly, Gmail has rolled out its Smart Compose feature to Android devices and added four new languages to the functionality, allowing users to increase their productivity whilst on the go – an iOS version of Smart Compose is set to launch later this year.

In addition to making this feature mobile, Smart Compose is now able to suggest a subject line and better tailor its auto-suggestions to the way in which you naturally write.

Another new feature from Gmail is a ‘scheduled send’ option, which allows users to compose an email at any point during the day and then select a desired time for the response to be sent – i.e. during the business hours of a client operating in a different time zone. Gmail claim this function has been designed to ‘make it easier to respect everyone’s digital well-being.’

Finally, they’ve improved the integration functionality within the body of emails. Users can now respond to a comment thread in Google Docs, schedule a meeting, or fill out a questionnaire without having to leave their inbox.

Outlook

Outlook might not be celebrating a significant birthday this year but that hasn’t stopped Microsoft from introducing some new features of its own to Outlook 2019. Most of the updates revolve around making your inbox less cluttered however; there are a few notable features on the list.

In terms of improving productivity, Outlook’s ‘listen to your emails’ feature has been designed to help users stay on top of their emails whilst remaining focused on the task they’re currently undertaking.

Not only will this feature help improve inbox accessibility from any users who might suffer from visual impairments, Outlook’s Accessibility Checker takes things one step further. It allows users to check emails and attachments before they send them to ensure they are easy for people of all abilities to read and edit.

Furthermore, the option to add up to three time zones to your Outlook calendar will help users with international colleagues to improve how they schedule meetings, as will the new-found ability for non-meeting organisers to see who has accepted and declined calendar invites.

Price

Currently, Gmail can be bought as part of G Suite for £6.60 per user/month for standard business users or £20 per user/month for enterprise customers. Both come with unlimited cloud storage, business email, shared calendars, video conferencing and secure instant messaging, as well as access to Google’s entire productivity suite.

However, on 2 April 2019 G Suite Basic and Business Additions increased in price, marking the first increase in price in 10 years. 

G Suite Business increased by $2 (£1.50), while price increases for other regions like the UK were adjusted accordingly.

Outlook, as part of Office 365, is available on two different business plans: Office 365 Business is £7.90 per user/month and Office 365 Business Premium is £9.40.

This includes access to Microsoft’s entire online productivity suite, plus OneDrive, however, Microsoft Teams is only available on Business Premium.

For enterprise customers, there are three payment tiers: E1, E3 and E5. Outlook is not available on E1, however it is on E3 (for £17.60 per user/month and E5 (for £30.80 per user/month).

Enterprise customers will get access to Outlook, the whole productivity suite, Exchange, SharePoint, Stream, Yammer, and Power BI Pro for E5 customers.

Conclusion

These two email services are so broadly similar that making a choice really does seem to come down to personal taste. It is probably best to canvass employees to see what the consensus preference may be, and a general assessment of pricing, user experience, storage and features can't hurt. There are also generous free plans with both providers, so you can try before you buy.

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