If you use more than one email account, as most of us do, the right email client will really take the hassle out of managing your messages. Once you've found the right one for you, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. This is particularly true if those accounts are with different providers, which would otherwise require you to have several browser tabs open at once.
That's not all – as well as aggregating all your messages in one convenient place, a good email client can add features like encryption and integration with calendars, RSS feeds and video chat services.
Desktop clients can store your mail locally too, giving you access to archived messages and attachments when you're offline and providing a valuable backup. Their search tools also tend to be much better at finding messages than those of most webmail interfaces (we're looking at you, Google).
If that sounds good – and we think it does – read on for our pick of the very best free email clients.
eM Client has been around for nearly 10 years now, and throughout that long development it's evolved into the best free email client for Windows.
eM Client makes it easy to migrate your messages from Gmail, Exchange, iCloud and Outlook.com – just enter your email address and the client will adjust the appropriate settings for you. eM Client can also import your contacts and calendar, and it's easy to deselect these options if you'd prefer to manage them separately.
There's an integrated chat app too, with support for common platforms including Jabber and Google Chat, and the search function is far superior to those you'll find in webmail interfaces.
Unlike most free email clients, eM Client is also packed with advanced options like automatic translation, delayed send and encryption. It's a remarkable set of tools, and for managing two email accounts, it's ideal.
If you have more accounts, it's well worth considering upgrading to eM Client Pro for a one-off fee. This lets you connect an unlimited number of accounts, access VIP support (in the unlikely event that you need it), and use the email client commercially.
Mailbird Lite isn't just an email app – it's a whole communication platform to which you can add apps for scheduling, chatting, file syncing and teamworking.
Free users miss out on features such as speed reading, email snoozing and quick previews of attachments, but Mailbird Lite is still an excellent choice. The Lite version only lets you connect one email account but, it's optimized for speed, and looks great to boot.
Setup is simple; enter your email details and Mailbird Lite will find the necessary POP or IMAP settings automatically, then get to work importing your messages. It offers to connect with your Facebook account, so it can liven up your inbox with your contacts' profile photos, and can also link with Whatsapp, Google Calendar, free task manager Moo.do, and teamworking app Asana.
Hiri is usually a paid-for premium email client, but it's free for TechRadar readers. It's designed primarily with business users in mind (it currently only supports Microsoft email services including Hotmail, Outlook and Exchange), but home users will also appreciate its productivity-boosting features.
If you find yourself spending too long managing, reading and replying to emails, Hiri is the email client for you. It includes a smart dashboard that lets you see how many unread messages you have at a glance and how long you should wait before checking them (after all, how many really need an instant reply?)
The Compose window is designed to save you time too, offering only the essential options (no fancy formatting) and including the subject line at the bottom so you don't have to write it until you know how to summarise the message.
These little touches make Hiri a truly exceptional client. If Microsoft is your email provider of choice, it should be well up your list.
The developers of Opera have always considered email to be a key feature of any good browser, and have poured a great deal of effort into developing free email client Opera Mail – now detached from the browser and available as a standalone program.
Opera Mail's features include message templates – particularly handy for business use – message filtering and sorting, message sorting by type and a wide range of customization options.
The client also imports RSS feeds, making it a good alternative to web apps like Feedly and the much-missed Google Reader.
Like Firefox, free email client Mozilla Thunderbird was created by the Mozilla Foundation (though development of the two has since been uncoupled). Like the web browser, its features can be extended and enhanced with a huge range of third-party add-ons.
Some of its excellent built-in features include the ability to link files that are too big to email and the ability to read RSS news feeds alongside your email.
Setup is straightforward; as with most modern email clients, all you need are your usernames and passwords, and Thunderbird takes care of the rest.