ProtonMail vs. Tutanota: Who wins the battle for the best secure email?
Email is the original Internet killer app, and it remains the crucial token of digital identity. But the service has changed over the last three decades. Even Hotmail email accounts do not resemble the functionality they offered in their early days, not to mention new services that forever changed the industry, such as Yahoo or Gmail.
But not only providers have changed. Users have changed as well, demanding new features in email services and thus pushing the industry forward. For example, the latest feature required by a new group of users is privacy. In this regard, the leaders in the secure email field are ProtonMail and Tutanota. Both vendors enjoy an immaculate reputation earned by showing a commitment to user privacy by protecting their emails from third-party snoopers, even when the snooper is the vendor itself.
So which one is the better email service? In this guide, we’ll have a look at both Tutanota and ProtonMail, show you all the relevant information to make an informed choice, and decide which is the best for you.
Privacy and security in ProtonMail and Tutanota
Neither ProtonMail nor Tutanota has the size to compete with Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, or any of the other email big boys. They know that. That’s why they sell their services in terms that those industry leaders can’t match — security and privacy. And both vendors provide excellent services in that regard. For example, end-to-end encryption is available in both, which is uncrackable even by the provider unless they have the decryption keys.
The Tutanota environment encrypts more spaces than ProtonMail. But ProtonMail’s features are still better because of its restrictive spam filter, complete anonymity policy, and 256bit encryption (it’s 128 bit in Tutanota, which is inferior if still uncrackable). Also, ProtonMail is headquartered in Switzerland, whose laws are privacy-friendly, which also counts in favor of user privacy –Tutanota answers to the German law, which means that it’s beneath the rule of the 14 Eyes association.
Other differences include the IP address storage policy: ProtonMail stores none while Tutanota does keep them but hides them. Let’s examine both services in more detail.
User-to-user emails encryption is RSA 2048-bit; AES 256-bit for user-to-non-user emails. It uses OpenPGP. That is an industry-standard for email encryption that suffers from many shortcomings (it doesn’t encrypt subject lines or have perfect forward security). The encryption in ProtonMail ensures that the provider itself can’t decrypt or read your emails.
Encryption in Tutanota is almost the same as in ProtonMail except that the RSA 256-bit is 128-bit instead. Tutanota uses an improved OpenPGP protocol that encrypts subject lines and the plain text above the email body. It also improves over the original OpenPGP with perfect forward security –which means that hacking any given session won’t render any future session vulnerable. Your calendar and address book get the full encryption with Tutanota as well.
Related: How to encrypt your emails
Tutanota removes IP address information from every email. Thus you can’t trace any email to its originator, at least in terms of their IP address.
ProtonMail has the same feature, so your IP address will be safe from email recipients. That being said, a legal case prompted the Swiss government to request ProtonMail to log the IP address of a user.
So total anonymity in ProtonMail needs you to use a good VPN service as well, which is not a bad idea when it comes to Tutanota, even if its log policy has not been tested in the courts so far.
I mentioned earlier that Tutanota is German. Germany belongs to the Fourteen Eyes alliance –an association of countries that surveil their citizens and share their intelligence. This fact, however, is balanced by the German Federal Data Protection Act, which protects all the email traffic that goes through Tutanota. This law forbids collecting or using personal data without a mandate or a law that allows for that.
ProtonMail, on the other hand, is in Switzerland, a country whose neutrality is legendary. The company’s servers are inside a full kilometer of granite, so even a nuclear blast wouldn’t touch them. However, ProtonMail’s parent company’s commitment to user privacy has been questioned due to some court cases in the past. Still, the Swiss laws (among the world’s best regarding privacy) make it easier for ProtonMail to do an excellent job as a privacy champion.
There is an intelligent spam filter in Tutanota. The parameters allow users to identify and filter out spam and unwanted messages. Tutanota is continually investing time and energy in improving the snap filter, so it changes constantly. Most users, however, tend to think that the filter is too restrictive, according to their feedback.
ProtonMail’s smart spam detection bot automatically puts your incoming messages in either your inbox or a spam folder. It’s a sound system, but not perfect, and it can get it wrong sometimes. But if you find the spam criteria too stiff for your taste, the whitelist will let you bypass the filter for a given address.
The features in both email services
Both services offer different options that will appeal to different types of users. For instance, if you pay the subscription for ProtonMail’s best plan, you will also get the ProtonVPN service. But the feature prize goes to Tutanota because it offers encrypted calendars in every plan –including the free one.
If you get one of the paid services, both ProtonMail and Tutanota will provide you with an autoresponder and custom domain aliases. Tutanota offers it in every plan in the secure calendar department, while ProtonMail has not a complete product available yet (it’s still in the beta testing stage). So Tutanota wins this battle.
Tutanota’s most exciting feature is called SecureConnect. With it, you can implant Tutanota code into your website to create a contact option that all of Tutanota’s features will protect. If your company needs to have secure messages from website visitors, this feature is priceless indeed.
But the thing about ProtonMail is its VPN service. The VPN industry exploded recently, and secure email vendors are expanding to become integral online security platforms that include password managers, file encryption, and, of course, VPNs. The ProtonMail Visionary plan includes the ProtonVPN service. Since a VPN should be a priority for any privacy-aware user, this is a welcome addition to the project.
The ProtonMail Bridge app is also included in many of the paid plans. This app runs in the background providing encryption and decryption for all the traffic in apps that support IMAP or SMTP. This feature is interesting, but it will be helpful only to a limited number of users, just like the CSS customization feature.
Tutanota’s search feature
As a regular email user, you’re probably used to having the ability to search the contents in your inbox. Unfortunately, end-to-end encryption complicates searches badly enough so that your searches in ProtonMail only sweep through subject lines, senders, recipients, and time stamps. It’s the price you pay for privacy. In addition, ProtonMail servers can’t decrypt your messages, so they can’t search within them either.
In contrast, Tutanota does allow you to run searches that include the message body in all of your emails. This is possible because the search is done locally, on your device (in your browser or mobile app).
Last but not least, there is a desktop application for Tutanota. Unfortunately, ProtonMail has none, so you will have to use it through your web browser or a third-party email client.
The value for money prize belongs to ProtonMail. Yes, the free plan offers less, and the paid plans are more expensive, but it wins nevertheless.
Tutanota has a customization option for your plan (a la carte). Customization is an excellent thing, to be sure, but you’ll find that you’ll get spoiled for choices in a wrong way –analysis paralysis. As a result, you will find yourself designing a plan that gets too expensive and too complicated too quickly.
So while ProtonMail’s offer is costly, it includes valuable features that justify the price very well.
The Tutanota free plan covers 1 GB of storage. The paid plains include Premium, Teams, and Pro at 1.20, 4.80, and 7.20 EUR monthly. You can get a moderately cheaper deal if you choose the more extended yearly subscriptions. However, there is also the a la carte mode, so you can add and discard any ingredients you want. This adds to the service’s versatility, but it inflates the price rapidly.
ProtonMails’s free storage is 500 MB, and your daily messages are limited to 150. The paid plans are called Plus, Professional. and Visionary at 5, 8, and 30 EUR monthly, respectively. The Professional one is the fee for every individual user in the team up to 5000 users. These fees look higher than Tutanota’s, and the menu is more rigid. But the features in every ProtonMail plan are comprehensive and robust. Take the Visionary plan for example. It includes the ProtonVPN service in the package. Tutanota offers nothing remotely similar to this.
Attachments and storage in ProtonMail and Tutanota
ProtonMail wins this round too. Yes, the free plan offers half as much storage as Tutanota’s. But when you get one of the paid subscriptions, the data usage allowed in ProtonMail is way better than Tutanota’s.
Tutanota’s free plan is good for 1GB of storage. The paid plans give you 10GB. Attachments are limited to 25 MB.
In ProtonMail, the free plan includes 500GB only, but the Professional plan offers 5GB per user, and the Professional plan, 20GB. The attachments are also limited to 25 MB here.
Ease of use
ProtonMail and Tutanota are both straightforward to use. But ProtonMail has the edge again because of how helpful its settings are, the ease in the setup options, and integration with third-party features.
You start the setup process in Tutanota by clicking the “Sign Up” button, which you will find at the right-hand corner of every page. Then the site will offer you a variety of plans so you can choose the one you want. If you go with the “Free” plan, you’ll get a reminder that every user can have only one Tutanota free plan.
In the next step, you’ll create your username (which will serve as your email address) and your password (you need to confirm that one too). Finally, your age will need confirmation through two checkboxes (in Germany, you need to be over 16) and the unavoidable acceptance of the terms of service.
The next page will give you your recovery code. This is a number unique to Tutanota. It’s a 64-digit code that will enable you to change your password and second factor, so you need to save it carefully somewhere where you won’t lose it. If you do, your site credentials are lost, and you could end up locked out for good. Keep that in mind. Then you will find the login page, and you’ll advance to your new inbox.
And now, let’s have a look at the ProtonMail setup experience. It’s much faster and easier. The “Sign up” button is available on every page, next to the “Sign in” one. Once you click on it, you’ll browser go to the page with the plan selection. “Plus” is the default option, but choosing “Free” or other options is straightforward.
As you choose your plan, the next page is a simple one, where you provide a username and password with confirmation and a secondary email address. Then clicking on the “Create account” button will bring you to the verification page. You can verify via captcha, SMS, email, or phone call. Captcha is the quickest (if annoying) way. And once you’ve confirmed, you’re ready to go to your inbox and start to customize it.
Tutanota is the friendliest page. It’s very similar to many other in boxes so that it will look familiar to users from many other services. It’s an elegant interface, responsive, and straightforward to use.
ProtonMail is every bit as user-friendly and intuitive, but the home screen insists on prompting us to upgrade our account, which is annoying and a waste of time. Despite that, there are many more settings available to ProtonMail users, including a custom CSS import.
Speed and performance
Speed and performance in ProtonMail are excellent, and you won’t notice any delays or hiccups in the service. The upload speed for attachments is perfect, but the preview panel is a bit slow because of encryption time.
Tutanota, on the other hand, is also quick and reliable. It suffered a DDoS attack last year, but it performs well enough daily.
ProtonMail gets along fine with the most prevalent third-party email clients such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Apple Mail, and Microsoft Outlook.
There’s not so much luck with Tutanota. Its proprietary encryption gets in the way of integration with third-party email clients. However, that limitation will be irrelevant for all the users willing to install and use the Tutanota desktop app. But if you’re in the Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook camp, you’ll be disappointed.
Tutanota vs ProtonMail customer support
The winner in customer support is ProtonMail, and in this department, things are not even close. ProtonMail’s subreddit is more extensive, and its knowledge base is more helpful; free users have direct email support.
Email support and Knowledgebases
Free ProtonMail users enjoy email customer support via email. However, it’s supposed to be “limited support,” which translates into prolonged waiting times. But at least they get something. Additionally, the ProtonMail Subreddit is larger than Tutanota’s, and the knowledge base is also better and easier to navigate.
Tutanota’s free users get no support at all except for the Subreddit and the knowledge base, and both are inferior to ProtonMail’s.
The final word
ProtonMail is an excellent email service provider, and so is Tutanota. After comparing both vendors head to head, we found ProtonMail to win in almost every aspect. Tutanota is better in terms of feature selection, but everything else is better in ProtonMail.
The privacy features in ProtonMail are only slightly better than Tutanota’s. Still, customer support in ProtonMail is far superior because every user can get help from the vendor if they need it or want it. Do we exaggerate the importance of customer support? No. It’s the unsung hero of web services, and it’s more important than people think it is until they need it.
Both services are excellent; the race was close. But ProtonMail is the clear winner.
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About the author
Abeerah is a passionate technology blogger and cybersecurity enthusiast. She yearns to know everything about the latest technology developments. Specifically, she’s crazy about the three C’s; computing, cybersecurity, and communication. When she is not writing, she’s reading about the tech world.