Zoho Mail – Review 2021

Zoho Mail – Review 2021

Zoho sells a business software portfolio that spans more than 30 apps. Out of all of them, according to the company, the Zoho Mail Premium email hosting product is the most popular. That’s at least partly due to its undeniable value since its mainstream business tier comes with 50GB of mail storage per user, multiple domains, unlimited aliases, and POP3 and IMAP support, as well as access to Zoho’s web client.

While it’s gotten better since we last tested it, Zoho Mail’s interface still isn’t all that intuitive, so it lags behind the competition in terms of usability. That and an integration focus that’s really aimed only at other Zoho products keep it behind our Editors’ Choice winners in this space, Google Workspace Business Standard and Microsoft 365 Business Premium.

Zoho Mail Pricing

Most small to midsized businesses (SMBs) that opt for Zoho Mail will probably choose the Premium plan, which starts at $4 per user per month. This tier includes the above-mentioned features as well as archiving and eDiscovery for those who need auditing capabilities, plus bundled backup and restoration for the mail store.

If you’re looking for bargains, you’ve got three options. First, there’s Zoho Mail Lite, which will run you just $1 per user per month. It gets you 5GB of email storage per user, email hosting across multiple domains, offline access, and Microsoft compatibility via Exchange ActiveSync. There’s also a good scheduling module that works with both Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar.

Lite is a good value if you don’t need the bells and whistles of Zoho Mail Premium, but another low-cost option is Workplace. This is less of a dedicated email hosting tier than a bundle of Zoho’s most popular SMB apps: For $3 per user per month, you get a suite that includes not just Zoho Mail but also Zoho’s file manager, word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tools. There are also bundled chat and web meeting clients as well as web collaboration, plus online training so your employees can learn to use all this software. Again, an excellent value, but if you go for this tier, you’re essentially tying yourself to the Zoho app portfolio.

Finally, for extreme bargain shoppers, there’s a Forever Free plan with 5GB of storage per user plus web access and Zoho’s mobile apps, but those users are limited to five. However, your email hosting is only for a single domain, and there’s a 25MB attachment limit, However, that shouldn’t bother too many SMBs.

Getting Started

For most of Zoho’s other apps, you simply need to sign up and download the offline client software. But for hosted email, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a domain and get that set up with Zoho. This is straightforward once you find your way to the Control Panel, but that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

I’ve used Zoho Mail for a while and found a handy link to the panel the first time I signed up, but I couldn’t find it again a month later. I went scouring through the interface looking for it and even hit up Google for the answer. That told me to look in my account profile, as Zoho had moved the Control Panel button there. I didn’t enjoy the search, and it’s easy to mistake the icon for email settings, so be warned.

But once you locate and click on Control Panel, you’ll find yourself at the admin console. Here, you can click the large Domains button, which takes you to the domain list. Once there, you can add a domain you’ve purchased through a third-party registrar or buy one directly through Zoho. At $10 per year, the company’s domain pricing is fairly competitive, especially if you live and breathe Zoho.

If you go with a different registrar, you’ll have more work to do, but Zoho lays it all out in a fairly easy step-by-step manner. You’ll need to validate the domain, after which you must deal with any setup issues. I found Zoho’s interface sometimes frustrating here as well, but once you’ve figured out how to navigate it you’ll be fine. A little interface hoop-jumping is simply the nature of the Zoho beast.

Once your domain is set up, you can start adding users. One user can be a member of multiple domains, and you can have unlimited aliases for each user. For instance, you might want a [email protected] alias without having to buy a separate license. Zoho lets you do this easily and without having to create a new account. Other platforms do the same, however, notably our Editors’ Choice winner Microsoft 365.

After domain setup, it’s a good idea to look to security. Zoho has plenty of security options, including an easy-to-manage list of acceptable or blocked addresses, as well as a blocked list pattern that we didn’t see in lower-tiered competitors like IceWarp.

Zoho also supplies a good deal of usage data for administrators, which you can see in a dashboard view or export to a spreadsheet. All in all, I thought the admin console was fairly easy to navigate once I figured it out and noticeably better than what we saw in our last test.

Zoho Email and Collaboration Tools

Zoho’s webmail application is very similar to Microsoft Outlook Online. Icons on the left break out access to mail, calendar, tasks, notes, contacts, and bookmarks. Everything is where you’d expect it to be, so it shouldn’t be hard for your users to get started. If you’ve opted for the Zoho Workplace tier, you’ll find a tight integration with the rest of the Zoho suite. If you happen to be using Zoho Meeting, for instance, there’s a shortcut to creating a meeting straight from the calendar. Again, this is very similar to how Microsoft 365 works and helps flatten the learning curve.

That said, if you’re hoping to mix and match Microsoft and Zoho, you’re going to bump up against some limitations. Zoho has improved its Outlook integration since we last tested it, but it’s still not as seamless as the web experience. However, you can create calendar entries directly from Outlook now, which is a definite improvement over past iterations.

If you use the web calendar, you can define working hours to help set boundaries and reduce the number of meetings booked during downtime. You can also add personal meetings without showing details. This is handy for family events and doctor appointments where you need your boss to be aware that you’ll be out without having to share too many details.

Zoho Docs is the all-up name of Zoho’s office suite. While this review is focused on Zoho Mail, it’s worth mentioning the basic capabilities of Docs since Mail has tight integration that’s certainly worth investigating if you’re buying for a smaller organization. As stated above, Docs can create almost any kind of productivity file, including word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Files are fairly easy to distribute to other productivity suites, notably Microsoft Office and Google Workspace. However, I did suffer some compatibility issues with complex formatting when moving files between Zoho Docs and Microsoft Office.

Security and Third-Party Integration

Zoho does well when it comes to respecting your privacy, and it checks all the boxes you’ll need to keep your data secure. To prove it, the company has made sure Mail has passed SOC2 compliance and supports signing a HIPPA Business Associate Agreement (BAA). Zoho uses multi-tenancy features on the back end to keep your data separate from its other customers, and that data is also encrypted both at rest and in transit. Both Google and especially Microsoft offer more advanced security features, especially around DRM and data permissions, but for SMBs, Zoho is more than enough.

You’ll find bundled anti-phishing and malware features in the admin console, and you can turn them against emails from “cousin domains.” These are similar but not identical to legitimate domains, and a favorite tool of phishers. There’s also a content-based filter that can detect web exploits, bulk emails, JavaScript, macros, and more. If any email seems phishy, you can quarantine it and examine the data before passing it on.  

On the third-party integration front, Zoho still lags behind Google and Microsoft. There’s a REST API, but the Zoho community is heavily focused on other Zoho products, so you won’t find much information on interacting with any third-party apps. Still, developers will find the integration well-organized and built not only on REST but Webhooks as well.

A Great Solution for Zoho Customers

Zoho Workspace is an inexpensive alternative to more mainstream products like our Editors’ Choice award winners from Microsoft and Google. However, its lower price comes with some limitations, especially if you want to use tools outside the Zoho portfolio. For small businesses, however, an all-Zoho office is a distinct possibility and worth investigating using Zoho’s free trials.

Viewed strictly as an email host, Zoho Mail has good capabilities. Features like per-user email storage and domain hosting aren’t standouts, but they’re certainly competitive, especially when you consider the price. If you can live without 100% compatibility with Word and Excel and don’t have $20 per month to dedicate to every user, Zoho is a great way to go.


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