Tutanota email review: A private alternative to Gmail?

People have become more aware of the need for privacy for their communication. Tutanota email and other private email services offer to put a stop to our emails being analyzed and profiles built around us, especially Google with Gmail. I took a quick look at Tutanota to see if it’s worth switching over to.

Background Info on Tutanota email 

Tutanota email was first launched in 2011 and is headquartered in Germany with a staff size of less than 10.  The name may sound strange, but it comes from Latin meaning “secure message”.

Artistic photo of the Tutanota development team

In addition, Tutanota is open-source and does not serve advertisements to its users. It instead has free accounts and premium options. It also states that it is “the world’s first end-to-end encrypted email service that encrypts the entire mailbox, including the address book.”

The Main Interface 

The Tutanota email interface is very minimal and somewhat bare. In some ways, I would even say it could do with a sprinkle of a few more options.

Screenshot of Tutanota email's main interface

Accessing the settings is somewhat confusing. You would think clicking the cogwheel would take you to the main preferences, but that was not the case when I did it. After I clicked the settings button, I was brought to the “login credentials” page where I had to click a hamburger menu then I could click email options. Hopefully that is something that gets fixed in the future. 

You can select multiple email messages, but it must be done by using the keyboard (holding down the control or shift key then clicking). Probably fine for the techies, but I’m sure less sophisticated people would prefer a visual interface for being able to select emails. There is also no right-click menu. 

Sending an email 

By default, Tutanota email encrypts all outgoing emails and it’s up to you to tell your recipient the password needed to decrypt it. This is fine IF you and your recipient know about this beforehand, such as journalists dealing with private data. If you’re trying to have privacy and suddenly email a friend or family member, they might become frustrated or reluctant to click the link generated in the email from you. 

Screenshot of the compose window in Tutanota email

On the receiving end 

Here is what a test message sent to my Yahoo Japan inbox looked like. “Confidential email from X”. 

After the recipient opens the message, there will be an explanation from Tutanota explaining how the process works when accessing an encrypted message. It’s not too bad, but I can already see in my head the various problems that might arise from this. This system will only work smoothly if both parties know ahead of time that they will be using encrypted email and that there is a decided password to decrypt those messages between them. 

Screenshot of what recipients see when they open an email from Tutanota email

While I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the use of space and extremely minimal UI, there is a dark mode setting. When I turned it on, I didn’t mind the barren interface as much.

Gotta love dark mode on everything

Changing the default encryption settings 

I consider myself a realist and believe that most people at first will not welcome getting a message from Tutanota saying they need to click a link and put in a password to see a message from their contact. I feel the default should be unencrypted with the option to toggle it on before sending an email.  

Protonmail, another private email provider, has more sane defaults from what I remember.  

Tutanota email Memory usage compared to Gmail 

All that minimalism comes with its advantages. Just for fun, I opened my browser’s task manager and compared my Tutanota vs Gmail. Both inboxes had only 2 email messages which were text and contained no extra graphics. Of course, Gmail will be heavier because it has more features and services from Google ready to load.

Screenshot of memory usage between Gmail and Tutanota

Mobile apps 

You can probably plug in your login info into your favorite email application and check your email that way, but Tutanota also offers mobile apps for both iOS and Android. I haven’t used them personally, but they seem to have generally positive reviews on their respective platforms. 

How much does it cost?  

Tutanota has a generous 1 GB of space for free users which realistically you could probably use and never hit the limit unless you’re dealing with heavy attachments daily. If you want more space and some of the more advanced features such as multiple aliases, custom domain, et cetera, you’ll want to upgrade to a Premium membership which in my opinion, is a very reasonable 12 euros (about $14) a year. 

Final Thoughts on Tutanota email 

I think the name itself “Tutanota” is going to throw some people off and others might be wary of seeing that at the end of someone’s address. If you can get over the odd-sounding name, you could probably make do with a free account as an alternate email address or upgrade for better features for a monthly or yearly fee that will not break the bank. 

For me personally, I would much prefer something like Fastmail or Protonmail which offer differing levels of security and privacy, but better defaults and UI. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with Tutanota once you change the default encryption settings. It’s also a private email service that has free accounts with ample space, which should be applauded.

You’re not going to be able to get your parents to switch to Tutanota. The end-to-end encryption stuff only works if you and your recipient both are using it, but good luck getting them to switch from their email provider. This is great for tech-savvy users that can do that between each other or journalists that want to keep communications between them and their sources private.

Link: Go try it!

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