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Ever since I discovered how useful secure mail services can be—and also how restrictive some countries can be—secure email has been a solid part of my online privacy toolkit. It gives me complete assurance that my communications remain firmly between me and the intended recipient. My travels could take me anywhere and I’d like to be safe from any prying eyes out there (and believe me, there are many).

Now I’m quite happy with the services I’m currently subscribed to but I figured trying out a few more providers won’t hurt. I’ve already tried many in all these years of being a content creator, and I gotta say, not all measure up. This review puts the spotlight on StartMail. On paper, it’s a pretty decent secure email service. Now let’s see if StartMail makes it to my top rated email providers.

StartMail Rapid Rundown Rapid Rundown

I never used to use secure email. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that my data and privacy were being sold. I was also at risk of hackers and scammers taking advantage of me. So, I set out on a journey to learn how to use the internet with almost full anonymity, which led me to StartMail.

StartMail gives you access to private and encrypted email at an affordable price. It protects your emails with end-to-end encryption via TLS and PGP. This keeps eavesdroppers away and your sensitive data safe. One thing I always look for in an email service is its ability to send encrypted email to even non-subscribers (of that service) and StartMail offers that.

StartMail also supports unlimited unique aliases. Aliases allow you to hide your true address. This will reduce your exposure to spam and other threats that target email addresses. If you do get spammed, you can easily get rid of them by deleting the affected alias. 

Compared to other secure email services, StartMail has a few deficiencies. For instance, StartMail lacks a built-in calendar and has no free version. That’s a bit of a letdown for me as these are basic offerings for others. Proton Mail and Tutanota, for instance, have them. Proton Mail and Tutanota also have larger storage.

Highly recommended

Notable features

  1. Anti-spam and anti-ad features: This greatly reduces pesky ads. It keeps your inbox clean and pristine. 
  2. Custom domain: Enables you to highlight your brand. In addition, it gives your emails a more professional touch. 
  3. Supports PGP: PGP is the de facto standard for encrypted mail. This ensures you can communicate with other privacy-conscious individuals. 

Pros and Cons

Ready to take on the main course of this StartMail review? Hold your horses a little bit more. Here's a quick snapshot of the pros and cons of using StartMail. 

Pros
  • Compelling price point
  • Unlimited email aliases
  • Lets you send to non-StartMail users
  • Supports PGP
  • Comprehensive anti spam and ad features
  • Supports two factor authentication
Cons
  • Doesn’t have native mobile or desktop apps
  • No free version
  • Only offers email customer support

The Full Review

StartMail is one of the cheapest secure mail services. Yet, it comes with an array of noteworthy features. It offers unlimited aliases and PGP support. It also offers anti-spam measures and two-factor authentication. I find all these compelling qualities that would’ve made me click the subscribe button—if I wasn’t already. I know of other more expensive providers that lack some of these capabilities. That said, I did a little more digging to get a clearer picture.

Quick StartMail Review
Rating
4.9
Overall rank4 out of 7
Starting Price$5.00/month when billed annually
Money-Back GuaranteeNone
End-to-end encryption
Encrypted email to non-subscribers
Storage limit for individuals20 GB per user
CouponsStarting from $5.00/month

The absence of a free version as well as native mobile or desktop apps can be potential turn-offs. It also lacks a calendar, something that Tutanota and Proton Mail have. In this comprehensive review,  I’ll discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of StartMail. The goal is to present an unbiased perspective. You can use what you learn here in picking the right secure mail solution for yourself or your business. 

Enough of that intro. Let’s talk pricing. 

StartMail Pricing Pricing

StartMail only offers two pricing options. I think some would like the simplicity of having only two plans (with their corresponding features) to deliberate on. So there's the Personal subscription plan that costs $5.00/month when billed annually. Then there's the more expensive Custom Domain subscription plan. This one costs $5.85 per month when billed annually. The main difference is that the latter lets you use an email address with your own custom domain. That might not seem much, but it actually makes a big difference in terms of branding. I'll explain more later.

StartMail lacks a standard business account model. Yes, you can get group subscriptions through Personal or Custom Domain accounts. However, you won't have access to features normally found in true business plans. For example, you won't get an admin console or admin tools for user management tasks. It seems to me that these plans were not designed with a business set-up in mind. If you want the ability to manage users, I suggest you check out Hushmail, Proton Mail, or Tutanota.

You can compare the two StartMail subscription plans through the table below. Everything is the same except for the ability to use custom domains.

PersonalCustom Domain
Monthly Pricing if billed annually$5.00/month $5.85
PGP encrypted emails
Two Factor Authentication
Send secure email to non-Tutanota users
Unlimited email aliases
20 GB storage
Multi-user support via group subscriptions
24/7 customer support
Any-device access via IMAP or webmail
Spam and ad blocking
Inbox filtering
Custom domain email address

StartMail is one of the most affordable secure email providers out there. However, it does lack certain features that other service providers have. Check out our comparison table in the FAQ below for more details. 

StartMail Security and Privacy Security and Privacy

StartMail has all the key security features you need in a secure email provider. It's got end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and password-protected mail. Those are important. StartMail offers enough features to deal with common email security concerns. You can definitely use it to send sensitive data. StartMail can protect that data from hackers and other malicious individuals. It may not be as packed with features as, say, Proton Mail. But it's certainly capable enough to provide secure email. Let's discuss some of its features now. 

End to end encryption (E2EE)

With StartMail, your emails are protected with E2EE. StartMail normally achieves this through a combination of TLS and OpenPGP a.k.a. PGP. I won't go into the technical details except to say that TLS protects data in transit. PGP, on the other hand, protects data-in-transit and data-at-rest. Data is ‘at rest' when it's stored in, say, a mail server. TLS+PGP-encrypted mails are encrypted from the email sender all the way to the recipient. 

An illustration of end-to-end encryption between StartMail users
E2EE between two StartMail users

An illustration of end-to-end encryption between a StartMail user and a non-StartMail PGP user
E2EE between a StartMail user and a non-StartMail PGP user

In order to exchange PGP-protected emails, users must first set up public and private keys. This used to be a process only tech-savvy people dared to do. But with StartMail, the process is simple. That’s definitely a plus for me. The keys are automatically generated upon account creation. You can also create new ones with just a few clicks.

A screenshot of the PGP keyring module in StartMail

Once their PGP public and private keys are set up, users can carry out E2EE. And if the two parties support TLS, TLS can add another layer of protection.

You can only send a PGP-encrypted email to StartMail users and other PGP users. That doesn't mean you can't do end-to-end encryption with non-StartMail or non-PGP users though. For cases like these, StartMail offers a different kind of encrypted email. This method uses shared passwords. Let's talk about that next.

Password protected email

You don't have to limit your encrypted emails to StartMail users. StartMail allows you to send to non-StartMail users as well. You can do encrypted mail delivery with non-users using password-protected messages. In this method, you specify a password which StartMail will use to encrypt your message. Your recipient will then use that same password to decrypt your message. I really like this feature. It's one of the first features I look for in a secure mail service.

A screenshot of the 'View secure message' dialog of StartMail password protected email

Two-factor authentication (2FA)

StartMail offers two factor authentication to augment your password-based logins. 2-factor authentication adds an extra step when you login. In order to login, you need to enter your password AND a code from your chosen authenticator app. This extra step will make it more difficult for a hacker to break into your StartMail account. Even if a hacker somehow gets hold of your password, it will still need your phone to get the code. 

Screenshot of the StartMail login screen
Screenshot of the StartMail Authentication Code input screen

I normally use the Google Authenticator or the Microsoft Authenticator for 2FA. So I'm glad StartMail supports them. These two mobile apps generate new code every 30-60 seconds. These are called time-based one time passwords (TOTPs). TOTPs are almost impossible to use without the phone that generates them. So they really make logins more difficult to crack. 

Anti spam, tracking, and ad features

StartMail offers a comprehensive set of features for fighting spam, tracking, and ads. I was pleasantly surprised to find these capabilities because they’re not offered very often. Not even the top players in this space have something like this. Proton Mail, Hushmail, and Tutanota, for instance, don't have this set of features. 

Let’s talk about some of these features now.

First, it's got a private spam filter that takes into account what you yourself consider spam. It doesn't dictate what should be classified as spam. Rather, It learns from your previous actions and then blocks spam emails based on that. This method keeps your inbox clean while allowing legitimate emails to pass through. 

Second, StartMail has this nifty feature that can block tracking pixels. Tracking pixels are found in images that are embedded into emails. Advertisers and cybercriminals put them there so they can track what you do. StartMail has this feature that can hide senders external images. This blocks the tracking pixels. At the same time, it gives you the option to display images from trusted senders. I find this an effective way to keep those unwanted ads out.

One of my favorites in this set of features is what they call ‘Malicious link protection'. It's a great countermeasure against phishing. Phishing is one of the most common methods for spreading viruses. Basically, a virus can be downloaded when you click an external link on a phishing email. StartMail malicious link protection will warn you if you click on an external link. It will also display the full web address so you know where the link leads to.

Screenshot of the StartMail Mail Settings with the "Always warn me when clicking an external link" toggle switch highlighted

Another feature I really like are StartMail’s Hidden IP Addresses. Emails you send out may contain headers that include your IP address. This will allow advertisers and cybercrooks to track you. You're not exposed to this type of risk if you use StartMail because it hides your IP address. 

Features and Capabilities

Any encrypted email service would be a tough sell if it only focused on security. That's why StartMail is worth considering. When I explored a bit more, I also discovered features and capabilities that are clearly meant to enhance the user experience. Let's talk about those features now. 

Unlimited aliases

Regardless which plan you choose, you'll be given an unlimited number of email aliases. An email alias is an alternative email address. Any email sent to an email alias is forwarded to your main or real address. Why is that a good thing? Well, whoever sends email to an alias won't know your main email address. So, in effect, email aliases protect your main address by hiding it. 

In almost every online service we sign up for, we submit our email address, right? That’s why our email address is associated with us. Some marketers even build profiles about us based on the services where we have our email address on. Email aliases remove that connection. While aliases are linked to our real email address, they're not associated with us. That makes them disposable. 

Once you start getting spam from a service you signed up for using your alias, you can simply delete that alias. That will stop the spam from reaching your mailbox. That's what we mean when we say an email alias is disposable. Having unlimited disposable email addresses can do wonders for your privacy. You can sign up for different services and not expose your main address to spammers or data miners.

Not all secure mail providers offer an unlimited number of aliases. I’d know because like I said, I’ve already tried different email services. The capability to use aliases is one of the first things I check. Tutanota, for example, only provides up to 30 email aliases for its most expensive plans. So this is one advantage you'll get if you subscribe to StartMail. 

StartMail email aliases come in two formats:

  • your_email_alias@use.startmail.com, or
  • your_email_alias@yourdomain.com
 A diagram illustrating how email aliases work

The second format is used in custom domain aliases. These types of aliases can be had when you have a Custom Domain account. We'll talk about custom domain accounts next. 

Custom Domain

When you get a StartMail Personal Plan, your email address will end with @startmail.com. But if you want a more professional looking address, you can get a Custom Domain Plan instead. StartMail offers this plan to users who wish to use their own email domain. For example, you can use johndoe@yourbusinessdomain.com. 

Like the Personal Plan, the Custom Domain Plan supports secure email functionality. In fact, it supports all features found in the Personal Plan. The only difference is that it allows you to use a custom domain whereas the Personal Plan doesn't. If you just want to use secure email for personal purposes, just get the Personal Plan. 

IMAP mail client

While StartMail doesn't have its own native desktop or mobile app, you don't have to stick to the web app. StartMail offers IMAP support. This will enable you to access your StartMail emails from your favorite email client. For instance, you can set up StartMail in Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook. 

Screenshot of the StartMail "Trusted devices/IMAP" screen

Account Recovery

I love that StartMail is giving importance to account recovery. Email is a crucial part of our daily activities, so it would be quite a pain if we lose access to our email account. StartMail offers two easy ways to help you recover your account

The first one uses a one-time recovery code. This code is generated during the account creation process. You'll see it as soon as you're done creating your account. Check out the account creation section below to see what I mean.

The second uses a recovery email of your choice. You'll need an existing email that you can use as a recovery email. If you already got the recovery code mentioned earlier, you don't need this recovery email. Of course, you can also use it as a backup plan.

Screenshot of the StartMail Account Settings screen with the Password Recovery Methods settings highlighted

If you use 2FA, StartMail also offers a way to recover your account should you lose that second factor. This method uses a separate backup code strictly for 2FA. I discussed this in the section ‘Setting up two factor authentication' below. 

Ease of Use and Setup

StartMail won't be winning any awards for its user interface. That said, the UI is not bad either. Well, for all intents and purposes, we're talking about an email app here. I, for one, wouldn’t subscribe to a service just because of its looks. And really, how visually creative can you get with an email app? It’s good enough for me that I find it easy to navigate through StartMail's user interface. Here are a couple of sample workflows to give you a taste of how easy it is to use and set up this email tool. 

StartMail account creation

Creating a StartMail account is quick and easy. I probably completed everything in under 5 minutes. You need to submit payment details, which is a hassle. But you can cancel in 7 days if you don't like what you see. The encrypted email account creation process consists of these general steps:

  1. Go to the Pricing page on the StartMail web site.
  2. Pick a subscription. I picked a monthly subscription under the Personal Plan.
Screenshot of the StartMail Pricing page
  1. Enter your payment details. 
  2. Copy the one-time recovery code. THIS STEP IS VERY IMPORTANT. You’ll need that code in case you forget your password. So save that code in a safe place.
Screenshot of the screen where the One-Time Recovery Code is displayed during account creation

That’s it! You would have already created your new StartMail account.

You may also be asked to specify a recovery email address. This is another account recovery option. If you intend to continue using StartMail on a permanent basis, I suggest you perform this step.

Setting up two factor authentication

Once you've created your account, you might want to consider setting up 2FA right away. It's not because two factor authentication is necessary at this stage, but it's really very easy to do. It can be done under a minute, so why not get it over and done with? All you have to do is login to your account and then:

  1. Go to Settings > Account settings.
  2. Click the Enable button under Two-factor authentication
Screenshot of the StartMail Account Settings screen with the Two-factor authentication "Enable" button highlighted
  1. Launch your authenticator app on your phone and scan the QR code. 
  2. Enter the Authentication code displayed on your authenticator app into the Authentication code box. 
  3. Click Activate.
 Screenshot of the StartMail "Activate two-factor authentication" screen

That’s all there is to it!

If you still have a couple of seconds to spare, you can use that to copy your 2FA backup code. You'll need that backup code if you somehow lose access to your authenticator app. It will help you recover your StartMail user account should the need arise. 

Screenshot of the StartMail Account Settings screen with the Two-Factor Authentication "View backup code" button highlighted.

Customer Support

Every StartMail subscription gets access to 24/7 customer support. You can communicate with the support team through email. Another option is to get information from the StartMail knowledgebase. Lastly, you can also ask questions through their social media accounts. I've seen them replying to questions on Twitter. That said, the best option is still the email-based support. 

Compared to other similar services, StartMail's customer support is quite limited. In other services, I was able to reach the support team through a wider range of channels. The Proton Mail team, for example, can be reached through live chat, phone, email, and a Help Desk system. You can also reach them through social media. 

StartMail FAQ FAQ

We've reached the end of this SmartMail review. But before we part ways, I'd like to cover some of the most frequently asked questions about StartMail. There might be some you've been meaning to ask!

SmartMail’s got the security part covered nicely. I think the anti-spam features are a great addition too. But there are other reliable providers out there. Based on my personal experience with various services, I also recommend these three:

Features/Capabilities/AttributesHushmailProtonMailTutanota
Individual Plan monthly cost if billed annually and converted to USD$3.30/month / User€3.99/month / User€3.00/month / User
Storage per user10 GB15 GB20 GB
Attachment size20 MB25 MB25 MB
Calendar
Encrypted email
Encrypted email to non-subscribers
OpenPGP encryption
Unlimited email alias
Electronic signatures
Web forms
VPN
Free Version
Autoresponder
Two-factor Authentication

There are many reasons why you would need a secure email service. One is the proliferation of online threats. These threats can be a hacker, a nosy ISP, or your competitor. Some threats intercept emails to steal valuable information. A secure email service can thwart these threats by encrypting your messages. Encrypted messages are unreadable to everyone except the intended recipients. 

Diagram illustrating the importance of secure email

Some secure mail servers only store emails in encrypted form. So if you send a super secret personal message and it's stored on that server, no one will be able to read it. In some cases, not even your email service provider. 

Free email services like Gmail and Yahoo claim to be secure. But while these free services do encrypt your emails, they also hold the decryption keys. That means they can decrypt them if they want to. For an email service to be truly secure, it shouldn't be holding your decryption keys. Providers like StartMail, HushMail, Proton Mail, and Tutanota obey that golden rule. 

In an encrypted email service like StartMail, you don't have to worry about this. The kind of encryption used ensures that only the intended recipient can read your email. Let me elaborate a bit more. PGP encryption, which StartMail uses, involves public and private key pairs. An email encrypted with a public key can only be decrypted by its corresponding private key. 

A diagram illustrating how encryption/decryption public and private keys work

When you send an email, StartMail will encrypt your email with the recipient's public key. Upon receiving your email, the recipient can decrypt it using his or her private key. Again, that private key must match the public key that was used for encryption.

If someone else somehow receives the encrypted email, that person won't be able to decrypt it. That's because even if that person had a private key, it wouldn't match the public key used for encryption. This ensures your email will always only be read by the intended recipient. 

StartMail doesn't offer a free trial account. Instead StartMail offers a free 7 day trial. For some, that might be enough. It's possible to run a decent number of tests in 7 days. However, it's worth noting that Proton Mail and Tutanota offer free versions. If you're just looking for a free version, then StartMail isn't it. 

When you sign up for StartMail, you'll be asked to submit payment details. So as soon as the free 7 day trial ends, your StartMail subscription should kick in. 

Most secure email providers offer plans for business accounts. Unfortunately, StartMail doesn't have this kind of plan. Let me elaborate more on what I mean. A secure business email plan normally includes administrative tools for managing users. It may also come with priority customer support. You'll see these in services like Proton Mail and Tutanota. But not in StartMail.

Yes, StartMail supports group subscriptions for multiple users. But they're not what a regular business customer would be looking for. Those subscriptions don't come with the features I mentioned above. Rather, they're more suited for individuals. If you're running a business with many users, check out other options. Try Proton Mail or Tutanota. 

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TREVOR JAMES

Full Time Digital Nomad

About The Author

Hi! I’m Trevor James, a Canadian YouTuber who travels the world full-time. I make videos about food, travel, and cybersecurity. I have been traveling the world and making videos for over 10 years. You can read more about me here.

StartMail

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