ProtonMail: My Initial Impressions

Email is often at the core of our productivity systems. It’s how many of us receive things we need to do (or tell others to do).

As time as gone on, I’ve been convinced that if a company doesn’t explicitly respect your privacy, they don’t. I hate being so pessimistic but the tale has played out over and over again – company gets your data, does something nefarious (or stupid) with it in the background, nefarious action is leaked to the public.

Since I use email not only for talking with people, but receiving bank statements, receipts, and the like, I decided I didn’t want to possibly leave it open to mass surveillance, prying eyes, or AI model training.

A note on 'I have nothing to hide'

I’m a law-abiding citizen, and by that nature I have nothing to hide. But when companies like Target can profile your life and tell things about you before you even know, the less data I give, the better.

My life is not to be monetized.

So this winter I decided to take a dive into ProtonMail, an email service based out of Switzerland. I’m not going to go into why ProtonMail is more secure than other options because, frankly, there are a million articles and blog posts explaining why that’s the case. I wanted to, in unordered fashion, give my first impressions on using the service.

My Initial Impressions

Setting things up was relatively easy. I paid for the Visionary plan as I have multiple accounts and emails I wanted to add, plus ProtonVPN access is a plus. If you’ve ever setup email on a custom domain, this is relatively straightforward to accomplish.

I’ve also imported my email from two different accounts in. Again, a seamless process. All you do is provide your email, account password, and IMAP server, and ProtonMail does this all in the background for you.

Compared to something like Tutanota, I’m grateful ProtonMail doesn’t force all emails to stay inside their service. This is a compromise, as emails that go to another service can be analyzed, but at least I’m relatively in control of what happens there. No worries from me.

The web client is reasonably well featured, and the ProtonMail 4.0 beta is even better! It’s a bit slow at times, but I think this is due to the decryption happening. I can live with that.

On iOS, you’re limited to using the ProtonMail app. This might be a show stopper for some who use apps like Spark or Airmail and depend on the sharing features those apps provide. I do not. However, the app is good enough for me on mobile, which is basically to check email or send off quick replies.

I have no intentions of using Proton Bridge, their app to allow you to use IMAP clients like Apple Mail or Outlook with ProtonMail. The web app is fine enough for me.


Have you used ProtonMail? If so, what’s your experience been like? I’ve been impressed so far.

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How robust are filters in Protonmail? I use filters promiscuously in Gmail; I’d be lost without them.

I’ve been using it for quite some time now and I have switched to the paid version about a year ago.
It’s awesome, works with importing my old pgp keys really well. Also if you want to manage your mail from your domain in a secure way, protonmail guides you step by step through the necessary dns records.
I’d recommend it and would encourage people to pay for it, as well. This project needs to get supported.

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They seem to be decent! I’m using a few, though not very complex, filters, and they’re quite capable.

Fully agree. This is a needed project in this day in age!

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Been using it for almost a year. They are still in the developmental phase, eg. Calendar. But overall I am very happy. #1 Reason? Security!!!

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I may be completely out of whack here but I see little point in using protonmail unless the receiver is also using it. The concept of “secure encrypted” mail at only one end seems little more than a marketing ploy to me. If your sending to a gmail account then it gets read by Big G’s AI algorithms anyway so the whole process was pointless.

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Yes that’s a fair criticism — my main idea is I’d rather have my personal/financial information moving through a host that has zero chance of snooping on it vs. 100% total privacy. I don’t have anything to hide, but it’s the principle of nobody should have the right to analyze, screen, or view my emails without my permission.

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Totally agree, I ditched Gsuite for that very reason amongst others and now use Fastmail which is I believe a fair compromise between security and power.

I really do not like having to use multiple mail clients and proton mail will not play nice easily with third party mail clients ( I maintain an iCloud account for personal use) like Mailmate which is probably the ultimate Mac mail app.

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Very true - I’ve started using the web client and that’s been sufficient for me for now. I don’t deal with a lot of email myself so it hasn’t been a problem, but if a person was using a 3rd party client and relied heavily upon it, I probably wouldn’t recommend ProtonMail.

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This is an interesting conversation - thanks Justin for starting it! I agree with this wholeheartedly:

I am mostly concerned with google accessing and using my email history in ways that I don’t understand or agree with.

I took a look at protonmail two years ago, when contemplating weaning myself from gmail. In the end I found the apps lacking. It was just not as fun and easy to use as the gmail web and mobile apps.

What I have since done is start trying to move more conversations that I care about into Discourse forums, including some private forums for my family.

I also have set up 2fa on all other sites I log into whenever possible, and set up keepass to maintain secure passwords. This allows me to log in securely without having to refer too often to login links being sent to my email.

To be honest, email is becoming less and less relevant for my day to day. I still refer back to it from time to time and there are a few people who still email me… mostly my father and older relatives who like to forward newsletters or funny email chains. I tend to reply via other channels. Otherwise it’s just the central place to manage my other online accounts and receive newsletters that I never read anyway.

If I were able to set up a personal discourse instance to receive all email from now on, I’d totally go for that. There’s new IMAP support for group inboxes which is very promising. I’d then be able to “garden” my correspondence the same way I can garden discourse topics on my forums, tagging items that I want to keep and deleting what is not relevant.

It would be a fun hardcore goal to have to feed my entire email history into discourse and then delete my gmail account!

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That’s an innovative use of the software for sure.

For me, I like keeping conversations like that in email just because it’s so much more portable. If you have your own domain, it’s easy to grab an export of your mailbox, jump to another provider, and all your data just moved with you.

Having done Discourse imports, it’s not as easy moving a database. But if you’re committed to the platform for that it makes total sense.

It would be interesting to see how all the email support there pans out. I used to have all the Effective Remote Work email funneled right here to Discourse, but it was allowing through way too much spam and caused issues for some senders. I have that now set up as an alias on one of my ProtonMail accounts, so no worries about that anymore.

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