Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Signing up with Sort Once takes about 10 minutes; just hand over your name, address, and credit card number, then pick a username and a password. Sort Once's clear, step-by-step online directions help you configure Outlook Express, Outlook, Netscape Messenger, and Eudora to work with Sort Once.
While Hotmail charges you to retrieve messages from one POP account, Sort Once lets you grab mail from as many as five at no extra charge. And unlike Yahoo, which now levies a fee to pull Web mail into your desktop e-mail client, Sort Once integrates with any client capable of handling the IMAP protocol--that is, most of them. Of course, you still have to pay for Sort Once up front, which is not the case with free Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. And what is Sort Once's claim to fame? That's got to be its IMAP protocol, which remembers what you've done with any message, whether you filed it to a folder or deleted it entirely, so that your mail stays synchronized and up-to-date, no matter how many desktop clients you use to access it.
Beware the Bulk Mail folder
Although blending Web and desktop e-mail access is Sort Once's raison d'être, the service provides additional compelling tools. For example, you can set up autoresponders to answer incoming mail while you're on vacation; Yahoo includes this feature, but Hotmail does not. Sort Once's minimalist spam-filtering system sniffs out junk mail according to the product's own list of known offenders and drops it into a Bulk Mail folder. Unfortunately, you can't add spammers' addresses yourself, which makes the filtering less effective than that of dedicated antispam utilities, such as SpamKiller. More distressing, some of our legitimate messages were placed in Bulk Mail, where they could have been easily overlooked.
Spring for a Sort Once Enhanced account, which costs $8 per month or $96 per year, and you'll also get antivirus protection, based on technology from RAV AntiVirus. In our tests, Sort Once blocked a variation of the Klez virus, as did Yahoo Mail, while Hotmail let the nasty code sneak through. Sort Once also offers an obscenity filter that looks for messages with dirty words, then either dumps messages containing them into the Bulk Mail folder or deletes them.
If you have trouble getting at your e-mail, you can call anytime (it's a toll call) or e-mail Sort Once's support desk. However, we called twice--the first time on a weekend, the next on a workday--and reached only an answering machine. Sort Once never returned our call. Not acceptable.
Sort Once is really worthwhile only if you use multiple e-mail clients and need to access mail with a browser. Do you pull mail from just one computer and want Web mail, too? Hotmail and Yahoo Mail services do the trick for less.