More space than Hotmail
Sign up for Yahoo Mail (you'll need to give your name, birth date, and gender), select a username and a password, and Yahoo hands over a mailbox that holds 4MB of messages and attachments. This figure is down from 6MB just several months ago, alas, but it's still more than Hotmail's measly 2MB. Once you've registered, just enter your username and password to log in. Yahoo won't deactivate your account unless you don't use it for four months, which is four times as long as Hotmail's downtime.
Yahoo's new interface looks enormously better than its predecessor's, which was as cluttered as Grandma's attic. The trashy Inside Yahoo and About Yahoo Mail sections are gone, and new DHTML drop-down menus at the top give you one-click access to features and tools. What's our favorite trick? Yahoo offers keyboard shortcuts--for example, you can use Ctrl+Shift+C to check mail--which no other online e-mailer does.
Additional improvements include a storage gauge, much like Hotmail's, that shows you how much room you have left and better integration with Calendar, Address Book, and Notepad. For example, you can add an event to the Calendar from the main Mail display or, with the new QuickBuilder tool, you can add multiple e-mail addresses to your Address Book with one command.
Nails viruses and spam
Yahoo Mail also covers the traditional e-mail bases. It lets you attach up to three files to a message, with a total attachment size of 1.5MB for any one message, and create rules to shunt messages to specific folders or to the trash based on keyword, sender, recipient, or subject.
The virus checker comes courtesy of Norton AntiVirus, and in our tests, it successfully spotted--and warned us not to download--a file infected with the W32.Klez.E virus. Yahoo Mail also comes with built-in spam defense. Bulk Mail, Yahoo's spam terminator, sniffed out all but 5 percent of the spam we received over a 10-day period. This proved much better than Hotmail, which let 35 percent of the spam through its net.
Not so free anymore
Alas, Yahoo Mail has dropped some primo features and slapped a price tag on others. The biggest blow is that Yahoo now charges $30 per year to let you collect your Yahoo mail from a desktop client; Hotmail still does this for free, but it works only with Outlook Express and Outlook 2002. Yahoo also dropped its encryption service, which kept e-mail superprivate.
And worse, Yahoo's much-touted video mail is a joke. Although you can attach a 30-second video clip to your outgoing mesages, the audio and video are so poorly synchronized that it's not worth the trouble. Switch to VMail Talk if you're eager for video mail.
Do you need help? Yahoo's online help files are extensive, and they should answer most of your questions. But there's no phone support, which is typical of most Web mailers.
The best by a mile
While we're bummed that we now must fork over $30 to grab Yahoo mail from a desktop client, Yahoo Mail's new improved interface and impressive feature set more than make up for that loss. No doubt about it, this is the best e-mailer on the Web.