April 04, 2019 –

Pros and cons of POP, IMAP, and Exchange email accounts

Author: Leah Benzie
Leah Benzie
Digital Account Manager
Photo by: rawpixel

POP, IMAP, and MS Exchange are all types of email connection protocols, and are methods by which a communication channel is established to allow emails to be sent between two computers or devices.

When an email is sent from a computer or mobile device, the components are uploaded to the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server as outgoing mail and are then delivered and stored on the recipient’s incoming mail server, ready to be read.

Below we have listed the pros and cons of each protocol.


POP (Post Office Protocol) is a simple email service which allows your email client (i.e. Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail) to connect to the mail server and download your emails directly to your computer or mobile device. The downloaded emails are then removed from the server.


  • Cheap to use as no licences are required
  • Supported by virtually all devices, meaning you can access your mail wherever you are
  • Simple to implement and configure
  • Mail is always available on your devices for offline use


  • Messages are removed from the server once they’ve been downloaded
  • The server holds no copies of sent messages
  • Download speed is dependent on bandwidth, meaning any large attachments will take a while to download
  • If mail is accessed on multiple devices (for example, on your desktop, mobile phone, and tablet), you may see different emails depending on what was downloaded on each device
  • Doesn’t allow for inbox customisation. i.e. you’re not able to create different folders


IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) has all the functions of POP, but also allows users to sync emails between multiple devices. This means you are able to view the same emails on all of your devices.


  • As with POP, no licences are required
  • Again, IMAP is also supported by virtually all devices
  • Email syncing allows users to access all messages, as both incoming and outgoing emails are stored on the server, rather than downloaded directly to your device(s)
  • Ability to organise your inbox, and add different folders


  • Folders are likely to be duplicated if not set up properly
  • If you never delete emails, or have a small amount of storage it is easy to run out of inbox space
  • More powerful servers are required

MS Exchange

Microsoft Exchange is a platform developed by Microsoft and requires the purchase and use of user or server licenses. Previously, it has been marketed to enterprise level consumers, however with the development of Microsoft Office 365, small to medium sized businesses can now benefit from functionality found in Exchange, at a more affordable rate.


  • Incoming and outgoing mail is saved on the server
  • Email syncing ensures that a copy of each email remains on the server, whilst also being copied to your device(s)
  • Ability to organize your inbox, and add different folders
  • Native integration with Microsoft products such as Sharepoint and Office
  • Collaborative tools such as shared calendars and file storage allow team members to share resources
  • Licence costs can be scaled by purchasing on either a per user or per server basis
  • Although MS Exchange is more expensive than POP or IMAP, the typical mailbox capacity is a lot larger, meaning that cost per GB is actually really competitive
  • Updated regularly meaning users are always using the latest version. This is inclusive of Office 365


  • Setup and maintenance are more technical, so require more specialised knowledge

So which protocol should you be using? This depends entirely on how you want to access and use your emails. There are pros and cons for each protocol, but it’s important to establish the best one for your requirements. For example, if you use multiple devices to check, respond to, and send emails then IMAP or Exchange would be beneficial due to their functionality. However, if you have a designated device and the need to access your messages (including attachments) offline, then POP will guarantee that they are always available even if you don’t have access to the internet. Nonetheless, for enterprise level reliability, scalability, and productivity we tend to find that Office 365 is the clear winner as once set up, it rarely fails.

If you would like more information on any of the above, please do feel free to contact us and one of the team will be happy to help.