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We’ve seen the “just plug it in” pitches on late-night TV, the cheesy website, and the spotty instructions, none of which exactly inspire confidence in the magicJack. But still, the allure of nearly free phone calls all over the country (or to Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is strong. Plus since it’s VOIP, your number can travel with you. Believe it or not, magicJack turns out to be pretty magical.
The magicJack costs $39.95, including a year of unlimited, Internet-based calling; thereafter it’s $19.95 a year ($1.67 a month). The magicJack is the size and shape of a USB key, with a standard telephone jack on the end--although it’ll also work with your computer mic and speakers or headset, if you want to skip the traditional phone. A USB extension cord is provided in case the unit blocks access to other ports.
The onscreen keypad lets you use the magicJack without a telephone handset.
After we plugged the magicJack into a USB port, an external drive icon, “Phone,” appeared on our MacBook’s desktop followed by clear, step-by-step prompts. In less than five minutes we’d picked an area code, been assigned a new phone number, done a 911 configuration for emergency calls, set up voicemail, and were ready to roll.
We first used our regular telephone but soon switched to a Logitech USB headset and dialed out by clicking on the displayed keypad. It was exhilarating to schmooze for hours with friends in Honolulu, Nome, Montreal, San Juan, and elsewhere, without racking up any long-distance bills. Sound quality on both ends (even on calls to cell phones) was superb with no dropouts or static.
The magicJack offers portable access to unlimited long-distance calling.
When our Mac was running and online, we could receive calls too. If your computer is off or offline, incoming calls go to voicemail, retrievable from any phone and also automatically emailed as sound files. Other free features include call waiting, 911, call forwarding, directory assistance, and caller ID. A unit that piggybacks onto the magicJack to allow indoor, interference-free, cell phone calls--without per-minute charges--is in the works too.
The magicJack can display ads onscreen, although the company is not currently implementing this “feature.” When we contacted customer service via the magicJack website to clarify a few things, we were led through a frustrating, seemingly script-driven IM conversation with a rep, who ultimately could not answer (and seemed to not understand) our question about whether or not the magicJack installs software locally on your machine, although magicJack CEO and inventor Dan Borislow later confirmed that the device does install a few small files to help it connect more quickly to your account.
Nearly free calls are fantastic, and call quality with the magicJack was better than we expected. But lackluster support and documentation might make some users wary of hanging up on their traditional landline phone service just yet.
PRICE: $39.95 (includes one year of unlimited service), $19.95 per year thereafter; 5-year plan available for $59.99 REQUIREMENTS: Intel Mac with OS 10.4.11 or later; broadband Internet connection.
Excellent sound quality, unlimited calls to U.S. and Canada.
You need a broadband Internet connection. Won't work with PowerPC Macs. Cannot port your existing telephone number. Support is lackluster.