MagicJack - Not Just Another Low Cost VOIP Provider-Available Only at MagicJack.com (for now)
Oct 14, 2007 (Updated Oct 17, 2007)
It seems like there are a thousand different options for using your internet connection to make phone calls. One of the newest and most interesting VOIP options is MagicJack, currently only available at MagicJack.com (http://www.magicjack.com/). The MagicJack is a small device, a bit larger than a flash drive, that has two connections, a USB jack and a phone jack. When hooked to a broadband capable PC, the MagicJack allows you to use a standard telephone or a PC's headset to make high quality calls to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.
Though I expect the MagicJack to eventually show up in stores, for now the product is only available at MagicJack.com. Thats probably a good idea for a new product like this, the typical internet shopper is a little more technically savvy than your typical Walmart or Best Buy shopper, allowing MagicJack to get their product rolled out any bugs worked out before they really start to grow.
I recently purchased a MagicJack adapter, and although I experienced a few minor problems getting it going, I wouldnt hesitate to recommend the product to anyone who is comfortable using their PC and understands the product's limitations (see below). When I initially plugged the MagicJack into a USB port on my PC, the MagicJack software launched automatically. I then registered with MagicJack, and chose a phone number to associate with that MagicJack. Once that registration was complete, I was able make or receive calls to anywhere in the US (and Canada), including 911 calls. I can make calls using a standard telephone, or a headset attached to the PC. One year of service was included with my MagicJack purchase, with service for an additional year currently priced at $20.
Shopping at MagicJack.com
I ordered my MagicJack from the website about two months ago, placing the order for the only item sold at the website, the $40 MagicJack adapter. The MagicJack adapter is available in two colors, blue or pink, and I chose the blue version. The only other choice for MagicJack shoppers is to decide whether or not to order a second year of service for their MagicJack adapter for an additional $20. Only one shipping option is currently available, $8.95 for 3-5 day USPS service. If you're not satisfied with your purchase, MagicJack will refund the purchase price for the first 30 days. Shipping is not refunded.
The order process will be familiar to internet shoppers, add the item to your cart, register for an account if youre a first time shopper, and check out. MagicJack, being a true online store, accepts Paypal, in addition to the major credit cards (I paid with my Visa card), and keeps a permanent record of your orders. Once my order was complete, I received a confirmation email almost immediately. The next day (a Friday), I received a second email notifying me that my item had shipped. MagicJack did not provide a tracking number for the package.
I received my MagicJack the following Tuesday. The MagicJack was shipped in a padded mailing envelope, packaged in a typical plastic blister package suitable for gift giving or stocking the shelves at Best Buy or Circuit City. In the blister package was the MagicJack adapter, a short USB extension cable, and a very short single page troubleshooting guide.
Setup and Installation
During the initial hookup to your broadband connected PC, users will be required to register and activate the MagicJack. During the registration process users choose a phone number, and provide their address, required for the 911 service. E911 service can be changed easily if you move the MagicJack to another location.
When I signed up, MagicJack only had phone numbers available for 10 metropolitan areas, though that number has since grown to about 50 metro areas including ones in DC, WA, OH, MD, CO, MO, GA, PA, CA, AZ, OR, TX, VA, TN, NV, UT, FL, and MN (see the latest list here:
http://forum.magicjack.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=137 ). I chose a 901 area code (TN) for my MagicJack phone, a random choice. MagicJack claims they will let users change to a different number once in the near future, after they have more numbers and phone exchanges to choose from. Still, it is likely that many users will not be able to get a local phone number for their MagicJack. Many users (including me) have addressed this by getting a free local Grand Central phone number at Googles GrandCentral call answering/messaging/forwarding service, and then forwarding GrandCentral calls to their MagicJack number.
Ive hooked the MagicJack to two different PCs, one running Vista, and one running Windows XP. Though the MagicJack works on the Vista PC, a Vista specific software upgrade from the MagicJack website was required before it would work. I also had Yahoo Music installed on the Vista PC, a music player that is known to cause problems with the MagicJack (MusicMatch also causes problems for the MagicJack). I occasionally experienced lockups on this system. I decided to move the MagicJack to a home theater PC running Windows XP Media Center, which was a better choice for us since we keep this PC running 24/7 to record TV shows and act as a media server in our home. Ive found the MagicJack software to be trouble free on this system.
I use a VTech 6053 phone system with the MagicJack. This phone system is a cordless system with 3 handsets. The base unit is plugged into the MagicJack, and two other cordless handsets are located remotely. One handset is actually located in a separate workroom outside my home, and the second remote handset is in my computer room/office. The phones work just like they would with my land line service, as long as I keep PC running and my internet connection is up (ie, 99+ % of the time).
Using MagicJacks Telephone Service
Those on the receiving end of my MagicJack calls all tell me the call quality is indistinguishable from land line calls. I also find the quality of voice calls to be good, almost as good as my Bell South land line, and significantly better than my Alltel cell phone (Razr v3m). Ive used VOIP services in the past, Skype and others, and have found the qualility to be disappointing, experiencing problems with echoes, stuttering sounds, and poor voice quality that made it hard to follow a long conversation.
When I call someone, my MagicJack number shows up on their caller ID, but not my name. The caller ID on the phone connected to my MagicJack initially didnt pick up the number of the incoming calls. However, I had connected the MagicJack to an unpowered USB hub, and when I powered the hub, caller id started working at least part of the time on my phones. Must have been a power problem.
If you dont answer a MagicJack call, MagicJack will record a message, and email the recording to you as a wav file. You can also get your messages via the MagicJack software on your PC, or calling your MagicJack number, pressing start and entering your password. MagicJack has been promising to offer a call forwarding option soon, but its not available yet.
When you travel, you can take the MagicJack adapter along. Once its plugged in to any broadband connected PC or laptop, the software can be launched from the MagicJack itself, and used to make calls, even from overseas. Youll still need a headset or phone, but it beats using a pay phone or hotel phone or paying roaming fees.
MagicJack works well with GrandCentral also, though I feel it occasionally affects the quality a little, one call routed through a Grand Central number to my MagicJack number suffered a bit of stutter for a few seconds, a Max Headroom effect, which made the caller hard to understand for a short period.
Many VOIP services have come and gone over the past few years. MagicJack is a new company, which carries a similar risk, but their business model seems to give them a fairly strong footing to build upon, including:
- Their parent company, YMAX Communications is a CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) that owns their own switches across the country and has a strong network of interconnecting agreements. This means they pay fewer fees than other VOIP providers, and will earn some fees for calls MagicJack users receive. The network was originally built for a GSM/Wifi phone, but they since decided that was ahead of its time. MagicJack claims this network will allow them to continue to provide better quality than other low cost VOIP providers.
- The MagicJack software includes a window for advertising, another potential source for fees.
- MagicJack has hinted at charging for future unnamed premium services
MagicJack offers a lot of value for its $49 upfront cost and subsequent $20 annual fee. The calling quality is excellent, emergency 911 service is included, theres unlimited free long distance, an answering service, caller id, compatibility with your existing phones, and more. Though I havent tried it, many users have reported success faxing over a MagicJack line. The downsides include the limited selection of available phone numbers, the need to keep a running PC connected to the MagicJack, and the problems the MagicJack adapter has tranmitting caller id info to your phone. If youre a cellular user who is thinking about dropping their land line phone service (POTS), replacing the land line service with a MagicJack may be a convenient compromise.
MagicJack hosts a fairly active user forum at their website. Most of the posts seem to be positive, with MagicJack personel helping to address problems. MagicJack does seem to overpromise a little, new telephone numbers in different areas are being added, but slower than expected. Implementation of promised new features, including call forwarding, Mac compatibility, and calling overseas seems to be a little slower than MagicJack wants it to be. That said, it appears that the product rollout is being handled well, the service quality has been consistently good over the past two months, and word of mouth advertising continues to be positive. The website is handling orders smoothly and promptly. I expect the service to get a big boost over the holiday season, and it will be interesting to see how the product holds up and develops over the next few months.
Is your internet connection good enough for VOIP?
Of course, one factor which will determine how well the MagicJack works for you is your internet connection. If you're unsure if your connection will support VOIP, test it here:
My internet provider is Cox (cable), and I'd rate my service as very good. The VOIP speed test measures several factors, download/upload speed, a "quality" measurement which indicates how much variation there is in my bandwidth, jitter, and packet loss. Except for the quality score, all my numbers are consistently on the high end of what is needed for VOIP. And while this test rates my quality at anywhere from 50-90%, depending on which test location I use, the quality of my MagicJack calls is consistently good.
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