MagicJack – adipiscor, experior, remitto

Also loosely (and probably poorly) translated – To Acquire, To Try, To Return.

I had heard about MagicJack from our local consumer advisor “Clark Howard“. The idea is that you get this USB dongle-like piece of hardware that you plug into your computer, it runs a bit of software that allows your computer to work with it and control a soft phone, and you plug any normal phone into the other end of the MagicJack appliance and you can make calls through your computer and broadband connection for next to nothing.

I had recently switched from AT&T to Comcast and Michelle wanted to have a landline (or equivalent) as she’s got a real bee in her bonnet about using a cell phone when she’s at home.

The MagicJack proposition is pretty simple, you pay $20 (Plus $6.95 s&h) for the dongle-device and then you pay $19.95 a year thereafter for unlimited local and long distance calling thereafter. At least long distance to Canada and within the United States. I didn’t pay too much attention long distance rates to other locales as I seldom call those.

The website is pretty sparse, I suppose that’s a good thing, but it didn’t give me a great sense of permanence. And the video of the kid talking to the MagicJack guy on the main page is just plain creepy.

I have to say the upsell when you’re trying to make the purchase is pretty annoying, it’s on a par with There are about a half dozen screens you need to click through offering you a second MagicJack for X dollars, upgrade NOW for 5 Years at a reduced cost and on and on. But after wading through all that crap you finally can click to have the MagicJack sent to you.

I tried out my unit for about 10 days before I got an RMA off of the website and returned it. The first thing I noticed was that the unit really doesn’t play nice with Google Voice, which I’ve been using for years now and rather like. When you want to add a new phone number to your Google Voice account you get a confirmation number which you are supposed to punch into your phone when the Google Voice system calls you. Through MagicJack I couldn’t hear the Google Voice prompts so I had to just guess at when to type in the confirmation code. This happened for both mine and Michelle’s Google Voice lines as I was setting them up on separate days.

I also had that weird happening where iTunes would only play through my telephone until I rebooted the computer after I had first set up the MagicJack on my system.

If that were the end of it I suppose I would have been OK with it. After all $20 a year for phone service is pretty darned good. But I kind of wanted it to be reliable too.

I found that, about half to a third of the time, I could not pick up my Google Voice calls through the MagicJack phone line. If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, it defaults to a “presentation mode” where, when you pick up the phone, it will announce the caller and give you the option to pick it up, send to voicemail, record or ignore the call. I’d pick up the phone, the call would be announced and then none of my keypresses would be passed through to Google Voice. So I’d quickly need to pick up my cell phone to answer the call.

More frustrating, about one in five calls would end up being just crap. Either I or the other person on the line could not understand the other (it seemed to be one way failing at a time).

Finally, a couple of times during my testing, the MagicJack software simply stopped. No crash, no warning dialog, it just wasn’t running anymore. The first time I was at home and I just unplugged and re-plugged in the dongle-device. But the second time Michelle was home alone and, as far as she was concerned, the phone system just wasn’t working. My computer is always locked by default and it’s not really her forte, nor her desire, to troubleshoot the phone system when she wants to use it.

So I’d say that MagicJack is probably worthwhile for a modestly tech-savvy person living alone who leaves their computer on all the time and who hasn’t just simply moved to a cell-phone only existence.

For me, I’ve now re-upped with Vonage and things have been very smooth. Having the dedicated router for the phone (rather than relying on a computer being on) is a big plus. Also, the Vonage connection is rock-solid and I’ve had no problems at all with it working with Google Voice. I don’t install my Vonage router in the prescribed method (cable modem — Vonage Router — Linksys router) because I prefer to keep control over my system directly, so I have my Vonage router plugged into my Linksys WRT54G with DD-WRT firmware and have assigned it a permanent IP AND set the Quality of Service so that the Vonage router gets priority. Haven’t had ANY issues so far…

But, since nobody is perfect, I’ll keep an eye on it for a while 🙂

6 thoughts on “MagicJack – adipiscor, experior, remitto”

  1. I know magic jack users tend not to be young tech-savvy people. The average age is 50. But it is better to have Magic Jack than some other pointlessly expensive home phone service.

  2. @Brian Gabriel – Hey Brian, I’m somewhat surprised by that average age. Can you tell me where you sourced that information from?

    I suppose folks have to weigh for themselves the cost of a system versus its reliability…

  3. @Brian Gabriel – Thanks Brian. I have to say that I’m impressed with adoption by the older set. the 18-24 folks don’t surprise me at all. I figure they use cell phones for nearly everything and must be using other methods (Skype?) for international or long distance that doesn’t require a regular landline-style telephone.

  4. I remember seeing Magicjack on a 30-minute infomerical several years ago. I wonder if some of the flaky-ness you experienced was the “added-value” that Vista brings to the table? BTW, do you get the TV comercials down there for Windoze 7 where a little kid that can barely talk is going on about how great Windoze7 is?


  5. We might, but as soon as I get some kid trying to give me advice on life insurance, what kind of car to buy or my computer operating system my thumb automatically hits the the fast forward button.

    Whoever though grown adults would want advice on complex items from children is a sad, sad marketing person…

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