Wednesday, December 17, 2008

MagicJack Update

I don't know if I blogged about it initially but about 2 weeks ago we acquired and installed a MagicJack. This is a USB device that plugs into the back of your computer and gives you Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony or, put more simply, phone service over the internet. The service is dirt cheap. It's $40 for the device and the first year of service (we got ours on sale for $30) and $20 per year for continued service. No, that's not a typo. Telephone service is $20 per year.

We haven't had a land line since we returned from Idaho over a year ago. When we moved back we thought it foolish to pay for phone service we were probably just going to ignore because only people who wanted to sell us something or wanted money from us would call us on it. All of our friends and family just call us on our cell phones anyway.

This has turned out to be occasionally problematic. For instance, you will remember my last day at my previous job. When my friend tried to call my wife, she was asleep on the opposite side of the house from her cell phone. He had to call another friend who happens to have a key (thank God) to go wake her up. There have also been times when a battery dies and someone is trying to reach us. It is during these times that a land line would be useful but it simply isn't worth $30-$40/month just for an occasional convenience.

When we heard about MagicJack, it seemed like the perfect solution for a secondary communication line. When it went on sale at Radio Shack, we decided to take the plunge.

So far, we have had hardly any difficulty with it. We have a bargain-basement bottom-tier DSL connection (256k x 256k) and the calls are clear and sharp. Shortly after hooking it up, I called a friend and the sound kept dropping out (both inbound and outbound). I then realized that my computer was downloading something. Once I stopped the download, it worked fine. I have been looking into setting up Quality of Service (QoS) on our router but it hasn't occurred since. We don't use it much but when we do it has worked just fine.

Shortly after activating the unit, I went looking for the manual so I could figure out how to do things like access my voice mail and find out what other features were available and how to use them. I will save you the trouble... there is no manual. There isn't even a list of features. The closest thing available is a knowledgebase at magicjack.com (link is @ the bottom). The KB is pretty good, actually, but it's one of those situations where you almost have to know about a particular feature before you can ask about the feature and get information on how it works. For instance, I originally plugged a multi-handset cordless phone into the MJ dongle until a friend told me you could plug it into the wall and it makes all of the other phone jacks in your house active... go figure! There is also a web site (my.magicjack.com) for your account management. I had no idea about that until I actually contacted support by chat. A simple "current owners click here" link on the magicjack.com page would have been nice.

After failing to find an official manual, I located a few internet discussion boards for MJ to see if someone had made one. Nope. I may go through the KB and put something together and post it myself but for now there is no manual. Period. The discussion boards have the occasional very angry customers posting very angry messages about the service. One, for instance, posted that you could get your service cut off for making too many phone calls but support would not tell him how many was too many. You'll also find the occasional dire warning about privacy issues, etc. Mostly, though, it is about users helping users with technical issues.

The bottom line: It works for me. If you're looking for a secondary/emergency phone line or a way to make "free" long distance calls ($20/year is a lot cheaper than any phone card I've seen), MagicJack may be for you.

Pros:
Inexpensive startup ($30-$40, first year included)
Inexpensive service fees ($20/year)
Free calling to U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico
Portable (Use your laptop as the base station while on vacation)
Great as a secondary phone line
Cheaper than a calling card for long distance
Call forwarding (forward your calls to your cell phone while you're out)
Use your existing phone and existing wiring
Extremely easy setup (just plug it in to an available USB port and it installs the software from the device)
Includes call waiting, voicemail and caller ID
Free MagicJack to MagicJack calling anywhere in the world (calls to international land lines require the purchase of international minutes)

Cons:
Serious lack of technical support
Technical support appears to be based in a non English-speaking country based on grammar used in chats
No support via phone
Lack of company contact information on web site
No user manual or even feature list
Service interrupted by power failure or internet service failure
Computer it is connected to must remain on
Requires broadband connection
Doesn't work well over wireless
Potential company instability (they appear to be doing everything on the cheap)
Can't transfer your existing home number to MJ (yet!)
Macintosh version only in beta
911 support is different from a normal land line (this is a function of VoIP, not MJ specifically)

Resources:
The Unofficial MagicJack Forum - Pretty decent community of users and by far the most active forum
MagicJack Forum at DSLReports - There's a lot of anti-MJ traffic on this one
MagicJack Tips Tricks and Hacks - A blog about the MagicJack (hasn't been updated in almost a year)
MagickJackforum.com - Recently-launched technical support forum

1 comment:

Al said...

I've been using MagicJack since September,2009. I really like it very much. But... No contact with MagicJack company available , just FAQ and I can't pay for the next one year of its service (I don't need 5 years that is possible) that I want to in advance. Alex.