MagicJack USB Device Worth The Hype? An Honest Magic Jack Review
Magic Jack is the home VoIP solution that is taking on the big boys like Vonage and enjoying great success. The MagicJack, which is primarily advertised as an “as seen on TV” product is gaining some serious traction among the thrifty that are looking to cut costs on their monthly bills. With phone companies usually charging around $30.00 a month for phone service, it’s no wonder that the device has been so popular since the service costs only $20.00 a year. There are Millions of people using this cheap voip service now, which is a testament to its legitimacy. However, this does not mean by any stretch that the product is perfect. In fact, some people of gone as far as to scream Magic Jack scam.
The Magic Jack is a little bit smaller than a credit card and plugs into one of your computers usb ports. The device has a RJ11 input to plug your standard telephone into. Set-up and installation is a snap; the Magic Jack instantly loads its own software and then you can let the free calls begin. The device does require a high speed internet connection so make sure you have a quality cable or DSL connection. Almost all computer operating systems are supported by the device, including Windows XP, Mac, and Windows Vista. At the time this article was written there are some hiccups with getting the Magic Jack to work with Windows 7. The company does offer a download to make the product work with windows 7 http://upgrades.talk4free.com/tools/magicJackUpdate.exe however I have not be able to test this yet.
The fact that you simply plug the MJ into your computer, plug in your phone and start calling for free has attracted many users. After you purchase your Magic Jack USB dongle you receive a unique phone number that is completely yours and lasts for life, this in itself is something other phone companies cannot deliver. During the free trial there is a 100% risk free period which allows the end user to make as many free calls as they desire. There is free local and long distance calls for owners; there is also free directory assistance, free call waiting, free voicemail and free caller ID. The quality of calls you can make with the MJ is very good and the products recent popularity has only increased the features and service you will receive with this product. The online based customer service for the Magic Jack has also been very well received for the most part however there have been some very vocal individuals on the web complaining about the online customer service.
It’s no big surprise that up to 10,000 of these units a day are being sold with a total incurred cost of $19.95 per year plus a $40.00 dollar upfront cost for the magic Jack device it’s self. Once you have paid these dues, you are able to make all the local and long distance calls for $0.00. There are no restrictions on the length of the call or what time the call is being made. So, you are probably wondering what other features you get with the MagicJack. One would think that there would be hidden fees for advanced features such as caller id or voicemail. Another bonus feature that often does not get mentioned is the ability to call 411 directory assistance for no charge as well. This is where the Magic Jack shines, providing voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding, call waiting and 3 way conference calling all for FREE. The only thing that does cost money is International phone calls. However rates are much lower than the local phone company or Cell Company or many VoIP companies. To clarify things a little bit, you can take your Magic Jack USB phone and a laptop out of the country and make phone calls to the US for free.
Now that we’ve established how exactly it functions, let’s look at how many different ways this can go wrong:
Internet Issues = No Phone
Family and friends with standard cable/DSL connections call me to their homes all of the time to fix their Internet connection. This usually involves tweaking/resetting the (usually wireless) home router, or likewise power-cycling the modem. Other times, the issue is on the end of the ISP or an issue with the local machine. The point is, stuff goes wrong in home networks all of the time.
Well that’s a huge problem when your landline phone connection goes through the same connection. Need 911? Having Internet problems? Forget it. And if your cell phone, if any, is also experiencing problems along with your Internet connection then you have no way of calling your ISP (or “geek friend”) for assistance.
The best part about this, is that most cheapo Linksys/D-Link/Belkin home routers usually need resets every now and again when being run with a ton of traffic (e.g. magicJack VOIP traffic or BitTorrent).
So expect the complete loss of your landline phone connection with the loss of your Internet, or for that matter:
Problems With Your PC
Windows isn’t the most secure or stable operating system, but that’s an entirely different rant. Here’s the thing: if a virus is eating up all of your bandwidth or CPU time/memory, then bye bye reliable phone service over VoIP.
And since MJ relies on a _working_ Windows PC, power outages or other mishaps mean you also lose your home phone service. Is it still worth the price? Even with a cell phone to back it up, nothing beats a reliable land line for emergencies or other needs.
Did You Read The EULA?
The End User License Agreement specifically states (as of this writing) that:
You also understand and agree that use of the magicJack device and Software will include advertisements and that these advertisements are necessary for the Magic Jack device to work … Our computers may analyze the phone numbers you call in order to improve the relevance of the ads.
By “Necessary to work”, they mean “completely optional for all practical purposes but we need something to pay the bandwidth/telephony costs”. Right. Surrender all privacy regarding who you call, because Big Brother is watching you, only using the “magic Jack” instead of the conventional Telescreen (reference: George Orwell’s 1984).
Also, the EULA goes out of it’s way to protect the product’s parent company of any possible legal liability that may result from usage of the product. If you don’t believe me, read the current (as of this writing) EULA.
Did they mention that the free voicemail the service offers is stored on remote servers maintained by the company itself? Another point of failure to consider when using the service, combined with the other issues outlined here. You better hope they have sufficient redundancy for their datacenter, else you just lost all of your voicemail.
The voicemail service is mainly to cover for another issue at hand: if the PC is off, the phone is unavailable. So the call made to an off or otherwise unavailable computer with MJ is instead routed to the failsafe voicemail system, hosted on the company’s servers (as mentioned above). While this saves the hassle with failed incoming calls, it still doesn’t justify downtime’s effect on outgoing calls, especially those needed during serious emergencies.
Not that I have any love for conventional phone companies, but should you have the desire to uninstall this POS after reading this, expect editing the registry because another common complaint is that this ad-ridden, naturally-flawed product is difficult to uninstall due to lack of a traditional Windows Installer uninstall utility.
While conventional home phone service isn’t 100% perfect, this product throws way too many other common points of failure into the equation. With viruses like Conficker running on too many machines as it stands, the possibility for the complete loss of privacy as a result of using this product is disturbing to say the least given the appropriate security compromise.
I don’t mean to completely knock Magic Jack as it may seem from reading this post, but I feel it is necessary to outline the potential problems that may come as a result of using it. I value having a hard-wired home phone connection with guaranteed reliability regardless of the Internet connection and power status, because some emergencies also entail the loss of both and a cell phone may be out of reach or uncharged.
Other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services like Vonage require only a base station and the standard Internet connection, independent of a PC (OR Mac) status. Still susceptible to power issues, but that’s a small subset of the factors associated with routing your entire phone connection through a Windows PC.
Take it form a Networking professional: don’t trust your life and privacy in the hands of this product any more than you would your power, PC uptime, and Internet connection at the same time.
A Recent Review From One Of Our Readers Also I since this post started it has amassed a ton of user comments. I have started a new post for magic jack reviews so feel free to make your comments there as they will more likely be read.
Magic Jack has exceeded my highest expectations! Received the device in 2 business days (from Florida to NYC). Set up was a no-brainer. Picked my area code and MJ assigned the phone number. Avoid all the extras . . . imho, they are not worth it. My internet connection (TWC NYC) is excellent, so MJ works like a charm. Quality is excellent! As good as it ever was with Verizon. Very intuitive and easy to use all the features. Conference calling is terrific! Again, quality was without peer. Sure hope that all the good stuff continues. As for the much talked about “spyware” issues, if they’re out there, no one is bothering me . . . and, who really cares. If you use Amazon.com, Google, et. al, they alreeady have your ticket. Well worth the price . . . btw, we use MJ as a second line, as our main line in Vonage, which also works extremely well.
Update: FemtoJack The Magic Jack For Cell Phones
The company Ymax which is behind the MagicJack has been working a new product for some time that will utilize femtocell technology. The product they are calling FemtoJack is similar to the MJ but will allow you to make calls from your cell phone and the FemtoJack will transfer the call through the internet so you will not have to use up your minutes on your cell carriers network. It is rumored that the device will come out in the second quarter of this year and will cost less than $100 dollars. You can imagine that the cell companies are not very happy about this announcement. I will make a post soon on more of the details of this new device.