With cell phone plans getting cheaper, landlines are dropping like flies. Many people are even dropping more affordable VoIP services like Vonage and Lingo. Yet, it was only a few years ago when MagicJack came out with a pricing scheme that blew the competition away. The premise of MagicJack is pretty simple—buy the MagicJack device for $39.99, and you get a free year of calling to the U.S. and Canada. Each year after that costs just $19.99. MagicJack also provides users with Voice Mail, Call Waiting, conference calling, call forwarding, and 911 assistance. To get up and running all you had to do was plug the MagicJack into your computer via USB, then plug a landline phone into the MagicJack via a telephone cable. Unfortunately, the biggest pitfall of MagicJack has been that it’s dependent on a computer. Many users, like myself, would prefer to use MagicJack without having the computer turned on. Fortunately, MagicJack has heard our calls, and their next generation MagicJack PLUS addresses this issue and more.
The new MagicJack PLUS is a petite and portable device, just like its predecessor, and will still work if you plug it into your computer. We tried plugging it into our Mac and the MagicJack software was up and running in just a moment. Once you have signed up and gone through the initial MagicJack account set-up, it takes almost no effort to start making calls. If you choose to use MagicJack Plus with a computer, you can use it while connected to a landline handset or with a headset – the same kind of headset and mic that you would use with Skype. We tried using MagicJack PLUS with our computer, but we were even more excited to try MagicJack without a computer, by plugging one end of it into our router, then hooking up our landline headset into it. However, keep in mind that you will have to connect the device to a computer the first time you use MagicJack PLUS. Once you have set up your account, you can use MagicJack without a computer altogether. A USB extension cable, AC adapter, instructions, and an ethernet cable for connecting the MagicJack PLUS to your router are all included in the box.
When you first set up the device on a computer, you’ll be given the option of choosing a vanity number or a Canadian number, both for an additional $10 a year. You can also choose the last four digits from a list of available numbers for $3 a year. Finally, during the MagicJack set-up process you can also purchase replacement insurance for just $10 a year, or upgrade to 5 years of additional free local and long-distance calls for $69.95.
When it comes to making international calls, MagicJack offers an option to purchase prepaid international minutes. Their international rates are not that great – especially when calling mobiles in certain locations overseas. Either way, we wish MagicJack also offered a pay-as-you go option for international minutes.
Aside from the ability to work without a computer, MagicJack Plus can also work over a Wi-Fi or 4G connection using your computer. MagicJack PLUS also now offers number porting for $19.95. To get your number ported, you’ll have to log onto your account on the MagicJack website. Unfortunately, the account interface looks quite antiquated. It works, but it’s a bit shoddy. Either way, the ability to port your number to MagicJack is great news, since it will make it easier for people to do without their pricey landline – or even their pricey VoIP line, since they can now take their number with them.
With MagicJack PLUS, the company has improved the call quality experience using Echo Control and HD Voice. At first I couldn’t hear callers well, but I fixed that by increasing the volume in the MagicJack software’s settings. Call quality with MagicJack PLUS has so far been pretty good. Callers sounded clear, and they said that I sounded clear as well. However, I could hear a faint static noise in the background, and they said that they could hear it too. Overall, quality is not quite as good as my previous VoIP provider, but it’s still good.
MagicJack PLUS’ closest competitor is the NetTALK Duo, which is a bit pricier; it costs $69.95 for the device and first year of service, and $29.95 thereafter. Until now, the NetTALK Duo one-upped MagicJack by working without a computer, but now that MagicJack PLUS is available, more affordable, and can also work without a computer, the competition between MagicJack and NetTALK is really heating up.
When it comes to MagicJack PLUS, setup is a breeze, even on a Mac. So, don’t throw away that landline handset just yet, because MagicJack will give it a new lease on life. Plus, because MagicJack is so portable, it’s also very convenient to take with you traveling – especially when you’re traveling overseas. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can save tons of money calling your friends and family back at home in the U.S. or Canada with MagicJack PLUS, – it’s like you’re getting unlimited international calling to the U.S. It could also pay to purchase MagicJack PLUS just to ship to friends and family overseas who call you a lot, too. Try doing that with Vonage or Ooma, and you’ll regret it since their VoIP systems are not readily portable. In this way, MagicJack is similar to Skype. Besides, now that MagicJack works without a computer, why should anyone bother with pricier VoIP services like Vonage and Lingo anymore, especially if you just require basic calling services? MagicJack PLUS will be available soon and will retail for $50, which is just $10 more than the original MagicJack. Considering how much more it offers, that is a very fair price increase.
The Good: Cheap unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada, portable, easy to set up, works without a computer after initial setup, number porting, serious alternative to Skype
The Bad: Shoddy website interface, international calling rates aren’t that great, device gets very hot when plugged into AC adapter
Update 9/12/2011: We’ve just heard from the MagicJack PR team that MagicJack PLUS is set to go on sale this week! Here are the details –
- The magicJack PLUS will be officially available this week on www.magicJack.com. Available in major retailers before the holidays.
- Number porting capability will be included.
- The magicJack PLUS will be sold for $69.95 but all current users of the original magicJack will be able to upgrade for only 50% of that cost for 60 days. This will include the device and first year of service.
- Renewal will remain at the $29.95 annual rate. This is an increase from what it has been in the past. It was always $19.95 before, now it will be $29.95. This is the first price increase magicJack has ever had.
- Also, a magicJack mobile app called magicJack APP for iPad, iPhone and iTouch (effectively turning the iTouch into a phone – a rather cheap one) is in the works which should be available by the end of the fall.