With cell phone plans getting cheaper, people are dropping their landlines like flies. Many 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 small device into your computer via USB, and then plug a landline phone into the device via a telephone cable. Unfortunately, the biggest pitfall of MagicJack has been the fact that it’s PC dependent. Many users, like myself, would prefer to use MagicJack without having to have the computer turned on. Fortunately, MagicJack has heard our calls and their next generation MagicJack PLUS device addresses this issue, and more.
The new MagicJack PLUS is a similarly petite and portable device, just like its predecessor. And it will still work if you plug it into your PC via USB. 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 account set-up, it takes almost no effort to get up and running to start making calls, if you choose to use MagicJack Plus while connected to 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 did try using MagicJack PLUS while connected to our computer, but we were even more excited to try MagicJack by plugging one end of it into our router, and 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 that you use MagicJack PLUS. But once you have set-up your account, you can bypass using a computer all together. 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 for an additional $10 a year, or a Canadian number for an additional $10 a year as well. You can also choose the last four digits from a list of available numbers for $3 a year. Finally, during the set-up process you can also choose to opt in for 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. But either way, we wish they also offered a pay-as-you go option for international minutes.
Aside from the ability to work without a computer, MagicJack Plus also has support to work over a computer’s Wi-Fi or 4G connection. MagicJack PLUS also now offers Number Porting for $19.95. To get your number ported, you’ll have to log onto your account on MagicJack’s 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 cut the cord on 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 was able to remedy the situation 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 has sold over 7 million devices so today. And MagicJack PLUS’s closest competitor is the NetTALK Duo. However, the NetTALK duo is a bit pricer, it costs $69.95 for the device and first year of service, and $29.95 there after. Until now, the NetTALK Duo one-upped MagicJack PLUS because it wasn’t dependent on a computer, but now that MagicJack PLUS is available, and it’s priced more affordably, the competition 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. So as long as you have an internet connection to use MagicJack PLUS with, you can save tons of money calling your friends and family back at home in the U.S. or Canada, – so essentially it’s like you’re getting unlimited international calling to the U.S. It could also really pay to purchase MagicJack PLUS just to ship to friends and family overseas who call you a lot in the U.S., so that this way you can talk to them as much as you want. Try doing that with Vonage or Ooma, and you’ll regret it since their VoIP systems are not meant for easy portability. In this way, MagicJack is similar to Skype. And really, now that MagicJack works without a computer, why should anyone want to bother with pricier VoIP services like Vonage and Lingo anymore, especially if you just require basic calling services? MagicJack PLUS will be available any day now and it will retail for $50, which is just $10 more than the original MagicJack. But considering how much more it offers, that is a very fair price increase.
The Good: Unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada for dirt cheap! Portable device. Easy to set-up. No software required. Now with number porting. Serious alternative to Skype.
The Bad: Somewhat shoddy web site 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 MagicJack’s PR team that MagicJack plus is set to go on sale this week! Here are the details -