Here’s some info to chew on: over the last five years Americans have been dropping their home phones like a bad habit. Whether this mass exodus is due to unnecessary cost, convenience, or a combination of both the trend is undeniable as a record number of Americans have dropped their landline phones entirely in favor of mobile and ‘other’ options.
I’m among the majority who have since moved on to the world of smartphones, tablets even, especially for those moments you can get your point across quicker almost anywhere with IMs, SMS, or email. While this may depress landline loyalists, all is not lost, as plenty of those ‘other’ options have become easier, cheaper, and more available than ever before.
For those who need an inexpensive option for actually talking on their phones (a novel concept) and have a reliable broadband internet connection a VoIP (Voice-over-Internet Protocol) adapter like MagicJack Plus is probably all the phone service most people will ever need.
MagicJack has come a long way since we first reviewed the computer-tethered adapter a few years back. Admittedly, there’s barely anything to the package – just a glossy black adapter that fits in the palm of your hand. Granted, there other external details such as LAN and phone jacks, two USB accessory ports, a SIM card-looking slot on the side, and finally the main USB power connector that indiscriminately sticks out. Also included is a separate AC adapter, Ethernet cable, and USB extension cable for good measure.
Getting everything up to speed only takes a few minutes by connecting your phone line (and phone) directly to the PLUS, then hooking that up to your router with the LAN cable (don’t forget that the PLUS requires AC power); and within seconds the cheap VTech cordless phone I was using produced a solid dial tone. It really does work instantly and technically without a computer, although you might as well just hook the device up to an online PC/Mac first since registration is mandatory.
Plugging the PLUS adapter into any PC/MAC automatically installs itself and the registration process sets you up with an online account and phone number the first time through. There’s a plethora of screens to navigate, bordering on overkill really, along with additional offers attempting to sideline you. Yes, this is a MagicJack hallmark, and still annoying as ever. Some things never change.
Beyond that, the PLUS typically worked just as well over a computer with the integrated dashboard or connected to a standard telephone. Similar to mobile phones, making any outgoing calls involves dialing in an area code first whether it’s local, long-distance, or toll-free. Average quality ranged between good to great when the conversations were tied to local landline numbers, with active latency mostly stutter-free and inaudible static kept to a minimum. The only real faults I had was an inconsistent, but noticeable, dial tone delay when connecting to some numbers, sometimes upwards of 10 seconds, as well as the occasional dropped call.
Calls to cell phone numbers however were consistently choppier, but this really didn’t surprise me since a decent mobile call is only as good as the carriers’ coverage. Indeed the MagicJack falls a bit short while competitors BasicTalk and the DUO WiFi share the top honors. Fortunately, the free MagicApp smartphone companion (available for iOS and Android) is a bright spot when you’re away from your pseudo-landlines.
You can expect free 411 directory, emergency assistance (911) with location tracking, and conference calling (the PLUS can’t officially do three-way). Other essentials include free setup for call waiting, forwarding, and voicemail also come standard. Before I forget, long distance and calling abroad is free as if it’s to other US/Canadian residents or internationally to other MagicJack users.
As for the competition, each VoIP service has its own merits. In pricing, the PLUS start at an agreeable $39.95 for the device that includes 6 free months of service and $35 a year for an ongoing annual plan (monthly and five year plans also exist). In contrast, netTALK with the DUO WiFi is expensive at $64.99 but also covers the first year of service (additional annual service is $29.99/year) with more features, while the BasicTalk device is (technically) free but offers much less along with a monthly charge of $9.99.
The MagicJack Plus is affordable, mostly reliable, and probably the most balanced choice for those curious in a viable VoIP alternative to replace their regular landline. The package is mostly appealing but still not as robust like netTALK, unless you count the variety in the available plans and terms. Regardless, the PLUS is a versatile landline replacement that should do the job for almost everyone, but I recommend reading through a lot of that fine print before you buy.