Saturday, April 25, 2009

MagicJack: pros and cons

MagicJack (MJ) is a USB Internet phone device using the processor chip from Tiger Jet acting as an adapter that allows you to plug in a regular phone and then use, or directly use the provided softphone via your computer with a speaker and a microphone ready. The device is Windows compliance so there is no driver needed. Any new driver update will be automatically detected and distributed via Windows update.

I purchased it because I was suddenly required 100% travel due to the department transfer and I began disliking my new task. I was thinking to leave the company by starting my job search journey. Since I had the company cell phone, I could simply forward all my personal calls to my cell because my home phone was a basic land line without any feature. Thus, I would like to have an economic solution. MagicJack is the solution I chose. If you have stable high-speed Internet connection, the phone quality will be as good as a regular land line. MJ works like other VoIPs like Vonage but with much lower cost. You can use it wherever you are including internationally, and unlimited calls are free to made within/to the US and Canada.

I am a MagicJack user and use it every day now. I would like to share some thought and experience here. You may find them useful to decide if MagicJack is right for you.

Pros Cons

Driver Needed No, MagicJack is compatible on Windows and Windows compliance. Thus, there is no driver needed. Any new driver update will be automatically detected and distributed via Windows update.

Easy Installation Unlike its advertisement on TV (i.e., no installation), MagicJack requires software download and installation. You must sign-up an account as soon as you have softphone installed and then activated it before you can make a call. This is based on my experience. I have 3 laptops and 1 desktop at home; they all required manually software download and installation.

Cost and Features Low cost. The first year subscription including the device itself is $39.95 + shipping and handling ($9.95 for USA user). Up to this moment I am writing (April 25, 2009), each subsequent subscription per year is only $19.95 and $59.95 for 5 years. Unlike a landline or other VoIPs, the price here is final without additional tax or subcharge. The cost includes all the needy features: unlimited local and long distance call, 411 directory assistance, voice mail, call waiting, 3-way calling, call forwarding, 911 service, and Do-Not-Disturb.

Total Call Minutes No limit on total call minutes. Unlimited calls can be made within the United State and Canada. But the duration of each call is limited to 2 hours.

Quality of the Call and Connectivity The service provided by MagicJack is VoIP relying on Internet connection. Thus, your Internet connection stability is the key to your call quality and connectivity. I have a stable, high-speed Internet; I found the call quality is as good as a landland. I usually talk to my family about 2 hours during weekends (but there is time limit per call; 2 hours max). Within these 2 hours, my call is never interrupted nor dropped. I am happy with the call quality and I have no problem on the call connectivity.

Phone Number Like other VoIP phone service providers (e.g., Vonage), MagicJack provides you a phone number. You can choose the number that you want including the area code.

Windows Only MagicJack cannot run on any other platforms but windows only.

Computer-Dependent MagicJack goes offline when your computer is off. In addition, you have to log in onto the system and let the software (i.e., softphone) load before use. MagicJack provides you a call log (via softphone) but the missing call will not be captured when the computer is off unless the person leaves you a message. Any left message will be directly delivered to your email box via a WAV file.

Software-Dependent You cannot make a call if your softphone is not ready. You have to wait until your softphone is completely loaded. Seeing "Ready to Call" on the softphone doesn't mean you can make a call. You may still have to wait a few seconds. Although you are able to use a regular phone to make calls, the softphone is the actual interface sitting between your phone and the device (i.e., MagicJack). Thus, if the softphone is not running, your phone will not work, and you will never know if there is a missing call unless the person leaves you a message. Only when the softphone is up and running, all calls timestamp will be kept in your call log.

Any Hardware Conflict Yes, at least I found that MagicJack is conflict with my USB TV tuner. As soon as I plug the TV tuner in, the MagicJack softphone won't work without unplugging and re-plugging. The same problem occurs when you start or reboot the system with the TV tuner and MagicJack attached. If you make a call without hearing the phone dialing after you have keyed in all the numbers, it indicates either your softphone is not ready or you have hardware conflict issue.

Consume More Drive Labels MagicJack is a USB device but it consumes 2 disk/drive labels. If you have a lot of external USB drives (e.g., USB thumb drives), some of them may not be recognized because MagicJack takes their original drive labels. To resolve this, you need to specifically change the drive labels either on MagicJack itself or the USB drives via Computer Management.

Configurability No, there is not much you can configure MagicJack except for the call forwarding via their Web-based interface. You cannot configure the greeting message if you don't like it (sorry, I cannot find a way to do it). And you cannot change the time zone either. Thus, the time shown on the call log doesn't reflect your actual time. I have no idea which time zone is.

Customer Service Unlikely you will speak to a live person over the phone but live-chat with their technical support 24/7 or via email query. Frankly, I don't find them much helpful on the issue I had. MagicJack will provide you a contact number when you have a billing issue but you need to chat with the technical support first. The attitude of the customer representative in the billing department is horrible. The one I talked to was impatient and unpleasant. The more I spoke to her, the more I got frustratetd. See my another comment on MagicJack.

Time Limit Per Call Each call is limited to 2 hours. Otherwise, the call is automatically terminated and then what you can hear is the dial tone. You can continue with your conversation by placing the call again.

Other Issues

  • Dial Tone Problem: Having a dial tone doesn't mean you can make a call immediately! Sometimes you may need to unplug the MagicJack and plug it back in order to resolve the issues. Without a dial tone when you try to make a call happens daily. From my experience, it could occur once a day at least. Hanging up and then pressing the button again sometimes may resolve the problem. Otherwise, replugging Magicjack should work.
  • Late Response: Don't immediately make a call when the softphone is first loaded and indicates "Ready to Call". Give more seconds before use; otherwise, most likely you need to hang up and call again. There is always a delay on the softphone.
  • Popup Softphone: Owing to its software dependent, every time a call runs in or you try to make a call, the softphone will pop up even if you have minimized it to the system tray. It is very irritating. In addition, after having hung up the call, 2 or 3 seconds later, the softphone will pop up in front of every application. I find it very disturbing.
  • Cannot Do System Standy or Hibernate: You cannot put your system to sleep by doing either standy or hibernate when you have MagicJack attached.
  • MagicJack Won't Auto-Start after Logoff: If you log off your account and then log in later, you need to manually start MagicJack.

Updated on October 17, 2009
An additional note: since MagicJack is via VoIP protocol to send voice, your traditional fax machine may not work with VoIP line. I have recently run into this problem. For the detail of why faxing and modems don't work well over VoIP, see here.


  1. great info and very accurate. My experience reflects the same information. Good job.

  2. Thank You...great info..

  3. do people in canada calling you on your magic jack get charged long distance even if you are in canada since it is a us number? I would assume yes. If so it would not be a great opton for me.

  4. MagicJack number is not an universal number that could benefit your callers in any country to make free calls to you. I am not sure if there is one existed. As far as I know, all the phone service plans are focused on your own benefits, not your callers'.

    Most people in the US subscribe a nationwide plan, which includes calls to Canada for free. If Canada has such a similar plan, I would assume your folks in Canada won't get long distance charge. Sorry, I don't know how the phone system works in Canada.

    Last time I used MagicJack in Germany and it worked.

    If you are currently living in Canada and most of your calls are made to people in Canada, MagicJack may not be right for you. MagicJack is good for people who are living in the USA, or would like to make US/Canada calls for free.

    If you are thinking about making International free calls, check out talkster. Canada is one of the supported countries. I use it very often. Friends from the supported countries can call you for free. The service works for any land line, VoIP phone and cell phone. But the drawbacks of this service are that:

    - the callee has to call back in order to make a complete connection with your phone,
    - you only have 10 seconds to tell your friend to call back (I don't like these 10 seconds restriction; sometimes people may miss it - but there is a trick to get around) and
    - you and your friends must register and obtain talkster numbers.

    talkster may be an alternative to your scenario.

    I hope this helps.

  5. I live in Canada, got a US number and it works fine. No problem and no charge to call Canada or US