I recently took a big risk with our phone service, and switched to MagicJack.  Due to our ever-increasing cost of living, we’ve been looking for ways to cut costs.  Since Sandy and I both have cells phones, I wanted to get rid of our home phone completely and just go with our cell phones only.  Sandy thought differently, however, and thought we should keep our home phone service.  So I looked into our options.  As it was, we were paying $50-$60 per month for our home phone service through McLeodUSA.  $30-$35 of this was for our base services, and the rest was for long distance calls””mostly from me when I’m on-call at work (a Waukegan hospital, which is long distance for us, and their corporate support, which is in Tennessee).  Time-Warner cable-based phone service was an option that would save us some money, especially since it offers free long distance as part of the package.  So that was one option.  AT&T also recently stopped at our door offering their all-in-one package and “U-Verse”, whatever the heck that thing is”¦and this would have been about the same savings overall.  Then I saw this bizarre thing on TV and in a few Internet ads called “MagicJack.”  It certainly couldn’t be for real, so for a long time I dismissed it as just one of those goofy scams, like the “Free Internet TV” applications we always see the ads for.

Well, when yet another even bigger phone bill arrived this month, I decided to look into it further.  I read many reviews of it, looked into application compatibility, and then, based on the price, we decided to just jump right into it.  It’s a flat $39.99 for the box, which includes the first year of service, then it’s $20 per year after that.  So we’re basically talking $20 for the little USB device, and $20 per YEAR for the phone service.  Compare that to the $600 or more per year we were previously paying for our phone service!  Plus, since we picked up the box at Best Buy, we can return it within 14 days for a full refund.  And if you want even more of a deal, just visit the MagicJack website.  There you can order on for free and try it out for 30 days before paying for it.  So after weighing all of the options, we decided to go ahead and switch to it.   We didn’t have anything to lose, and if it works out, we’ll come out way ahead! If I have you drooling now, make sure you read the rest of this posting closely.  There are some caveats and requirements that might not make it an ideal solution for you.  First of all, the only instructions are 3 simple steps on the packaging: 1. Plug your phone into it, 2. Plug it into a USB slot on your PC (or Mac), 3. Pick up your phone and use it.  Sounds pretty simple, and in a perfect world it would be.  But as it turns out, this only applies to Windows XP users.  Vista users are close though.  It won’t work as easy as this on Vista right out of the box–you have to go to their website and download the Vista update and install it to make it work.  Then there’s Windows 7″”which is what I’m using now.  I figured if the update worked for Vista, it should also Apply to 7.  No such luck.  But after some googling, I found a workaround that worked great.  It required a Windows Vista system to complete though””you basically install the software and activate the MagicJack on Vista, then copy all of the configuration to the Windows 7 PC.  After that it works great.  Interestingly, MagicJack Support said that the MagicJack simply will not work on Windows 7 yet.  I can say for sure though, that it does.

Next there’s the requirement of the PC.  It has to be on and available, with the MagicJack software running, in order to be able to make and receive phone calls.   This is no problem for us, we have a main PC that we keep on 24/7 as it is, and it’s fairly new, so it’s fast enough to handle the telephone while still allowing us to use it for all of our usual applications.  We just have to be careful not to reboot when someone’s on the phone, or accidentally close the application.  When the computer isn’t on or it’s unavailable, your calls automatically go to MagicJack voicemail.  This is a nice feature though””it will automatically even e-mail your voicemail messages to you””as .WAV files.  It also includes music on hold (while you’re using call waiting) and 3-way calling, although we haven’t used these features yet.  I did hear the music on hold for several seconds and it was pretty raspy.  But this feature isn’t even mentioned anywhere yet, so I think it’s experimental at this point.

On to call quality:  Call quality depends on your broadband connection.  From what I’ve read, if your upload speed is too low, you won’t be able to make or receive calls.  So my having the “turbo” addon with Time Warner might be making all the difference in the world for us.  We use the Playstation Network, X-Box Live, Digital Cable, as well as the Internet on a daily basis, so believe me, we need the speed boost.  Call quality has been very good so far though.  Calls sound nearly landline quality, and definitely much better than cell phone quality.  I have noticed slight dropouts occasionally, and I experienced one 3-second pause where someone electronically “stuttered” part of a word, but then it resumed the conversion normally after that.  The caller on the other end didn’t even hear it.  Also, just starting a call is sometimes a bit difficult.  You might get a dial tone, dial a number, and nothing””no ring, nothing.  Hang up and call again though, and it works fine.  Just a little glitchy there I guess.

Then there’s a power issue.  The MagicJack box itself is about the size of a cigarette lighter and plugs into a USB port.  If the port is unpowered, or plugged directly into a USB port on a PC, you can often have problems with it rebooting the software, disconnecting your calls, etc.  These problems, however, all seem to be remedied by simply using a powered USB hub.  It MUST be powered too””this is the issue””the MagicJack requires all of the power of a dedicated USB jack.  Fortunately, I was proactive with this, and had a spare powered 8-port D-Link USB hub ready to use with it.  I haven’t experienced this issue at all since we started using it, so I guess the hub works.

Lastly, the phone number problem.  You don’t get to keep your old phone number.  MagicJack doesn’t currently support “porting” of phone numbers to its service.  They plan to offer this feature in the near future, however.  So we had to choose a new number.  You do this when activating your MagicJack, and you are given the option of choosing from the available prefixes available within your area code.  The 4-digits after the prefix, however, are automatically generated.  For us, in the 262 area code, the only available prefixes were in the Thiensville area, so even our next door neighbors have to call long distance (if THEIR phone service doesn’t include extended-range local calling) in order to call us.  A bit of a bummer, but when you think about it, everyone’s phone service is evolving anyway, so there are probably few people left still paying extra for “extended area” calling beyond this distance. (Thiensville is actually 57 miles North of us).

I think that’s about it though.  If you can handle all of the “catches” involved, this could be a viable solution for you.  I think it’s going to be fine for us.  Having an excellent Internet connection helps a lot though, I’m sure.  And if there’s just too many catches for you to be comfortable with switching to it, keep it in the back of your mind for awhile.  Based on previous history, the service and support for MagicJack is getting better all the time.  They’re bound to improve the device as well as the phone service and it’s features in the near future, especially support for Windows 7 after it is officially released in October.  I think I can handle the issues and make this thing worth the $600 we’ll save each year.