Since my SunRocket service went bankrupt, I’ve been living with just a cell phone. It’s actually been fine so far, but I’m just not ready to give up on traditional phones just yet. I like having multiple headsets around the house and not having to worry about minutes (all those hold times for customer reps add up). My initial idea was to get a real phone number with Skype (~$60+/year) and getting a $50 D-Link USB Phone adapter that replicates a phone jack, but the reviews were hit and miss.
Then I ran across something similar by a start-up called MagicJack. It only cost $40 and includes one year of unlimited incoming/outgoing calls with free long distance. You can also call to the US from international locations, but you can’t call to international countries at all. At first, I was skeptical, but then a reader e-mailed me last week and said it works great. I figured, for $40, why not try it out? There’s even a 30-day return policy. Here are my experiences:
Ordering and Shipping
I found a coupon code ‘SUNROCKET’ that knocked off the $3.95 shipping, so I spent $39.95 total. I received prompt order and shipping confirmations via e-mail, and it arrived just 4 days later. It was shipped in a small padded envelope via First Class mail for $1.81 – very economical! See below for a picture of the unopened product.
First Impressions and Installation
This thing really is tiny! It’s the size of a Zippo lighter. One end is USB (and thoughtfully comes with a 1 ft. USB extension cord), and the other end is a phone jack. It only supports Windows XP and Vista, so Mac folks are out of luck for now.
When I first plugged it in, nothing happened. The 1-page manual said “Take it out, and try another USB port.” I did that, and a small blue light on the MajicJack turned on, and it started to self-install on my computer. No CDs required. It proceed to make sure my firewall was configured correctly, and then asked me some personal address info for 911 service and also to pick my phone number.
A catch is revealed! Here, I was disappointed to discover that you can only get phone number in selected area codes of selected states. Currently they are CO, DC, MD, MI, MN, NV, TN, VA, and WA (see screenshot below). Supposedly they are still adding more states and as they come along you can do a one-time switch to a new number. This should be more clearly listed on the website. (e911 still works based on the address you supply.)
One partial workaround is to combine a GrandCentral number with this service. Grandcentral has a lot more area codes, but also doesn’t cover the entire country.
Still, in about 5 minutes I had a phone number assigned to me and was all set up. I plugged in my phone and amazingly enough, there was a dial tone. I called out… worked fine. I called in… and my phone rang. Nice! The voice quality was okay, not awesome and not awful, but that may be because I was doing this all via a wireless broadband connection. You can even switch it to work via computer headset, a la Skype.
Of course, there are negatives. You will need the computer to be on whenever you want your phone to work, so that may be annoying to some people. I also found that when I do reboot my computer, sometimes it takes a few tries to get it to start working again. You get voicemails sent to your e-mail address as .wav files, but there aren’t all of the different forwarding options and different rings that you might have gotten with SunRocket or other VoIP providers. I was also really hoping that my fax machine would work with MagicJack, but I haven’t had any successful transmissions yet.
Here’s another MagicJack review at DSLReports.
» Cheap! $40 a year for unlimited domestic calling!
» Simple setup
» …Did I mention it was cheap?
» Limited number availabilty
» Must keep computer on at all times
» Faxing may not work
» Long-term viability is questionable
» Few bells and whistles
MagicJack essentially makes any traditional phone a USB plug-n-play phone. If you are willing to deal with the issues inherent in VoIP phones, this is a compelling product. If I had a local telephone number, this would be a slam dunk. It’s cheap enough that I’m willing to wait it out.
Another big issue is whether this sort of business model is sustainable. I mean, right now they are selling additional years of service for only $20! Can you smell another SunRocket meltdown? Do you really care if you break even after only two months?
By Jonathan Ping | Frugal Living | 8/24/07, 5:37am