The Phone Wizardry of Magic Jack

Magic Jack Phone Service

Magic Jack commercials are a common sight on cable television these days. They claim that for the low price of $40, you can exchange your contract with the phone company for an alternative that not only provides similar connection quality, but offers unlimited calling to the United States and Canada. So, how does the Magic Jack really do its tricks?

How Magic Jack Works

This telephone service uses a small electronic device plugged into either a computer’s USB port or directly into an Ethernet port on a router, taking advantage of what’s known as voice over IP (VoIP) technology instead of typical landline services. Released in 2007, the original device has a USB connection at one end and a standard telephone jack at the other. Magic Jack Plus, released in 2011, does not require a computer, but plugs directly into a router. This device also comes with an AC power adapter.

It is important to note that in both cases, a user must supply their own High Speed Internet connection. The makers of the device do not offer Internet access, but instead leverage existing household connections. Cancellation of home Internet service will result in the Magic Jack device no longer working. Often, this means a consumer must still have an agreement with their local phone or Cable TV provider.

Western Electric 202 Telephone

The Magic Jack company uses a captive landline supplier, YMAX, and all voicemail messages are stored on company severs. They can be accessed by telephone or through email with WAV file attachments. It is also possible to upgrade the software provided with the USB device through third parties.

What It Will Cost

The standard price for the original USB device is $40. This includes the necessary computer software and subscriber line interface circuit (SLIC) required to make phone calls. The first year of service is free, and after that, it costs $30 per year, or users can buy a 5-year subscription for $100. It costs $70 for the newer, router-based device, but the free year and subscription costs remain the same.

The service in both cases includes unlimited calls to the United States and Canada. There are some exceptions that require prepaid minutes, for example, calls to Alaska, conference call lines or those that lie outside the company’s service areas. Users are also prohibited from making calls to 1-900 or 1-976 numbers.

Users can also keep an existing local number if they switch over to Magic Jack at an initial cost of $19.95, and then $9.95 each year thereafter. Transferring a number out costs $30. No other fees apply, but the end-user license agreement does say that in certain circumstances the company “may provide for a fee, premium prepaid services.” The USB version of the device now comes with uninstall software to remove it from a computer should users discontinue their service.

New Offerings

The company has also broadened their offering into the mobile market, with apps for the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, 5 and iPads running iOS 4.0 or later, as well as a large number of Android devices. No physical USB or router device is required — the app uses existing 3G, Wi-Fi or 4G connections (Wi-Fi or 4G is recommended) to make calls.

App documentation states that the service will never access a user’s mobile minutes and does not require a voice plan. It also allows free calls to Canadian and U.S. numbers, in addition to any other Magic Jack number in the world.

The app is free, but is still in a beta testing phase with no clear indication on how long free calling will last. On Android devices, between 100,00 and 500,000 users have installed it in the last 30 days.

Magic Jack Consumer Reviews

PC Magazine reviewed Magic Jack in 2008 and gave it a “very good” rating, along with their Editors’ Choice award. It then re-reviewed the service in 2009 after customer complaints and downgraded the rating to “good,” citing a lack of technical support. Consumer Reports also reviewed the service in 2010 and gave it a “thumbs up.” Mobile app reviews consistently place it at 4 stars out of 5.

Other issues with the Jack include a one-phone-number-per-device rule, meaning each device in a home is another cost and a separate phone line. In addition, any landline phone used with the service is always tied to a computer or router.

As an alternative to standard phone lines, contacts and calling limitations, the Magic Jack and Magic Jack Plus deliver exactly what is offered: an easy-to-setup telephone connection with good quality service. While there are some restrictions on calling and an active High Speed Internet connection is required, by all accounts it provides a reliable VoIP experience. Enter your street address in the top-right corner of this page to see what Internet services and deals are available in your area.