The magicJack (*Est. $40) is hardware-based VoIP in that it is a unique phone jack that plugs into a USB port on any computer. Calls with this device are free to the U.S., Canada, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico from anywhere in the world. The first year of service is included in the price of the unit, and subsequent years currently cost $20 per year. International calling rates, however, are higher than those of Skype.
Some reviews are concerned about privacy with magicJack. The magicJack not only displays ads on the computer screen as you use it, but also targets these ads based on the numbers you call. This is similar to the way Google targets ads with its free Gmail service, but it's something to consider. One drawback of the original magicJack is that your computer needs to be switched on to receive and make phone calls. The new magicJack Plus (*Est. $70) addresses this problem by including a computer processor in the adapter. You simply plug any phone into the magicJack adapter which you then plug into the wall through a supplied AC adapter. The magicJack Plus service is highly mobile as you can still use it with your laptop when you travel.
Reviewers are divided over the quality of phone calls through magicJack and magicJack Plus. Some say that it is excellent with clear tones and other find the sound to be distorted. Many of the customer and professional reviews of magicJack cite its abysmal customer service as a major problem. Support is only available through online chat, and people found the documentation provided with the magicJack to be less than useful.
The best review of the original magicJack is at PC World, where the reviewers tested it and the new magicJack Plus. The review at PCMag.com highlights the company's dismal customer support. There are a significant number of customer reviews of magicJack at Amazon.com, with some reviews being lengthy and giving great detail about the problems that users encountered. An article at The Wall Street Journal comes out firmly in favor of the original magicJack.
Duffy gives the magicJack 2 out of 5 stars, citing its lack of customer support and documentation as a reason for her relatively low rating. She says that although the magicJack did perform its function, there are better products, with toll-free support and without ads on their websites.
Review: YMax magicJack, Jill Duffy, June 29, 2011
2. PC World
Rick Broida likes the voice quality of the original magicJack and states that it's significantly cheaper in the long run than a landline. However, he says that it comes with little or no documentation and that customer support is only available online.
Review: YMax MagicJack, Rick Broida, Sept. 20, 2010
3. PC World
Rick Broida reports that the magicJack Plus addresses the main problem with the original magicJack -- that your computer has to be on in order to make and receive calls. Although he found the magicJack to perform "almost flawlessly," he did not like the "seemingly endless catalog of choices" during the setup process.
Review: YMax MagicJack Plus, Rick Broida, Feb. 1, 2012
4. The Wall Street Journal
Mossberg reports that the magicJack worked "pretty much as advertised," with decent call quality and features such as call forwarding and voice mail. He mentions that the company runs ads within its software, but doesn't seem bothered by this. Unlike many other user and professional reviewers, Mossberg had no problems with magicJack's customer support and found the unit easy to set up.
Review: magicJack: Cheap, Way Overhyped, But Really Works, Walt Mossberg, Feb. 17, 2010
Nadeem Unuth, an About.com guide, reports that magicJack is a "serious alternative" to paid VoIP services. His review is of the original magicJack, for which you needed to have your computer on to make and receive calls. He says that call quality is great though the service has a limited number of features. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: MagicJack VoIP Service Review, Nadeem Unuth
The original magicJack gets well over 800 reviews at Amazon.com -- and ratings are all over the map. More than 200 give it the maximum 5 stars, while over 300 give it just 1 star. Customer support gets the most complaints, along with general performance issues. One user says that you need to have a computer that well exceeds their requirements in order for it to work properly.
Review: magicJack: PC to Phone Jack, Contributors to Amazon.com