Magic Jack, officially spelled “magicJack”, is a small easy to use device that allows you to make unlimited local and long distance phone calls anywhere in Canada and the United States for only $20/year. Yes, that’s year, not month! Impressive, right?
When I hear numbers like that, the first thing that crosses my mind, and probably yours as well, is that there must be some sort of catch or the entire thing is a scam. However, I have to admit that I was very intrigued so I started researching the device thoroughly with cautious optimism and finally purchased one about 2 months ago. We have been using it successfully ever since and I’m happy to report that it is definitely not a scam! That’s not to say that there weren’t any problems with it, there were, but they were trivial in comparison to the amount of money that magicJack will save us every month for as long as we continue to use it.
How magicJack Works
The magicJack is just a small electronic device that has a USB connector on one end and a standard RJ11 telephone port on the other. It works using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology to route your phone calls primarily through the internet and only using the actual phone network at the point of termination if the person you are speaking to on the other end is using a standard landline telephone or cell phone. Here is some more detailed information I’ve written on other VoIP options available to Canadians.
To get magicJack up and running all you need to do is plug it into your computer and it will automatically install itself. You will have to go through a somewhat lengthy registration process and face several sales pitches asking you to prepay for several years of the service in advance at a discounted rate. I would say no to all of these offers because you will still have the opportunity to take advantage of them later, if you choose to do so. It may also automatically download and install necessary updates during the process.
Making And Receiving Phone Calls
There are two ways to make phone calls. The easiest and most natural way is to use any regular or cordless telephone that you plug into the device. You make calls how you normally would except that you must always dial the full 10-digit phone number, even when making a local call. You can also prefix the number with a 1 if you want to, but it isn’t mandatory.
The second way to place calls is directly on your computer using the included softphone. A softphone is simply an software based dial pad that appears on your screen whenever magicJack is running. You punch in the number you wish to dial using your mouse or keyboard and the call will be connected. Of course, you will need either a microphone and speakers or, preferably, a headset to transmit and receive the audio.
Receiving calls is just like a regular phone in that people dial your magicJack phone number and your phone will ring as you would expect. If you don’t have a phone plugged in then the call will ring on your computer and you can choose to answer it there as well. If your magicJack isn’t connected, your computer is switched off, or if there is another problem with the device, the call will go to magicJack voicemail.
What Features Come Included With magicJack
- A free USA-based phone number.
- Canadian numbers are available for $10 more per year.
- Unlimited local and long distance calling.
- Long distance is free in Canada and the USA.
- Reasonable long distance rates apply for other countries.
- An email with a voice file is sent to you if you don’t pick up the call.
- Voice mail will still pick up even if your magicJack isn’t running.
- You can use a standard answering machine with magicJack as well.
- Caller ID.
- Only the number will be displayed, not the name.
- Call waiting.
- Works by pressing the flash button as with a regular phone.
- Call forwarding.
- This can be set up by logging into your account at my.magicjack.com.
- Conference calling.
- You can set up a conference by following the instructions here.
- 3 way calling on incoming calls used to be included but it was buggy and they replaced it with this conferencing solution.
- Use with any computer anywhere.
- You can bring your magicJack with you and use it anywhere around the world to make calls back home or to anywhere in Canada and the USA for free.
- 911 service.
- 911 service is available if you register and keep your location updated with magicJack.
- Using magicJack as your only means of dialing 911 is definitely not recommended.
- You should at least have a cell phone for backup.
What magicJack Costs
The initial cost for the magicJack device is is about $50 Canadian, which includes 1 year of service!
For every additional year of service after the first included year, it costs only $20. If you are willing to prepay for several years of service in advance, then it will cost even less per year. The current 5 year package is priced at $69.95, which works out to $13.99/year.
Canadians will most likely want to have a Canadian number associated with their magicJack. You can get a free USA number in Beverly Hills, New York City, or anywhere else in the USA, but unfortunately Canadian numbers cost an additional $10/year. Numbers are available for almost all major cities throughout Canada, with the exception of the 506 area code which typically isn’t available with VoIP services at all.
You will have the option to choose a Canadian number when setting up your magicJack for the first time.
How Good Is magicJack?
In my opinion, it is a fantastic product that works surprisingly well relative to how much it costs! Most likely you will have a few problems you need to iron out, but as long as you don’t expect absolute perfection then you should be very pleased with it as well.
Using magicJack couldn’t get much easier! I use magicJack as a home phone replacement with prepaid cell phones as our backup for important and emergency calls and so far it has worked out just fine. It works just like a regular landline for a fraction of the cost.
Prior to magicJack we were using Skype hooked up to a Skype adapter as our home phone. It only worked for making outgoing calls, didn’t come with an incoming number at all, had fewer included features, and cost more per year to use. Not only that, but it was much more complicated to make calls and harder to setup, install, and maintain. When not using Skype, I was either using calling cards or Google Voice to make long distance calls which were equally as cumbersome. Compared to those other solutions, magicJack is like a breath of fresh air!
The call quality is generally excellent and crystal clear. There is the odd time where there will be some garbled speech or an unusually long delay, but that can usually be fixed by hanging up and dialing the same person again. I almost never have someone complain about call quality when using magicJack as the quality is probably superior to that of a typical cell phone conversation. I’ve had many more people complain about call quality using my high end Bluetooth headset with my cellular than I’ve had with magicJack. The only noticeable difference between magicJack and a regular phone is that there might be a small half second delay between when you speak and the other person hears you. I don’t find this to be a big deal and rarely find myself talking over the person on the other end.
You do have to be aware that the call quality is linked to the quality of your internet connection. As long as you have a decent high speed internet connection that is 1.5mbps or faster with good latency, then your calls should almost always be great. If you are using a wireless connection, there is a lot of computers active on your network, or there is a big download in progress in the background then your call quality may suffer. Most routers have ways to prioritize VoIP internet traffic so you may want to look into that if you have quality issues.
I personally have magicJack plugged into a wirelessly connected home theater PC on a 7mbps internet connection and it works just fine.
Using an internet software based telephone is definitely not as reliable as a traditional landline telephone. The main reason for this is that there are more points of failure including:
- Internet connection
- magicJack Software
- magicJack device itself
- Telephone hardware
A normal telephone is only dependant on two things for it to work: the telephone and the telephone line, which has its own power supply. If any of the above six things were to malfunction, then chances are that your magicJack is going to stop working along with it. That said, I haven’t found this to be much of an issue as the majority of the time I pick up the phone there is a dial tone and everything works as it should.
While doing my own research on magicJack I did encounter several remarks about their customer support being terrible. However, in my own experience I have found it to be just the opposite. I have contacted them probably 4 times now and each time the representative was knowledgeable and very helpful. In fact, I found their level of knowledge and professionalism to be much better than I am used to from big telephone companies like Bell and Aliant.
Of course, with a service this cheap there does need to be some sacrifices. You will find there is only one means of contacting support and that is through a live chat application. Having a second computer on hand when contacting support is definitely handy so you don’t have to interrupt and restart your chat with a new representative for system reboots or other reasons. The other thing you will notice is that there is a bit of a delay from when you send your last message and their response back to you because they are obviously engaging in multiple chats at once. I didn’t find it to unbearably slow though because their responses were clear and to the point making for efficient communication and troubleshooting.
To get through to technical support follow these steps:
- Go to their techchat support page.
- Type in anything at all into the search box and click search.
- On the search results page a banner labeled I’m Online Start Chat will appear.
- Click the banner to start your live chat!
Problems I’ve Experienced With magicJack
There are some common problems with magicJack and I think I’ve experienced most of them, which is good so you will know what to expect and how to deal with these problems should they arise.
Low Call Volume
Resolved - When I first started using magicJack I had to turn the volume up to full on my cordless handset and I still could barely hear the person on the other end. After some Googling I found out there are two places you can adjust both speaker and microphone call volume. The first is in the magicJack settings; I cranked that up to full and it wasn’t much better. The second is the usual place in Windows where you adjust speaker volume. A new device gets added into the mixer there and cranking those up made the sound come through loud and clear.
Incoming Audio Dropping After 5 Minutes
Resolved - Ever since I first got magicJack I noticed a very strange phenomenon of the call seemingly going dead. I later discovered that it was always happening exactly 5 minutes into the conversation, only the incoming audio was going dead (the other person could still hear me talking), and the problem only happened when I was making outgoing calls (it didn’t happen when people called me).
I contacted support and they had me do all sorts of things including opening ports on my router, adding firewall exceptions, changing DNS servers, and a few other things. None of those things helped. Eventually they transferred me to advanced support where we tried more troubleshooting steps that didn’t work and he finally came to the conclusion that my account needed a “refresh”. I think what this means is that your account gets transferred to a different server in their server farm. I was told that they would have to send in a request to do this and it could be a few days before the problem was fixed. Being skeptical, I figured this wouldn’t work and I would have to contact them again shortly but to my surprise the problem did go away after a few days as promised.
If you are experiencing this problem, it may speed things up to ask support for a refresh of your account immediately without going through all the other steps. Based on forum reading, this problem is particularly prevalent amongst Canadians.
Audio Dropping Entirely
Resolved - Over the Christmas holidays I noticed that when making a call I got absolutely no audio at all right from the start. I couldn’t even hear the sound of the phone ringing. However, the call was being completed and the phone of the person I was calling would ring. I didn’t bother contacting support about this problem because I assumed it was due to high call traffic from the holiday season or that my computer was having an issue. The problem resolved itself after a few days.
If you have this problem you might try rebooting your system and restarting your magicJack to see if that fixes it. Also make sure to check your volume settings to ensure that nothing is muted.
Caller ID Not Showing Up On Handset
Known Solution - This is a problem that I have still not resolved. The caller ID works fine on the soft phone as the number of the person calling me always displays there. However, 9 times out of 10 the number of the person calling me won’t display on my cordless phone. Based on my internet searches, apparently there isn’t enough power supplied by most USB ports for magicJack to power the caller ID properly. There are a few things you can try to fix this:
- Try another phone. Some phones are more prone to this problem than others.
- Use a USB hub with a dedicated power supply to make sure magicJack is getting enough juice.
- Install a resistor on the phone cable between the magicJack and your phone. Apparently this works most of the time.
- Someone developed a $10 product called magicMojita that fixes this problem without any rewiring or technical knowledge required.
Canadian 1-800 Numbers Not Working
Resolved - It is a known problem that most Canadian toll free numbers will not work with magicJack. I believe that they are working on a solution to this problem, but there is no guarantee that it will ever be fixed. To get around this, you can usually find a direct dial local number for the company you are calling and use that since long distance is free with the magicJack! Update: I have been making a lot of calls to toll free numbers lately that are supposedly for Canadian companies like Dell Canada, Toys "R" Us, Evenflo, Bell, and they all have worked just fine so my thinking is that this problem is no longer an issue.
Tips For Making Your magicJack Experience Much Better
- Use an always on home theater PC to host your magicJack so your phone is online 24/7.
- Use the free magicBlock software to stop magicJack from annoyingly popping up whenever somebody makes a phone call.
- Consider buying the Magicfeatures software to add many powerful features to your magicJack and generally make it work better.
- Here is a forum thread @ DSLReports discussing the software.
- Check the unofficial magicJack support forums whenever you encounter a problem with magicJack that you can’t solve.
Buy magicJack in Canada
I really believe magicJack is a worthwhile investment and an easy way for most people to save money on their monthly communication costs. A good place for Canadians to buy magicJack and read reviews from other Canadians is at TheSource.ca. You can have it delivered to your local store free of charge and it should be easily returnable as well.