magicJack Plus Review

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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magicJack Plus Review

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The magicJack Plus is due out very soon, perhaps as early as next month, but I was able to get an early sneak peek at it for a review. The big new feature in the MagicJack Plus is that it sports an on-board ARM CPU, which means you can make calls without the need for the MagicJack Plus to be connected to a PC. It looks almost identical to the original magicJack USB stick, but it now has an Ethernet jack for connecting to any broadband connection, enabling PC-less VoIP calling. magicJack Plus is not the first USB stick to offer PC-less VoIP calling though - that honor belongs to competitor netTALK DUO, which I reviewed back in March. magicJack may not be first, but they're backed up by VocalTec, who has been in VoIP since the beginning, so there is a comfort level that if you choose magicJack Plus, you won't have to worry about them going out of business. magicJack is also #17 in my Top 20 VoIP Innovators of all time list.

One huge competitive advantage of magicJack plus over the netTALK DUO is that the magicJack plus works both over Ethernet and over the PC's USB. Why is this important? If you're traveling and in a hotel that requires a web browser to authenticate onto the hotel broadband connection, you won't be able to do so using the netTALK DUO. Further, if you only have WiFi available, the netTALK DUO won't work. The magicJack can leverage the USB connection in instances where you only have WiFi or you need your PC to authenticate to gain access to the Internet.

Correction:
The netTALK DUO does indeed support connecting via USB. My comments in the preceding paragraph were based on information I received from magicJack Vocaltec's CEO, which I didn't include in my original write-up. I should have verified Dan's comments were true, but I had no reason to doubt him. Still, I should have verified. Ironically, I reviewed the netTALK DUO back in March, but didn't know about the USB feature. I don't recall if they send me an early production unit without proper documentation of a USB-to-PC feature, or if that was an oversight on my part. My apologies if it was indeed an oversight.

In any event, here are Dan's comments that I used to make my initial assertion that netTALK didn't work with a PC followed by netTALK's response:

Tom: "How do you compare against the netTALK DUO, which is their PC-less device a couple months ago. How do you compare?".
 
Dan Borislow: "You actually said it pretty well. It's still PC-less. It doesn't work with the PC. They can advertise all they want that it does, but 99% of the people can't make it work with their PC. We know the reasons why and we know how difficult it is to make it work both with the PC and without the PC. So basically that device is no different than a device that Vonage or anybody else has out. So if you tried it, it wouldn't work."

A netTALK representative contacted me and stated that Dan's characterization of the netTALK DUO as not working with a computer is simply not correct. They went on to point out, "NetTALK explains that the netTALK DUO works with a computer via USB cable very directly and simply in the QuickStart guide that comes with every DUO, and on the company's website.  Moreover, numerous reviewers have tested this feature."
End Correction

I spoke with magicJack Vocaltec CEO Dan Borislow about the new magicJack plus. One of the first questions I asked was about wideband codec support. Dan said, "One of the largest carriers, besides ourselves is Neutral Tandem and they have wideband codec availability and they transcode. Obviously, our own gateways have wideband available as well. So for the great majority of calls we can do wideband." He explained that for magictalk-to-magicjack calls they are already wideband. I asked which wideband codec they use and he explained, "We developed a G.711 wideband codec of our own but we have the capability to do Speex or G.722 as well. But currently we use our own 711 wideband codec."

When they do launch the magicJack plus they will be simultaneously launching their iPhone and iPad apps. Users could use the iPhone/iPad magicJack app to have a second phone line that follows them wherever their mobile phone goes. magicJack plus users can completely cancel their home landline phone and have the added benefit of being able to receive calls to their magicJack phone number on their iPhone or iPad. This feature kind of reminds me of Line2, except Line2 it costs more ($9.95/month) and it only works on your iPhone, Android device. Though Line2's higher-end packages do offer a PC softphone. (Note: I'm waiting for the beta code to try the magicJack iPhone app and will update this post with my thoughts once I play with it.)

magicJack VocalTec is working on a unique way of having users share the same phone number, which will be released soon. Dan explained, "Users are going to share a phone number from a bank of numbers. You call your friend and then we store who used that number and what number was called." He continued, "So then that friend calls you back on that number from the bank of numbers that we give out and we'll be able to route it to the right person even though there could be 5,000 people sharing the same number." It's funky to think that a phone number, say 203-555-1000 could be owned by magicJack users located in Connecticut, New York, Nevada, etc. No longer is a phone number "locked" to an individual.

The magicJack plus cost $49.95, which is $10 more than the original magic, but certainly worth it since the device works without a PC. In my test calls, the voice quality was very good with minimal latency. It also has hardware echo cancellation to improve the audio quality.

Update: 9/20/11
I'm told my a magicJack representative about a price change. It will be $69.95 for the device and a year of service, $29.95 for an annual renewal. But for the first 60 days, existing magicJack customers can buy the PLUS for half price. 

Installing the magicJack Plus was very easy. I was curious how quickly I could get it up and running so I used my iPhone camera to capture how long it took to connect it and start using it. I accidentally dialed my iPhone, which caused my iPhone to stop recording the video, but trust me, it rang. I then started recording again immediately and made a 2nd test call to my extension, which is also part of this video:

The magicJack yearly service with unlimited home phone minutes is just $19.95/year, making it very popular. In fact, it is one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world with sales of $117.8 million in 2009. Its users are making around one billion minutes per month.

The original magicJack is one of the most popular consumer VoIP products in the world and I have no doubt the magicJack Plus will be a worthy successor. Now that they've done a PC-less Ethernet-based version I'd like to see a WiFi version next. smiley-laughing All-in-all, the magicJack Plus is a great product. The magicJack plus gives you cheap all-you-can-eat unlimited calling, works with or without a PC, and the sound quality during my tests were pretty good. If you're looking for an inexpensive VoIP offering you can't go wrong with the magicJack plus.


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