A cheap VoIP alternative: magicJack

For the price magicJack is unbeatable

Last week I started to enumerate my phone numbers and I wound up discussing Google's GrandCentral telephony service with considerable enthusiasm. While some people, such as reader and fellow Twitterer Allen Clarkson, are big fans, not everyone is quite as enthusiastic.

"Jim" commented on Gibbslog, "GC has a very bad feature called call presentation. If you receive a call, you MUST press 1 . . . before you can take the incoming call. If you have a [headset on with a Bluetooth link to your phone] this is almost impossible while driving or if your hands are busy. This 'feature' cannot be turned off."

That is a valid point, and it would certainly be a good idea for GrandCentral to add voice recognition for selected devices.

Anyway, I wound up at the end of last week's column with a total of seven phone numbers: house, office and fax (such as it is) via Vonage, local dial-only POTS line for DSL, GrandCentral number, and a Gizmo5 line. This week I added a new one: a magicJack number.

MagicJack is a rather clever device that offers unlimited VoIP calling over the Internet in North American for US$39.95 for the first year and US$19.95 for subsequent years, and includes voice mail, 911 support, caller ID and free 411 service.

The magicJack hardware is a USB dongle about the size of a box of matches that weighs less than one ounce (as the device is a little large the company also provides an extension cable for the USB socket). The dongle provides hardware support for some VoIP protocol decoding and telephony management, and a phone jack on its side allows you to optionally connect a regular telephone handset. Windows XP and Vista are supported, and beta firmware for OS X has just been released.

The first time you insert the magicJack into a USB port it glows a pleasant blue and all of the required drivers are downloaded from its on-board storage.

(I must digress here and complain about hardware manufacturers that use blinding blue LEDs. Yes, they are a cool color and, yes, they are easy to see. But they are so damn bright! On my desk I have a docking station for my PDA that's just below eye level. I had to put electrical tape over the LED because it was bright enough to give me radiation burns.)

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