Some of you may be wondering why I would be interested in this product. After all, I already use softphone services like Gizmo Project and Skype. One item that appealed to me was I could use magicJack with my headset or a regular phone (corded or cordless). The service includes a nice array of features for $19.95 a year such as:
- Free local and long distance calls (US & Canada)
- Dedicated phone number in an area code I choose
- Free voicemail
- Free call waiting
- Multi-number forwarding
- Call back to the US when traveling abroad
- Add-on integration with Microsoft Outlook
- 911 service
Installing the magicJack
The product is designed to be simple along the lines of plug and play. Unlike softphones, most of the processing is handled by the USB device. The USB device is about the size of a matchbox. One side has a label identifying the connections and the other side has clear plastic showing the device circuitry.
I added the short USB extension cable to the magicJack and plugged it into my desktop computer. A blue light emitted from the device and the balloon popped up telling me new hardware was found. About two minutes later the software started to install to my PC and my firewall wanted various approvals. I put the firewall into “installer” mode and let the installation continue. In the background, I got a Windows message telling me my system settings had changed and I needed to restart my machine. Normally, I see this message as the final step.
After the files were installed, I rebooted the machine and nothing happened. Again, I waited several minutes. I grabbed the enclosed instructions, which suggested going to the www.magicJack.com and clicking the magicFix logo. And here’s where my frustration started.
Rather than seeing a page with the suggested fix, I’m greeted with video testimonials of the product and audio. I stopped the video and continued to look for the magicFix logo. It’s not there. You have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Customer Care link. In the middle of that page is the link for magicFix. magicFix noted that autorun wasn’t enabled. I clicked the fix button and things seemed to work on the second reboot.
Getting the Dedicated Phone Number
One feature that sets magicJack apart from other soft phones or broadband internet phone vendors like Skype or Gizmo Project is you can activate a voluntary 911 service. This is handled during the registration process. The program color codes the process and shows green when your 911 service has been activated.
The registration process starts with a panel asking for your email address. The login panel emphasizes that you must respond to their confirmation email within 24 hours to insure the service will continue. What’s interesting is that I never got a confirmation email so I wonder what will happen later today.
The second panel is mostly used for the 911 activation. I’m not sure why they want to know about my television unless there is a bandwidth concern with streaming media.
The next phase allows you to choose an area code for your dedicated number. You’re not required to choose your area code. This can be an advantage if you want to appear to have a local presence in some other part of the country.
I opted to maintain the same area code of my landline. Based on your area code, you then get a list of one or more prefixes. My area code only had an option for Palo Alto, which was fine for my purposes. I then got a notice telling me it could take a couple of minutes.
After a couple of minutes, I got the message above telling me 0 Could not provision magicJack. I’m not sure what the company expected me to do at this point since they don’t provide help on this screen. Moreover, I couldn’t find anything on their web site on this error. More on that later.
I decided to click the Back button and try again hoping it was a temporary network glitch. The same error message appeared. I decided to remove the USB device, wait several minutes and try again. Unfortunately, the previous info I entered was not saved. I needed to start the registration process all over.
The third time, I decided to choose an area code other than 650 and used 415 for San Francisco. I finally got a number. This makes me wonder if the early provision message meant they were out of Palo Alto numbers.
Voice Quality Makes a Difference
In reading the product reviews, one item that stood out was the voice quality. Most reviewers remarked that the sound quality was better than cell phones, but not as good as land lines. People also said the quality was better than Skype.
My first tests were using the same headset and microphone that I use for Skype and Gizmo. Each time I called my landline; I sounded choppy and sometimes I was cut off when leaving a message on my own answering machine. I repeated the test by plugging in a corded phone. The sound quality was much better on the receiving end, but not great. I don’t know if this choppiness was a result of using the same DSL line for both calls.
Obviously, the better test was to call other people using my headset. These tests fared much better when I got through to people. I could tell from the sound of the phone ring whether it would be a good connection. Unlike some internet phones, you hear the actual phone ringing. If I encountered a choppy ring, I hung up. Of the people I did speak with, all said I sounded great which is a good sign. I could hear these people equally well.
Dropped Calls after 15 minutes
Just as I was getting my hopes up for the magicJack, I experienced an annoying problem. On two successive calls, a seemingly perfect connection went dead. The first call abruptly terminated at 15 minutes and 53 seconds and the second at 16 minutes and 3 seconds.
The person I was speaking with indicated the call just went to "dead air". The same was true for me. Neither of us could explain the calls dropping to his landline number. I was hoping since he was a Siemens telephony engineer he might have some insight. Support seemed to think it was my router. I don't know why my router would impact the call after this time frame. I haven't had dropped calls with other internet phone services.
This issue doesn't happen all the time. As evidence, I just got off a conference call that lasted 75 minutes.
magicJack Help and Support
It prominently displays references to “2007 Product of the Year” and substantial savings chart, but I don’t see an asterisk providing references. Did some other organization name magicJack product of the year? And how did they arrive at the savings figures shown below? I happen to be a ATT customer with DSL and pay considerably less than the $1009.08 amount they indicate. I don’t mean to imply there aren't savings, but the company should provide info on how they came to these figures to be credible.
The biggest failing with the service is support. Even if the company has succeeded in having a breakthrough broadband phone product, you still need good support. I don’t understand this oversight since the bio for Dan Borislow on the YMAX Communications management page says he previously won a JD Powers and Associates award for Customer Satisfaction.
Even the Terms of Service the software provides references items that don’t exist such as an account page to check your auto renewal options (Section 9 – Payment) or an uninstaller that should appear in Control Panel’s Add/Remove programs (Section 14 – Termination). In fact, the link for the Term of Services page in the software version doesn’t exist. It redirects you back to the home page where you get to hear the video again.
After I experienced poor sound quality on the calls to my home phone, I decided to see what the company might offer for help. magicFix is a great diagnostic tool, but it’s not a magic bullet that solves all support issues. The main problem with the online support is the consumer has to work to find the information. It’s spread out through too many pages with misleading headings and weak answers. As example, one answer tells you that you must email support to get a RMA number for returns, but fails to tell you the support email address.
As a user, I would expect the link at the bottom of the page called Customer Care to be the only place for support. Instead, you get a list of the top questions being asked. The list doesn’t make sense since none of the stated items is a question. You then move to the bottom page, which has three large icons for more relevant items such as the magicFix tool. And if you click the magicFix icon and let the test run and scroll past the results you'll see another section called Need More Help. If you click All Other questions, you can have a live chat session with a tech rep.
If you’re like me, you’re probably asking is that all there is for support. No, actually there is more. More of the details are behind the link Ask Dan The inventor All your Questions. This is not a heading I would normally click when looking for support. It also has a link to chat with Sales. Unfortunately, there is no link here for tech chat. (Update, this page now redirects to the home page.)
Despite the fact there doesn’t appear to be a place to ask Dan a question, there are many questions and answers if you click the Browse All Topics link. I was delighted to see a category called “Trouble-Shooting”. The first entry in the category was “Where can I get a troubleshooting guide?” which turns out to be a PDF file.
On opening the troubleshooting file, I was dismayed to find it was one page. I’ll save you from downloading the 550k file, as the only useful bit of info, which wasn’t mentioned in the magicJack insert, is that the program isn’t compatible with WinMX or Yahoo! Music Match. Why the company had to create a downloadable trouble-shooting guide is beyond me. That info should have been added to the Compatibility section.
Even when you do find those useful nuggets such as which area codes are available, they aren’t mapped to a bookmark or anchor. This makes it more difficult for their support people as they will have to spell out the steps to get to an answer instead of providing a unique URL.
Also buried in these questions is a mention of a forum although the page says “Beta Technical Forum. Like many of the site’s items, the title seemed promising but the delivery failed.
Perhaps, the best place to get information about the product is from Dan’s blog. It was there that I found out the product hasn’t been officially launched. That will happen at CES later this month. (Update: this blog has been removed).
I have to say I was disappointed with the service. I think the hardware is probably a breakthrough. The voice quality was excellent on most calls. There is still some element that provides terrible choppy sound on some calls and drops others. I doubt this is an easy problem to diagnose given the number of variables. I did do a PC VoIP line test and nothing showed to be a problem, nor do I get such inconsistent results with Skype or Gizmo even on my own line.
I’m hopeful the company can improve on this product. One needed improvement is a software uninstaller, as no one should have to leave remnants around when using the device with another computer. I’ll continue to test the device to see if it improves or if I can get a better handle on what causes my inconsistency. It could be an isolated issue to my environment.
In the interim, I hope magicJack puts some serious effort into providing a good consolidated support system as that may be their biggest obstacle to success. Until such time that magicJack improves their support, provides a contact email address and fixes the errors in their TOS, I can’t recommend the product. The good news is that most of these steps are very easy fixes within their control.
Update: (08/02/08) While I still use the product, I have received a number of emails from readers complaining about service. The company does not provide contact information on the web site which is an issue for many. That info is available in the Magic Jack LP Better Business Bureau listing for SouthEast Florida.
- URL: http://www.magicjack.com/
- Cost: $40 for USB device and first year of service
- Requires: Windows XP or above ; high speed internet connection
- Rating: ★★1/2
Last Updated (Tuesday, 15 September 2009 02:48)