MagicJack: The No-Brainer Money Saver

By  |  Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Steve Bass's TechBiteI just saved $320 by cancelling an extra phone line and signing up with magicJack. It works as advertised; I like it; and it’s a keeper. I also have tips to make magicJack better, and if you’re intrigued, hack into it. (Fair warning: My magicJack review is long, way more than I usually allocate for one newsletter.)

Making the Switch to magicJack

I used to have three phone lines, and for years I needed all of them. But with almost all of my communication through e-mail, I decided to dump one and replace it with a magicJack. And save myself about $320 a year.

You plug the magicJack into a free USB port, then plug your phone line into the gizmo. Now you can make free calls with VoIP — they’re routed through the Internet. (The magicJack comes with a 6-inch USB extension cable in case it interferes with other devices plugged into your USB ports.)

Plug one end into a USB port and connect the other end to your standard phone.

Hey, I’m Connected

To see how easy it was to get started, I connected the magicJack to a USB port on my PC. (If you use a hub it has to be powered; if it’s not, or underpowered, the magicJack might not work.) Then I plugged a phone into the magicJack using a standard phone cable. Cordless phones also work; just plug in the base unit.

The computer recognized the magicJack like any Flash drive, then it took about 5 minutes to download software updates. I picked up the phone, heard a dial tone, dialed as I normally would, and made my first magicJack call. Cousin Judy in New York said I sounded unusually good, a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one. It took another few minutes to create a 911 location and set up voicemail.

You can call by dialing your phone or do it from your PC.

Once I saw that the magicJack worked, I connected it to my ancient Nortel Venture three-line phone, the one that I rigged up to use a Plantronics wireless headset. If you prefer, you can use your PC’s speakers and a microphone, or a headset, just as you would with Skype.

What’s the magicJack Catch?

There really isn’t any. There are a few inconveniences, and one not-so-minor hassle, and I’ll get to them. But first I want to cover the basics.

One thing to consider is that you need broadband: magicJack requires speeds of at least 100KB. And if you have DSL service, magicJack will work just fine, but don’t call the phone company to shut off your regular phone line as it’s needed for the DSL connection

The magicJack service costs $40 for the first year, which includes the USB dongle. The cost for subsequent service is $20 per year, but chances are good the fee will increase. So the company pushes a 5-year service plan for $60. You get unlimited calling to anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Canada. International calls are 2 cents a minute.

If you make a magicJack call to a friend’s magicJack number — anywhere in the world — the call’s free. Calling the United States or Canada from another country with your magicJack is also free. Yep, that’s right: You can carry the magicJack while you’re traveling, connect it to your notebook, and all your calls are free.

You can call as much as you’d like, but magicJack’s Terms of Service obliquely says, “If magicJack sees excessive use, including but not limited to, a customer whose usage is twenty (20) times more than the average magicJack’s customers usage” they’ll cut off service and won’t give you a refund. Swell.

All your 411 calls are free, but you need to listen to a 20-second commercial first. I prefer Google’s free Goog-411 (800-466-4411).

Other features? You have access to 3-way calling and call forwarding. What’s missing is caller ID blocking.

Of course you’re worried about voice quality, and so was I. Most of the time it ranges from very good to great. I talked with my TechBite partner, Mike, in Denver, for about 2 hours and it was a perfect connection. Yet when I tried magicJack’s 411, and then checked voicemail, the connection cut in and out; I also experienced a disconnect when I called my mother (really, Mom, I didn’t hang up!). I got better quality if I stuck the magicJack in a port on my PC instead of using the USB hub.

Is MagicJack For You?


Some forums say that magicJack is good only to use as a second phone line, maybe for a teenager, or just for saving money on long-distance calls. I agree; I wouldn’t advise you to drop your only landline or cell phone for magicJack for a couple of reasons.

First, I wouldn’t depend on the magicJack for emergency 911 calls. Say there’s an emergency and you lose power. Access to the Internet is gone, and magicJack is useless.

Second, you have to keep the PC on. When your PC isn’t running, incoming calls to the magicJack phone number are routed to voicemail. (Here’s a neat option: If someone leaves a voicemail, magicJack sends you an e-mail with a sound file of the message.)

I thought I’d get smart and try a work-around. I attached the magicJack to the USB port of my server, an always-on Seagate Network Attached Storage device. The magicJack had a hearty laugh and refused to be recognized. The designer of the magicJack said it couldn’t be done.

BTW, magicJack includes a local number as part of the service; most metropolitan areas are covered, but you might not be in one of those spots. Here’s a lengthy list of supported area codes. For you nerds, here’s a longer list that includes local prefixes.

Try magicJack for 30 days. If you don’t like it, all you pay for is shipping. The trial starts when you order the device, and you have to get it back to them within the 30 days. (I know you have more concerns, you always do. So read the FAQ for all your picayune questions.)

Two Not-So-Magic Quibbles

One thing I didn’t like: I had to click the Minimize icon to get the magicJack program into the system tray. I’d prefer it automatically minimize when magicJack loads. I haven’t been able to find a way to do it, and no, I don’t want to use an extra software tool to do it. The designer said, “… anything is possible, but this is not on the drawing board; the magicJack is built for the people who need to see it loading.” Whatever.

The company includes an Outlook add-in that lets you dial directly from Outlook’s contacts. That’s handy, but I’d also like a way to import directly into magicJack’s contacts from an Excel or CVS file.

You’ll also have to remember to add an area code no matter where you’re calling, even if it’s a local call.

MagicJack Tricks and Hacks

There are lots of ways you can play with the magicJack. Here are a few:

  • I don’t need to see magicJack’s splash screen, so I disabled it.
  • If you want run the magicJack from your hard drive rather than the USB dongle, here’s the trick. It doesn’t seem like it’s worth the bother, though, because you still need the dongle in order to connect to a phone line.
  • When I connect an external USB drive, I expect it to be drive letter “G.” Without asking, magicJack grabs the first two available drive letters — “G” and “H” — for its USB dongle. It’s easy to fix that. Read a little ditty I wrote for an obscure magazine: Disable Unused Drive Letters.
  • You can run magicJack as a Service, spoof its caller ID, reveal more magicJack features by changing the skin, and maybe get your Chevy to get more miles per gallon. It’s all in the magicJack hack site. The Unofficial magicJack forum has more ordinary fixes, hacks, and advice.
  • If you have a PBX system, and a nimble mind, you might be able to hack the magicJack to act like a trunk in any Asterisk-based IP PBX. If that’s not Greek, get the details at VoIP Insider and INTJ Geek.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]



26 Comments For This Post

  1. Ruebenzutzler Says:

    I don’t see the value of that thing! Why don’t you just get one single ISDN line?
    …can’t even understand why ISDN is/was not popular in the US:

  2. bunch Says:

    I agree that it would be a good option for an extra line rather then replacing your main phone.

    ‘You’ll also have to remember to add an area code no matter where you’re calling, even if it’s a local call.’ Dialing the area code for any calls is common for lots of folks who live in areas with many area codes. I haven’t dialed just seven digits for any calls in ten years or more.

  3. Chris Says:

    Magic Jack – great marketing, but not a sustainable product. There are so many better ways of getting getting cheap – free calls. From naked ADSL, Bluetooth gateways, Ooma, Skype on DECT cordless ……

  4. Alan Says:

    Maybe for you guys living in the US it’s not so great. However, for someone living outside of the US who needs to call the US frequently, it’s a god send!

    Great product!

  5. Richard Avery Says:

    I am having terrible problems with Magicjack,I have emailed on their home page to their service caht 6 times.It is still messed up with a E drive problem. They tell me it my computer. If it is is because of the MJ.
    They do not have a reinstall plan. I am frustrated!!!!!!!!!!

  6. mjlike Says:

    I love Magicjack. Now I love it even more that I got the caller id to work on my phone by getting a fixer from

  7. George Says:

    this is the 2nd time I posted this, the first one was taken down when I suggested that someone above was getting paid by Magic Jack hmmmm

  8. nehalem Says:

    why do you think the review was paid for? It’s not all positive, but gives real world experience with it.

    We bought one for testing. It works as advertised, not great bu t serviceable, and easier to set up for inexperienced users than Skype.

    Not for everyone, but serves a purpose.

  9. GERALD Says:


  10. anon Says:

    You don’t need to plug a telephone into
    magicJack. You can use a USB phone or a
    USB speakerphone.

    If you can run magicJack software from
    your hard drive it will boot faster and
    combined with a USB phone you won’t need
    the dongle.

  11. anon Says:

    To use a plain old telephone handset,
    you may use a USB to RJ11 phone plug

  12. Madr Says:

    mjlike: Caller ID on my phone works fine with no additional “fixer.”

  13. Capheind Says:

    Considering that its only 20 USD a year I’d say its worth it. Its not perfect, its not going to replace you primary phone line, but its a handy gizmo in a pinch. It seems more suited for those who want a home phone line despite not actually needing one, People who travel alot but find themselves calling back home most of the time, or to get your kid to stop begging you for his own phone. I’m a CLEC Technician and bought mine, primarily, to use in CO’s where I can’t use a cell phone, and where, to cut costs, my employer has removed the old landlines.

  14. Capheind Says:

    That “fixer” Looks like a plain old Male-to-Male RJ11 junction.. It smells of a scam.

  15. anon Says:

    If you would like to hear how you sound to your
    call recipient at the other end, use your
    magicJack and call the echo-test number 909-390-0003.

  16. anon Says:

    The article gives a link to a procedure to
    run magicJack software from your hard disk.

    Here are some of the advantages. You boot
    to your desktop as you normally do. Once
    there, you open or double-click the magicJack
    shortcut and the softphone pops up almost
    instantaneously. You don’t see any splash or
    ads, and you can shave 30 seconds or more off
    the total time it takes before the softphone
    appears if you do it the normal way with the
    dongle plugged in.

    You don’t have to use the dongle. Use built-in
    or external speakers and a microphone, a USB
    phone, a USB speakerphone or a USB headset.

    There are a couple of disadvantages. If you
    want to receive the latest software with
    upgrades, you would still need to plug in
    the dongle and and repeat the process to install
    the latest program version on your hard drive.
    After you have done it a few times, the whole
    thing should take no more than a couple of minutes.

    The other thing is normally you would see your
    911 address and a 911 icon to its left along the
    bottom edge of the softphone dial pad. When you
    use the above procedure, you don’t see your 911
    address or the 911 icon you can click to change
    your address. Instead you get a message along the
    bottom edge that says something like … Upgrading:
    wait till upgrading is completed …and the
    message never changes.

  17. anon Says:

    A correction to my post above. The message
    that appears is:

    Upgrading; please wait before selecting your

    To modify or add a new 911 address, select
    “Add a New Location” from the drop-down box.

    Clicking the 911 icon gives the following message:

    The 911 has validated the location successfully.

  18. Marti Says:

    What’s a dongle?

  19. Xggyyehg Says:

    ivp6Q8 comment2 ,

  20. vdot Says:

    Some of this post is no longer correct, as of 6/30/2009 (eg: CallerID
    Spoofing, use of ATA, etc.) However, some problems are soon to be
    solved (eg: Blocking Incoming Calls using CallerID, true/active
    Call-forwarding, and a lot more). See thread here:

  21. ViDdAs Says:

    Here is a solution to one of your magic quibbles. A utility to import contacts from Outlook, Gmail or a CSV file.

    All the necessary instructions are posted on the site.

    Happy importing

  22. Anon2 Says:

    Can anyone tell me how to improve the audio for the person I have called? I have to scream when I used my MJ for them to hear me.

  23. vdot Says:

    MagicBeans™ is now available, and adds a lot of features to the
    magicJack™ experience.

    You can check it out at

    You can go to the help link or even download the User Guide and get
    a detailed idea of what it can do…

  24. philippinetech Says:

    Ooma a MagicJack replacement with no computer needed! And there is no yearly fees for basic service

  25. vdot Says:

    The article isn’t about OOMA, and OOMA isn’t any ‘replacement’ for
    magicJack…it’s 6 times the cost of magicJack. It may be a repacement
    for Vonage or some other VOIP, but it is not in the same league, price-wise,
    with magicJack…apples & oranges.

    MagicBeans™ is now available, and adds a lot of features to the
    magicJack™ experience.

    You can check it out at

    You can go to the help link or even download the User Guide and get
    a detailed idea of what it can do…

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