MagicJack Plus now links directly to router

The YMax MagicJack Plus fixes the biggest issues we found in the original MagicJack. That telephony gadget offered solid, reliable phone service for a price that was hard to beat, but required you to leave the gizmo plugged into your PC–as well as to leave your PC running 24/7. What’s more, YMax offered no option for transferring an existing number, so the MagicJack was best suited to second-line duty.

Like the competing NetTalk Duo, the MagicJack Plus can connectdirectly to your router for always-on phone service, thereby takingyour PC out of the equation (though it can still plug into a computer,if you want). And YMax now lets you transfer your number, meaning thePlus can legitimately replace your landline.

Should it? From the price perspective alone, it remains anattractive proposition–even though the hardware and service costs haveincreased. For $70 (as of February 1, 2012) you get the unit itself andone year of unlimited local- and long-distance calls to U.S.numbers.Each additional year costs $30. No landline service comes anywhereclose. The key question, of course, is how the MagicJack Plus farescompared with landline service. Short answer: quite well.

Getting started
The one-time setup process, which does require a PC, takes you througha seemingly endless catalog of choices and nickel-and-dime upgradeoptions. For example, you can select a vanity number (any combinationof letters and/or numbers) for $10 annually, or a “free” number withyour choice of area code andprefix. (Want to choose the last four digits from a list? That’ll be $3per year.)

You also have the option of tacking on five years’ worth of service for$100, which works out to about $5 less per year than you’d pay renewingannually.

What I didn’t see along the way was a number-transfer option. To putthose wheels in motion, you must first sign in to your MagicJackaccount. Unfortunately, the provided instructions–which are printed onthe back of the box and consist of only the most basic setupsteps–don’t make mention of that. You wouldn’t even know that anaccount sign-in option exists without first perusing YMax’s FAQ page.

Customer service needs work
To use the Plus with your router, you’ll need to plug itsUSB jack intothe included AC adapter, and then find an outlet within a few feet ofthe router (you’re limited by the length of the supplied ethernetcable).

I tested the unit with my broadband service, a Cisco Linksys E4200router, and a Uniden multistation cordless phone system. It performedalmost flawlessly, offering loud, clear audio that seemed on a par withthat of a landline–as well as with that of MagicJack competitor OomaTelo, my current home-phone service. One caller reported a “slightdistortion” at her end, but that cleared up later in the call, and shesaid it was so minor she almost didn’t mention it.

If you want to learn more about using the MagicJack Plus withyour PC, the features andoperations are all but identical.

Regrettably, YMax’s service hasn’t improved since then.Support is still an online-only affair (though you can get live helpfrom a Web agent), and the MagicJack site remains woefully confusingwhen it comes to getting answers and finding helpful links. Forexample, nowhere on the MagicJack home page can current MagicJack usersfind a sign-in option for accessing their account. That’s ridiculous.Also, the call logs in my MagicJack portal were consistently empty,even though I’d made and received a number of calls.

The bottom line
Those gripes aside, MagicJack Plus offers a compelling home-phonealternative for anyone looking to ditch their landline. Of course, sodoes the NetTalk Duo, a virtually identical product that costs the sameand comes with much better support–but lacks a number-porting option.If you want to keep your number, the Plus is the better pick.

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