BasicTalk: Magic, or Smoke and Mirrors?

Category: Telephony

Attention, Walmart Shoppers! Have you seen the new residential Voice-over-Internet product in the Electronics department? How about the snarky TV commercial that subtly disparages Magic Jack Plus? Does BasicTalk’s package look familiar with its orange, blue, and white color scheme? Do you smell a 'Con-age?'

"It's Not Magic, It's BasicTalk"

Yes, Walmart’s new VoIP appliance is really just Vonage re-branded. In the company’s 2013 Q1 report to shareholders, CEO Marc Lefar noted, "We are also excited about our upcoming national launch of our new flanker brand, BasicTalk, which targets the low-end domestic calling market.”

What is “low-end” about BasicTalk? Only the retail distribution channel, apparently. As of this writing, Walmart is the only place you can walk into and buy a BasicTalk box. Then you must take it home and activate it through BasicTalk.com. Of course, activation requires a computer and broadband Internet. In the unlikely event that you live where broadband is available but Walmart is not, you can order a BasicTalk kit shipped to your home via BasicTalk’s Web site.

Clearly, Vonage is feeling the pinch of the successful Magic Jack product, and BasicTalk is how they intend to recapture some of that market share. (See my article about Magic Jack Phone Service.) In television commercials, a magician says "When you sign up for that magic phone service, what exactly do you get? You get to pay for that magic device, you get to pay to keep your existing phone number and you get to pay for everything, up front. So where’s the magic in that?" Let's compare the two offerings...
Basic Talk Phone Service

BasicTalk’s startup cost looks low-end compared to Magic Jack Plus: only $9.99 plus tax buys the box and your first month’s service. That includes free porting of your current phone number, if desired. Magic Jack Plus charges $69.95 up-front for its box and to keep your current number, plus $19.95 for the first year’s service, for a total of about $90. (This comparison ignores taxes and fees.) So if all you have is ten bucks and change (a working definition of “low-end”), BasicTalk is the way to go.

Until the second month, when you need to come up with another ten-and-change; and each of the next ten months of the year during which a Magic Jack Plus owner is paying nothing more. Let's do a little BasicMath... the first-year total cost of Magic Talk Plus turns out to about $30 less than BasicTalk ($120 minus $90).

But Wait, There's Less!

The gap widens in the second year, when all Magic Jack Plus customers pay is $30 while BasicTalk’s monthly charges add up to $120. Sales and other taxes inflate the difference to about $148 a year; that is how much you can save by buying Magic Jack Plus instead of BasicTalk.

The BasicTalk/Walmart scheme sounds like the “rent to own” industry to me. Consumers are lured in with low cost of entry and hooked on endless payments that add up to much, much more than the product is worth. If that isn’t bad enough, read BasicTalk’s Reasonable Use Policy:

“BasicTalk's service plan is for normal residential or personal, non-commercial use. This means that only the account holder and residential family members may use the service. Residential family members include your immediate family who reside in your personal residence - such as, your spouse, domestic partner, parents and/or children.”

That’s right: if visitors asks to use your phone, technically, you can’t let them. You can’t talk to your boss from home, or talk to clients -- that would be commercial use! Of course, BasicTalk doesn’t eavesdrop on your calls to monitor who’s talking about what. If monitors only traffic volume, comparing your monthly bandwidth usage to what’s typical for similar customers. So if you have an especially chatty teenager, you may hear from BasicTalk demanding explanation of what is none of its business. Failure to correct your "excessive or abnormal" calling gives BasicTalk the right to "suspend or terminate your service with or without further notice."

So is BasicTalk a con or scam? No, not in the usual sense of those words. But it doesn't seem honest for Vonage to bash competitors when their pricing and policies really don't compare favorably. Sadly, some “low-end” (meaning, “low-information” or just plain dumb) consumers will get hooked by this Vonage "save a little now, pay a lot later" offering.

Have you tried BasicTalk, Magic Jack, or some other consumer VoIP service? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "BasicTalk: Magic, or Smoke and Mirrors?"

(See all 41 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Bob
05 Aug 2013

We've had Ooma for most of a year, and so far the service has been fine, the billing accurate, and no surprises so far. Then again, we are low-volume phone users, make no international calls, and generally only use our home phone for convenience. We have a FAX machine that we run on a landline because despite the fact that Ooma insists they can handle FAX traffic we're more than a little skeptical.


Posted by:

Felipe
05 Aug 2013

Magic Jack Plus has the same restrictions as Basic Talk, if you use it to much they will not renew your service, they won't even answer your calls, they will just drop you. When they did not renew my service, I had to buy into netTalk, now I have to
limit my calls, hopefully I can renew my service with them after the year is over


Posted by:

JMeans
05 Aug 2013

Bob, thanks for the explanations. I was wondering if I had made a mistake by going with Ooma rather than something like Basic Talk. Now I see that my choice is just fine. I have roughly $130 invested in the one-time purchase price of the Ooma telco, a one-time fee of $39 to port my number, and a billing of $3.45 a month for federal taxes. At the present I've opted out of Ooma Premier. I'll stick with what I have. For the few times my phone rings, the $42 a year is just about right. Great article.


Posted by:

Jim
05 Aug 2013

I use Net Talk. Cost $60 to set up and $30 a year. Had it now for 3 years. Saved about $900 over Century Link Phone Co.


Posted by:

Ron G
06 Aug 2013

I have had Magic Jack and now Plus for a few years now. No problems. I go to NY among other states to visit friends and I take it with me. Works great.


Posted by:

Jerry
06 Aug 2013

Unless they have changed magic jack I paid $69.00 dollars at walmart and that included my first year but I switched to satalite internet and magic jack is useless on it- so is basic talk .


Posted by:

Bryan
06 Aug 2013

We've been using Magic Jack for years. We upgraded to the Plus when it became available. I highly recommend it. When my computer went down recently, there was no interruption in my phone service. My wife is from South America. We've shipped 2 units down to her family. She talks to them every day for nothing! Magic Jack has saved me hundreds of dollars. Walmart sucks! (imo)


Posted by:

MrToo
06 Aug 2013

I use VOIPO. You pay upfront for a couple of years and the cost works out to about $5/month. You have complete control of your phone system. Block any number you want or re-direct a call from a specific number to another specific number. Complete on-line management. Use you own SIP device (such as a SIP App on your cell) without impacting your home service. (Both phones ring). And it was easy to set it up so all jacks in my home are wired as they were with AT&T. I even ported over my AT&T phone number. One word of caution if you currently have AT&T; when I ported my number over, AT&T disconnect my Uverse Internet as well. It was a battle that lasted a couple of weeks before Internet service was restored.


Posted by:

mary williamson
06 Aug 2013

I signed up for the 30 day trial within 1hr they had charged my card for over a $100.00 ,It was cancelled right then so now OOVOO OR HANGOUT


Posted by:

Joe
06 Aug 2013

I have used MagicJack for a couple of years and am really satisfied. I live in the Philippines so I am able to call the USA free. I have often travelled to countries other than the USA, so we have 2 Magicjacks so I can call the Philippines wherever I am.


Posted by:

Lon C Murchison II
06 Aug 2013

I work for AAFES and MagicJack is used by many solders to call home. It is great for them if they know they are going to a place that has High Speed internet.


Posted by:

SharonH
06 Aug 2013

We purchased Ooma about 2 months ago and have been very happy ever since. Yes, there is an initial investment for the hardware ($150) and a $9.99 monthly charge for Premium services (it's worth it to my mind but it also works nicely without it) and then you are home free. We pay a little over $3.00 in local fees, which we would have to pay for any service.

I have not heard such call clarity since our ancient landline phone. It beat our Comcast phone by a mile and then some. People have asked me if we bought a new phone! And no, I don't work for Ooma. Just want people to know that if they make the investment for excellent VoIP quality, they will not be disappointed.


Posted by:

Hope G
08 Aug 2013

Going on 6 yrs with Magic Jack and 1 yr with MJ plus and no problem with either.

To Felipe "Magic Jack Plus has the same restrictions as Basic Talk, if you use it to much they will not renew your service, they won't even answer your calls, they will just drop you. When they did not renew my service, I had to buy into netTalk, now I have to
limit my calls, hopefully I can renew my service with them after the year is over."

I have not had this problem either. I love Magic Jack and the plus, and think I will stick with them til someone can do better.



Posted by:

MagicBox.PH
11 Aug 2013

If you're a Filipino, please read on..

Agree that magicJack+ is one of the best option if you're calling from USA/Canada. But if you're in other countries, you need another device. Considering that you want to call your parents in the Philippines, we're introducing a SIP-in-a-box phone adapter called MagicBox.PH. It doesn't need a PC/Laptop. It's reachable from landline/mobile in 37 countries or via iPhone/Android SIP app.

Since we're based in the Philippines, support is quicker, cheaper and more extensive (even with your Internet provider which is the most common cause of VoIP problems).

Visit http://facebook.com/MagicBox.PH or http://m.magicbox.ph for more details.


Posted by:

Roger
29 Dec 2013

BasicTalk works like most VOIP. Had their parent company, Vonage, for several years but the prices kept going up. Switched to BasicTalk and still no dial tone. Their support is ignorant of MAC address proliferation - I believe the retail box I have was used before and they will not check for the "MAC" address someplace else (besides my account) in their system... anyway, based on Bob's review of MagicJack, that is my next stop. STAY away from Basic Talk... they are 'basically' screwed up.


Posted by:

Ray Lampe
09 Feb 2014

Bob, you're right. for several years now, once a year I plunk down a small annual fee for the MJKs at two homes and never think about how much I talk, EVER. Anyone who goes for Basic Talk will pay $9.95 PLUS govt and regulatory fees, more like $13 or more per month. No comparison. Like some other commenters I tried Vonage, but the cost was always more than I planned for.

I have tried to get a relative of mine to drop Comcast phone service and get Magic Jack, but he doesn't want to "lose his land line". He's a pretty smart cookie but I can't convince him that they are both VOIP.


Posted by:

Becky
01 Mar 2014

Can I use a fax machine with Majic Jack?


Posted by:

ss
27 Jun 2014

Yes, MJ+ works great with a fax machine.

Basic Talk looks good for somebody that needs a phone for just a few months...


Posted by:

MrSurge
31 Aug 2014

I would like to submit that Basic Talk is neither magic nor smoke and mirrors, it is what it is. And this article is a huge vat of bu££ $#!+


Posted by:

Bart McMurray
19 Nov 2014

We switched to Basic Talk from MagicJack and are happy to pay more because the Basic Talk does not drop calls like MagicJack did. When dialing a local number Basic talk does not require the local area code like MagicJack. The message light works on our phones when there is a message with Basic talk but not on MagicJack, the MagicJack dialtone warbles when you have a voicemail. The basic talk unit does not get real hot like MagicJack (my friends magic jack burnt out). Basic Talk caller ID shows the phone number and the callers name, if available, where MagicJack just shows the phone number again. MagicJack wants $19.95 to port a existing number plus 9.95 a year to maintain it and wanted $30 more to allow me to port my number over to basic talk.
The one thing Magicjack does that is very cool, is to send an email for every voicemail with the contents of the message attached as a wav file.


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