Cheap Phone Calls - MagicJack and Alternatives

Category: Telephony

A reader asks: I've had it with the phone company, so I'm checking out how to make free or cheap phone calls over the Internet. MagicJack seems popular, but some of the negative reviews are concerning to me. Are there any good alternatives to MagicJack that you can recommend?

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Making the move away from a traditional land line to VoIP (internet phone service) is fast becoming a popular option. As you mentioned, MagicJack has gained popularity because it lets you make unlimited calls for just a few dolalrs a month. (The first 6 months are free, then it costs $29.95/year. Or you can purchase a five year plan for $19.95/year.) But people seem to love it or hate it. See my review of the MagicJack VoIP service to learn more about it, and how it works.

But MagicJack is just one of many VoIP services that you can use to make free or low-cost calls. Let's take a look at several MagicJack alternatives, and see how they compare...

Nettalk Duo is virtually a clone of MagicJack. It consists of a USB dongle that plugs into a telephone, router, and power supply, just like the MagicJack Plus. The beauty of both systems is that no PC is required, except to configure your account. However, you can plug both devices into a PC or Mac with broadband access to make calls through a computer instead of a telephone handset.

MagicJack Alternatives - VOIP calling

Both services offer voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding, call waiting, your own phone number and free calls to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. (Yes, this means you can use your device anywhere in the world to make free calls to US or Canadian numbers.) International rates on both services are very cheap. In fact, calls to any other Nettalk or MagicJack user are free if both parties are on the same service. Both Nettalk and MagicJack offers apps for Android and iPhone users that let you make calls from your smartphone over wifi, without using your plan minutes.

Nettalk also provides live telephone tech support, while MagicJack offers only online chat support. (Poor customer service is one the primary complaints of MagicJack users.) Pricewise, the two are similar. The Nettalk Duo starter kit, including dongle and first year's service, lists for $50. The Duo WiFi with one year of service is $65. The WiFi version can connect to the Internet via wifi instead of using a cable. (That's handy if you're away from home or do not have physical access to the Internet router.) After the first year, the annual service fee for unlimited calling to USA and Canada is $29.95. MagicJack Plus goes for $70, with an annual service fee of $20-$30.

Vonage does not have a portable dongle. Its adapter is a larger device designed to plug into your home router. Pricing starts at $26 per month and each extension is another $5. That's for unlimited calling to the U. S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. International calling plans vary. A mobile app is available that allows free Vonage-to-Vonage calling, but it does not offer any free calls to landlines.

Skype has a bewildering variety of phones, dongles, and other devices that plug into a router or PC, plus apps for mobile phones. It even has a Webcam that enables videoconferences via an HDTV widescreen set. Calls with other Skype users are always free. Calls to landline and mobile phones cost as little as 2.3 cents per minute. You can pay by the minute, by the day or month, or with a quarterly or annual subscription plan. If you love lots of options, you will love Skype.

Another option is the OBI110 adapter combined with Google Voice, which I described in 2011. See my related article Free Phone Calls With Google Voice for details. There is no annual service fee with this solution, just the one-time $49 cost of the OBI adapter. However, it's not for mobile use and calls can be placed only from within the U.S. Another caveat is that you will not be able to use Google Voice to make free calls with the OBI device after May 15, 2014. Other low-cost options will be available, though.

Ooma offers a VOIP device similar to the OBI, but setup is easier. It provides unlimited free calling in the USA using your Internet connection and a regular phone. The Ooma Telo costs $149, and thereafter you pay only applicable taxes and fees monthly. Ooma's claim to fame is superior voice quality even when the Internet connection is not optimal.

How Do They Stack Up?

Bottom line - Vonage does not seem to be keeping up with the times in mobility or pricing. Skype is great, but not the easiest to use. If all you want is the cheapest, simplest VoIP service to "fire your phone company", then Nettalk or MagicJack is a better choice. Ooma seems like a good option if voice quality is more important to you than the absolute cheapest calling.

MagicJack has been around for several years, and my sense is that most of the negative comments made about it pertain to the original MagicJack device, which plugged into your computer. Both NetTalk Duo and the newer MagicJack Plus plug into the router, which solves many of the problems that people complained about.

MagicJack offers a 30-day free trial, and you'll only be billed if you decide to keep it. NetTalk doesn't have a free trial, but they do offer a 30-day money back guarantee, with free return shipping. They cost about the same, work pretty much the same, and both provide virtually unlimited VoIP calling. For now, I give the edge to NetTalk, because they seem to be trying harder on the customer service front.

I'd like to hear your opinion, especially if you've tried both. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Cheap Phone Calls - MagicJack and Alternatives"

(See all 40 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

John M
24 Dec 2013

Gave my tenants a MJ+ a few months ago. Works great as long as internet service is up and running (which it has been without any major interruptions). When there was service interruption, MJ+ resumed service automatically as well. Sound quality has been adequate to excellent. One warning is that calls will disconnect after 90 minutes. While my view is that no one should need to talk to anyone for 90 minutes about anything less than an international treaty. If you've been on hold for 85 minutes, finally get connected and then . . . that would prove enraging! Otherwise service has been close to flawless.

Posted by:

24 Dec 2013

After 4+ years of MagicJack, my number was removed and my account put into "Review" for 18 months with their Chat always telling me, "any day now" but it wasn't until I contacted the BetterBusinessBureau that two days later my account was removed from Perpetual Review but STILL no bananas. MJ insists that I can make calls but they don't work and I have requested credit for the 18 months of suspended "Review" service which they don't want to conceed. And when I use my MJ outside of the US/Canada, I have to pay 1¢/minute, for now. Yes, MJ is cheap but you get what you pay for while Dan Brislow hides out in Israel and Chat is appalling... but the voice quality is pretty good. So with MJ, just be careful....

Posted by:

24 Dec 2013

I couldn't wait to get rid of MagicJack and MagicJack Plus. Their customer service is one nasty person after another nastier person. I now have Net Talk Duo and i like it very much and their customer service is pretty good. The only problem with Net Talk i find is if you don't dial the number fast you get a busy signal and have to dial over again.

Posted by:

24 Dec 2013

I've had Nettalk Duo for 8 months. My phone number started acting up after 7 months. You call me and get an 800 number. Can't get a resolution from the pathetic customer support. I'm going back o Callcentric (a byod company). Excellent customer support, and a lot of pricing options.

Posted by:

LA Read
24 Dec 2013

I've used Ooma for about 3 yrs. Voice quality is poor, callers complain of echo (from my end); calls are dropped from time to time. Paid a LOT for Ooma, but if I had to do it over again, wd probably go with MJ+.
Also, it's important to remember that if yr having problems with yr Internet connection, u won't be able to use yr phone until it's fixed.

Posted by:

24 Dec 2013

I have had the Ooma service for 2 years using a Frontier DSL. The only problems I have had are when the family are trying to use Netflix and talk on the phone at the same time. Call quality is better than landline and I get to block telemarketers.

Posted by:

john young
26 Dec 2013

I've been using Magic Jack since 2008 and now have the plus version and for 19.95 a yr, it's great. I can even fax with it when needed, no problem. i've only had one problem and the power supply adpt went bad and they replaced it @ n/c..but if you feel good about paying 19.95 or higher a month for others, then go for it, it's your money!

Posted by:

Rocky Perkins
26 Dec 2013

I've had MJ for 5 years and I find it hit/miss. In my work I travel the US and rarely call outside the US, so can't speak about international calls. I tried the SKYPE free trial, and I kept getting sales calls so often and soliciters, that I canceled after the 3 months, but their billing company just kept charging my credit card until I had to cancel my credit card. It bill outside the US, so you have to pay a foreign exchange charge. So, Beware of Free Trial of SKYPE. I'll never use that one again.

Posted by:

Jo L. Will
28 Dec 2013

I've used Ooma for over three years and Majic Jack since it came out. Ooma has now been rated three years in a row as the best VoIP service by the major consumer rating magazine. For good reason, as I have had no problems with it, also faxes work just fine. My bill is $3.71/mo and you can often find the Ooma boxes for $100. An option I don't think anyone else has is the bluetooth usb chip that plugs into the Ooma box ($30). When my cellphone is in the house and rings, it rings the house phones through the bluetooth connection, and I can answer the call from any of those phones. The caller ID tells me it is coming through the cell phone. Is that cool or what!

Posted by:

31 Dec 2013

Mr. Rankin,
I may be reading part of your summary regarding the Vonage VoIP service, where you state in the article that "Pricing starts at $26 per month and each extension is another $5. That's for unlimited calling to the U. S., Canada, and Puerto Rico." I have had trouble-free Vonage for a few years and I am only charged $9.95 per month for the services you describe. Maybe the pricing has gone up since my joining...

Posted by:

Thomas Lang
21 Feb 2014

Bob, you're off my list. I bought a Magicjack, based on your recommendation. It cost me, ultimately. $85.00 for nothing. I spent 2 1/2 hours on their tech chat where we both decided that it wouldn't work. The echo problem could not be resolved. Everyone who called me. or I called them, it was a two second delay. No conversation possible. I had ported my home number at a cost of $21. After our inability to make it work, I ported my number back to Century Link at a cost of $35. Now Magicjack is charging me another $32 porting charge. This thing never worked!!! I am beside myself. This is the definition of extortion! $88 for nothing!!! Buyer beware. I'm calling the AG's office. This isn't over. These people need to be put out of business!

Posted by:

Catherine Smith
15 Mar 2014

I am using MagicJack for seven months and I am very happy.The voice quality is excellent. I had dropped calls but very seldom not like NetTalk. I used NetTalk for a year and I had problems using 1 800 numbers to Bell etc and it took them six months to fix and numerous calls to customer service waiting three hours to talk to someone. They don't even acknowledge tickets. I rather talk to someone on chat than wait three hours on the phone. NetTalk's customer service sucks. Their voice quality is really bad. NetTalk made me so mad that I threw the adapter away and I won one free and I threw that one away too. Between Magicjack vs NetTalk I would say that MagicJack plus wins every time. They are coming out with a new device this April which will work with the App better. People blame dropped calls on the company but it could be their Internet connection not the device. Magicjack is really trying to make things better not NetTalk they don't care.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

I have used MagicJack since 2010 and NetTALK since 2012. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I have had fewer tech support issues with MagicJack, as well as fewer outages. Both have similar (good) voice quality when comparing the MagicJack Plus with the NetTALK Duo Wifi. If I have to spend a long time on a call, ie. having to get tech support for something, I prefer NetTALK, as it doesn't disconnect automatically after between an hour to 90 minutes. I also find that calls drop more often for no reason with MagicJack. Although NetTALK used to have better tech support, their business hour only support they now offer really diminishes its value. For example, my NetTALK device couldn't receive calls this past Good Friday and Saturday and there was no way to reach them. They must have fixed it on Sunday, as it started working without me doing anything. Fortunately I had the MagicJack and friends had both numbers. MagicJack's smartphone app can link to your MagicJack number, which adds significant value. It works okay on 3G or 4G, however Wifi is definitely better. There has been the odd occasion where my internet went down and was very thankful that I had the MagicJack smartphone app. NetTALK has a smartphone app, however at this time, there is no way of linking it to your number. MagicJack gives you the ability to take your phone number wherever you go, either by smartphone app or by computer app. Even to another country when travelling, as long as you have internet. The MagicJack app for your laptop doesn't require you to bring a physical phone, which the NetTALK requires. You just need a computer headset or built in microphone on your laptop. Both have voicemail. Both email the recorded message to you, which is very useful, especially when you have a smartphone. MagicJack doesn't provide call blocking, however NetTALK does. I had to purchase an external call blocker for my MagicJack line to reduce telemarketing calls. In Canada, MagicJACK is less expensive overall, especially if you go 5 years for $99 and the $10/yr for a Canadian number. NetTALK, even with multi-year pricing, is almost double the cost.

In summary, if I had to pick one only, I would pick MagicJack. But having both does have benefits. The NetTALK is used primarily by my wife and I use the MagicJack. I wouldn't completely trust either for emergencies, so having a cell phone is also recommended. I haven't had a land line since 2011.

Posted by:

Jane Doe
29 Jun 2014

I have used MagicJack for around five years. I have the older version. I love how cheap it is, but frankly, I have had constant problems of one kind or another since I got it, and I am now looking for an alternative. I recently bought the newer version for friends of mine and based on their experience, I am not keen on trying it. It is possible that their problems are a result of the old computer or the old operating system on that computer, but given my endless problems with the older version, I am inclined to think (fairly or unfairly) that the problem is MagicJack.

Posted by:

Bill S
24 Sep 2014

I have to add my 2 cents. In my experience Magic Jack just works. At an average cost of less than 3 bucks a month it makes all the other options seem like a rip off. I was skeptical at first but figured I had to give it a shot. I also figured it would never last. Well we now have his and hers MJ's and they are working perfectly. Yes I have had to replace the power supply in one of them as it died but MJ sent me a new one at NC. I keep buying the latest versions as they are offered at a special price to users as well. For the record I do not expect Platinum level support when I am paying "beer" price for the service. If you are OK with excellent service 95% of the time its a great option and BTW the smart phone app is fantastic.

Posted by:

Goldy White
28 Nov 2014

I have recenlty shifted to denver and setup a new internet business and using the voip services and phone connections at .

Posted by:

01 Mar 2015

Does anyone know if you can use any of these devices with an 800 number? Thank you in advance.

Posted by:

Henri Bonhomme
31 Mar 2015

We have MJ for more than 5 years I live in Haiti and communicate with family & friends in the U.S and sometime in Canada. The first years was great we even call a friend in Paris ,France after our trip. BUT since 2015 the service has been IMPOSSIBLE no one can call us from the U.S or Canada our calls toward them are lousy. Our national companies are( very) over price. What are our alternatives Please,

Posted by:

Don Lunsford
15 May 2015

OBI110 adapter combined with Google Voice was allowed by Google in the fall of 2014. I have been using it ever since and it now May 2015.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2021

I think that Magic Jack is a great IDEA and DREAM but their chat customer service is horrible and the phone line is not dependable service. I have had it for about 1 year and when it works correctly it is great. But out of the blue it stops working, the line is dead, then weeks later the voicemail just stops working, one thing after another, the problems never end. It takes at least 1/2 hour of waiting every time to beg for help on their chat online, then 90% of the time do not and cannot help. I dream of a dependable Magic Jack product.

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