You asked for it, you got it.
The gurus in the Web analytics department regularly furnish us with a list of popular terms plugged into the “Search” bar at ConsumerReports.org. It’s a useful tool, letting us know what readers are most interested in when they come to the site. One product in particular always makes the top-ten list of most-searched terms for electronics: the Magic Jack.
The Magic Jack, which costs $20 for the device and $20 a year for service, promises to “save hundreds, even thousands of dollars” by making "your monthly phone bill disappear.” Quite a claim, so we added the Magic Jack to our tests of a slew of “as seen on TV” products, including the Slap Chop, ShamWow, Snuggie, and PedEgg.
The surprising result: Unlike most of the products hawked during late-night programming, our tests found that the Magic Jack actually works and could save you money—if you don’t mind a few drawbacks.
The Magic Jack works by plugging into the USB port of your computer, acting as an adapter for your home phone line. Calls are placed over the Internet—a VOIP service like Vonage or Skype, but less expensive—so you must have broadband Internet access and your computer must be on to make and receive calls. (Messages go to voicemail when the computer is off.)
Our tester made dozens of calls with Magic Jack over several days. Calls went through with no problems, and voice quality was generally clear, though less so than with a good corded phone. Some interference occurred when the tester tried talking while downloading a large file or playing an online game. If you can live with that, we think the Magic Jack is a great deal.
—Nick K. Mandle
Update 1/06/10: A few extra caveats about the MagicJack— (1) You can't use your current phone number (though the company says they're working on it) and you should check if you can use MagicJack with your area code. (2) MagicJack is ad supported, and its end user license agreement states it "may analyze the phone numbers you call in order to improve the relevance of the ads." (Thanks, Paul) (3) In case of power outages, we recommend keeping on hand a corded land-line phone or at least a cell phone for emergency calls. —Ed.