Too good to be true?
June 26, 2010 4:33 PM   Subscribe

How sketchy is MagicJack? Can I trust it to forward calls to my cellphone?

I'm in Canada. Currently, the only service I have is a cellphone through SoloMobile with unlimited North American long distance--expensive, but necessary. Trust me when I say that I make enough calls to the States that getting a calling card would actually be more expensive.

I may be in a position in the near future of not only making a lot of calls TO the States, but also fielding a lot of calls FROM the States...and while I have no problem paying for the long distance costs, I imagine not everyone I'll be dealing with feels the same.

This would be a non-issue if Google Voice were available in Canada. I'd just give out the GV number and have that forward to my cellphone. That's unfortunately not an option.

I came across the Magic Jack, which is a VoIP dongle that you can plug into your laptop, and you can plug a regular analog phone into said dongle. Ostensibly you can pick a random US number and have people call that number to reach you. If your computer is turned off, the call either goes to voicemail or it can be forwarded. This seems like the perfect solution for me, especially since it seems like I don't have to leave my computer on all the time and I could still get transferred calls wherever I am on my cellphone.

The reviews have been pretty mixed. PC Mag's primary issue with it seems to be lack of tech support, which I'm personally not too concerned about, but BoingBoing seems to be concerned about spyware as well. There was a question about it from 2008, with only three answers, so I thought I'd try again.

Does anyone have experience with MagicJack, either in Canada or in the State? Alternatively, does anyone have any better suggestions for how to make it easy for US contacts to get in touch with me?
posted by Phire to Technology (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I do not own it myself, but I personally know multiple people who have used it in multiple countries. I live out in Japan, but travel around Asia for work, and I know of people using it in Japan, Australia, Brunei, Thailand, and a few other places.

Skype also has a forwarding option that I use in Japan; I have a Texas number for friends and family to call that then rings on my computer, and can get forwarded to my cell.
posted by aggienfo at 4:39 PM on June 26, 2010

I can't speak to the call-forwarding aspect, but my parents use Magic Jack exclusively for their home phone and it works completely fine, trouble free. They have their computer on a lot of the time, so the forwarding thing isn't an issue as far as I know.
posted by tristeza at 5:04 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: My husband's workplace uses MagicJack for their phone lines, due to a director who is blind to all but the bottom line. His comments on MagicJack are entirely uncomplimentary. No reliability, no tech support, claims about their product's abilities on their own website that, when you call them and ask how to get the thing to do it, they say, "Oh, yeah, we don't do that yet." Since he bears some of the brunt of trying to support the inadequacy of it, he has nothing but nasty things to say about them and their product.

Perhaps on a small scale, with less demand, the reliability might not be such a problem. Obviously a business line has different demands from a line used for conversations. Last I checked, pretty much everybody at his workplace uses their personal cell phones instead of their business lines when they can manage it.
posted by galadriel at 5:53 PM on June 26, 2010

The one thing I know about Magic Jack is their business model depends on charging ala-cart for add-ons. The basic service is cheap but they offer all sorts of features that each have their own surcharge. As long as you stay with the basic feature set that won't be a problem, though.
posted by scalefree at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2010

For inbound calls from the States, I'm not sure what you could do, but you might consider YakCell for your own outbound calls.
posted by pised at 6:07 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: What about skype?

Works really well and you can setup a skype in number. Skype to skype calls are free.
posted by reklus at 6:41 PM on June 26, 2010

I've been using MJ for maybe sme five years. I have no complaints. The complaints I hear usually have bandwidth problems as the source. You will need a reasonable good upload capacity. I run MJ throughout my house from an old computer whose sole function is hosting MJ and have 20Mb download/2 Mb upload capacity. So my web and bitstreaming activity don't affect the quality of my usage.

I have a friend who also has used it for many years. He has a number of MJ accounts which he uses only for forwarding. He uses the accounts for PoPs for relatives who can reach him by calling a local number and avoiding long-distance charges. He has no problems. BTW, he doesn't even have to plug the dongle into a computer for this service.
posted by Hilbert at 7:25 PM on June 26, 2010

Don't know about MagicJack, but I've used Gizmo5 for call forwarding while traveling. Registration is currently closed, but send me MeFi mail and I'll send you an invitation.
posted by zippy at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: You sound like an educated guy and I'm not sure what your consumer ethics are like, but MagicJack is not the coolest of companies. You'd have no problem with Skype.
posted by rhizome at 8:24 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops, "you sound like an educated gal."
posted by rhizome at 8:25 PM on June 26, 2010

Get a account, and find a computer geeky friend to set up a new phone number that will forward to your cell phone (or do it yourself if you are your own computer geeky friend). This should take all of an hour of work. Tropo isn't free for international calls, but it is very very cheap, and they have great service and support.

(I don't have any connection to them, just a happy customer.)
posted by miyabo at 8:59 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: MagicJack is pretty sketchy. I would use (and do actually use) Callcentric instead. They are a VOIP provider but you can use them in many different ways.

In your situation, you'd want to buy a U.S. DID (incoming number) and then set up call forwarding to route all calls to your Canadian cellphone. You could of course forward it instead to any other number you want, and even set up schedules for forwarding to various places, or send only certain callers to certain numbers at various times. They let you build up rulesets that can get quite complex, if you want them to. (Or you can just do straight call forwarding.)

The calls being forwarded would be billed based on the number they're being forwarded to regardless of where they are coming from. So if you got a U.S. number and forwarded it to your Canadian cellphone, it would get billed at the Canada outbound rate, which is $0.0198USD / minute.

There is a charge for renting the incoming number; it depends on the number you get — numbers in some very desirable area codes / exchanges (e.g. Manhattan, downtown SF) cost more than others. I got a "bargain" number in a rural area for about $4/mo.

There is no contract; everything is strictly pay-as-you-go. I like it and they have always been responsive to my questions both on the customer service and technical support side. (Not that you'd really have need for tech support, since your use case wouldn't require a VOIP adapter, it would just be some setup on their web site.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:26 PM on June 26, 2010

Get a US number at and have it forwarded to your phone[s] wherever you want too. Number is 1 US$ per month, rates are cheap.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:29 PM on June 26, 2010

Response by poster: MagicJack definitely is starting to look a bit more sketchy...

I'm really liking Skype and CallCentric so far as options; Tropo looks a little out of my skill-range, and I'd prefer something I could troubeshoot myself on the go, but the service seems really neat.

Zippy, I've sent you a MeMail about Gizmo5.

yoyo_nyc, I'm a little confused by' explanation of their service - how do I know if my phone is compatible with their protocol?

Kadin2048, do you know if Callcentric allows for forwarding-to-actual-phoneline for their unlimited personal phone number? What exactly is the difference between that, and a home office? How would they even be able to tell?

Thanks for all of the fantastic answers so far, everyone. This thread has been hugely educational.
posted by Phire at 9:45 PM on June 26, 2010

Callcentric's FAQ entry on call forwarding says that all forwarded calls are billed at the PAYGO rates; you can't use an flat-rate plan to get unlimited forwarded calls, unfortunately.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:53 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: With you can make/receive calls either with a VOIP client (e.g. ekiga etc.) or you can have a call just forwarded towards your cell phone, land line, several phones etc.
You will get charged for the call time but the fees are low.
Number: 1 US$ per month
Time: 0.0052 US$/minute for forwarding to Canada

You should also be able to call out with your cell and the US number ("DID"). I have not tried this part yet since I still using for this but I will switch everything soon.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:03 PM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: Just chiming in to also say - "Yes - Skype!" I've heard mixed reviews on the Magic Jack. We ordered a USB to phone adapter on ebay, plugged it into a Windows machine and a cordless phone, and we run Skype on that machine 24x7. We paid 30 dollars for a year to get a California phone number assigned to that Skype account. Now when people call our Cali number, our cordless phone rings, and the quality is good enough that we never think about it being Skype, and it costs my friends nothing to call us.

Skype will also, of course, forward calls to your cell phone with the same set up (purchase a north american number, etc).
posted by routergirl at 9:43 AM on June 27, 2010

plugged it into a Windows machine and a cordless phone, and we run Skype on that machine 24x7.

How much do you pay in electricity to keep that computer on?
posted by gjc at 3:24 PM on June 27, 2010

gjc: We keep that machine on anyway, for other reasons, so Skype isn't adding anything to our monthly utility bills. Well, unless you count the cost of keeping the cordless phone plugged in.
posted by routergirl at 5:36 PM on June 27, 2010

Response by poster: I decided to go with Skype for several reasons: call-forwarding is covered by an existing subscription plan, which, at $3 a month for unlimited calling in Canada/US, is pretty ridiculously cheap. I already use Skype for a good number of other things and I like having the benefits of an online number and accompanying call-forwarding extend to those other things as well. Plus I trust Skype and their customer service/tech support.

The call-forwarding works fine even if Skype (and by extension my computer) isn't running, so this definitely looks like a perfect solution.

Thanks to everyone for your fantastic answers. I marked as best the answers that I think others with similar problems in the future might consider as alternatives as well.
posted by Phire at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2010

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