Vonage Vs. magicJack

Vonage and magicJack are VoIP service providers offering residential Internet phone service.

Vonage and magicJack offer inexpensive Internet phone service using VoIP adapters that convert analog signals to digital signals and transmit them as data over the Internet. VoIP phone service by providers such as Vonage and magicJack enable residential customers with high-speed Internet connections to make free or low-cost long-distance calls and inexpensive international calls.

In a cursory examination of Vonage vs. magicJack, Vonage wins in flexibility, accessibility (no software), and customer service. magicJack is the victor in the most important category for many residential VoIP Internet phone service: Cost.

What's VoIP?

VoIP is Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP phone service uses the Internet instead of the standard Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to transmit telephone calls.

VoIP phone service sends voice calls as packetized data: The analog signals of traditional phones are

  • converted to digital signals
  • compressed
  • broken into data packets
  • sent over the Internet

With residential VoIP service providers such as Vonage or magicJack, VoIP adapters are used to convert the signal from analog to digital.

Why Use VoIP?

The benefits of using VoIP rather than the traditional PSTN to make calls is primarily cost, but also other factors such as convenience and speed.

  • VoIP service providers can lower phone bills by offering
    • free local long-distance
    • free or low-cost domestic long distance
    • international calls at drastically reduced rates (and even for free to some countries, or with some plans)
  • VoIP providers are also able to offer residential and business customers convenience features such as
    • caller ID
    • call waiting
    • conference calling
    • voicemail
    • voicemail-to-email

    and more as standard options. A traditional phone company typically charges a small monthly fee for these kinds of features.

  • VoIP Internet phone service providers accommodate cell phones, letting customers register the number as an extension or offering an app that will allow the phone to use WiFi, 3G or Edge hotspots to use the VoIP carrier's service rather than tapping into cell plan minutes.
  • Residential VoIP phone service providers such as Vonage and magicJack let consumers use their VoIP adapter anywhere, on any phone, so that customers can always access the inexpensive phone service they provide. Take the adapter to Grandma's or a hotel, and still enjoy the benefits of cheap or free long-distance calls.

Vonage vs. magicJack

Comparing Vonage vs. magicJack reveals more similarities than differences, at least initially.

  • Both companies take advantage of high-speed Internet connections to offer inexpensive Internet phone service
  • Neither requires minimum term commitments
  • Both use VoIP adapters

Digging into the details — the features, the fine print, the flexibility/functionality — is where the differences between Vonage vs. magicJack start to appear.

Money, Money, Money

One primary difference in a VoIP service comparison between Vonage vs. magicJack is cost. Vonage offers monthly calling plans. magicJack Internet phone service is available for a low annual fee.

The companies take two different approaches to the same challenge:

  • Vonage markets their phone service. (The Vonage VoIP basic adapter is free.)
    • Vonage plans range from $12/month to $55/month.
    • Vonage Internet phone service can be used with any compatible adapter.
    • There is no software to install.
  • magicJack sells their VoIP adapter (the magicJack) as a problem-solving device. (The phone service is included free the first year.)
    • The magicJack VoIP adapter costs $39.95, or $69.95 for the magicJack PLUS.
    • Internet phone service for one year is included with the VoIP adapter. After that, magicJack phone service can be as low as $19.95/year with the extended contract (customers sign 1- or 5-year service contracts).
    • The magicJack adapter — with its proprietary software — is the only adapter that can be used.
    • Consumers have to buy a new adapter at full value if their magicJack or magicJack PLUS breaks or is lost.

The VoIP Adapter

The VoIP adapter is the key to residential VoIP Internet phone service. A VoIP adapter is an analog telephone adapter (ATA), converting analog signals to digital signals. In a VoIP service comparison of Vonage vs. magicJack, it's important to note that neither net phone service works without the use of a VoIP adapter.

If Vonage and magicJack both use an adapter, how are they different? One difference when comparing Vonage vs. magicJack is that magicJack adapters have software installed and require a computer with a USB port for set up and, depending on the magicJack version (magicJack or magicJack PLUS), continued use.

The Vonage adapter is used with your broadband modem. There is no software to install, and the computer is bypassed altogether.

The VoIP adapters for Vonage vs. magicJack are otherwise basically the same, at least in terms of signal conversion. And, they are both portable: You can take them with you to extend your inexpensive VoIP phone service when you travel for business or pleasure.

The magicJack VoIP Adapter

magicJack offers two different types of adapters, the original magicJack and the newer magicJack PLUS. The magicJack PLUS introduced new features to address issues with the original (and cheaper) magicJack.

The original magicJack ($39.95) always has to be plugged into the USB port of a computer. To make calls, the computer has to be on. Aside from an inconvenience, this requirement is a power drain.

The magicJack PLUS ($69.95) can be plugged directly into the wall, making it much easier and simpler to operate. (Although it does have to be plugged into a computer's USB port once to register the device and phone number.) It has an Ethernet port to connect a router or broadband modem.

magicJack adapter basics:

  • The basic magicJack adapter always needs to be plugged into the computer.
  • The advanced — and more expensive — magicJack PLUS only needs to be plugged into the computer the first time.
  • magicJack adapters are proprietary. Only the magicJack adapter can be used to access magicJack Internet phone service.
  • magicJack needs a computer with a USB port.
  • magicJack installs softphone software.
  • magicJack is not universal/independent. Because it installs software, magicJack requires specific computer operating systems in order to function.

The Vonage VoIP Adapter

The Vonage VoIP adapter is simple to use. The basic model is called the Vonage Box, and is included free with a monthly service plan.

Vonage VoIP ATA basics:

  • The Vonage Box is free with service from Vonage.
  • The Vonage Box accommodates 2 lines (2 phones, or fax and phone) and doubles as a router.
  • Vonage ATAs do not use software, and do not have to be plugged into a computer. Ever.
  • Vonage VoIP adapters are non-proprietary. Vonage supports compatible ATAs by Linksys, Motorola, D-Link and others.
  • Vonage VoIP adapters are OS-independent.

Requirements for Vonage or magicJack Internet Phone Service

High-speed Internet and a VoIP adapter are the primary requirements for VoIP phone service using Vonage or magicJack. With Vonage vs. magicJack, Vonage has the simpler set of requirements, as there is no proprietary software involved.

For Vonage Internet phone service, you need a:

  • Fast Internet connection with a minimum 90 kbps upload speed
  • Touch-tone phone (cordless is ok)
  • Compatible phone adapter (Vonage Box is included with your online order)
  • US billing/shipping address

The free Vonage Box is a 2-line VoIP gateway and router that should meet most people's needs. However, Vonage also supports compatiblie ATAs by D-Link, Motorola, and Linksys. Check online for compatibility and feature comparisons.

magicJack and magicJack PLUS, with their proprietary software, are just slightly more demanding when it comes to providing Internet phone service:

magicJack:

  • Fast Internet connection (128 kbps minimum upload speed)
  • Compatible computer (for USB port software installation and making calls)
    • Intel-based Mac
    • Windows XP
    • Windows Vista
    • Windows 7
  • Phone (corded or cordless)

magicJack PLUS:

  • Fast Internet connection (128 kbps minimum upload speed)
  • Compatible computer (for USB port software installation/device registration only)
    • Windows XP
    • Windows Vista
    • Windows 7
    • Intel-based Mac
  • Phone (corded or cordless)
  • Router (optional if exclusive access via the computer's USB port is intended)

magicJack Internet phone service is only accessible using a magicJack or magicJack PLUS adapter.

Note: The original magicJack is still available, but the newest magicJack product is the magicJack PLUS. The original magicJack has to remain connected to the USB port of an OS-compatible computer (see above) to make calls. The magicJack PLUS has an ARM CPU and an Ethernet port, which means it can be plugged directly into the wall and the router/modem. The magicJack PLUS only has to be connected to the computer once (to register).

How Much Do Vonage and magicJack Internet's Phone Service Cost?

If you are basing your decision on a residential VoIP phone service provider on cost alone, magicJack wins the battle between Vonage vs. magicJack. Even at the more expensive 1-year-renewal rate of $29.95 (after buying the magicJack or magicJack PLUS adapter), magicJack's annual fee is just slightly more than one month of Vonage phone service (depending on the plan).

Prices listed below don't include shipping, handling, or any applicable taxes or fees.

Vonage:

  • Adapter: Free (for the basic Vonage Box through Vonage)
  • Internet phone service: Ranges from about $12 to $55 per month, depending on the plan and features

magicJack:

  • Adapter: $39.95
  • Internet phone service:
    • First year is free.
    • 1-year term is $29.95/year.
    • 5-year terms are $19.95/year.

magicJack PLUS:

  • Adapter: $69.95
  • Internet phone service:
    • First year is free.
    • 1-year term is $29.95/year.
    • 5-year terms are $19.95/year.

Of course, there are other factors to consider, including areas where Vonage takes the lead over magicJack (customer service, for one).

Customer Service

Vonage vs. magicJack: In the residential VoIP war being waged, customer service is a battle neither company can afford to lose. However, magicJack seems to be doing just that, and rather badly.

When comparing Vonage vs. magicJack reviews, it's clear that both Vonage and magicJack have a somewhat spotty history with customer service issues.

However, Vonage seems to have made improvements to its customer service. Looking at the Vonage reviews on thedigest.com shows that the negative comments about their customer service seem to have stopped around 2010. Overall, customer service rates two stars on average.

Vonage also takes advantage of the immediacy of Twitter to proactively handle complaints through its @Vonage_Voice Twitter account. While there continue to be issues, they seem to be pretty conscientious about addressing them.

The same can't be said for magicJack. Judging by the customer reviews of magicJack on voipreview.org, magicJack is a giant black hole when it comes to customer service complaints. From user reviews, it's hard to even determine what aspect of magicJack is the most disappointing, as complaints cover all the ground between terrible customer service, shoddy workmanship, and poor call quality.

However, with the new magicJack PLUS and its HD voice and Echo Control features, many of the complaints about call quality should drop off. But, in general, customer service is still dinged as unresponsive or tone deaf, and contact options seem to be limited to chat through their customer care page. (They have a limited Knowledge Base section on their website, and otherwise a lot of complaints seem to be better solved through unofficial channels such as the Unofficial magicJack Forum.

Call Quality

Once upon a time, VoIP phone calls were considered less reliable than calls using the PSTN. However, that is no longer the case. With more VoIP providers (such as traditional telcos and cable companies) getting into the VoIP service industry, signal strength and consistency have improved dramatically.

Redundancy and the implementation of quality of service (QoS) standards have also greatly improved the performance of VoIP phone service, putting it on equal footing with traditional phone utilities and offering additional advantages in terms of cost and features. (Your local phone company may charge for services such as call waiting, but such options are usually offered as standard features by a VoIP provider.)

Vonage Call Quality

However, despite the inroads in developing high-quality VoIP networks and the adoption of VoIP QoS industry standards,VoIP call quality can still be affected by the speed of your residential Internet connection. Vonage offers customers a simple tool for checking your ISPs bandwidth speed for compatibility with Vonage residential Internet phone service. Vonage recommends a minimum of 90 kbps for upload speed for the best audio quality.

Vonage also offers tips to troubleshoot audio problems, and the ability to adjust your call's bandwidth with the Bandwidth Saver.

magicJack Call Quality

With magicJack, call quality depends on the version of magicJack phone adapter — basic magicJack or magicJack PLUS.

The original magicJack suffered from terrible call quality. magicJack developed quite a reputation for static, echoes, and dropped calls as a result. Judging from customer reviews, many users were very frustrated, but most seemed to resign themselves to 'you get what you pay for.'

However, in 2011 magicJack PLUS was launched, with HD Voice and Echo Control. This seems to have addressed some of the most frequent complaints by magicJack users regarding dropped or garbled calls.

The magicJack PLUS also features an on-board ARM CPU and RAM, which is one reason it doesn't need to be plugged into a computer to operate. The dependency of the original magicJack on the computer was another factor in its poor call performance.

For either device, magicJack recommends a minimum upload speed of 128 kbps for optimal call quality, but does not offer a speed test as Vonage does. However, you can find an independently hosted speed test on the Internet (or just use Vonage's!).

Vonage Phone Service Details

Vonage models itself more like a traditional phone company. It offers six VoIP phone service calling plans, including business plans and plans with an international calling focus.

  • Domestic
    • US & Canada Unlimited, $14.99/month
    • US & Canada 750, $19.99/month
    • US & Canada 300, $11.99/month
    • Vonage Pro, $34.99/month
  • International
    • Vonage World, $14.99/month
    • World Premium Unlimited, $54.99/month
  • Business
    • Small Business Basic 1500, $39.99/month
    • Small Business Basic Premium Unlimited, $49.99/month

magicJack Phone Service Details

One big difference in a VoIP service comparison between Vonage vs. magicJack is their sales angle. Vonage markets the calling service and includes an adapter for free. magicJack sells their proprietary adapter and offers the calling service for a fraction of what other VoIP service providers (such as Vonage) charge.

At the end of the day, though, they both need that critical piece of equipment — the VoIP adapter — for VoIP phone service.

magicJack customers buy the magicJack ($39.95) or magicJack PLUS ($69.95) and receive one year of Internet phone service included. After that, magicJack users pay for annual magicJack Internet phone service in 1- or 5-year increments. Renewing year by year results in a $29.95/year annual fee. A 5-year plan lowers the annual cost of either magicJack adapter to $19.95/year.

  • magicJack Internet phone service offers free local and long-distance calls to the
    • US
    • Canada
    • Puerto Rico
    • US Virgin Islands
  • Calling from another country to the US or Canada using a magicJack adapter is free
  • Prepaid international minutes are required for International calls
  • magicJack Internet phone service includes low per-minute calls to approximately 150 countries

Features

As with customer service, comparing Vonage vs. magicJack and the features offered indicates that Vonage is the superior service provider. Vonage has more advanced call control features and greater flexibility with its calling plans and extension options.

However, that doesn't mean that magicJack has little to offer. magicJack still offers more (included) features than a standard telco.

Features that Vonage and magicJack both offer:

  • Voicemail
  • Voicemail-to-email
  • Caller ID
  • Call waiting
  • Number porting
  • Free in-network calls
  • Portability -- take your adapter anywhere to make free/inexpensive calls
  • Call forwarding

Comparing some features of Vonage and magicJack is not quite apples-to-apples, as Vonage has calling plans with different minute allotments and other details. However, here are some areas where magicJack takes the upper hand.

  • Vonage phone service offers free unlimited or capped minute (3.9¢/minute after cap) long-distance calling to anywhere in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico on its monthly calling plans.
  • magicJack Internet phone service offers unlimited calls to the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
  • Vonage offers 3-way calling.
  • magicJack offers conference calling with multiple participants (however, it requires a call-in number and an access code).
  • Free 411 directory assistance calls are available on some (not all) of Vonage's calling plans.
  • magicJack offers free 411 directory assistance calls.

Although Vonage and magicJack both offer features such as call waiting (that a traditional phone utility would charge for), Vonage includes many more advanced features as standard options.

magicJack offers a handful of basic staples. Vonage offers these features and more with every calling plan:

  • Voicemail transcriptions sent via email/text
  • Do not disturb
  • Anonymous call block
  • SimulRing
  • Click-to-call
  • Call transfer
  • Call hunt
  • Caller ID block
  • Enhanced call forwarding
  • Call waiting with caller ID

Extension Service

One of the more popular features of VoIP phone service providers — something a traditional telco using the PSTN just can't offer — is extension service.

Vonage and magicJack both offer extensions for mobile VoIP flexibility, but Vonage takes the victory in this skirmish between Vonage vs. magicJack. Vonage offers its customers more functionality and flexibility, providing their Internet phone service customers with more anytime/anywhere access to VoIP service.

  • Vonage lets customers register one landline or cell phone as an extension for free. (No faxes or 800 numbers, and a few other exceptions.)
  • A second extension is available for $4.99/month.
  • Vonage Internet phone service features apps for the iPhone and Android. These apps do not require an access number or PIN.
  • magicJack Internet phone service offers an app for iOS devices only. Callers need to dial an access number and enter a PIN first.