It can be confusing these days given all of the telephone services and plans that are available. Even if you just look at traditional phone...

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It can be confusing these days given all of the telephone services and plans that are available. Even if you just look at traditional phone services, it’s still tough to figure out exactly what’s being offered and by whom.

Now factor in cellphone calling plans and it can make your head spin. Some cell companies offer long-distance plans so attractive that they have persuaded many to abandon having a wired phone in their home. But there are long-term contracts involved here, so be careful.

And then there’s the Internet.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like Vonage and Skype offer competitive plans, but some require special telephones and equipment that can be costly, plus many have those long-term contracts as well — so be careful before you commit.

But now there’s something even newer. This one seems to eliminate most of the objections. It’s called the MagicJack.

Broadband connection

Looking much like one of those flash memory sticks, the slightly larger MagicJack (www.magicjack.com) plugs into any available USB port on your computer. At the other end is a telephone jack into which you plug any ordinary telephone. As with other VoIP services, the MagicJack requires a broadband Internet connection but that’s where the similarities end.

After plugging the MagicJack in, everything pretty much happens automatically. The device registers itself, you pick your own phone number, and within a few moments, you are ready to begin making local and long distance calls (free for the first year).

Currently you can make unlimited long-distance calls to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. The first year of calling is included in MagicJack’s purchase price of $39.95. Each subsequent year will cost $19.95, which is competitive.

MagicJack isn’t some stripped-down calling service as it includes many of the dialing services found elsewhere.

These include free voicemail, call waiting, three-way calling and Follow Me, which is a multinumber forwarding service. You also get free directory assistance (411) and enhanced 911 emergency calling.

The MagicJack will work with a headset or you can use the computer’s built-in speaker and microphone. But using a telephone seems to give the best clarity. You can also auto-switch back and forth between the telephone and the headset.

The MagicJack doesn’t interfere with other computer functions. You can use your computer to do other tasks before, during and after making calls.

And unlike some other computer-based products, your contact names, previously dialed numbers and other personal information is stored in the MagicJack itself and not on the computer.

In addition to the added security of such an arrangement, this makes it possible to take just the MagicJack along with you and plug it into any other Internet-connected computer and make your calls.

You do have to keep your computer on if you want the MagicJack available for incoming calls at all times.

Keeping cellphone on

But then again, you have to keep your cellphone on all the time for the same reason so this really shouldn’t be a big deal.

At this time, not all area codes are supported in the selection of your free phone number but I am told that the number of areas are increasing.

Just be aware that you may end up getting a MagicJack phone number with an area code that’s really not in the city in which you reside.

Now only Windows is supported but the Macintosh version is in beta.

If you’re not happy with your phone service and its monthly bill, you should check out MagicJack with its free 30-day trial offer.