The line between a traditional phone and a cellphone continues to blur, which is good news for consumers. No longer do you have to sacrifice...
The line between a traditional phone and a cellphone continues to blur, which is good news for consumers. No longer do you have to sacrifice the comfort and stability of a landline for the portability and free long-distance calling of a cellphone or shell out the cash to have both.
Here are two new options that fall somewhere in the middle.
The first is the magicJack (magicjack.com), a cigarette-lighter-size device you connect to your computer’s USB port and a telephone for local and long-distance calling. The device costs $40, which includes the first year of service, and after that it’s $20 a year for unlimited calling.
Setup is easy and only takes a few minutes, and as long as the magicJack is hooked to a computer that is on and connected to the Internet, you can make and receive calls just as you usually would.
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The best part is that the magicJack is small and that all of the software you need for using it is built into the device itself. So if you were traveling overseas, you could bring your magicJack and your laptop, connect to the Internet and plug the hotel phone into the device to use your U.S.-based phone number.
It works on both Intel-based Macs and PCs and comes with free voice mail, caller ID and call waiting. I found the call quality to be better than a cellphone and comparable to a landline or VoIP phone.
There are a couple of downsides to the magicJack and things you should keep in mind if you are thinking about buying one. To use it, you must have the magicJack program open and your computer must be connected to the Internet, so if you use a laptop that runs out of power or crashes, it will temporarily cut off your phone service.
That’s a key difference between the magicJack and many VoIP or digital phone services, which connect directly to a router or modem, allowing you to turn your computer off. The magicJack will still work if your computer is in standby or sleep mode, but it’s probably easiest to connect the magicJack to a desktop computer.
When I hooked the magicJack up to an iMac, the caller ID appeared on the computer but not on my handset. This wasn’t an issue when I used a PC. You can’t port your current home-phone number to the magicJack, but the company said it hopes to offer that feature soon.
If you have problems, magicJack doesn’t have a tech-support phone number, and your only option for live customer support is to have an instant-message conversation through magicJack’s Web site.
The Panasonic Link-to-Cell ($80, panasonic.com) will appeal to anyone who gets cellphone service only in a certain part of the house or who hates to carry on long conversations on a small cellphone.
This device connects to your cellphone via Bluetooth and lets you dial and receive calls using a cordless phone. You can leave your phone in another room and have cellphone conversations while you walk around the house.
One of the nice things about this device is that you can connect two cellphones to it and set different rings for each phone. It has talking caller ID, so the phone will say the number, or if you have it saved in your phone book, it will say the name that is assigned to that number.
The phone has a traditional phone jack, so you can use it with other types of phone service and you can buy additional handsets to go with it. The call quality was not any better than a cellphone, and in a few cases, it sounded a little worse.
Another annoying thing is that you can’t beam your contacts from your phone to the device via Bluetooth, so unless you know your friends’ numbers by heart, you have to enter your contacts manually, or just answer the phone without knowing who is calling.