For residential VoIP services as alternatives to conventional local phones, cell-phone services and landlines – Vonage and MagicJack have both had their moments. While the technical premise of using ATA (analog telephone adapter) is similar for both, there are differences in terms of price, accessibility, advanced features and of course – after-sales service.
If you’ve been keeping up with their innovative adverts and marketing, you already know Vonage has a variety of different calling plans. They are especially attractive for the first six months of service, though they require upgrading to full-feature plans in the long term. Their name, a play on “Voice-Over-Net-Age” outlines their early start in this field (2001). In the early part of the decade since their debut, they made serious inroads into traditional telecommunication services. The company went public in 2006
A year after Vonage went public, MagicJack started out as a simple PC add-on, using the computer for uninterrupted operations. Over time, they offered several plan upgrades, features and refinements to their original product despite remaining true to their “low-cost alternative” mantra. MagicJack Plus 2014, a full-feature ATA to support direct calls over internet and directly pluggable to wall power source has truly launched it to big league. Today, MagicJack only needs first-time users to register via an internet enabled device and the MJREG website.
While the overall price range of Vonage is higher than MagicJack, this article attempts to find out, whether they truly deliver the services to match the higher price-tag.
Plans and Pricing
MagicJack needs a one-time ATA investment at $59.95. MagicJack Go (the latest version) can be plugged in directly into any wall power source or computer. By contrast, Vonage provides the Black phone box which plugs into your (wired) Internet and a hand-set completely free!
The initial purchase for MagicJack comes with 1 year of unlimited free calls to USA and Canada, but Vonage boasts of unlimited calls to over 60 countries long distance in addition to the US starting at $9.99 per month for the first 3 months.
However, MagicJack takes over from here, since the remaining months cost $27 each for Vonage, while MagicJack remains at less than $3 (MagicJack claims ‘no monthly fee’, but charges an annual service fee of $35). For international calling outside USA or Canada, Vonage is still your best bet.
In terms of the retainer service, MagicJack hits a home run! For their five-year plan, the yearly charges come to $19.95, compared to nearly $275 even with the rebate of first three months for Vonage. Even if you opt for just USA and Canada service, you’re likely to shell out $15 per month after the first six months – amounting to $165 for just 1 year of service!!
Number porting for MagicJack is a paid service ($19.95).Vonage can adapt to your existing cellphone or land-line. However given the overall savings you make on MagicJack this shouldn’t bog you down.
There are no additional charges for small business installations for MagicJack. Vonage can cost between $39.99 (regular) to $49.99 (premium) per month. Vonage does however offer a free extension line for either cellphone or landline. Additional extensions cost a very reasonable $4.99 per month.
MagicJack and Vonage employ similar technology. Consequently, their basic features are similar:
Caller ID, Call waiting, Voicemail, In-network calling and Call forwarding
Emergency 911 calling
Unlimited free calls within US and Canada with a basic plan
Easy number porting and good-quality ATA devices
International calling options are free and unlimited for Vonage World Plan ($54.99/month). However MagicJack has free device to device call options for incoming calls internationally as well the ability to purchase international credits on a minute by minute basis (rates vary by country).
Vonage does offer some exclusive features though:
MagicJack can only handle incoming three-way calls; Vonage offers full-feature conference calling.
Vonage can use normal phones, cordless and multi-port adapters. MagicJack’s latest editions are truly ‘computer-free’ (except registration) and offer an USB option for your PC. We probably can call both services equals on this count depending on the desired flexibility. Vonage’s ATA is compatible with other ATA services as well. By contrast, MagicJack’s ATA is a proprietary device.
Transcribing voicemails into text/emails and providing audio files is a unique feature which Vonage offers. It is particularly handy for consumers with selective vision or audio impairment.
Anonymous call blocking and Do-not-disturb modes.
Click-to-call and call-transfer features.
As you can see, while Vonage does have a pricier plan, it does offer an impressive array of features, and for a comparable price point, a bit better value for money than Ooma. In service terms, it outruns competing dedicated services like Verizon and AT&T.
Let’s be honest, the sales pitch for Vonage and MagicJack are very different. Vonage sells its ‘services’. So they are prepared to invest in technology and charge the price accordingly. MagicJack, by contrast, sell their ‘low-cost VoIP’ as an alternative to traditional calling options.
In that respect, it is surprising to find that MagicJack actually has innovated better in recent years. While Vonage understandably has more features, MagicJack includes 411 and directory services on all versions of their devices, which Vonage only has for selected plans. MagicJack also uses latest chip-sets for a more compact design, which contributes to better portability than the clumsy-ish phone box of Vonage.
Latest MagicJack Plus 2014 and MagicJack Go devices incorporate HD voice and echo control, making their sound quality better than Vonage. However, older MagicJack Plus (2012) or MagicJack (2007) still have call quality issues.
Apps are an aspect where Vonage is better. They have had the Vonage Extensions App for both iOS and Android platforms for a while, and allow PIN-less dialing. MagicJack’s app has been reported as slightly flaky for Android support (though it fares well for iOS). It also requires you to enter the PIN.
Vonage also offers better access (no software), compared to initial proprietary installs for MagicJack.
MagicJack and Vonage have both racked up a colorful history of bad press for their customer service.
Vonage has been more pro-active, their complaints at popular websites like voipreview.org or cnet.com have been cut-down swiftly. They also use a dedicated Twitter handle @Vonage_Voice to address customer queries and grievances. Vonage has been found guilty of Copyright infringement issues and has had to cough up $120 million (to Verizon), $80 million (to Sprint Nextel) and $39 million (to AT&T) –leading to significant erosion of public image and goodwill.
MagicJack continues to be difficult to reach in person. Although, you can use their billing or sales numbers to find a ‘real person’ to answer you, they insist on using emails. That being said, the latest improvements in sound quality, connectivity and computer-less operation has made a fair few of their previous issues redundant.
MagicJack doesn’t really have an upgrade. For better features and technology, you need to purchase the new device. Also, two devices do not operate in parallel, which means you have to wait until you exhaust minutes on your old device, and then port to the new one.
Vonage isn’t device dependent, so you can use the ATA to adapt to any service; upgrade (or downgrade) plans and effectively switch between them depending on your present requirements or location.
No matter how you look at it, MagicJack comes out on top by a fair distance.
They offer better technology, better sound quality, portability and the one thing which they promise for residential VoIP services – low cost!
Vonage does deliver in terms of features and plans, flexibility and small business. It also shades the mobile apps and customer service, but not enough to offset the price benefits of MagicJack.
Their pairing with Wal-Mart to try and compete in the low-cost department with BasicTalk, is a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that MagicJack is beating them to profitable market share.