NetTALK duo
The netTALK DUO

Marketing hype faces real life

| The magicJack ads on TV are ubiquitous and extraordinarily annoying: "Phone service for $1.70 a month, just $19.95 a year. A YEAR!!"

When the magicJack first came along I bought one just to try it out. The device wasn't very expensive, and who can argue with "$19.95 a year"? It worked, after a fashion. Voice quality wasn't great and calls were often dropped, but hey, it's "$19.95 a year"! The biggest drawback was that it had to be plugged into a USB port on your computer, which meant the phone only worked when the computer was on.

Now there's a new version called the magicJack PLUS that supposedly can be plugged into your router, removing the dependency on your computer.  I decided to get one of the new models and use it as a fax number. I don't need a fax number (almost nobody does these days), but my printer does have fax capability, so why not? Never mind that I already have a free fax number from eFax.

magicJack PLUS

The magicJack PLUS arrived via FedEx and I eagerly took it out of the box. It was a cinch to go to the magicJack website and register the device and pick a phone number in my area code and with a local exchange. I plugged it into my computer, attached a phone, and Voilà! I could make and receive calls. I connected the phone line to my printer/fax and Voilà ! I could send a receive faxes. But not so fast!

That was with the magicJack plugged into my computer, and the whole idea was to use the advertised ability to plug it directly into the router so a running computer would not be necessary.

I plugged the magicJack into my router and got — nothing. No phone calls. No faxes. No joy. I tried every trick I could think of to make it work. Three and a half hours later I appealed for help with the magicJack chat line. I explained the problem and was told to do all the things I had already tried, and the chat agent insisted that I should plug the magicJack into my computer. "It works fine when plugged into my computer. The whole problem is to make it work when plugged into the router!" I was then transferred to a "Top 10 percent agent" which supposedly means the agent's customer ratings are in the top 10% of all agent ratings. Fine.

The ten-percenter started going through the same stuff. "It's not about the computer. It is about working while plugged into the router!" One moment please. After several moments of inactivity and several automated I'm-working-on-it messages to keep me on the hook, the ten-percenter eventually came back and said she just wanted to be clear, "You're trying to make the magicJack work plugged into the router, right?"

"No! I've spent nearly 5 hours trying to make this thing work and now the only thing I want to know is how to return it and get my money back!" I was given a link to create a return authorization that was easily completed. But when I tried to print it, it printed as solid black! 

I will give magicJack this much credit. They did refund my money the same day they received the magicJack back from me.

netTALK DUO

I purchased my original magicJack from Walmart and intended to buy the new version there as well. But when I went to the Walmart website I found that searching for magicJack returned nothing but links to a product called netTALK. So I order the magicJack PLUS directly through the magicJack website. When my experience with the magicJack PLUS was so disastrous, I remembered the netTALK pages on the Walmart site and went back to them.

netTALK makes all the same claims that magicJack makes: no computer needed, no monthly bills, no contracts, easy to use.

Walmart does not stock the netTALK DUO in my store, so I ordered it on the website and had it delivered to the store for free. It arrived two days earlier than had been promised.

I took the device - which looks very similar to magicJack - out of the box and followed the instructions. Step 1 was to go to the netTALK website then create my account, register the device, and pick a phone number. Again, I could pick a number in my area code and a local exchange. So far so good.

I repeated my test of first plugging the netTALK into my computer. Yes, I could make and receive phone calls. Yes, I could send and receive faxes.

Then came the crucial test of plugging the netTALK into my router. It just worked. Indeed, I could make and receive phone calls. Indeed, I could send and receive faxes.

netTALK setup
The netTALK DUO setup

All told, I spent perhaps 45 minutes getting the netTALK DUO set up. My biggest problem was the number of ethernet devices and cables already in my little data center. There's the cable modem, a Wi-Fi access point and router, a switch (because the router doesn't have enough ports), OOMA (my "landline" voice-over-IP device), and another router with phone ports for my VOIPO service. (I don't really need the last one, but I have prepaid through March of 2015 and the access gate is programmed to that phone number.)

The easy way to set up the netTALK would have been to plug it into the switch, but it didn't seem to like that. It wanted to be plugged directly into the primary router. So I had to do a bit of re-arranging of how the devices are all wired together. Oh, well, I will indulge the netTALK DUO its whim and prerogatives.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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