Making phone calls over the Internet just seems to keep getting easier, and sometimes cheaper. A new approach goes by the humble name of magicJack. While it isn't exactly magic, the little device manages some clever tricks.
The first is magicJack's ease. Plug the matchbook-size device into a computer's USB port. Then into the device's other end you plug a phone—any plain old telephone, whether corded or cordless. The magicJack comes with software that loads onto a Windows or Mac PC, and you get a dial tone through the phone.
Calls seem clear—as clear as any others over the Internet. They're also cheap. MagicJack's $40 price includes a year of free domestic calls to and from the device, which comes with its own phone number, as well as voice mail and other features. Domestic calls after the first year run an additional $20 a year, with international calls available at rates starting at 2 cents a minute.
The big downside is that the computer has to be up and running for the phone to work, much like with the granddaddy of PC calling, Skype. Skype, by the way, also advertises several devices on its site that enable it to work with traditional phones.
They start at $50, and they don't come with a phone number and free calls to other phones. Those cost extra from Skype. They also don't match the ease of setting up magicJack, which has lowered the hurdle to cheap Internet calls.