magicjack_thevarguyMy tiny apartment in one of the outer boroughs of New York City isn't really set up to receive phone service without punching through more walls than my landlord would be comfortable with -- but I still needed a desk phone for business. That's when I decided that voice-over-IP (VoIP) Internet telephony might be the answer, since I didn't need a phone jack and, at least in theory, it'd drive my phone bills down. So far, I've had the chance to try out MagicJack and netTALK. Here are my conclusions after weeks spent experimenting.

MagicJack's been getting a lot of lip service, and it was the one I was most excited to try. The MagicJack device itself costs $39.95 with a 30-day free trial, and it comes with a year of unlimited domestic and service (additional years are $19.95 each). Plug the USB end of the gadget into your computer, plug the phone itself into the appropriate jack, and the device comes to life -- the company pulled the very slick move of having it pull double duty as a flash drive, so all the software you need automatically installs itself when it's powered up the first time.

Once I set up an account, I was able to start dialing. My favorite part of the whole MagicJack experience is that you can dial directly from the application - very handy if you need to input a long phone extension or password and don't want to remove the handset from your ear. The voice quality was good and I experienced very little echo. Truthfully, my only problem with was that it needs to be connected to a powered-on PC running the host software to work. This is bad news if you like turning off your computer once in a while, though I already have Google Voice ringing my desk and my cell phones simultaneously at all times.

netTALK, which is $99.95 and comes with lifetime unlimited service, was much more of a mixed bag (at least in my experience). In this case, after setting up an account on their website, you run an Ethernet cable from your router directly to their trademark TK6000 box, and plug your desk phone into it, and it configures itself -- if it worked, the phone will ring once and you're on the grid. While it definitely addresses my major complaint with the MagicJack, I do find myself missing the on-screen dialpad. It's definitely a tangible inedible cake scenario. It also opens up a whole new world of problems.

While I found netTALK to have generally good quality, it had the extremely annoying quality of rendering all incoming audio all s-s-s-s-stuttery to the point where I couldn't make out a single word the other party said. This happened at least once per call. Everything else is nickel-and-dime stuff, but if I have to admit to someone on the other end that I couldn't hear them for the better part of the minute before, it's not doing its job very well.

Also of note: MagicJack has a reseller program, according to the company's FAQ but MagicJack doesn't say much about the partner program on its web site. We also scanned netTalk's web site for partner program information but didn't find any.

Of course, your experience may vary. If you have personal experience with MagicJack, netTalk and related options, I'm all ears.

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