Magic Jack, a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) phone device and service, "makes your monthly phone bill disappear," an online ad says. "Save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars" and get "no more poor reception." You plug Magic Jack into a computer's USB port, plug the line cord of your own phone into the other end of the USB adapter, and Magic Jack uses the Internet to make and receive calls. You need broadband Internet access, and the computer has to be on for you to make or receive a call. If it's off, messages go to voice mail. The charge: $39.95 for the device and one year of local and long-distance calling; then $19.95 per year. Details are at www.magicjack.com.
One of our electronics experts made dozens of calls over several days, sometimes while downloading files or playing online computer games.
Shazam! Calls connected, and voice quality was clear, though not as clear as on a good corded phone on a regular line. When our tester downloaded a big file while playing an online game and making a call, there was some interference. But if you can live with a few limitations, it's a great deal. Vonage VoIP service can cost $216 a year; Skype, $95, and you must buy a Skype phone.