By virtue of its TV commercials, magicJack may be the best-known USB dongle that enables cheap telephone calls, but the netTALK Duo may challenge its supremacy. Like magicJack, the netTALK Duo uses VoIP to enable low-cost long-distance telephone calls, but unlike magicJack, it also lets you use a traditional handset and can connect directly to your router, freeing up your notebook. And did we mention responsive customer service? Yes, netTALK may cost more, but its added features make it the more compelling option of the two.
Pricing and Value
The netTALK Duo costs $69.95, which includes one year of service; after that, an annual subscription costs $29.95. By comparison, a magicJack device costs $39.95, includes one year of service, and annual subscriptions are $19.95. However, calling rates are roughly the same for both: Calls made to the U.S. and Canada are free, calls to landlines in Italy and Hong Kong are roughly 2 cents per minute, and calls made to landlines in Brazil are about 5 cents per minute, for example.
The netTALK Duo is a small portable device about the size of a deck of cards (3.7 x 1.1 x 1 inches) and weighs 2 ounces. The netTALK Duo tries to look its best with glossy black plastic and chrome plastic lining the sharp edges and covering the flat side of the device. We liked its curved design and the way the front and bottom slope to the more defined edges on the top and back.
There are three ports on the netTALK Duo: On the front curved side is a microUSB port, and on the flat side are Ethernet and standard telephone jacks. There are also three lights on the device. A green power LED is in front; a yellow light to the left of the Ethernet port indicates an Internet connection; and a green light to the right lets you know when the netTALK is fully connected.
Installation and Setup
The netTALK Duo can connect directly to a router via Ethernet, or it can connect via USB to a notebook and use the computer's Wi-Fi. Both methods were easy enough and took less than 5 minutes to complete.
The direct-to-router setup was a cinch. We connected the netTALK Duo to the router with the included Ethernet cable and then plugged a landline phone into the telephone port. It took the Duo seconds to connect to the Internet. We picked up the phone, listened for the dial tone, and were making calls moments later.
Users can also connect to a Wi-Fi network using a laptop, and it only needs a quick install of the netTALK driver software from the included disc. Once we connected netTALK Duo to a notebook via USB and a phone to the Duo as well, the netTALK driver icon in the task bar turned green after a few seconds, letting us know the device was synced up. Then we started yakking away at Starbucks.
Unlike with magicJack, you can use the netTALK Duo with a traditional telephone handset or with a headset connected to your notebook. While we recommend the former option when using netTALK inside your home, it was nice having the option when on the go.
The overall quality of our calls was on a par with cell phones, in that there was a distant quality, but we could still hear every word clearly. Calls we made when connected directly to a router had slightly less background hiss than calls made through a notebook. During all of our calls there was the occasional pop and the sounds of electronic interference. During one call while connected directly to the router, parts of our conversation cut out.
The netTALK Duo also acts like a regular phone line, with a full suite of the useful features, including call forwarding, caller ID, three-way calling, call waiting, 411 directory assistance, fax compatibility, and Enhanced 911 service--which provides faster emergency response services by quickly identifying your address when you dial 911. The netTALK Duo also supports voicemail, but rather than having a message inbox, messages are sent as a WAV file to your account's e-mail address, letting you save and play them.
Another huge advantage netTALK has over magicJack is technical support: Not only is there a website to answer questions, but the company also provides an e-mail and phone hotline. When we wanted to know what kind of telephones would work with the netTALK Duo, we e-mailed and called tech support; our questions were answered immediately on the call, and we received an e-mail response within an hour.
The great thing about the netTALK Duo is that it really can replace your landline. While call quality isn't any better than with magicJack, the real value with netTALK lies in its ability to be used both in the home with your old telephone and while out and about. Also, as numerous readers have complained about magicJack's poor customer service, netTALK's live tech support cannot be undervalued. To us, those two features are well worth the $10 per year premium for service.