Technology moves quickly in the 21st Century. More so, perhaps, than in the 23rd or 24th.
Last year, the Wand Company offered up the iconic Star Trek Communicator that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock flipped open into fame in the original “Star Trek” series (TOS). Now, FameTek, the genre subsidiary of Massive Audio, has created an officially licensed Bluetooth Communications Badge like the one used on “Star Trek the Next Generation” (TNG).
This diminutive, magnetically adhered device brings a bit of 24th century magic to the 21st century consumer. No, it doesn’t connect with subspace, nor does it track location so that O’Brien can locate you and beam you out of danger— but it does connect to your iOS or Android device for conversation, queries and sound.
At $79.99, the TNG Bluetooth ComBadge costs about half the price of the old school TOS communicator from Wand, proof that a century’s worth manufacturing lessons results in a more compact device that costs half the price of the original. Are you listening, Apple?
Star Trek fans, have of late, been bathed in riches when it comes to buying objects from their favorite show. Quantum Mechanix created a wonderfully bright and shiny communications badge that looks great on a cosplay uniform. Well, true aficionados will know it is too good. The real badges on the show were matt resin, not shiny brass and silver. So, when you first open the FameTek Communicator you may be disappointed that it isn’t polished metal. Truth is, it’s closer to the look of the on-screen Comm Badge than its less functional rivals.
But this isn’t just eye candy — it’s an amazingly functional communicator. The FameTek device chirps, it connects to the phone via Bluetooth 4.0, and it allows you to answer a call and talk to someone over its built-in speaker and noise canceling microphone. Holding down the badge for 3 seconds declines a call.
Two quick taps on the button invokes Siri, which is the device’s go-to parlor trick. Siri connectivity also means you can use it to listen back to text or e-mails. The device also works with Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana.
Of course, because it’s a fully functional speaker, you can play music over the device during a jaunt on a faraway planet (or through some nearby plants). A single tap during music playback pauses or restarts your tunes. Which, for those around you, I hope isn’t the Beastie Boys “Sabotage.” You Trekkies will get the reference. The same feature works with audio books. All of the audio features, like playing back directions from Maps, also come across the communicator, which can be nerdily fulfilling when you get “that look” when wandering around New York or Los Angeles. Well, let’s be honest, you probably won’t get “that look” in Los Angeles — people will be too busy listening to directions on their Apple Watches to notice.
Volume is controlled through the mobile phone, not the device. When did you ever hear Captain Picard say, “Computer, increase your volume.” (OK, I know this is a challenge, so I’m waiting for comments that tell me in which episode he did just that).
The device adheres to clothing via a pair of magnets, one on the device, one on a back plate. The communicator stays well-attached under normal circumstances, though I would keep an eye out for dislodging if you get bumped or jostled on the Comic-con floor.
As for materials, the device is solid ABS plastic, with the Delta shield rendered in zinc. If you buy one, always remove it by pulling on the round part of the communicator, not the delta shield itself, as the shield functions as the switch, and you don’t want to put too much wear-and-tear on it.
A DC5V, 80mA micro-USB port provides power to the battery. A charge lasts about 2 hours with continuous music play (at about 80% volume). The unit will maintain a charge for about 48 hours in standby mode. The Communicator will automatically transition into BLE sleep mode after 1 minute of non-usage while in Bluetooth mode, and will also sleep after 5 minutes when not connected to Bluetooth (cosplay mode) to preserve battery life. An incoming notification or tap of the badge will wake the unit.
If you just want to wear the Communicator for cosplay, put it into pairing mode and it will just chirp when tapped.
For those who need information beyond the included manual, FameTek offers an FAQ that provides additional information about functionality and care.
When I was a teenager, I asked my parents to drive from Felton, Calif., to Berkeley during one of our summer trips because I had heard through fanzines that they had a store that sold Star Trek stuff. Trekkies today need to appreciate not just the multitude of replicas and toys available, but also that we live in a time when the electronics in many ways exceed the capabilities of those depicted on Star Trek — even though we remain challenged by the physics. That we can buy, for less than $500, a well-made TOS Phaser that controls our television sets, a TOS communicator that answers a phone with a flip, and a TNG Communicator that does the same with a tap, is amazing.
FameTek has done a great job with the technology available to them. When you consider the speaker, noise-canceling microphone, battery, switches and charging technology required to engineer this device, and the precise manufacturing required to produce it, the team at FameTek deserve some pretty consistent thumbs-ups and likes.
If your business is talking on the phone, would I recommend the Bluetooth Communicator as your go-to device? No I wouldn’t. Would I recommend it as a must-have device for any “Star Trek the Next Generation” fan? Absolutely. But beyond fandom, the Star Trek TNG Bluetooth ComBadge takes cosplay into the real world. In some ways, tapping your lapel pin and talking makes more sense than bringing your wrist to your face to talk on an Apple Watch. Both are cool, but the ComBadge is cooler and less intrusive.
For where we are with technology, and for the price-point of this device, FameTek could not have engineered a better product for TNG fans.
The Star Trek TNG Bluetooth ComBadge is available at ThinkGeek.GeekWire Picks is a regular feature linking to our favorite products and deals. GeekWire or its partners may receive a share of the revenue from your purchase through affiliate referral fees.