Among the many technologies that Star Trek predicted, perhaps none has been as ubiquitous as the cellphone. Years ago — or years from now, depending on your perspective — Capt. Kirk would whip out his communicator, contact the Enterprise, then flip the device shut.
Unfortunately for Trekkies, the era of the flip phone has largely come and gone. That's not a problem, however, if you pick up a $150 Star Trek Bluetooth Communicator. This pricey gadget can turn any phone call into an adventure worthy of Capt. Kirk, and it's easily one of the coolest gadgets I've ever used.
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The Star Trek Bluetooth Communicator comes courtesy of The Wand Company, which has also made hybrid costume-play props/living-room gadgets tied to the Doctor Who and Harry Potter franchises (although the Harry Potter connection is strictly unofficial). The company's underlying philosophy is that it wants to provide top-of-the-line prop replicas that can also provide real-world utility. Its magic wand, sonic screwdriver and phaser, for example, are all remote controls.
Enter the Bluetooth Communicator, which, in addition to being a prop-perfect replica of Star Trek's precursor to the cellphone, is also a competent Bluetooth speaker and microphone. You can have an entire phone conversation on the communicator (as long as you don't mind everyone else around you listening in), and then use the device to play some Star Trek orchestral themes at your desk. The Bluetooth Communicator is not something you absolutely need, but it's something you can absolutely use.
Kirk to Enterprise: Using the communicator
The first thing I noticed about the communicator is that it's exactly what it says it is: a piece of technology right out of the TV show. With a weighty build, an elegant desk stand and no visible seam lines or screws, the communicator is definitely not a toy. You use it to communicate with people.
The second thing I noticed was the astounding commitment to replicating a Star Trek feel in the device. When you flip the gadget open (and it does indeed flip open and closed, thanks to a loose-but-durable hinge), it makes a chirp, just like on the show. The Wand Company wasn't content to just add a chirp and call it a day, though; the device can replicate half a dozen different chirps, depending on if you open the communicator, close it, receive a call or end a call. Each sound is show-accurate. You've got to respect that level of detail.
There's also a panel of lights and dials, and without exhaustively detailing what each one does, I can say that the way the lights sync up to various features is riveting. You'll see different combinations of reds, blues and greens, depending on if you're making a call, pairing a phone, listening to music, playing voice clips, or even powering the device on and off. Once you start toying around with the communicator, it's hard to take your eyes off of it.
None of this would be worth much outside the cosplaying community if the communicator were just a simple replica. Instead, it's a phone attachment that works wonderfully. I wandered around the office, having full-fledged conversations with my friends and co-workers, holding the communicator about 2 feet from my mouth, just as Capt. Kirk did in the show.
I heard everyone clearly, and they reported the same about me. This is probably not something you'd want to use during sensitive conversations or while you're exploring strange new worlds out in public. But if you keep your communicator as a desk ornament at home, it's a very functional speaker phone.
Two to Beam Up: Other communicator features
You can also do a surprising amount with just the two buttons on the Bluetooth Communicator. In addition to adjusting a call's volume, you can mute the mic, transfer the call to a phone (for private conversations) and redial the last number. You can even issue voice commands through Google Now, Siri or Cortana, depending on which phone you pair the communicator with. Naturally, this means you can tell the communicator to voice-dial people. You don't even have to take your phone out of your pocket.
As a Bluetooth speaker, the communicator is just OK, but even the instruction manual reminds Starfleet officers that the device isn't optimized for music. Music doesn't get that loud, and the speaker isn't large enough for complete audio fidelity, but it's good enough for casual listening. You can also skip tracks, rewind, fast-forward, play and pause, not to mention control your music through voice commands.
For cosplayers (and those who simply want to show off the device to their friends, as I've done a few dozen times already and will probably do hundreds of times more), you can also access 20 different Star Trek voice clips with different button combinations. Some of the voice clips require the phone to be unpaired, but most work either way. Having to unpair the device isn’t ideal, but it's probably a necessary evil for a device with only two buttons.
With a little creativity, you can have entire conversations with Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Lt. Uhura, Lt. Sulu and Starfleet Command. You can also make the communicator chirp and beep on its own, and believe me when I say you would be surprised at just how much fun this feature is.
Since $150 is a very steep price for a Bluetooth peripheral, I can't recommend the communicator for every Star Trek fan. While it's a functional and even somewhat versatile accessory, it's still rather niche. It doesn't do anything that your phone won't already do by itself.
On the other hand, this is one of the most beautiful replica pieces I've ever seen, and it's easily the most fun I've ever had with a gadget. There's something undeniably magical about picking up a communicator and finding that it's not just a toy: You can really use it to talk to people miles and miles away, just like the heroes of the 23rd century Federation.
For everyday consumers, the Bluetooth communicator could be the equivalent of "The Doomsday Machine" for your wallet. As a gift for the Trekkie who has everything or an accessory for cosplayers with some money to burn, though, it's more fun than the amusement-park planet in "Shore Leave."