Onyx personal communicator brings Star Trek badges to life

The Onyx, a $99 push-to-talk personal communicator, brings Star Trek-style voice chat to the real world. The Onyx pairs with an Android or iOS smart phone and allows users to instantly chat with other Onyx wearers.

Onyx
The Onyx, a $99 personal communicator, allows users to talk with other Onyx wearers with the press of a button. Here, a press image shows the Onyx being held.

If you’ve ever envied those nifty push-to-talk communication badges from the Star Trek series (and who hasn’t?), you’re in luck. San Francisco hardware start-up OnBeep has launched the Onyx, a $99 personal communicator about the size of a hockey puck that allows you to connect to anyone else wearing an Onyx. The Onyx pairs with your Android or iOS smart phone via Bluetooth, letting you talk with your group anywhere there’s Wi-Fi or cell data service.

The Onyx is very similar to long-distance walkie-talkies, minus the range restrictions on those devices. If you want to talk with your group, you just tap and hold the center button. The LED ring encircling the button changes color depending on your status: green for talking, blue for listening, and yellow for muted. The Onyx also has volume buttons and a power switch.

OnBeep’s chief executive, Jesse Robbins, is a volunteer firefighter and former Amazon executive who built the Onyx to duplicate the two-way communications used by first responders, but in a way that’s easy for ordinary consumers to use. The Onyx could be especially helpful, Mr. Robbins says, by workers who want to communicate with their home office, families keeping track of each other at a ski resort or amusement park, or anyone who wants push-to-talk functionality, without having to make many individuals cell phone calls to the others in their group. The Onyx’s smart phone app lets you see who else in your group has their communicator turned on, and even shows their positions on a map, if they have geolocation turned on.

OnBeep says the Onyx has a battery life of about 12 hours with “active” use, though it could be longer if you’re not transmitting much. Robbins says the communicator is designed to be charged with about the same frequency as the smart phone with which it’s paired.

In a review for The Verge, Dan Seifert says the Onyx works pretty well: “Audio quality was quite good, and OnBeep says it is using a low latency codec that minimizes bandwidth usage. And ... the device is compact and lightweight enough that it could be clipped to a belt or shirt pocket and not be uncomfortable or impede movement.”

Onyx can be pre-ordered starting on Wednesday, with units shipping before the end of the year. The price ($99 for a single Onyx, or $195 for a pair) includes a year of OnBeep’s service, but the company hasn’t said how much the service will cost after that.

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