Applied Phlebotinum that keep the cast in constant communication across vast distances, usually without any sort of lag or static, excepting outside interference. How they work is rarely explained — they just do. They are standard equipment for any starship or superhero team. Frequently, they can patch into any other communication network with ease. They usually don't have any visible means of selecting who to talk to, but somehow this is never a problem. Sometimes cell-phone-like (and indeed, in works set in the present, cell phones usually fill this role), sometimes small enough to be worn on the shirt or in the ear. Basically, just a plot device to ensure members of the cast can stay in touch over long distances. If these distances are astronomically long and communication remains instantaneous, you've got a Subspace Ansible. The good twin of Reinventing the Telephone. Compare: Video Phone.
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Anime & Manga
- Dragon Ball Z has scouters, shown not only to measure a person's power level, but also acting as a communicator. In fact, it's this lesser-known function that leads to a major story arc, when the Big Bad overhears the heroes talking about the MacGuffin and tries to beat them to obtaining the Dragonballs on Namek.
- In an episode of Trigun, Vash has access to a pair of these, despite radio being Lost Technology.
- Seto Kaiba has that thing on his collar he's always talking to.
- In Code Geass, Knightmare Frames could communicate with each other, and some sort of earpieces were in use (mostly by the Britannians). Also, cell phones were commonly used for sensitive communications, but with visible hardware modifications for encryption purposes.
- The Devices of Lyrical Nanoha have communication capabilities that allow its users to keep in contact even across dimensions. They also have text messaging capabilities (with less pushing of little buttons since the AI can recognize speech) and can send transmissions to ordinary earth Cell Phones.
- The calculator-esque and later wrist communicators in Sailor Moon. One wonders just what kind of infrastructure makes them work.
- Bleach: This two-way system keeps shinigami in contact with communications division (a unit of the 12th division) while on missions, allowing shinigami and Seireitei to remain in contact even though the shinigami is in the human world and Seireitei is in the spirit world. There have been two styles shown to date. A radio-headset style which is carried in the uniform rather than clipped to an ear, as used by Rangiku and Yumichika, and a phone style, as used by Rukia.
- Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (AKA Battle of the Planets). G-Force had wrist band communications devices which also allowed them to change between their team uniforms and civilian clothing.
- Some versions of X-Men have communicators in the X's on their costumes.
- Green Lanterns can use their rings to communicate with each other.
- DC's Legion of Super-Heroes has several variants, most notably the omnicom, which is essentially an iPhone on steroids and which was introduced decades before cellular phones were developed. Various incarnations of the Legion have also incorporated hyperspace communications into their flight rings, and "telepathic earplugs" which serve as a combination comlink and Universal Translator.
- The members of The Authority communicate by using nanomachinery to send each other messages through the Carrier.
- The Avengers' Identicard is essentially a smartphone the size and shape of a credit card, which also serves as Avengers ID. When in use, the image of the person you're talking to replaces your ID photo.
- The 1980's British Starblazer had the Wrist Vis-Phone. With some engineering creativity it could create a nerve torturing blast of sonic vibrations.
- Batman has a communicator built into his cowl with a high gain antenna installed in one of the ears.
- Transmetropolitan has 'phone trait,' a pill full of nanomachines that grow a cellphone and antenna in your skull.
- In the Harry Potter fic Make a Wish, a mad scientist friend of Harry's came up with miniature Floo systems that worked mostly for communication-only purposes and could be handily enclosed in a Zippo lighter.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Flutterspy, Fleur de Lis has Fluttershy wear a comm link that's disguised as a pendant.
Films — Live-Action
- Used in the climactic battle in Avatar, despite the main location being incredibly bad for all other electronics.
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Buckaroo and Rawhide have small communicators that can transmit across New Jersey.
- The Mission: Impossible movies had camera-radios built into eyeglasses.
- Star Wars has comlinks. Lando Calrissian has a "wrist radio" version in The Empire Strikes Back.
- They Live!. The aliens use wrist radios to communicate with each other. They can also be used to make short-range teleports.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy, Adamists (baseline or near-baseline humans) communicate with neural nanonics, brain-interfacing nanotech that allows a form of technological telepathy. This form of communication carries the usual technical limitations (network availability, interference and the speed of light). Edenists (genetically modified telepathic humans) use their "affinity gene" which allows real, instantaneous telepathy. At one point an interface device is used to allow an Adamist ship to make use of the Edenist affinity capability.
- In David Drake's Hammers Slammers world, each soldier is fitted out with a tiny communicator that's implanted in the jawbone. It's activated by clenching the teeth and can even pick up subvocal speech. Handy things. The company also has a private set of communication and spy satellites that they bounce radio and laser transmissions (using far less portable units) off of when units are on different continents.
- The Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham has portable net-enabled laptops from Twenty Minutes into the Future transported back to World War II, where they function much like a wrist radio or Star Trek communicator. Notable in that, thanks to no satellites floating in orbit, the connections are often crappy, but work, thanks to a side feature of bouncing communications off the atmosphere... or something like that.
- Uglies has skintennas that work like cell-phones but are built in to your body and only have a 1km range.
- In a Star Trek Expanded Universe novel, Mackenzie Calhoun is given, among other things, a newly-developed communicator that can send and receive messages over enormous distances by piggybacking on any carrier wave. Mac first tests it by accident when he jokingly says "Mackenzie to Jellico" and hears Admiral Jellico on the other end a second later, even though Jellico is on another planet.
- In Michael Crichton's Timeline, a comm link was created that could fit in one's ear (it was described as looking like a hearing aid). It could also translate spoken languages into the wearer's ear. Both the distance and the amount of languages aren't specified, but the book emphasized that its batteries have a shelf-life of 36 hours.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith's Lens is an uber-example of this, combining instantaneous communication, translation, code-breaking and identification functions. The latter is very, very specific - a particular Lens is matched uniquely to an individual wearer's mind, and attempting to wear or even handle one that isn't yours is instantly lethal (it disintegrates upon death to avoid being a permanent menace).
- In The Leonard Regime, characters use "radios" to keep in touch without any explanation of how they are being used.
- Spanreeds from The Stormlight Archive are a Magitek version. Essentially, a spanreed set consists of two writing reeds which, when the attached fabrials are active, become perfectly synchronized, such that as you move one, you also move the other. Combined with a board containing paper and inkwell in standardized location, you can write out a passage on your end and have the reed copy it out on the other. One of the single most useful fabrials in the story, and a key to a few of the plot points.
- Star Trek is the Trope Maker here. The original series had cell phone-like devices, while The Next Generation onwards had them built into the Starfleet badges.
- No, the modern world has Star Trek Communicator-like devices. In "How William Shatner Changed the World", Motorola chief engineer and inventor of the cell phone Martin Cooper states that he invented the cell phone because he wanted a real life Star Trek communicator.
- Farscape: the crew of Moya have small badge-like communicators which are threaded through Moya. It also fits the "patch into other networks" as, in the (pre-miniseries) Grand Finale, John uses his to talk to his dad through the phone...from the moon.
- Leverage has Hardison inventing an earpiece in the pilot that everyone on the team uses throughout the first season to keep in contact over surprisingly vast distances.
- When they spot similar earpieces used by another crew, someone points out that they're like Hardison's. Hardison immediately takes offense and claims that no one has hardware like his.
- Babylon 5 had comm links that attached to the back of their hands. They weren't used across extremely large distances, making them essentially two-way radios. They also avert the "have no visible means of selecting who to talk to" by requiring the call initiator to specify the call's destination through some kind of, probably automated, switchboard. This can be a person or a location. Also, they can be used as remote controls for their TVs/comm screens on the station and have biometric anti-theft features that prevent effective use by unauthorized people without notifying Station Security. They are specially designed to only stick to living tissue using molecular bonding. An assassin kills a station security guard and steals his comlink, replacing it with a fake. The fake is discovered and is demonstrated by sticking it to the bulkhead, since the fake uses regular glue.
- The B5 spinoff series Crusade had bracelet variants, otherwise similar in function to the units used in the original show.
- Early in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Billy made everyone wristwatch communicators that also happened to tap into their mentor's teleportation system (which was as much a surprise to Billy as the others). They lasted from the original series through Power Rangers in Space. Later Power Rangers teams had either wrist-mounted or cellphone morphers that had communications built in. Distance never seems to be a problem.
- A TV series named Search had agents with remote TV cameras that would fit onto a cuff-link or tie-tac, and implanted voice communications. Oh yes, the TV cameras weren't limited to visible light. The pilot was originally titled Probe, not to be confused with the 1988 series or the obscure public TV series that forced its change of title.
- In the Doctor Who 2009 Easter special, the Doctor finds a pair of "internal comms" lying around, one of which he gives to the Classy Cat-Burglar before she does her "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop sequence into the depths of the ship.
- Happens occasionally in Kamen Rider, predominantly in Faiz where all five Riders have fully-functioning cell phones as their Transformation Trinket. Den-O has the Keitaros cell phone which activates Climax Form, but a more literal example is Hana's otherwise ordinary cell, which can apparently connect with the phone in the dining car of the time-traveling DenLiner.
- In Knight Rider, Michael communicates with KITT and Devon through use of comm links. When outside of KITT, this device is in his wrist watch, which also has camera and scanner functions when KITT needs more info than what Michael can describe. KITT himself has a comm link in the console.
- The remake replaces the watch with an earpiece.
- In Andromeda, the crew of the Andromeda Ascendant use comms implanted into their necks. They work over long distances and allow them to communicate with the ship in orbit. Also, they can apparently record and transmit video while being implanted. Not really used on the ship, as the AI can route calls there.
- The Torchwood team has Bluetooth-like devices in their ears. It is not made clear whether they are regular Bluetooth attachments (i.e., they keep their cell phones hidden), slightly modified Earth technology, or completely Imported Alien Phlebotinum made to look like Earth tech.
- UFO episode "Computer Affair". When a team of SHADO troops is sent in on foot to attack a UFO, the leader communicates with his superiors with a "wrist radio" version, complete with extendable antenna.
- On Blake's 7, the bracelets that allowed the team to teleport to and from the Liberator aslo acted as Comm Links.
- In Warehouse 13, the team have cellphones, but for contacting the Warehouse they use Farnsworths, which are dieselpunky Video Phones that never lose a signal, invented by Philo Farnsworth himself. They're also unhackable, which doesn't stop Claudia trying to hack hers in order to give it a cool ringtone. Being invented in the early 20th century, they only transmit in black-and-white, but appear to have HD quality. We are also never shown anyone actually dialing different Farnsworths.
- In Rogue Trader every class starts with one of these, called a Micro-bead, which fits in the ear and has a mike which stretches around the face, rather like a 360 headset. Other helmets have them built in, which is very useful.
- And (Unusually for this trope) it has a range of about a kilometer.
- Shadowrun introduced Commlinks after the second Matrix Crash. They're customizable, ultra portable computers that are so ubiquitous nearly everyone in the world owns one.
- Traveller has them, starting at TL 8 they have an integrated computer (just like a cellphone) and at TL 10 they can be implanted.
- Paranoia routinely includes com units as part of assigned mission equipment. Like everything else in Alpha Complex, they tend to break down when you want them to work, and work fine when you wish they didn't. (Like when The Computer contacts you while you're busy shooting Commies. Or treasonously shooting loyal citizens.) In the latest editions, they've been upgraded to Personal Digital Companions (basically PDAs/smartphones), and collect spam and viruses like mad.
- Final Fantasy V has an awesome variation. Apparently, on the second world, communicators come in the form of grass.
- Final Fantasy IV also has a variation, the whisperweed functions as a communicator once.
- In World of Warcraft, there is a questline where you use communicators to talk to Brann Bronzebeard (at least on the horde side, where normal communication would be difficult to say the least).
- Also in WoW are Hearthstones, little enchanted trinkets that let you warp back to your home camp once an hour. On roleplaying servers, Hearthstones are said to also be communication devices, thus explaining how players are chatting across a zone or continent without stepping out of character.
- The codec system in Metal Gear, which was so advanced there was no external component, only a system of nanites.
- Hand Waved frequently throughout the series. The codec is super advanced, apparently: it uses an extremely small cochlear implant to directly stimulate the bones in the ear that are responsible for hearing. It can't be jammed, ever, as long as burst transmission is used (this is actually pretty close to reality), though local transmission can have troubles. The nanites in the body turn the entire human physiological system into a radio antenna for communication...the list goes on.
- The team in Mass Effect has ear-bead communication systems with enough range to contact a starship in orbit.
- There's probably a system (possibly an advanced communication suite) built into the hardsuits that the team wear. Supported by the fact that they always seem to put their hand to their ear, and even talk into their elbow a little when they're communicating with the ship.
- Jack from MadWorld uses two of these, both ear pieces, each to a different person. Strange how only one of them hears the other talk.
- Sonic Adventure 2 features radios that the characters often use. What's odd is that both sides of the story (Hero and Dark) have the same kind of radio.
- In Max Payne 2, Max and Mona keep in touch via seeming indestructible (and undetectable, since Mona's doesn't get taken when she gets arrested) Comm Links throughout most of the game.
- Final Fantasy XI has Linkshells and Linkpearls that allow communication across continents, dimensions, and time itself. It's a game mechanic, as well, but at least one that's explained. They're also used in Final Fantasy XIV.
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time features a Comm Link with an effective range of one light year, that also triples as a translation device and an impromptu but powerful explosive.
- Fridge Brilliance: Any device powerful enough to broadcast over one light year would have to put several kilowatts into its signal, and thus would need correspondingly powerful batteries. Ever heard of cell phone batteries bursting into flames? The exploding communicator would be the same thing turned Up to Eleven.
- Cole in inFAMOUS uses what looks like a cell phone to communicate, though the sound effects indicate it is either a radio or in "push-to-talk" mode. Rather cleverly, it closely resembles a real Motorola phone from the old Nextel service, which had both push-to-talk and rubber insulation. Given that Cole accidentally fries most electronics, it's probably the only one he can use.
- Quake IV uses wrist based comms that seem to work though several miles of Strogg Architecture.
- The various Legend of Zelda games solve this in different ways. Many games it's just plain ol telepathy that lets Princess Zelda talk to Link. Wind Waker had the Pirate's Charm, which initially allowed Tetra, and later the King of Red Lions, to talk to Link.
- Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, being a parody of Star Trek, uses flip communicators for Roger to contact the ship.
- Dead Space and Dead Space 2 have RIG transmissions, both video and audio, that work reliably in adverse conditions and only fail for plot reasons.
- Starcraft: Used by all Terran units (along with plot-driven static in Brood War). One of the Goliath's lines is even "Commlink online". Merges with Subspace Ansible when entire news networks are able to simulatneously broadcast across multiple planets in multiple star systems.
- In Antihero for Hire, Shadehawk has one that keeps him in touch with Wrench. They appear to be standard gear for superheroes; Crossroad has one for connecting with Echo, and the Civic Champions all have them as well.
- Schlock Mercenary has hypernet communicators.
- One of the many functions of the Pockets from Tower of God.
- Fatebane in Associated Space has a computer built into his brain that can function as a communicator.
- The body-surfing AI O'Malley from Red vs. Blue uses radio waves to hop from host to host. Shutting off the helmet radios everyone uses is a frequent plot point for the Blue team.
- Mildly subverted in The Descendants, where they have what they call comms, but to talk to specific people, they still need someone at a computer running a switchboard of sorts, otherwise, they all use the same channel.
- Noob is set in a MMORPG, in which all members of a given group can remotely communicate whith each other by putting their settings in the right position. Both the main guilds however have a master enforcing roleplay that includes the option being turned off to make the game experience more realistic. Exceptions happen only if either of the groups is doing task in which direct verbal communication is necessary for success (the game has some quests with no second chances).
- Ink City provides every new resident with a communicator which lets them talk, text or send video messages (sometimes activating on their own). If destroyed, they turn up again on their own where their owner can stumble across them. During the World Split incident, they could even be used to speak to anyone stranded in the other version of the city, which proved key to fixing the issue. Oh, and you can also play Nyan Cat on them. Thanks, Ema!
- The DCAU Justice League have their own communicators as well—ultra-slick tech that fits in the ear. In the comics, on the other hand, J'onn usually just keeps everyone telepathically networked.
- The Teen Titans have hand-held clamshell devices that function as communicators. In the final season of the cartoon, the Brotherhood of Evil managed to capture one and used it to track down all the heroes and capture them one by one. Robin had to re-wire his so it could detonate a secret explosive inside each one.
- In X Men The Animated Series, the X symbols on the suits were communicators.
- Kim Possible has her "Kimmunicator", which is shaped like a compact. It's like a PDA with Everything Sensors built in, not to mention a seriously powerful battery, extendable robot arms and whatever else might come in handy.
- In one episode, Drakken locked Kim in a vault and threw the vault into a deep water-filled pit after confiscating her Kimmunicator. Kim then remembered that her class ring had a back-up Kimmunicator that also doubled as a laser torch and emergency rebreather!
- Totally Spies!. The girls use a Compowder to communicate (so called because it looks like a make-up kit, which often contain powder puffs).
- In both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, the turtles have communicators. In the first the bad guys also have them, and even the dimensional port in the Technodrome can double as such. And with two parallel systems, it is no wonder that both sides sometimes used the communicators to hack each others' frequencies. In the later series the Turtles use special modified Cell Phones instead.
- Static and Richie (later Gear) in Static Shock make gadgets called Shock Boxes, which work like walkie talkies. In one episode, Static managed to use his powers to boost their range to across the planet, somehow.
- On The Venture Bros., Brock Samson and Thaddeus, Hank, and Dean Venture have communicator wristwatches they can use to contact each other or HELPeR. Jonas Venture, Jr, has his communicator built into his shirt collar, which is more accessible but lacks a video screen.
- The Centurions use wristwatch-like communicators.
- Fantastic Voyage. The team members have small radio devices that they sometimes use to communicate with each other when separated.
- This is, of course, the essence of what two-way radios are for. Modern radios can include a variety of features including selectable frequencies, programmable encryption, and even the ability to get around enemy jamming. You could program a radio so that you could talk to specific people by flipping a dial to a specific pre-set channel, though it's not quite the same as just saying who you want to talk to.
- Comm badges actually exist already, though so far their only real market is hospitals, where specific doctors need to be summoned quickly for meetings or to tend to patient emergencies (the other method for reaching them, of course, is paging them via beepers or the hospital PA system).
- Mobile phones are actually older than you might think they are — the first commercially-marketed one was made available in 1946. It was hardly portable in the handheld sense, though, as it was designed as a car phone. The first device we might recognize as a cell phone was created by 1973 by Motorola, though it was still very bulky by modern standards, weighing in at a little over 2 pounds.
- The idea of a handheld, video-capable personal phone existed as early as 1956, and Bell Labs even had a mockup to show off. The technology to actually make it happen was what took so long.