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Review of Pokemon Go Plus Device – Play Pokemon Go without looking at your phone screen 15.09.16

Pokemon GO has pretty much changed my life, in even more ways than I’d mentioned when I wrote my initial review of the game back in July.

I work in Manhattan, and before this game came along I almost never walked the 16 blocks and 4 avenues from Penn Station to my office. But since I wrote that review in July, there’s hardly been a day I haven’t made that walk. Aside from saving $5.50 a day in subway fares, between my morning commute, my evening commute, and lunch I find myself walking between 5-7 miles a day now (often taking a long detour to try to “catch ’em all”), versus my old routine, which was usually walking about 5 minutes and taking the subway the rest of the way. What makes the walk go by so much faster is getting that nice dopamine hit every time I catch a new Pokemon or spin an especially lucrative PokeStop.

Still, playing the game in the crowded City can get a bit tough. I try my hardest not to be one of “those people”–those people who plant their faces in their phones playing the game oblivious to the people (and cars) around them. But even so, New York is the type of city where if you’re even slightly in the path of someone walking, some jerks will invariably go out of their way to elbow or bump you to “teach you a lesson”.

Pokemon GO Plus was released today. It’s a device that you can strap around your wrist, or more likely that you can surreptitiously hold in your pocket so that no one is the wiser that you’re playing. It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone. As long as you have the latest version of the app installed, the app will recognize it.

One of the nice things about where I work is that it’s about a three minute walk to the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Center, so after reading Nintendo Store’s Tweet last night that they’d be in stock I decided to get into the City a little earlier to see if I could snag one of the early ones.

If the past is any indication with Nintendo hardware, for a short period of time they’re going to be difficult to get (currently they’re selling on eBay for double to triple the $35 list price), but don’t worry–in a few weeks they’ll be all over the place.

I got there a little over an hour before the store opened and was #22 on line.

outside nintendo world store

We were all a bit surprised at how short the line was, but guessed a few things contributed to it–first, the hype over Pokemon GO is much less than it was in July, and second, a lot of “early adopter” types were likely up the street waiting for their iPhone 7s at the Apple Store.

Not surprisingly the two PokeStops around the store were lured up, which made the wait bearable. A Blastoise appeared at one point, which sadly I didn’t get even after three Razz Berries, three Ultra Balls, and two “Great” curveballs. 😛

The hour actually passed pretty quickly, as the folks with me on line were all really nice and interesting folks. It’s funny how this game is able to bring together so many different people.

By 8:30 the line had grown pretty large.

long line for pokemon go plus launch

Finally, 9:03 came and they opened the doors. Kudos to the Nintendo World folks for keeping the line very orderly–there was no mad rush or pushing, just an orderly queue.

line for pokemon go plus launch

I got that little adrenaline rush when I knew I had mine (again, knowing full well that in a few weeks these things will be as worthless as Wii Fit Meters). I saw that they had about 100 units stacked up in the back, so hopefully everyone on line got one.

Back at the office I did the unboxing. Here’s what the box looks like:

pokemon go plus box

And here’s what you get inside.

contents of pokemon go plus package

The hardware itself is a Pokemon Go Plus device about the size of a quarter and about 1/4 inch thick. It’s made of solid plastic that’s brightly colored to look like a regular red ball. It comes with an additional wristband in the default red, white, and blue colors.

pokemon go plus device and wrist strap

The unit itself comes attached with a solid plastic clip attached you can attach to your pocket or belt. There’s also a little hole to attach to a strap if you want to wear it around your neck.

pokemon go plus belt buckle clip

Very important–if you want to use the wristband, you’ll need to unscrew the ENTIRE back of the device before you snap it onto the wristband. (I can only imagine that certain point who don’t read the manual are going to try to forceably “snap” the belt clip off, which would be a problem).

To start using it, you just need to pull out the plastic tab to activate the battery.

removing the battery tab

Next, open the Pokemon GO app and click “Settings”. You’ll want to click on the menu option that says “Pokemon GO Plus”. Once you’re on the Pokemon GO plus screen, tap the button on your device. Your device should flash and your should see your device show up under “Available Devices” in the app (note that at this point it’s not yet paired to your phone via Bluetooth, just recognized by the app). If you encounter issues, make sure that Bluetooth is enabled on your phone.

settings screen on pokemon go for plus devie

Now, I could see a greyed-out icon on my screen, but the device still wasn’t doing anything.

pokemon go plus icon greyed out

I tapped the icon and saw the message “Finding Pokemon GO Plus…click the button on Pokemon GO Plus.”

finding pokemon go plus...click the button on the pokemon go plus

I clicked the button and this brought up an iOS “Bluetooth Pairing Request” prompt asking if I wanted to pair “Pokemon GO Plus” with my iPhone. I pressed “Pair”. You’ll only need to do this once.

bluetooth pairing of pokemon go plus

There were a series of messages telling me it was trying to connect. Finally I got the message “Successfully connected to Pokemon GO Plus”

successfully connected to pokemon go plus

From this point, you can start playing the game without looking at your phone screen, although your phone screen will still show you the status of what’s happening if you happen to look at it.

From time to time the GO Plus device will break the Bluetooth connection–if this happens the icon will go grey. To reactivate it, simply tap the icon and the device should be active again.

Now here’s how it works in action. First, here’s how capturing Pokemons work:

When you pass by a Pokemon, the device will emit six long vibrations and the light will flash green. On the screen there’ll be a message that says “Pokemon is in range!” and you’ll see a thin yellow line from the Pokemon GO Plus icon to the Pokemon it finds to let you know which one it’ll be going after.

What’s very interesting is that in some cases the device will discover a Pokemon even before you see in on your screen, like in the screenshot below. The converse is true too–sometimes you’ll be standing right on top of a Pokemon but the device won’t see it until you take a few steps. But most of the time what you see on the screen and what you experience on the device will match.

pokemon go plus encounters a pokemon in range

You can click the button any time during these six long vibrations to start the capture attempt. What happens behind the scenes is that the app will attempt to catch that Pokemon by throwing a single Regular Ball at it (it will not use Great Balls or Ultra Balls, even if you’re out of Regular Balls). You’ll feel three short vibrations, meant to simulate the three “shakes” of the Poke Ball animation you normally see on screen.

If it misses the Pokemon the device will emit two quick vibrations (think whaa-whaa like a sad trombone) and flash a red light. This happened to me on my first attempt–on the screen the message said “Pidgey ran away”.

pidgey ran away!

When you do catch something the device will vibrate five times of medium length while flashing celebratory multicolored lights. If you’re looking at your screen a message will flash telling you that you’ve captured it. You can also look at your Journal afterwards to see all the Pokemons and items from PokeStops you’ve collected–and missed.

Catch ratio is something you need to set expectations for. Aggravatingly, I had this Pidgey, a Gastly, and a Dugtrio all run away before I finally caught a Goldeen. After a day of playing with it I’d say my catch ratio has averaged about 30-50%. This is pretty much in line with what I’d get if I were playing on the phone trying to catch a Pokemon using only attempt and one Regular Ball with no curveball nor “Nice / Great / Excellent” throws.

And so by design you shouldn’t rely on this to catch rare of high powered Pokemons you might encounter (in these cases you’ll want to assume manual control by tapping on the GO Plus icon to toggle the device off or simply tapping on the Pokemon on your phone screen as normal to try a traditional attempt.

While the high miss rate might sound like an annoyance, I’ve concluded that it’s a fair trade-off, as clicking a button is much, much easier than taking out your phone, pressing the Pokemon, and swiping the ball over and over again. I actually appreciate how they put a lot of thought into the effort-reward calculation rather than just automatically letting people who paid for the device get 100% of the Pokemons every time. By doing it the way, they ensure that you’ll still play the way the game was intended to be played most of the time, but will be able to use the GO Plus device in situations where you simply can’t look at your phone but still want at least a chance to catch something, such as when you’re driving, biking, or jogging. I’ve started using it on paths where I know the chances are slim to see a rare Pokemon (and I deliberately don’t look at the Journal to see which ones I missed :P).

PokeStops are a bit more generous. When you pass by a PokeStop, the device will pulse twice (again up to six successive times) and the LED light will flash blue. On screen, you’ll see a line from the Plus icon to the PokeStop that you’ll be collecting items from.

collecting items from pokestop with pokemon go plus

Click on your device, and you’ll collect all the items at that Stop (the device will buzz for each item you’ve collected). You can see which items you’ve collected by looking at the screen immediately, or by checking the journal (or your inventory) later.

received items from pokestop using go plus

You do need to have the app open when using the device, but it can be running in the background as you use other apps. The only app I found on iOS that doesn’t let it run in the background is the Camera app. With any other app you’ll see a notification on the screen about your Pokemon catch attempts and your PokeStop items. In fact, the phone screen can even be locked and it’ll still work.

Even better news–it’ll continue to track your distance in both cases, meaning you’ll get “credit” for the distance to your Buddy Pokemon and your Eggs. In fact, I’ve found (and reports around the Web corroborate) that this device will actually improve the app’s tracking (which can be notoriously off).

For both PokeStops and Pokemons you catch you’ll get the normal amount of XP, candy, and stardust that you would if you were playing on your phone (note that as of this writing there’s a bug where you won’t see your stardust right away–rest assured it’s there, you just need to kill the app and restart it to see the extra stardust you collected). This is a great way to load up on the stardust, the one thing I never seem to have enough of. You won’t be able to catch Pokemons that spawn from incense, but you will be able to catch those that spawn from lures.

As far as power, the device uses the larger CR2032 watch battery (the one about the size of a nickel), but because it uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) you’re not going to be swapping out batteries very often, even with daily use. And when you do need to change batteries, you can generally find replacements on Amazon or eBay for pennies.

Overall, I’m very happy with this device, and can easily give it 5 of 5 stars–as with all other Nintendo devices like the Wii Fit Meter and the Gamecube Adapter, it’s really well made–it’s just a shame that Nintendo took two months to get it out; had they gotten in out in July the would have been able to print money.

But this is just the thing that’ll bring a lot of those who’d left the game back. It opens up new ways of being able to play the game that were impossible before–you can play while riding a bike, while navigating through a crowd of people pressing against each other, and even on a slow-to-moderate moving car, bus or train–all without the need to keep one’s nose buried in the phone screen. And since one of the conference rooms in my office is right over a PokeStop, it’ll let me quietly collect Pokemons during meetings without anyone being the wiser (in the past I’d need to pretend to be checking an important email or something). In fact, if you do happen sit over a PokeStop you would no longer need to check your phone constantly to see if a fresh lure has been dropped or that the 5 minute wait period to collect items is up–in either case your device will vibrate to let you know.

A lot of people ask if you need this if you’ll be getting the Pokemon GO app on the Apple Watch. I’d say yes–as convenient as the Watch app is, you’ll still need to look at it and swipe it. With this, you don’t need to look at your phone, your watch, or anything else. Just hold it in your hand, feel for the buzz, and you’re set.

Overall I highly recommend getting this if you’re anything between a casual and a fanatical Pokemon GO player. As with most hardware from Nintendo, it’s not just well-made, but will probably become a collector’s item in time. It may be tough to find, but keep checking Amazon or Gamestop or if you’re in NYC, try the Nintendo Store.

The lessons learned from previous experiences like the Wii, Wii Fit, the Wii U Gamecube Adapter, and other similar products is to NOT panic. If you can’t get it the first day, don’t fall into the temptation of buying it from someone on eBay who’s jacked up the prices to a ridiculous amount. It might be a few weeks, but they’ll come back in stock eventually at $34.99.

The Apple Watch Series 2 – The top 10 to know for fitness enthusiasts 08.09.16

Fastidious readers of this blog may remember that back when they announced the first Apple Watch two years ago I made myself a resolution to get one and to review it. That resolution sort of went by the wayside. I actually did get one at one point, but amid a fit of buyer’s remorse and some false rumors that they were going to release a new model imminently, I decided to return it never having opened it. I also learned my lesson from decades of buying Apple products to always wait for the Generation 2 model–this practice has served me well with my Apple //e (vs. the Apple ][ Plus), my Mac SE/30 (vs. the Mac Plus), my second-generation iPod, and my first iPhone 4.

Today, Tim Cook, in his usual imitation of Steve Jobs magniloquence, announced the Apple Watch Series 2. It looks like a winner. Here are some of the highlights from an exercise and fitness perspective.

  1. It’s water-resistant up to 50 meters. Yes, now you can dive into the pool wearing your Apple Watch, or even take a shower with it on. While the watch has always been good at tracking calories burned while running, as part of this Watch Apple has developed two swimming workouts which they say will accurately measure your calories burned while swimming. They’ve also designed the speaker hardware to repel water that gets into it.
  2. It’s faster. They’ve upgraded just about every part of the watch, from the CPU to the RAM to the storage, wireless speed, and motion control accuracy. They say that it’s going to be at least 2x faster than the first Apple Watch.
  3. It’s brighter. On those bright sunny days you won’t need to squint as much to see your watch face–the new display is at least 2x brighter than it was before.
  4. apple watch gpsIt has GPS. Unlike the old phone that depending on your iPhone for GPS (which helped run the battery down faster), this new watch will have GPS built-in, meaning that you can track your distance and route without being tethered to your phone or even needing to take your phone out on runs. Apple also claims that the watch’s GPS unit connects to satellites faster than most other devices. Also, Apple announced a hiking app called ViewRanger that will help prevent you from getting lost (assuming that the watch battery doesn’t give out before you do).
  5. nike+ apple watchApple and Nike+ have decided to work together. There’ll be a separate version of the Apple Watch called the Apple Watch Nike Plus which will have some bells and whistles that may be of  interest to runners. The watch will be in the Nike+ style of yellow and black. It’ll have a bold new interface that displays your distance and pace, as well as the current weather and the time since your last run.Nike will also introduce a new feature called “Just Do It Sundays” which will encourage everyone in the world (who has an Apple Watch Nike Plus) to run. Honestly, IMO the watch is a bit of an eyesore, and this all seems a bit more like marketing hype to me than anything particularly innovative, but if you’re a Nike+ fan already or were an avid user of the dearly departed FuelBand, it might be worth it to you to pay the premium to recapture some of that FuelBand magic that FitBit stole.
  6. pokemon go on apple watchWatchOS 3 is coming, and with it–Pokemon GO. I haven’t posted much about Pokemon GO since my review when it first came out, but I will post something in the coming weeks because frankly, it’s changed my life–for the better. According to my iPhone Health app, I’m averaging about 4.54 miles a day walking for the month–when before Pokemon GO came out I maybe averaged a mile a day.The Pokemon GO app will help you play the game without having your head buried in your phone. You’ll be able to see the number of steps you need to hatch an egg, tap and swipe on your watch to collect items from Pokestops, all without having the app on your phone open.
  7. heart rate on apple watchIt has an improved heart rate sensor. As you’re working out you’ll see your heart’s beats-per-minute and they’ll be captured on a graph for you. This will help you determine for any given workout if you’ve entered the so-called “aerobic zone” with a sustained elevated heartrate, and will also let you see the history of your workouts. It’ll also give a continuous history of your heartrate that can help you help your doctor get a more complete view of your health at your next checkup.
  8. apple watch activity ringsThe Activity Rings are back. As with the original Apple Watch, the Watch Series 2 will track all your movement during the day, whether walking, running to the train, at the gym, and yes, working out with your Wii. If you’ve been sitting too long or are behind in your exercise, you can get the Watch to give you a nudge to get you to stand, start moving, or do your daily exercise. What’s cool is that you don’t need to necessarily block out a full half hour to exercise every day–the Watch will tell you cumulatively how much exercise you’ve done all day.
  9. breathe appBreathe! At first I though this was just a bunch of hype, but something we all take for granted, especially as we go through stressful days, is our breathing patterns. This is something that Eastern workout regimens pay close attention to but Western ones seem to ignore. But when you think about it, proper breathing is a key to great exercise–and feeling better in general. Your body needs oxygen, and when you get into the habits of improper breathing (yes, there is such a thing), you can deplete your body of oxygen and make your whole body run less efficiently. This is something even more critical as you’re working out, when every part of your body needs oxygen. This is one I’m looking forward to trying.
  10. The news of the Apple Watch’s demise are greatly exagerrated. Tim Cook mentioned that Apple is now the #2 watch seller, just behind Rolex and in front of companies like Fossil. It’s honestly a bit of a misleading comparison–I don’t think too many people are buying a new Rolex every 2 years because the old one is outdated. Still, it’s a good reminder that Apple has managed to open up a whole new market for watches with Gen X and Gen Yers who haven’t worn a watch since they were kids or Millennials who have no idea what a watch is.

Unfortunately, the most anticipated thing on the Apple Watch Series 2 wishlist–a longer battery life–looks like it’s not happening. Apple didn’t even reference it in their announcement. While the Watch will have a bigger battery, whatever increased capacity will like be eaten up by the new GPS chip. So continue to plan for charging your Watch at least every 18 hours. Forget to plug it in one night before you go to bed, and you’re out of luck for your morning commute.

For my part, I’m going to live up to that promise I made two years ago and try to pre-order my watch on September 9. Whenever it comes, I’ll do the full unboxing here and take you through all the fitness capabilities.

Review of BallStrike for iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Windows PC 13.08.16

BallStrike is an augmented reality fitness game that you can play on your iOS device, Mac, or Windows PC.

The premise of the game is simple. You stand 7 feet from your iPhone, iPad, or computer, standing in front of it (making sure there are no objects between you and the camera).


Once you allow the app to use your camera you’ll see yourself looking at your own own video image. As a driving soundtrack of techno music plays, balls will appear all over your screen. Your job is to reach down, up, and to the side to physically swipe at them and pop them. As the game progresses, the action gets more and more frenetic. You find yourself waving your arms like a rapper who’s had too much caffeine. For this reason, you definitely want to play this on your own with the shades drawn.

I know what you’re probably thinking–hasn’t this been done before? And the answer is yes, everywhere from games like Playstation Move Fitness to Fruit Ninja for Kinect. And those games had much better graphics than this one. The main differences with this one are–

  1. It’s cheap. Free to start out, and then 99 cents if you want the full version.. You don’t need to buy a Playstation console with Move or an Xbox console with Kinect. You just need an iPhone or an iPad, a PC, or a Mac with a working camera.
  2. It’s responsive. As advanced as the Move and Kinect were, there was always a lag which made fast-moving games like this a bit frustrating at times. With this game, your video image moves in real time, and you’re seeing your own image, so there’s no lag to speak of.
  3. Augmented reality is cool. Granted, this was an early use of AR so it already feels a bit dated.

You wouldn’t think this is particularly good exercise, but after just three rounds I was already starting to get winded and my arms a little sore.

Lighting in your room has to be just right, obviously, or the game will have trouble picking you up. Also, you need to be wearing clothes that contrast with your background. Even then, I still saw my share of “false positives”–balls that would pop without me touching them. But for the most part the game is pretty good–it picks up where your body is and for the most part avoids putting balls on top of it.

As the game progresses it becomes more challenging. “Bombs” will appear in between the balls and you need to avoid hitting them (which is tougher than it sounds). You’ll get points for different combos of moves. Even more features are available if you opt to pay for the full version, which costs only 99 cents.

Once the game is over, you’ll see your score, along with the number of balls you missed and the estimated calories you burned.

Here’s the gameplay as the publisher, FitMaster Productions, shows it:


Here’s how it will really probably look in your living room (this is a YouTube video from a kid in Turkey of all places who filmed a whole 7-minute workout).

Overall the game tends to feel a little more like a technical proof-of-concept than a fully polished game. It was certainly fun, but as you can probably see, there was just a bit too much imprecision and visual artifacts throughout.

On the other hand, it unarguably a fantastic workout and a heck of a lot cheaper to use an existing smartphone or PC than buying those systems. And the gaming elements of watching your score pile up and trying to minimize the number of balls you miss certainly helps keep you motivated. It also is unique in that very few other exercise games on your smartphone support a full body workout of your arms, shoulders, core, and legs like this one does.

Game: BallStrike
Publisher: Fit Master Productions
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Cardio Boxing
Watch Support? No
Price: Free to try, 99 cents for full version
Download links: iOS, Windows

Best portable chargers for apps that drain your battery 30.07.16

See if this hasn’t happened to you. You’re in the middle of a run listening to music or in the middle of an intense Zombies Run! episode. Or you’ve walked into an area with multiple lures and a bunch of rare Pokemons pop up. And then you get the dreaded message, “Your phone is low on battery. Recharge or connect to a power source”.

It’s happened to me many times. Most often, it’s because I’m running around in meetings at work all day with my phone and can’t get to my computer in time to give it a full charge. It doesn’t help that my phone is getting older. Each time you charge your battery, it ever so slightly decreases the battery life.

The kinds of apps I’m reviewing here for fitness and exercise, including Pokemon Go and Zombies Run!, not to mention traditional workout apps like Strava or Runtastic, are notorious for draining your phone’s battery, simply because you need to have them on all the time, and they are constantly using your cellular data and your GPS, two of the biggest battery drainers.

You’ve probably heard of portable battery chargers, but the options can be dizzying. Here are my personal favorites.

The Anker 20000mAh Portable Charger provides relative lightness with huge capacity and the fastest charging available. It’s on the heavier side at 12.5 ounces (about double or triple the weight of your phone, or the weight of a can of soda) but the weight is proportional to how powerful it is. It can charge your iPhone 6s about eight times, an iPad Air about 2 times, or a Galaxy S6 five times before needing to be recharged. Its maximum charging speed is 4.8 amps, meaning that if you plug one phone into one USB port and the other phone into the other, both will enjoy fast 2.4 amp charging. The list price is about $80, but you’ll typically see it on sale for about $40.

If you need the maximum in capacity, you’ll want the Anker Astro E7 External Battery Charger; this is the one I personally have. It holds a whopping 26800 mAh capacity. It’s the heaviest portable battery at 15.8 ounces but if you frequently find yourself running out of power on long trips, this is the one for you.

When my wife and I go out, I just bring this one battery and charge my iPhone and her Galaxy on it. Something else I like about all these batteries is that there are protections built in to prevent your device from overcharging or power surges.

What I usually do is just put it in my pocket and run a line to the phone in my hand. It comes with a micro USB cable for most Android devices, and you can purchase a cheap MFi (Apple certified) Lightning cable for your iPhone or iPad directly from Amazon.

This thing has saved me many, many times, and it’s my charger of choice. It easily handles a 5-hour cross-country flight with plenty of juice to spare. On the last cross-country flight I was on, I saw that the poor woman next to me had run out of power after an hour into the flight on a flight with free Wi-Fi. I offered to let her charge on my battery, and it was like giving a cup of water to someone dying of thirst.

This one isn’t cheap at a list price of $119.99 (although more typically you’ll find it selling for about $55), but it’s well worth it if you want the ultimate in extended battery life.

If you’re looking for something more portable, or a little more affordable battery pack the size of a tube of lipstick, try their PowerCore+ mini portable charger. It’s able to charge an iPhone 6 a little more than one complete time before it needs recharging, so it’s great if you just need power for the commute home or the short trip to the store.

Of course, the most impressive thing is this thing’s weight–at less than 3 ounces it’s about the weight of an egg. You won’t even notice it in your pocket or your purse. And at under $20 chances are you won’t notice the dent it makes to your banking account as much as other portable battery solutions.

This isn’t a paid spot–I’ve owned just about every Anker charger since the beginning, and have paid full price for them, and they only get more impressive. Don’t leave home without one when you need to hunt monsters or run from zombies.

Review of BitGym and Virtual Active for iOS and Android – Virtual Reality Video for your Exercise Bike, Elliptical, or Treadmill 23.07.16

Back in 2013, I reviewed a game for the Wii U called Wii Street U. This was a game where you could “walk” on your Balance Board, and on your TV screen you could “walk” anywhere in the world that Google Maps’ cameras had gone. It was relatively groundbreaking at the time; until then you were relegated to watching DVDs or screens on very, very expensive treadmills to get any kind of “virtual tour” that responded to your movements. But as you can see from the gameplay video in my review, the experience was choppy and more a curiosity than anything else.

bitgym-iconThat same year Active Theory Inc. released an app called BitGym, available at the iTunes Store and Google Play Store. In the early years they had a few kinks to work out but three years later the app is pretty polished and has powered over a million workouts.

If you have an indoor cardio machine–an exercise bike, an elliptical, a stair stepper, a rowing machine, or a treadmill, there’s a good chance your machine has been collecting dust or has been used as a very expensive coat rack. It’s tough to keep from being bored to tears on cardio equipment. Sure, you can try reading a book or watching TV, but if my experience is anything like yours even that’s tough because your brain is trying to do two different things at the same time–partake in an activity usually associated with relaxation, and doing extreme physical exertion.

The idea behind the app is simple yet brilliant. You get on your indoor cardio machine and place your tablet or phone in front of you. You can optionally purchase a Bluetooth heart rate monitor (they recommend the Wahoo Tickr or 60beat Blue) which integrates with the program.

You select your machine type: a bike, a treadmill, an elliptical, or an ergometer (rowing machine). You then experience from a first person perspective a high-resolution video tour of a bike trail, hiking path, or running trail from around the world. All together there are more than 100 HD video tours to choose from in some of the world’s most beautiful locations (the first demo is a gorgeous trail that runs through the mountains of Northern Italy).

bitgym northern italy run

Unlike passively watching a DVD, the video speeds up and slows down based on your own workout. The result is the very definition of virtual reality–you really feel like you’re there. Instead of your brain getting mixed signals–am I watching TV or am I biking–your brain just accepts that yes, you’re in Northern Italy biking happily along a trail. Your brain becomes less aware on your physical effort as you focus more on your surroundings in the video. Adding to the realism, you can turn on “nature sounds” to give you a truly immersive experience.

Amazingly there’s nothing to connect–the way this app works, it’ll use your smartphone’s front-facing camera to detect your video image, and then it’ll use the subtle movements of your face and body while exercising to gauge the cadence and intensity of your workout. The faster you’re moving in real life, the faster you’ll move in the scene. Stop in real life, and the video image will stop.

The motion detection is uncannily precise, especially considering that it’s just gauging your motion based on your video image and your phone is not hooked up to your machine. As long as your room is fairly well lit (but not too much so) and your phone is placed right in front of you, it’s work near perfectly. And it’s not easy to “fake”, as if it were worth your time to even attempt to do that.

The locales you choose from are real, from Buenos Aires, to all the islands of Hawaii, to the streets of Paris, to the Canadian Rockies, to the jungles of Costa Rica, to the islands of New Zealand, to a number of National Parks. The videos are spectacular in their clarity, and you can choose to view the moving image on your phone or cast it to your high definition TV using HDMI, Chromecast, or Apple TV.

Here’s a screen grab of me running through the streets of Venice on that same tour.

running through venice

And here I am biking through the wild streets of Chicago.

chicago tour bitgym

You can choose to have a number of overlays to give you all kinds of information about your workout.

bit gym options
You can overlay a continually running estimate of your steps per minute on the bottom of the screen, and your elapsed time on the top. You can also choose to have “Trail Facts” pop up from time to time that tell you the details of the path you’re running. From an audio perspective, you can choose to play nature sounds by themselves or a playlist from your phone or both. Personally, I prefer to shut off all overlays and turn on nature sounds, which lets me experience the maximum realism.

The only way I can think of to improve this is with a virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or PSVR to give you the ultimate virtual reality experience where you can actually look around as you run. Something tells me they’re probably working on that as we speak.

You can download the app for free to try out the Northern Italy run, and if you remain a free user you’ll be limited to a selection of locations and checkpoints, as well as a maximum of 10 minutes. In order to access the other 100+ trails, as well as guided tours and coaching videos, you’ll need to sign up as a member and pay an annual fee of about $95. It might seem pricey compared to other smartphone apps, but on the other hand if you think about it $2 a week is a small price to pay to breathe new life into your workout, and a lot less than a gym.

Another option is to download another app called Virtual Active for iOS. Virtual Active is a company that produces video tour DVDs for home use, as well as for high-end cardio machines.  It appears that they’ve partnered with Active Theory to develop an app that features their videos and makes them interactive through BitGym technology. The interface isn’t quite as polished as BitGym and the tours don’t seem quite as interactive, but you do have the option of purchasing videos for $7.99 a pop and it’s yours to keep.

virtual active run

virtual active workouts

virtual active hiking

Can BitGym and Virtual Active be considered “games”? The criteria on this blog has always been that I’ll review games that are “so fun you forget you’re exercising”. In the case of these apps, you don’t forget you’re exercising, but you certainly forget you’re in your boring den or home gym as you travel the world virtually.

Game: BitGym
Publisher: Active Theory, Inc.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Treadmill Walking and Running, Elliptical, ERG Rowing, Stationary Biking (indoors)
Watch Support? No
Price: Free
Download links: iOS and Android.

Game: Virtual Active
Publisher: Active Theory, Inc.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Treadmill Walking and Running, Elliptical, Stationary Biking (indoors)
Watch Support? No
Price: Free
Download links: iOS

Wii Fit U + Fit Meter + Wii Balance Board at eBay for $24.99 from Nintendo Direct 17.07.16

wii fit for saleNintendo, through their eBay account, is selling a full Wii Fit set including the Wii Fit U game, a Fit Meter, and a Wii Balance board for the unheard of price of $24.99–with free shipping!

I saw this a few days ago but the eBay page said it was 98% sold out, so I didn’t bother posting it thinking that it’d be completely sold out by now. But as of right now there are still some left, so get in on it while you can–if eBay’s numbers are accurate, there are only about 100-200 left out of over 6600.

In some ways this is a sad moment–it’s a sign that the Balance Board and Wii Fit are truly at their end of life, and Nintendo is starting to clear out their own inventory.

On the flip side, it’s a great opportunity for you to stock up on a Balance Board and Fit Meter (or two) for the price that a Fit Meter or a Wii Fit U game alone would have cost only a short while ago, and probably one of the last times you can purchase one from Nintendo directly.

Hard to say what the resale value of these things are going to be–there are millions of them out there–but as they start to end up in landfills and start breaking, there’ll probably be a pretty good number of people in the aftermarket (before Nintendo put this on sale used Balance Boards were going for $30).

While the Wii and Wii U have fallen out of favor by the masses, remember that Wii Fit U is still one of the best fitness video games you can get anywhere. You can buy it here. Jump on it (but don’t jump on it!) 🙂

Review of Zombies Run! for iOS and Android 16.07.16

zombies run iconOne of the most popular exercise games for smartphones is Zombies, Run! for iOS and Android, published by Six to Start in 2012, but continually updated since then with fresh updates. As of this writing, it has an average rating on the iTunes store of 4 1/2 stars from more than 5,700 ratings and a rating on the Google Play store of 4.3 from over 11,000 ratings. And the rave reviews continue to roll in from the over 3 million runners using the app. There’s also a special version called Zombies, Run! 5k Training for people that helps train and condition runners who are complete beginners through the point where they can run 5km (3 miles) without trouble.

One drawback to video game workouts using consoles was always that as you exercised you were stuck in front of your TV. Those who wanted to walk, jog, or run outside had to leave their TVs. There was always the option of putting in a playlist of music to run to, or regular “tracking apps” that charted your progress, but those only went so far in terms of taking your mind off your exertion as a true fitness game could.

But an obvious challenge to making a fitness game for walkers, joggers, and runners is that while you’re moving it’s difficult to stare at your screen without tripping over yourself or bumping into people or things.

And so the creators of this game came up with an idea that’s pure genius–they took the screen out of it. The entire “game” is played through audio.

Here’s how it works.

IMG_0841In the opening screens of the game you’re told the premise.

Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic. You are a Runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts: Abel Township. They need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and defend their home. 

You start by selecting a “mission”. When they first launched the game it consisted of 23 missions, but each subsequent year for the last 5 years they’ve added many more to the point where as of this writing there are over 200 missions to choose from.

run zombies screenOnce you start the mission the screen goes blank with nothing but the Zombies Run logo, the elapsed time, the distance run, and your pace. In audio you’re immersed into something reminiscent of an old radio drama (think Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds) complete with narration and sound effects. The first story (“Jolly Alpha Five Niner”) immediately pulls you in, where you’re involved in a helicopter crash that puts you in the middle of a dangerous location full of zombies.

By running, walking, or jogging, you can imagine yourself as part of the story. As you move, you’ll collect supplies and rescue survivors. Optionally, you can turn on a feature called “Zombie Chases”–if you do, then in the middle of the story you may encounter a pack of zombies which you’ll need to outrun by increasing your speed–get caught by the Zombies and you’ll lose some of your supplies.

You can configure the app to track your motion in a variety of ways. “GPS” will use your phone’s location services to track distance and pace, the best option if you’re moving outdoors. “Constant Pace” assumes a constant pace throughout your run. “Step Counting” will use your phone’s sensors as a pedometer, tracking the number of steps you take and estimating distance and pace. The screen will track the distance you’ve covered, the time elapsed, and if you have step counting turned on you’ll also see the number of steps you’ve taken.

Each storyline lasts about 30-40 minutes, the duration of an excellent workout. The production is so good you really get immersed in the story (especially if you have “Zombie Chases” turned on). The characters in the story will interact with you as if you’re part of the story (although they won’t ask you to do things like run off your normal path).

When you finish your run you’ll see an end screen that shows you your elapsed time, total distance run (in miles or kilometers), total calories burned, pace, and number of steps. It’ll also show you a map of your running path, your accomplishments, and your game events (such as the supplies you picked up and when).

Similar to the show “24”, events occur in real-time, which means there’ll be periods of times when things are silent; from time to time you’ll pick up “supplies” like a mobile phone, a case of bullets, a pack of underwear, a first aid kit, food, or a baseball bat. You can choose to play music from your playlist or from an external app in the background, and your music will be muted whenever the narration kicks in. There’s also an in-world “radio station” you can listen to to really immerse yourself in the story.

In addition to the Stories, there are a number of great added features. There are pre-made plans for those who are training for 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon races. There are “bonus” runs outside the story where you can stock up on supplies. And by running certain “races” you can unlock additional content.

IMG_0933Something else I appreciate about the game is that it’s free, and you can enjoy the game and all of its stories without ever paying a dime. But after using the app a few times chances are you’ll think about paying the $2.99/month or $19.99/year for the Pro membership, as it allows you to unlock all missions without waiting, provides you additional ways to customize the game, and stores and lets you view an impressive set of statistics. There’s a huge numbers of stories now that have all kinds of fascinating plots that rival anything you’ll see on TV.

In a lot of ways this game reminds me of the old Infocom text-based adventures. As video game developers try so hard to outdo each other with advanced graphics and performance, Six to Start is doing things the old fashioned way–doing fantastic storytelling with great production values and relying on the most powerful processor of all–your brain–to paint the pictures. In effect you have two choices–to slouch in front of the TV binge-watching the latest TV series about zombies, or to get off the couch and experience being part of the story. This is a great game for bringing new life into your otherwise repetitive morning or evening run.

While a lot of people think of “augmented reality” as displaying an image over a real-world scene, this is augmented reality just the same, just through your ears.

Game: Zombies, Run!
Publisher: Six to Start
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Walking, running, or jogging (indoors or outdoors)
Watch Support? Yes
Price: Free, with In-App Purchases for “Pro Membership” and Season Passes
Download links: iOS Android

Get a pre-owned Wii for $29.99 or PS3 for $59.99 after rebate 11.07.16

As I dive into the world of smartphone fitness games, just to prove I haven’t forgotten about our beloved Wii and PS3 for fitness I figure I’d pass along a deal for the Wii and PS3. 🙂 Not sure how long this is going to last, but you can get a pre-owned Wii or PS3 from Gamestop for only $29.99 after rebate.

Here’s how.

First, go to this page to order a Wii for $49.99 or this page to order a PS3 for $79.99.

On your receipt you’ll see a unique rebate code. Enter it at https://www.gamestoprebates.com/.

That’s it. You’ll get a $20 rebate, and a used system that’s guaranteed to work. Couple it with some games from our best-of lists of exercise games for the Wii or PS3 and you’ve got yourself a cheap home fitness system. The PS3 is a deal and a half, because with your console purchase you get one of the best 3D Blu-Ray players you can buy “for free”.

h/t to the good folks at Slickdeals.  This appears to be an unadvertised deal that is showing up on people’s receipts.


Review of Pokémon GO for iOS and Android 09.07.16

The newest “exergame” to hit the market is a close relative to what many deem one of the first exergames for smartphones.

Back in 2012, Google developed a location-based game called Ingress for Android, which was ported over to iOS in 2014. In the game, you move around a virtual world on your screen, which happens to correspond to the real world. In other words, the world itself is your “game board”.

The game is essentially a worldwide version of “capture the flag”. In the game you join one of two sides–the “Enlightened” or the “Resistance”, and then you work with your side to “take over” areas in the real world by walking around your neighborhood, your work area, while shopping, and so on and capturing “portals” that are scattered around the virtual world (typically corresponding to certain landmarks in the real world).

Ingress was hugely popular, with a reported 7 million players at its peak. The game developers spun off from Google as an independent company called Niantic in August 2015. But the game had its flaws. The first was in the premise. The science fiction plotline was clearly targeted towards “geeks”, so casual players were probably turned off, intimidated with words like “”Resonators”, “Mods”, “Amplifiers”, “Heat Sinks”, “Keys”, “Portal Links”, “MUF Capsules” and so on. The second issue was that in some circles there was widespread cheating going on, which proved a disincentive to players who played the game “honestly”. Still, Ingress is definitely a game worth downloading and checking out.

pokemon go iconNiantic did something brilliant. They teamed up with The Pokémon Company and released a new game for your smartphone called Pokémon GO for iOS and Android.

Just about everyone who’s a Gen Y’er or Millennial has had a collection of Pokémon cards. I remember once watching some kids playing with their Pokémon cards, reciting every character, along with their info, type, heal points, stage, attack, damage, and weakness and thinking to myself…if only they used that part of their brains to memorize the Periodic Table or the Bill of Rights.

Well, those kids are all grown up now and all have smartphones and disposable income. And so the time is rife for Pokémon GO.

You start out Pokémon GO by signing into your Pokémon.com username and password, if you have one, or a Google ID.

IMG_0886When you start the game you’re greeted by a Pokémon Professor, Professor Willow.

Do you know that this world is inhabited by creatures known as Pokémon? Pokémon can be found in every corner of the earth. Some run across the plains, others fly through the skies, some live in the mountains, or in the forests, or near water… I have spent my whole life studying them and their regional distribution. Will you help me with my research? That’s great! I was just looking for someone like you to help! You’ll need to find and collect Pokemon from everywhere! Now, choose your style for your adventure. 

From there, you can choose a male or a female avatar and do very basic customization.

Then you’re asked to give the app permission to access your camera. From there Pokémon GO works a lot like Ingress does. You see a virtual map on your screen where you’ll see streets that correspond to the real world.

My initial view in Pokemon GO, which happens to correspond to the streets in my neighborhood.

My initial view in Pokemon GO, which happens to correspond to the streets in my neighborhood.

The good professor will hand you a few “Poké Balls” that you’ll use to capture Pokémons you encounter.

Your first Pokémon will show up soon after that, and you’ll also be able to play with the camera feature. If you turn it on, you’ll see an image of your actual surroundings in the real world, and you’ll see the Pokémon hanging out there through the magic of augmented reality. In my case, it showed up in the baby’s playpen.


You need to flick your screen to try to hit the Pokémon with one of your Poké Balls. Catch him and he’ll end up in your PokéDex.

As you walk around the real world, you’ll encounter “PokéStops” (which correspond to landmarks in the real world–it’s what they called “Portals” in Ingress) where you can collect additional supplies. Just sitting in my apartment, there was a sculpture right across the street that I could tap and collect a few more Poke Balls.

sculpture across street

What’s cool about this is that I’m finding even in my own neighborhood I’m learning things about the real world I never knew before–the names and locations of sculptures and public artwork I’d previously just passed by without thinking.

I could see on the map that there were more down the street, and the only way for me to get to them was to walk…and walk…and walk. And you need to walk–if you’re traveling by car or train you’ll be going too fast to “check in” to any location.

As you collect the same species of Pokémon enough time, you can “evolve” them into a different Pokémon. And when you reach “Level 5”, in a concept similar to Ingress, you’ll be able to enter something called a “gym” and join one of three teams. In gyms your Pokémons can do battle with others with the goal of capturing the gym for your team. Unlike card games and video games the battles aren’t turn-based, but you can tap the screen, hold down your finger to build power for special attacks, and swipe to dodge attacks. The old rules from the card games and video games apply (e.g., water Pokemon are effective against fire). Battles are the most effective way to strengthen your collection of Pokemon and raise their levels.

If you live in a big city, chances are you’ll be seeing a lot of people on the sidewalks in the coming weeks and months with their heads glued to their smartphone screens, and occasionally stopping and swiping at them. Now you’ll know what they’re up to 🙂 Just today I saw about ten people like this on the streets of Manhattan, desperately trying to look nonchalant, but clearly obsessing over collecting Pokemon items.

This of course begs the questions, can Pokémon GO (or Ingress for that matter) really be considered an “exercise game”. You’re not really running, or breaking a sweat, or even getting an elevated heartrate.

This is all true, but what it is doing is promoting more movement. For example, I take the train into Manhattan every day, and then I can either take a 10 minute subway ride or a 30 minute walk to my office. For example, in my daily commute after work I have the option of either hopping on the subway (at $2.75 a pop) for a 10 minute ride or taking a 30 minute walk to the train station. At the end of the day I’m usually exhausted and end up giving in and paying the $2.75. But for a time at least, trying to “catch them all” is probably going to give me all the incentive I need to save the money and walk for the foreseeable future. Similarly, if I’m walking and see a Poké Stop just a little distance away, I find myself walking out of the way to get it.

This morning was a beautiful day and I opted to walk. Right outside Penn Station I saw a Zubat to capture (being Manhattan, people weren’t getting creeped out that I was pointing my phone at them and swiping, but YMMV depending on how weird the people in your neighborhood are).

pokemon outside penn station

Being Manhattan, my map was filled with dozens of Poké Stops, including the Eagle Statue right outside Penn Station.

penn station eagle

As I walked I encountered many more monsters, including this rat-inspired monster, appropriately near the same place in the City where I saw real rats at one point.

raticate pokemon in nyc

And the early reviews show the same thing–people are abandoning their cars and buses and trains and choosing to walk sometimes ridiculous distances to play this game and find all the items they can get. In a city like New York, there are certainly a lot!

pokemon go in midtown

Niantic’s servers have had its troubles in the last few days since the app launched, most likely due to the huge amount of downloads and usage the app has gotten. This, unfortunately, has negatively affected early reviews for the game. Hopefully this will just be a temporary thing.

Ultimately I’m impressed. This is a peek into the future of mobile gaming, where addictive (but rather mindless) games like Farmville and Candy Crush meet location-based services like Foursquare and Waze. When I was on the train and not able to play Pokemon Go, I fired up my Candy Crush and it felt so…pointless (granted walking around collecting monsters is equally pointless, but there’s enough extra value in the augmented reality experience that your brain convinces you it’s not).

Put another way, walking around hunting for monsters and finding one every now and then gave me a thrill not unlike the thrill I get when fishing–even to the point of being more thrilled when I find and net a “big one”.

It’s also is a brilliant way to extend the 20-year old Pokémon franchise, and since it has a much more accessible and understandable premise than Ingress, I fully expect it to take off and be as huge as any (every) other Pokémon product in history.

Game: Pokémon GO
Publisher: Niantic
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Exercise supported: Walking (outdoors)
Watch Support? No
Price: Free
Download links: iOS Android.

Is Pokemon GO free?
Yes, it’s completely free and you can enjoy the game without ever paying a dime. However, there are in-game purchases that can enhance your enjoyment, such as purchasing Pokeballs, Incense, Lucky Eggs, Lures, Egg Incubators and upgrades so you can store more items and Pokemons. Purchasing each of these will require use of Pokecoins, which is fake money that you purchase with real money :).
Does Pokemon GO use a lot of data?
No, the average use will use about 5-10 megabytes of data for every hour of continuous play, and most sessions last much shorter than that. Even though it uses the same GPS as a mapping app, it uses substantially less data.
Is Pokemon GO safe?
It really depends. The game hasn’t been out a week and there are already reports of people getting robbed, people crashing cars, people falling into ditches and walking into oncoming traffic and each other, and so on. The key is to remind yourself of what it says on the opening screen–“Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.” Use your common sense. Don’t keep your face buried in your phone as you walk–your phone will buzz is there’s a Pokemon or a PokeStop nearby. If you’re on a crowded street and a Pokemon pops up, don’t walk and throw PokeBalls at the same time, but calmly step to the side and dispatch of the Pokemon calmly. If you’re alone at night and see a Pokemon or a PokeStop in an isolated area, let it go.
Help! My Pokemon GO hung up! What do I do?
Stay calm. If your Pokemon Go freezes after you’ve just caught a Pokemon, wait for the little “loading/saving” icon to appear in the upper left hand corner. If it does, your accomplishment was successfully saved, and you can force-quit the app and start over without losing anything. If you quickly re-open the app, chances are all the PokeStops and Pokemons that were there before will still be there. Unfortunately this is happening quite a bit, but expect it to get better as Niantic improves their servers and a lot of the curious users start dropping off.
How do I catch Pokemon?

As you walk, from time to time different Pokemon will appear on your map (you don’t need to be constantly looking at your screen–your phone will vibrate to let you know). Tap on the Pokemon and you’ll be switched to an augmented reality view of your world with the Pokemon in front of you with a circle in front of it (my first bit of advice is to turn AR off using the switch in the upper right-hand corner–it’s cool the first few times but just gets in the way after repeated playings). Fling a Pokeball at the circle. It takes practice, but the key is to line up the Pokemon so it’s right in front of you, and then then watch the animated circle. Hold the ball down with your finger and then when the circle is at its smallest point, flick with the first angle and force to throw, aiming for the middle of that small circle.

A red, yellow, or green circle shows how difficult it is to catch–green is easiest to catch, red is extremely difficult. The more advanced ones will move more and sometimes need several attempts to bag. You’ll get a bonus if you’re accurate and throw the ball into the ring it’s small. You’ll increase your chances and get a little bonus by making a little circular motion with your finger to “wind up” the ball and then fling it at an angle to shoot it in a “curveball”.

Does Pokemon Go have to be open to hatch eggs?
Yes, you need to walk anywhere from 2 to 10 kilometers (the requirement is listed under the egg) with the app open. For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, the eggs you’ve collected at PokeStops can be found in the Pokemon menu. You can carry nine eggs at once–once you’ve filled up with 9 you won’t be able to carry any more. You’ll need to put the egg in an incubator (you get one unlimited orange one at the start of the game, and you can purchase additional blue ones that are good for three uses) and walk. Right now I have 9 eggs, two that requires a 2k walk (1.2 miles), six that require a 5k walk (3.1 miles), and one that requires a 10k walk (6.2 miles). It’s a great way to get you to do more exercise.
How do gyms work?

After you reach level 5, you pick a team–the red team, the yellow team, or the blue team. Ask other friends playing the game first what team they choose–once you choose a team you can’t change it. When you pass a “gym” (usually a public landmark of some kind), you’ll see which team it’s controlled by by its color. If you click on the gym you’ll see trainers like yourself who have occupied that gym.

If you go to a friendly gym (your team’s color), and there’s an empty slot, you can take that slot by adding your Pokemon to the gym. If there’s no empty slot, you can still challenge the gym to a “friendly fight”–if you win the fight it’ll increase the gym’s “prestige”. If you happen to get the gym to the next level, the next slot is yours (until a rival team kicks you out, in which case your Pokemon will be returned to you).

If you go to an unfriendly gym (another color), you need to put your best Pokemons against their best ones. Your mission is to defeat as many of their trainers as possible to drain their “prestige” to zero. Once that happens, you can take over the gym for your own team.

How do battles in the gym work?
First, you need to build up your Pokemon’s CP (combat points) by training and evolving it. You don’t want to be putting a Pokemon with a CP of 10 against one of 1000. Then, it’s time to fight (again, fighting a friendly team is just a “training fight” with one Pokemon that can help you increase the gym’s control for your team, fighting an enemy team is where you set up six Pokemons to attempt to knock them down or out). Battling itself is just a lot of tapping and swiping. Tap the screen to have your selected Pokemon perform its basic attack. When you see a “flickering” animation, it means the enemy Pokemon is about to attack and you need to swipe to get out of the way. There’s a blue meter called a Special Attack bar–once it’s filled up press down on the enemy for a few seconds to unleash the attack. Each Pokemon has a certain amount of “Hit Points (HP) and your goal is to wipe out your opponent’s HP before yours is. Your Pokemon will “faint” if defeated. In either case, you can bring your Pokemon back to fighting strength for the next time by using “Potion” and “Revive” medicine (which you collect at PokeStops).
How do I train or evolve my Pokemon to have higher CP?
Every time you catch or hatch a Pokemon, or place your Pokemon in a gym to defend it you’ll collect Stardust (which can be used for any Pokemon) and Candy (which apply to an individual “species”). You can use these to increase the CP of your Pokemon.
Come on, is this really exercise?
I’ll speak from personal experience. In the past I’d usually be too tired after work to take a walk, but I’ve gone out three times in the humid summer night. In the past I probably would have taken the subway from work to the train station a few times but decided instead to walk (Manhattan has PokeStops every couple of steps). At home there have been several times I otherwise would have driven somewhere but opted to walk instead. In the past, I always looked for the shortest walk, but now I’m encouraged to take longer roads, and I’m learning a lot about my own city and New York City at the same time. So it’s worked for me. 🙂
When will this madness end?
Well, the good news for you if you’re completely annoyed by the zombies walking around with their heads in their phones swiping monsters is that like all fads, this one will eventually quiet down, just like Farmville, Mafia Wars, Draw Something, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush normalized. But until that happens, why not just download it and enjoy it? But as you live in augmented reality, don’t forget to live in actual reality too. 🙂

iPhone and Android Fitness Games Reviews 01.07.16

Since 2009 I’ve reviewed console games that can be used for fitness and exercise on the Wii, PS3, the Wii U, and over at our sister site XboxFitness.Org for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. By most accounts, exergaming hit its peak around 2010-2011 on the Wii. Excellent games like Walk It Out, Wii Fit, Just Dance, EA Sports Active, DDR, Wii Sports and others turned the Wii from a curiosity to a bonafide platform for a new genre of games. When all was said and done, over 100 million Wiis were sold, and among them over 22 million people had purchased a Wii Fit or a Wii Fit Plus. At a retail price of over $80 (and when the Balance Board was constantly sold out, people shelled out a lot more), that was a pretty serious commitment to a lot of people to start using gaming to exercise.

Publishers started falling over themselves to churn out fitness games (most of them horrible). Microsoft and Sony scrambled to figure out motion gaming in an attempt to capture some of that “casual gaming crowd”.

And then the bottom cratered out.

What happened? A little thing called the iPhone, followed by Android, went mainstream and all of a sudden, the same “casual” gamers who had been boxing and hitting baseballs on the Wii discovered that they could fling birds, plant farms, crush candies, and waste their time in thousands of new ways that did nothing for the mind or the body.

The effect on the video game industry was swift. The Wii U will end up selling just about a tenth of the number of consoles the Wii did. “Hardcore” gamers reclaimed the console space by eschewing features that Sony and Microsoft were creating for “casual” gamers. They firmly rejected the Sony Move and when Microsoft tried to force users onto the Kinect they revolted by choosing the Playstation over the Xbox One two to one. Just last week, Microsoft threw in the towel, announcing that they were abandoning their vaunted Xbox Fitness service altogether.

Is fitness gaming on consoles dead? By no means. If you were to go on eBay and purchase an old Wii console and a number of the top Wii exercise game, you’d still have a fun and effective exergame workout system for your home gym (after all, your heart doesn’t care if you’re working out to video games from 2009 or 2016, it’ll beat just the same). But as far as new fitness games for any console to look forward to in the next few years, I think with the exception of a few scattered games on the Xbox One, you won’t be seeing many new ones. My prediction will be that the next wave of fitness games will happen with Virtual Reality–it’ll be interesting to watch whether active gaming takes off when the PSVR launches later this year.

But for now, the winner of the “casual gaming” space is clearly your iOS and Android smartphone. And thus begins a new phase for this site. I’ll still review Wii, Playstation, and Wii U workout games as they happen, but I’ll also start reviewing exergames for smartphones.

FireShot Capture 216 - 7 Minute Workout Challenge on the App_ - https___itunes.apple.com_us_app_7-As you’ve probably seen, there are hundreds and hundreds of fitness applications for smartphones. The vast majority of them are either traditional workout routines such as 7 Minute Workout Challenge or Sweat with Kayla, two excellent fitness apps which are currently the #1 fitness apps on the iTunes store.

And of course, there are the ever-popular apps tied to wearable devices, the most popular being FitBit. There are also GPS tracking apps for runners and bikers that work with a variety of devices; my personal favorite (which I use every day when I bike in NYC) is one called Strava. Runtastic is also a popular one.

All of these apps, and many more, are very well made, but they all presume one thing–that you’re already committed to exercising. Of course the goal of this blog has always been to find games that are so fun to play that you forget, don’t mind, or don’t even realize until after the fact that you’ve gotten a great workout.

A few enterprising companies have created active motion fitness games for smartphones, and some of them are downright brilliant. And so for the next few months, until we see how Virtual Reality fitness games pan out in a few months, I’ll start identifying reviewing the best of the best games for your smartphone that you can use for fitness and exercise.

Granted, there’s a fine line between a “fitness app” and a “fitness game”. So here’s how I’m going to select games to review:

  1. It needs to be a bona-fide GAME, not just a regular workout app with “gamification” features such as giving you points for distance or reps. In other words, the primary purpose should be playing the game, and exercise would just come as a secondary benefit.
  2. It needs to run on multiple OSes, typically iOS and Android. This is usually a reflection of a game’s popularity and longevity.
  3. It has to have rave reviews, both in the App Store as well as in the press.
  4. It needs to be FUN–an experience where “you have so much fun you forget you’re exercising”.

Hope you’ll join me in this new frontier! 🙂