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Archive for September, 2016

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

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

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.