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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.

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