Pokemon GO Plus Review

Fashion meets function meets Pikachu

Pokemon GO Plus
Jim Squires

Announced long before the release of Pokemon GO, the Pokemon GO Plus device promises players a way of enriching their in-game experience by wearing an out-of-the-game peripheral. Worn as a bracelet or clipped on to clothing, Pokemon GO Plus alerts players to nearby Pokemon and Pokestops through vibrations and lights. 

And, if you're a fan of Pokemon GO, it's might just be a worthwhile purchase (despite some rather notable flaws).

Struggling Setup

As simple as a device like Pokemon GO Plus is, getting it initially set up is more difficult than you might expect. Once you open the package and pull the battery tab (simple stuff), the included instructions advise you to select it from your Pokemon GO Settings to pair the device. If you've ever connected a Bluetooth device to your phone before, this may feel like a needless extra step. And then, when you open the Pokemon GO app and don't immediately find the settings option, you'll just as likely think you've done something wrong. (At the very least, this was my experience).

But no, you don't need to go to the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone, nor do you need to access the app settings from your general iPhone Settings menu. If you're having as much trouble with this initial step as I did, here's the solution: open the app, click the Pokeball icon at the bottom center of your screen, and then in the very top right of the new screen that pops up you will find a Settings option.

Click this, and tap on the Pokemon GO Plus option. From here, make sure you tap the button on your Pokemon GO Plus unit, and it should appear as an available device. Select that, and you should be all hooked up.

The Fashion Question

In my experience, it seems that users are primarily wearing their Pokemon GO Plus units as a bracelet, but the device can also be worn using a clip.

In fact, the unit ships with the clip attached and requires a little more elbow grease than you might expect to convert it for wrist wear. If you plan to wear it in lieu of a watch (or possibly on the opposite wrist from your snazzy and futuristic Apple Watch), you're going to need a fairly small Phillips screwdriver. You will use this to remove the battery cover, and then place the rest of the device on the base for the bracelet (which will also require a little screwing). 

On the upside, the little screws are permanently affixed to pieces of both the battery cover and bracelet, which means you won't accidentally lose them when fiddling to get things switched out. Still, I was more than a little surprised to see that the Pokemon GO Plus relied on something as extraneous as a screwdriver when it could have accomplished the same adaptability through any number of simpler, more user-friendly means.

Once you have it in bracelet form (assuming this is what you prefer), you may have some difficulty getting it onto your wrist. While children should be fine, thick-wristed adults will have a challenge in wearing Pokemon GO Plus. While the band itself is large enough to accommodate the wrist of a large male, the bracelet does not unclasp, meaning you'll need to squeeze your whole fist through the opening before it reaches its destination.

 

This was easier said than done in my case, but I eventually managed to get it where it belongs. Once worn, the device was comfortable and -- more importantly -- very easy to feel the needed vibration through. At the end of the day, that's really what this is all about.

Catch'em All in Style

When it comes to usefulness, Pokemon GO Plus is an absolute blessing for Pokemon GO users. The device will vibrate and display a color on its button whenever an action is possible. When there's a Pokemon nearby to catch, your device will buzz and flash green. If it's a Pokemon you've never caught, it will buzz and flash yellow.

And if there's a Pokestop nearby that you can collect from, it will buzz and flash blue.

Whenever you get a buzzing notification, just press the button on your Pokemon GO Plus to initiate an action (attempting a catch, or grabbing items from the Stop). If you're successful, you'll see a rainbow of colors on your device. If you fail, you're greeted with a somber red alerting you to your missed attempt.

This leads to something you might be surprised to discover you wanted in Pokemon GO: grinding. Without obsessing over the game, you'll be able to catch dozens of Pokemon in your everyday life. My GO Plus has vibrated nearly 20 times since I began writing this review. While exuding zero effort beyond touching my wrist, I managed to level up my Trainer on today's walk to my office. Pokemon GO Plus turns Pokemon GO into a more passive experience, which is exactly what you want it to be sometimes -- something that's just there, but progressing, and that you're peripherally aware of without really needing to engage.

In addition to the convenience of just tapping your wrist to play (and it is really convenient), Pokemon GO Plus allows for something that players have been clambering for since launch: the ability to play without leaving the app open on your device. The game's original play style proved to be a serious drain on an iPhone's battery, but with Pokemon GO Plus, there's nary an issue.

But not everything is sunshine and Magikarps...

Like Pokemon GO itself, there are some curious design choices that make the integration of Pokemon GO Plus feel like it was a bit rushed out the door.

It seems that, because of the one-touch nature of the device, certain sacrifices that were made to keep the experience as simple as possible.

You can't switch between Pokeballs, for example, meaning you're stuck using the standard Pokeball unless you want to open the app. Likewise, you can't know if you're dealing with a common Pidgey or Rattata, or something much rarer that you're desperate to nab for candy. While the device is great for grinding, this means that there's a chance you could miss out on a special capture because you weren't using a Razz Berry or an Ultra Ball.

And while decisions like that might be forgivable, there are some that feel less so. If you've gone for a 30-minute walk and capture a half dozen Pokemon on your Pokemon GO Plus, it would only make sense that you'd get a summary of your Plus actions the next time you open the app. But that doesn't happen. If you want to know what you've accomplished recently, you'll need to manually view all of your Pokemon and sort by "recent." 

Even weirder, it seems like Pokemon GO is equipped to display this information if it wanted to because if you leave the app open while playing with your GO Plus, it will inform you of what you've caught. 

Your Pokemon GO Plus is fast asleep

You might also be surprised to find that your Plus device has stopped working on its own; not because of hardware failure, but by design. After some time has passed, you'll receive a push notification advising that "Your Pokemon GO Plus session has ended," and that you'll need to open the app and touch the Pokemon GO Plus icon to kick things off again.

There's no way to turn this off or adjust how long a "session" can last, meaning that if you don't notice the notification, you could be walking for ages without knowing that Pokemon GO Plus has turned itself off.

No reason has been given for this, but it's likely a way to help players converse their battery. And since Pokemon GO Plus isn't a device with a rechargeable battery (a very weird choice in 2016, but not terribly surprising from Nintendo), I suppose that's something to be thankful for rather than griping about. But what can I say? I'm a born griper.

Other concerns, such as the lack of a feature to let you know about nearby Gyms, the fact that it keeps notifying of Pokestops when your bag is full, or the difficulty you'll have seeing the colors that display when you're in the sunlight, further serve to dampen an otherwise interesting physical-to-digital experience.

Should You Buy It?

Pokemon GO Plus is a weird device to recommend. You'd think it would only be a fit for hardcore Pokemon GO players, but as someone whose feelings were lukewarm on the game, I find that it has really improved the experience for me.

That said, it's fairly limited in function, suffers from a similar amount of frustration during its initial setup as Pokemon GO does for first-time players, and isn't by any means without problems.

Should you buy Pokemon GO Plus? If you have some fondness for the game and wish it could be better, then yes. Just be prepared to get some strange looks from the neighbors as you walk the streets with a big plastic pokeball tied to your arm.

Pokemon GO Plus is now available at major retailers with an MSRP of $34.99. For more information on, you can visit the official website at PokemonGO.comPokemon GO is available as a free download from the App Store. It is also available on Android for free from Google Play.