While some folks spent their morning waiting in line for the latest Apple product, yours truly was waiting for something a little more wallet-friendly. Today, Nintendo launched the long awaited Pokemon Go Plus, a companion accessory for the smash hit mobile titles from Niantic and The Pokemon Company.
Since there was virtually no info provided ahead of the launch, most people are scratching their heads wondering how the little device actually works and whether or not it’s worth the money (providing you can find one once they come back in stock). Don’t worry. We’ve spent the better half of the afternoon playing around with it, so let’s dive in.
What is the Pokemon Go Plus?
The basic summary is that the Pokemon Go Plus (PGP) connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and allows you to continue playing Pokemon Go even while your smartphone is sleeping (screen off) or you’re inside other apps. The expanded functionality gives you the freedom to continue playing the game discretely or during times you normally wouldn’t be.
Whether you’re at work, driving around town, watching a TV show, you can still interact with the game — hatching eggs, gaining Buddy candies, hitting PokeStops or catching Pokemon — without giving it your full undivided attention. It’s a level of convenience the game doesn’t let you do normally, not without this new accessory.
While these self-imposed restrictions seemed odd at first, they suddenly became clear with the release of this little device. There’s no good reason this type of functionality wasn’t already made available in the game from the start (rich notifications or allowing the app to run in the background, for instance).
It’s because of this, some want to avoid the product (and the game) altogether, calling it little more than a cash grab. While that’s mostly true, fans of the game will find the expanded functionality simply too good to pass up.
As a fun bonus, the Go Plus can be used as a “trusted device” — a core Android feature — keeping your Android device unlocked when it’s connected.
What it isn’t
The Pokemon Go Plus isn’t meant to replace the primary way you play the game — it’s only meant to supplement it. It’s not exactly “smart,” so there’s no way to tell the Go Plus to use specific Poke Balls or only notify you of specific Pokemon (maybe in a future update?).
There’s also isn’t GPS in the device itself, which means you’ll still have to keep your phone nearby and juiced up (since it still needs to know your current location).
The Pokemon Go Plus isn’t rechargeable, which means you’ll have to crack open the thing to replace the battery (Nintendo says it should last about 100 days depending on use).
The Pokemon Go Plus isn’t waterproof, or even water resistant for that matter. So you’ll want to keep this thing as dry as possible. No showers, no swimming, you’ll even want to be extra careful when washing your hands.
The Go Plus also only pairs with one device at a time, so if you’re looking to use it on multiple devices, you’ll have to activate the unpairing function on the Go Plus before it can be paired with another. This was a big headache and gave us some problems when trying to pair with a new device.
How it works
When you’re in range of either a Pokemon or PokeStop, the Go Plus will vibrate and glow different colors based on what’s being detected. There are a variety of colors and vibration patterns meant to tell the player what’s going on. Here’s what the colors mean:
- Green: a Pokemon you’ve encountered before has been detected
- Yellow: a Pokemon you’ve never encountered has been detected (in which case you should probably open the app and catch manually)
- Blue: a PokeStop has been detected
- Red: The Pokemon got away, or PokeStop is out of range
- Multi-colors: SUCCESS!
When attempting to catch a Pokemon, the Plus will only use regular balls. If you’re all out, then you’re out of luck (even if you have 500 Great Balls laying around). You basically only get 1 throw to catch a Pokemon. If it misses, the Pokemon flees. Of course, individual capture rates play a part in this and if the stakes sound too high, well, you’re welcome to open the app and catch them the old fashioned way.
An ongoing notification shows you the most recent activity and let’s you know that the Go Plus is active. Remember, even if the app isn’t open, it’s still using your location in the background and eating up battery. It’s nowhere near as bad as when you’re playing the game since there’s no 3D graphics to render or screen to light up, so there’s that.
Periodically, you’ll want to check your Journal (or recent Pokemon) to see what the Plus caught throughout the day. Just be careful — there’s nothing more soul crushing than finding out a Lapris or Dragonite was narrowly missed.
Should you buy it?
At $35, the PoGo Plus is priced well enough that just about anyone can afford it, but that doesn’t mean it’s an impulse buy. Hardcore players will have no problem forking over the money for one — or even multiple units — for the entire family. It’s these users who have likely already spent well over this in in-app purchases already.
For those new to the game, the Plus helps keep your item bag full and stocked, but you’ll still want to open the game and catch most Pokemon manually. For those who already have a full (or close to full) Pokedex, the Plus allows you to stock up on Stardust by catching common Pokemon by the droves, something that by now has grown tedious. When it comes to hatching eggs or finding Buddy candies, the Go Plus ensures the app is always logging your distance, something everyone is sure to appreciate.
Again, the Plus isn’t meant to take over the primary way of playing Pokemon Go, but add a level of convenience that’s (intentionally) lacking from the game. Sure it could be considered a glorified in-app purchase since it only unlocks functionality that should have been there from the start, but it is what it is. The real value of that convenience depends on your level of dedication and for the truly dedicated Go players — those who are in this for the long haul — it will be money well-spent.
UPDATE: After using the Go Plus for the better part of a week now, I’ve been experiencing some pretty concerning issues with it. Even after a recent update to the app was supposed to address connectivity issues, the Go Plus is still incredibly buggy, dropping connection without warning on the multiple Android devices we’ve paired it with. I’ve tested this with 3 different Go Plus units and the problem persisted.
It seems that after an hour or so, the device will vibrate/blink red, letting you know the connection with the game has been lost (not the actual Bluetooth connection with your phone). We’re not sure why it does this, but on iOS there’s a notification stating the session has ended. It sounds like this could be a battery saving measure in case you forgot about the Go Plus running in the background and even though it doesn’t notify you of new Pokemon/PokeStops, the app does continue running in the background allowing you hatch eggs or gain Buddy candies.
It also disconnects whenever you open the app and attempt to manually catch Pokemon or battle a gym, forcing to you manually reconnect after each and every battle. This is a smaller nuisance (since you’re already inside the app), but still odd that it doesn’t just reestablish a connection on its own.
I still feel the device is worth the $35 — depending on the level of your PoGO addiction — but if you were hoping for an easy, breezy, carefree experience with the Go Plus — think again. I suppose it’s normal considering the game was far from bug-free at launch, but I really didn’t expect to have to babysit the Go Plus so much while in use. Lame.