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What We Learned Playing With The Pokémon Go Plus

by Kevin Slackie on Oct 03, 2016 at 11:10 AM

Pokémon Go remains one of the top-grossing downloads in the iOS App Store months after its initial release. What started as a fun distraction based on nostalgia turned into a crazy summer of meeting complete strangers and catching monsters. While the app is freely accessible to everyone with a smartphone, the Pokémon Go Plus sold out within hours, making it much harder to come by. This companion device has quickly become one of the most sought-after fall accessories.

The Pokémon Go Plus is an optional accessory for Pokémon Go that connects to your phone using Bluetooth. Once it's set up, the button on the device lights up and the unit vibrates to let the player know if there's anything of interest nearby. These notifications vary: green for Pokémon, blue for PokéStops, and red for failure to capture one of those adorable creatures. Success is celebrated with a rainbow strobe. When I first opened the Go Plus I was worried it would be easy to lose because it's so small, but the clip on the back has proven to be resilient. After putting the device through its paces I feel like I can judge its merits and faults. How useful the Go Plus is varies wildly depending on your playstyle, particularly if gyms are a major part of your Pokémon Go enjoyment.

Pro: Steps Count For Hatching Eggs Or Buddy Candy Without App Open
One of the clear benefits of the Go Plus is that steps count whether you have the app running in the background or not. While arguably this should be a feature in the app itself, it's undeniable how convenient it is. Hatching eggs is particularly easy with the Go Plus, along with getting buddy candy. With the Go Plus, it's far more efficient and feels less like you have to babysit your phone. Before the Go Plus, I would struggle to hatch a few eggs a week. Now, I incubate so many I hardly notice when they're close to finished, which makes it unfortunate that the device doesn't notify you when they're done.

Con: Less Interactivity Overall
There's no way to fight at gyms while using the Go Plus and catching Pokémon is limited to the most basic Pokéball available. Other items, like Razz Berries, can't be used either, which really hits home as you scroll through your journal to see which Pokémon have run away. You also won't receive extra experience points from curveballs or excellent throws, though new Pokémon encountered can still be caught to earn that bonus. You might be willing to put up with this while you can only catch Generation I, but you probably won't want to rely on the Go Plus once there's an abundance of new Pokémon to catch.

Pro: Battery Life Doesn't Drain As Quickly
Bluetooth still drains the battery faster than normal cell phone use, but it doesn't begin to compare to having the screen on any time you want to check for nearby Pokémon. Playing Pokémon Go for an extended period of time used to demand an external battery, but I've found those same play sessions far less draining with the Go Plus. On average, a half-hour play session would drain 30 percent or more of my battery, whereas with the Plus it's down to 10 percent.

Con: Go Plus Requires A Specialty Screwdriver
Needing a tiny screwdriver wouldn't be a big deal if it was included or if it wasn't required to switch between the clip battery cover and the bracelet. While the tool isn't expensive, it isn't a size most hardware stores carry in abundance. Luckily the screw is the same size as that on the 3DS battery cover, so you can buy the screwdriver fairly cheap at most aftermarket hardware sites.

Pro: It's Easy To Catch Pokémon And Activate Stops
Almost every action in Pokémon Go is accessible with the Go Plus, with various lights to differentiate between them. These notifications are accompanied by unique vibration patterns so you don't need to look at the device to get the message. These alerts even imitate the Pokéball shaking as the game determines whether the creature was caught. It also doesn't just catch common Pokémon, as I've captured less common ones like Tauros and Jynx. Since I don't have to look at my phone each time I want to catch something, I'm able to play Pokémon  Go in places I wouldn't have before (like when I'm at work trying to write an article about Pokémon Go). Not having to look at the screen for every interaction has made hunting with people who don't play feel less rude. The times where I pushed the button without thinking about it has made the device feel as essential to my trainer toolbox as an external battery used to be.

Con: It Doesn't Prioritize Which Pokémon To Catch
The Go Plus bases which action to take on the objects' proximity to you. Pokémon and PokéStops both have the same priority, but that's where the issues begin. All those Pidgeys and Rattatas biting at your ankles are just as important to the Go Plus as a wild Dragonite. This wouldn't be a problem if the device allowed for more than one capture attempt per Pokémon. This is most noticeable with evolved forms as they usually require more finesse to catch. I also can't shake the nagging feeling that I have better judgment when managing my precious Pokéballs.

Final Verdict
While many of the features of the Go Plus should be standard within the app itself, its convenience can't be denied. My Pokémon Go experience improved significantly with the device the longer I played. Battery life has been an issue with Pokémon Go since day one, so to have something alleviate that a bit is a relief in itself. I wouldn't trust the Go Plus when it comes to catching Pokémon I desperately want (give me all the Gastly), but it's incredibly useful for farming common Pokémon. The user interface definitely has some catching up to do before it feels like the device is more than just an afterthought, but the game is getting there. While I wouldn't suggest grabbing it at the crazy secondhand market prices it currently sits at (up to $200 as of this writing), it seems to be extremely useful for casual hunting on the go.