Pokémon Go fever might have died down of late, but we’ve only just seen the release of the Pokémon Go Plus wearable.
The Bluetooth device, which can be hooked onto a belt or worn as a bracelet, allows you to play a more limited version of Pokémon Go without having to keep the app open on your phone.
But how exactly does the wearable work? Is it better than using the app itself? And is it good enough to revive a craze that many believe is now past its prime?
Price and release date
The Pokémon Go Plus is priced at $34.99 (£34.99 / AU$49.95) and is out now worldwide.
The best place to buy the wearable at the moment is from your region’s Official Nintendo Store, since there are a lot of resellers on sites such as Amazon charging almost double the recommended retail price of the device.
The wearable itself is surprisingly big, measuring 33mm wide by almost 44mm long. Out of the box the device is set up with a small clip to allow it to be hooked onto a shirt pocket or belt.
If you want to use it with the band featured in the promotional shots you’ll have to unscrew the back clip and screw on the band-equipped back. This is the same way you get access to the device’s battery, which shouldn’t need replacing too often thanks to the low-power Bluetooth protocol the device uses.
In the center of the wearable’s face is the device’s sole button, which doubles as an indicator light.
The process of pairing your Plus to your phone is fairly easy.
Once you’ve made sure the app has been updated to its latest Plus-supporting version, turn on your phone’s Bluetooth and simply go into the app’s settings to find the Pokémon Go Plus menu.
Once here press the button on the device itself to put it in pairing mode, and then select it from the game’s menu.
After this point a small Pokémon Go Plus wearable logo appears on the game’s main screen, and you can pair and unpair the device by simply pressing this logo and then pressing the button on the device.
It’s a well thought out process, and meant that we were able to quickly get the device paired when we wanted to pop out for a quick Poké-stroll.
How it works
Using the Pokémon Go Plus wearable you can do most of what’s possible in the app, but not everything.
You can activate Pokéstops and catch Pokémon you’ve already caught previously, but you won’t be able to battle at gyms or catch new Pokémon. You know what the device is doing by the color of its light.
Blue flashes tell you you’re near a Pokéstop and green tell you there’s a Pokémon available to catch.
You then press the flashing button to interact with the object in your environment, and the device will flash to tell you if you’ve been successful or not.
When catching a Pokémon the light will flash white three times before either doing a multi-colored flash to indicate success or flashing red to indicate failure.
If you want to see what you’ve actually been doing in the game you can check your journal, or alternatively your phone will display a notification after each event, telling you what you’ve gotten from a Pokéstop, or which Pokémon you either have or have not managed to catch.
It would be nice if you could put the device in some kind of distance-tracking-only mode to let you work on hatching eggs without being bothered by other notifications, but the device is very much a one-mode-only wearable.
Usefulness compared to phone
The usefulness of the Pokémon Go Plus depends entirely on what you’re trying to achieve in the game.
If you’re going on the hunt for new Pokémon, then the device won’t offer you much help. It doesn’t let you catch new Pokémon, and there’s no way of checking which Pokémon are nearby (but then again the nearby tracking functionality still hasn’t been fixed in the game anyway).
Likewise if you’re looking to battle at gyms then the Plus won’t help you out because that’s functionality that you can only access through the app itself.
But where the device works very well is if you’re farming Pokémon for candy in order to fuel evolutions and to power them up.
You can catch Pokémon much more quickly and easily than by using the app, and there’s something really satisfying about finishing a walk and then sorting through all the Pokémon you’ve caught.
The Plus wearable is also really helpful if you’re working on getting eggs hatched. It’s really easy to rack up the kilometers if you don’t have to constantly have the app open on your phone.
It’s worth noting that the wearable doesn’t contain a GPS tracker of its own, and so problems with distance tracking within the app unfortunately remain when using the Plus.
With the low power Bluetooth protocol used by the device, it’s lithium watch battery should last a significant amount of time.
But we’re more interested in how the Plus reduces the app’s strain on the phone’s battery life. The app’s combination of GPS tracking and 3D graphics meant that an external battery pack was an essential part of any Pokémon trainer’s arsenal.
These problems are not completely solved by the Plus. The phone still has to use its own GPS, and additionally has to communicate with the device over Bluetooth.
But the most battery-intensive part of any phone is the screen, and by using the Plus wearable you can avoid having to use the phone’s screen at all while you play.
So while your battery life will still be impacted by playing Pokémon Go, it shouldn’t be nearly as bad when using the wearable.
One of the biggest problems with Pokémon Go at the moment is the grind. You have to catch dozens and dozens of Pokémon in order to acquire enough candies to evolve them into something new.
The Pokémon Go Plus works fantastically at reducing this grind. You can put it on before going for a walk and pay it minimal attention.
It also makes the game a lot less frustrating to play. You only discover when Pokémon have run away when you look at your phone at the end of a walk, and this lessens the frustration of missing out on a catch.
It doesn’t completely solve the game’s problems. Tracking down new Pokémon isn’t possible with the wearable, and the game’s gym mechanic’s still feel half-baked.
But if you’re someone that continues to open up the app whenever you go on a walk just to collect a few more candies and hatch a few eggs then the Plus makes the experience a lot less frustrating.