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Pokémon Go Plus: a huge advantage for some, a huge pain for others

Niantic’s peripheral makes Pokémon Go much easier, if you can actually get it to work

Russ Frushtick/Polygon
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

While the Pokémon Go phenomenon is not raging as intensely as it once did, it’s still part of my daily routine. That routine once included lugging a mobile battery charger and cable to ensure that the game’s notorious battery-sapping abilities didn’t leave me sans phone for half a day. But over the last few days, that bulky battery has been replaced by a red and white device about the size of five quarters stacked: The Pokémon Go Plus is finally available, and it’s literally a game-changer.

Sold for $35, the Pokémon Go Plus syncs with your phone over Bluetooth. Once linked, the device will vibrate and light up when passing a PokéStop or wild pocket monster. Tapping a button on the Plus lets you collect the contents of the PokéStop or take a random stab at catching the possible Pidgey with a standard Poké Ball. Unlike Pokémon Go itself, the Pokémon Go Plus allows you to play the game while your phone is locked or while you’re using another app. It will also track your steps (seemingly more generously than keeping the app open), which is useful for hatching eggs and collecting candy from your buddy.

On the island of Manhattan, which is swarmed on every block with PokéStops and wild Pokémon, the Plus has been buzzing almost nonstop. But unlike the cumbersome process of pulling out your phone, opening the app and nearly walking head-first into a shawarma stand, using the Plus seamlessly integrates into your commute or walk to lunch. Just tap and go. Sure, you might miss a Snorlax nearby, but those random stops and low-level ’mons you would normally not bother with are now all collected with ease.

After walking around the city for an hour, exclusively using the Plus without looking at my phone, I had hatched an egg, earned about 15,000 experience and filled my inventory with more Poké Balls than I could possibly need. I had used just a quarter of my phone’s battery life.

Of course, there’s a flip side: Am I even playing the game at this point? There’s something satisfying about pushing a button when I’m told, Desmond Hume-style, but it’s not exactly engaging. The more interesting aspects of Pokémon Go, like fighting in gyms or catching high-level rares (you can't use Great or Ultra balls with the Plus), are beyond the capabilities of the device.

Also beyond its capabilities: working with a wide range of devices and carriers. While my experience with the device on my iPhone 6 via AT&T was flawless, Polygon reporter Allegra Frank spent multiple days trying to get her new Samsung Galaxy S7 to pair with the device, with little to no success. My wife, who has the same phone as me but is on Sprint, was entirely unable to pair her iPhone 6 to the Plus.

Much like the launch of Pokémon Go, it seems the launch of the Plus has hit some bumps. But for those lucky few who are able to nab a Plus and actually have it work for them, the road to the Elite Four just got a little bit less daunting.

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