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Nintendo Pokemon Go Plus review: This monster-catching button makes you less of a Pokemon zombie

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You're addicted.

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6.5

Nintendo Pokemon Go Plus

The Good

The Pokemon Go Plus turns some of the most monotonous parts of Pokemon Go into simple button presses. Saves phone battery. Discreet, easy-to-identify vibration patterns let you play without others noticing.

The Bad

Loses connection often, and has to be manually reconnected. Doesn't make Pokemon Go a better game. Chunky plastic design leaves something to be desired.

The Bottom Line

The Pokemon Go Plus might seem like an expensive accessory for a free app, but it can make Pokemon Go addiction symptoms more bearable.

If you're seriously thinking about buying a Pokemon Go Plus, there are few other explanations.

It's a $35, £35 or AU$50 wearable pin that quietly alerts you to nearby Pokemon -- that way, you don't need to pull out your phone to play the uber-popular Pokemon Go game.

Like with the slot machine at a Vegas casino, all you're doing is repeatedly pushing that single button to capture Pokemon, collect items and advance in the game. Push, push, push.

Thing is, if you're a Pokemon Go addict, you like it that way.

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Watch this: What you look like playing Pokemon Go

What's a Pokemon Go addict?

Pokemon Go is not what it seems. While it might look like a cute pet simulator at first blush, you can't meaningfully advance in the game without harvesting every creature in your path. And the game is programmed specifically not to let you do that unless your phone is on, GPS is active, screen is on, locked to the game at all times. (You can't even answer an email without losing progress.)

It's easy to spot a Pokemon Go addict: They're the zombies with heads buried in phones with Pokemon Go always visible on the screen. Or telling other addicts how their phone's fully charged battery died at 2 p.m. because they couldn't stop playing.

The Pokemon Go Plus lets you pay to fix this broken state of affairs.

Updated October 21.

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The Pokemon Go Plus neatly clips onto a lapel. It's a little chunky, though.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The basics

  • Pay $35, £35 or AU$50 assuming you can find one in stock. (Most stores sold out on Day 1.)
  • Admire the plastic pin you'll find in the box. (Yes, it IS a cross between a Google Maps pin and a Pokeball, and it's reasonably well built.)
  • Yank out the battery tape. (There's a standard CR2032 button battery inside that should last 100 days, according to Nintendo -- but we only saw a month. In the US, replacements sell for $4 on Amazon for a pack of 10.)
    Enlarge Image

    How to hard-reset the Pokemon Go Plus if anything goes wrong.

    via r/PokemonGo
  • Pin it to your person (it's pretty OK at hanging onto pockets and lapels, but it could definitely fall off thin jeans), or unscrew the back cover if you'd rather attach it to the included, kinda blah, wristband instead.
  • Fire up the Pokemon Go app on your Android or iOS phone, then navigate to Settings > Pokemon Go Plus.
  • Tap the button on top of the pin, and the Pokemon Go Plus should magically appear on your phone's screen. Tap it there to finish pairing.
  • If you have any trouble, hold down the Pokemon Go Plus button until it turns blue, then immediately hold again until it vibrates to perform a hard reset.

With those steps out of the way, you should now be able to play most of Pokemon Go just by pressing that button, whenever it lights up. You can leave your phone in your pocket, purse or backpack without fear -- or even use it for other things while you play.

There's a slight learning curve to understanding what the pin's light and vibrations are trying to tell you, but you'll pick it up pretty fast. Plus, here's a cheat sheet:

Pokemon Go Plus decoder ring

When?Color?Vibration?What it means
Anytime GreenBuzz x6A wild Pokemon appears!
false BlueBlip blip x6PokeStop nearby!
false YellowUnknown*There's a Pokemon you haven't caught
false RedBlip blip blip x3Phone out of range
false RedBuzz x1No internet connection
After pressing Green WhiteBuzz x3You're about to catch a Pokemon...
false RedBuzz x1Your Pokemon storage is full
false RedBlip x3You're out of Pokeballs
After Green and White RainbowBuzz x5You caught the Pokemon!
false RedBlip x3The Pokemon ran away
After pressing Blue RainbowBlip x3You got items from the PokeStop!
false RedBuzz x1PokeStop is out of range
false WhiteBuzz x1Your item bag is full
After pressing with no light No lightBlip x1Pokemon Go Plus connected
false Blue blinkNo vibrationPokemon Go Plus disconnected
false White blinkNo vibrationPokemon Go Plus ready to pair
false No lightNo vibrationReplace battery

*We're not sure which vibration pattern goes with this one.

It does the job pretty well! Until it doesn't.

A fatal flaw?

You might reasonably assume that once you pair the Pokemon Go Plus with your phone, you're set. You might assume you'll just attach this Pokemon-tracking wearable to your body and never miss a Pokemon or PokeStop again.

You'd be wrong. While most Bluetooth devices stay connected when you pair them, and automatically reconnect whenever they're in range, the Pokemon Go Plus doesn't.

I've gone hours without realizing the device had shut itself off, and I've had to manually pair it again more than a dozen times a day. It'll shut off even if you've been tapping the button religiously every time it buzzes. (It'll also shut off instantly if you try to capture a Pokemon with your phone instead of pressing the button.)

Nintendo and Pokemon Go developer Niantic never replied to emails about the issue, though a Nintendo technical support rep told me that "There are known Bluetooth stability issues with the Samsung S7 under the latest Android OS," and gave me a page full of non-user-friendly steps I could try while the company works on a patch.

Update, October 21: Plus, the battery life isn't as good as we'd hoped. The Plus lasted us 32 days on its replaceable button battery, not 100. Good thing replacement CR2032 cells are cheap online.

Pokemon Go Plus keeps you catching them all without pulling out a phone

See all photos

A short list of things the Pokemon Go Plus is surprisingly good for

  • Catching common Pokemon quickly (that Pidgey isn't worth more than one tap)
  • Activating PokeStops to collect items (you'll fill up on Pokeballs and potions effortlessly)
  • Hatching eggs (the Pokemon Go Plus somehow makes step tracking way more accurate, unlocking those eggs notably faster)
  • Obtaining candy for your Buddy Pokemon (the improved step-tracking helps here too)
  • Playing discreetly (the Plus vibrates in easy-to-recognize patterns, so it doesn't need to be visible)
  • Playing Pokemon Go on a bike or in a slow-moving (yay for fewer accidents because you can keep your eyes on the road)
  • Multitasking in Pokemon Go (you can keep catching while you clear out your stash)
  • Keeping your phone's battery from dying before dinner (I played for 42 minutes straight without consuming a single percent of an iPhone 6S battery. That same run without Pokemon Go Plus consumed 16 percent.)
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Sarah Tew/CNET

A short list of things the Pokemon Go Plus won't help with

  • Catching rare Pokemon (the Plus only uses standard Pokeballs, which aren't great at catching things, and Pokemon immediately run away if the Plus fails a throw)
  • Playing on a train or in a fast-moving car (the Plus will buzz, but it's not fast enough to catch them)
  • Playing when you're out of standard Pokeballs (the Plus will keep on buzzing like mad every time it finds a Pokemon, even if you don't have the balls to catch it)
  • Finding Pokeballs when you're all out (the Plus always prioritizes Pokemon over PokeStops, infuriatingly showing you Pokemon you can't catch instead of giving you the items you need)
  • Battling at gyms
  • Kicking your Pokemon Go habit

Update, October 21: Niantic has patched the game so that you can choose to ignore either Pokemon or PokeStops when using the Pokemon Go Plus. That might help save battery life, as well as avoid a couple of the above issues.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Verdict: Maybe

Personally, I stopped playing Pokemon Go weeks ago, and the pin doesn't make the game feel fresh enough to meaningfully tempt me back. Even if I could keep it paired.

But if you're an unrepentant Pokemon Go addict...go for it. Time is money, and the amount of time you'll save with the Pokemon Go Plus has got to be worth $35. Plus, you'll have a greatly-reduced chance of running someone over with a motor vehicle.

Just remember that Pokemon Go is coming to smartwatches starting later this year.

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6.5

Nintendo Pokemon Go Plus

Score Breakdown

Style 6Features 7Ease of use 6