The Pokemon Go Plus controller was one of the most anticipated arrivals of 2016, after the launch of Pokemon GO in july. And after several months of being completely sold out, this thing is finally starting to appear again in stores, and you can finally get your hands on one.
But before you do, you might want to read this post, which tells my experience with the Pokemon Go Plus, and everything that’s gone wrong with it. Read on, and think carefully before you go spending the $35 that Nintendo wants for this thing.
Update: Niantic released Pokemon Go 0.55 on January 29, 2016. According to the release notes, this update “fixes connectivity issues” for the Pokemon GO Plus on Android. We’ve installed 0.55 and are currently testing, we’ll let everyone know what we find in the next few days.
What’s a Pokemon GO Plus?
For those of you that have been living under a rock these past few months, the Pokemon GO Plus is a wireless controller for playing Pokemon GO. You pair it via bluetooth with your smartphone, and it lets your know when there’s a Pokemon or a Pokestop nearby. When that happens, you click the thing, and it tries to catch the Pokemon or spin the pokestop for you.
With the Pokemon GO Plus, at least in theory, there’s no need to have your smartphone out all the time. You can turn the screen off, put it away, and just let the Go Plus do its work. You can even lock your phone and the Go Plus unit will keep on working.
And I finally got a Pokemon GO Plus… but…
When I saw it at my local video game store, I knew I was gonna take a chance on this thing. Especially after waiting several several months for the Pokemon GO Plus to show up in my area. I’ve been playing Pokemon GO pretty consistently since the launch in july of last year, and the Pokemon GO Plus was one item I needed to try out.
And well, here I sit about a month later, half broken hearted, half hopeful, ready to tell the world my story. Hoping to save you a few headaches and frustrations.
Starting off on a positive note, stuff I like about the Pokemon GO Plus
So you don’t think that I’m here just to dump on the Pokemon GO Plus, I will tell you everything that’s right with it. Because the fact of the matter is, this thing’s incredibly well thought up. I haven’t seen a video game accessory this likeable in a long time.
The Pokemon GO Plus is very well made and when it works, it’s a lot of fun to play with. Despite being made out of plastic, it looks good enough to carry around even in your work attire. Oh believe me, I’ve gone geek all the way and done it. Put on your suit, put on your tie, and slap the Go Plus on top. Ash Ketchum eat your heart out.
It’s as small as a wristwatch, so you can wear it like one. Yeah, it’s a little on the thick side, and the knit wristband looks a little hippie-ish, but to hell with it, it’s good enough to wear.
The LED light on the unit has that apple-like faded glow, and it looks cool when it lights up. Vibration is strong enough to notice easily when you’re wearing it on your wrist, and the button is easy to hit and has a satisfying click to it.
Like I said, this thing’s really well made. If only their software was up to par with their manufacturing.
The Pokemon GO Plus’ main problem: crappy software
If you ask me to describe in one sentence all my complaints about the Pokemon GO Plus, that completely broke the deal, I’d put it in two words: crappy software.
Because it seems that someone at Niantic just didn’t do their homework when it came to ensuring the Plus is a universal and consistent experience across phones, and even on different days on the same phone.
And quite frankly, that sucks. Because these devices are supposed to be universal and consistent. If it works today, it works tomorrow. If it blinks today, it blinks tomorrow. And if it stops doing that, you know there’s something wrong. Easy.
But the Pokemon GO Plus is a consistency nightmare. It works when it feels like working. When that happens, it’s a fun and pleasing experience. But when it doesn’t, the whole thing becomes one huge frustrating, confusing, mess. You don’t know what’s wrong, and there’s no universal way to fix it. There’s 20 different solutions on the internet, some work some days, others work on other days, some days nothing works.
#1 complaint: the Pokemon GO Plus doesn’t connect
The most common complaint that you can find about the Pokemon go Plus on the internet, which is also my number one complaint, is that a whole lot of times, it refuses to connect with the app. That’s the most frustrating part: it’s the app that’s got the problem. The Pokemon GO Plus will communicate with your phone, will pair with your phone, will even let you know it’s contacted your phone… hell, Pokemon GO will even tell you there’s a Go Plus unit on your phone… and then the Pokemon GO app will become oblivious to it all and simply kick your Go Plus off.
Wanna try again? It’s a complete nightmare. Because half the time, when your Go Plus doesn’t connect with the app, the app doesn’t know how to recover. When you go to try again, you immediately get an error, and then… the app tries to connect! And you’re left not knowing what the hell just happened. Is it really trying to connect, is it just stuck in connect mode, or what? There’s no diagnostics, no status, no nothing.
And don’t even get me started on the “Need help?” screen, which pops up every 5 seconds when you’re having trouble, and takes you to Niantic’s troubleshooting page, which is pretty much useless, unless you’re one of those users that likes to turn their phone off and on repeated times in the hope it will solve the problem.
Keep trying to connect, and eventually one of two things will happen: either a holy solar beam will shine down on your phone and the Plus will connect, or the app will finish screwing up and confusing your phone so bad, that the whole Bluetooth system will die. And then, yes, by all means, you do need to do a complete reboot.
This is by far the most horrible thing about the Pokemon GO Plus. When it doesn’t want to connect, you’re bound to spend 10 or 15 minutes rebooting, restarting, and retrying. Until you finally get a connect, or give up altogether.
And there’s no solution for the Pokemon GO Plus connect problem
Niantic says reboot your phone until it works. And if that doesn’t work, unpair and pair the Go Plus until it works. Unfortunately that doesn’t work.
Scouring the internet, I’ve managed to find a wide variety of solutions. And in the process of trying to use this thing, I’ve made up a couple more.
For example there’s the solution that says you need to turn off wifi, turn off wifi scanning, turn off bluetooth scanning, step 5 feet away from your phone, and then try to connect. Have fun putting your phone on a park bench and sprinting away from it like it’s going to explode. And no, despite what they say this is not the “go to” solution. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t.
You can also invert the connect steps, and put your Plus into pair mode (press the button to flash blue) before you press connect on your phone. Sometimes that works too, but it’s not consistent enough to call a solution.
Check your internet connection? Nope. You name it, I’ve tried it. Home DSL, 2G, 3G, LTE, industrial strength fiber optic lines… nothing. Won’t solve the problem.
Battery problems? Nope. I’ve changed the battery, put in a brand new one, and even professionally load tested the batteries to see that they’ve got a full charge. Didn’t solve anything.
Sometimes if you pair your Go Plus in your phone’s bluetooth screen before opening Pokemon GO, it’ll help. And, sometimes it won’t. And sometimes if you unpair from the bluetooth screen and re-pair from inside Pokemon GO, that also works.
And, you can also nuke your Go Plus unit and factory reset it. Hold the button down for 5 seconds until the light comes on blue and stays on. Release for a moment, and then hold it down again. 5 seconds later it vibrates and the light turns off. Press again, and you get a white flash… your unit it now officially lobotomized like it just came out of the box. And well, sometimes that’ll do it, other times, nope.
One thing I can recommend, that probably helps? Turn your phone off at night. That’ll help clear any mess that Pokemon GO has made in your phone’s memory and in the bluetooth system, and will give you a better chance of success next time you try to pair the Pokemon GO Plus. And it stops your phone from transmitting bluetooth beacons, that might keep your Go Plus thinking it’s still paired.
Do you need to leave it off the entire night? No, 30 seconds or so is enough. It’s just that I personally find it more convenient to turn off the phone when I go to sleep and turn it on when I wake up the next morning. But if you turn it off for a minute and then back on, you’ll get the same cleanup effect.
Then there’s the info lag problem
There’s a issue a with lag on the Pokemon Go Plus. Simply put, information doesn’t get from your phone to the Pokemon Go Plus unit in real time. The Plus unit receives information on your whereabouts about 10 to 15 seconds later than your phone, which doesn’t make it easy for you to act, especially if you happen to be moving quickly inside of vehicle or simply running past a point of interest. On average my Go Plus unit is about fifty meters or half a block behind. Though on occasions it’s been worse… I’ve received alerts from pokestops that are 150 meters away.
If it was just a matter of the Pokemon Go Plus having a position lag, it wouldn’t be so bad. But not only does it have a position lag, but when it comes time to check your commands, it checks against your real position! Go past a stop, 50 meters later you get the alert. Fine, you press the button. And it fails, because the pokestop is too far away. So what’s the deal? Is this thing’s mission in life to just piss players off or what?
Several times, I’ve found it faster to just take out my phone and spin stops by hand at the right time, rather than waiting for the Go Plus to alert me.
Prepare to catch them all, and miss most of the time
Another problem with the Pokemon Go Plus? Your catch rate goes to hell.
With the Go Plus, you can only throw regular Pokeballs, and you can’t do curveballs. And that means that any Pokemon that needs more than a simple pokeball to get caught, gets away. And when you run out of regular pokeballs, you can’t switch the Go Plus to ultraballs or great balls. On several occasions I’ve found myself out of pokeballs, and with a stockpile of 50 or 60 great and ultraballs. And there, my Go Plus is done… I can’t catch with it until I get more regular pokeballs. How lame is it that you can have a stockpile of 300 great balls, and they’re worthless if you’re playing with a Pokemon Go Plus?
There’s no way of knowing what pokemon the Go Plus is tracking, unless it’s a pokemon you haven’t seen before in which case you get a yellow flash on the light. But for every single other pokemon that’s not new, you get the same old green flash. Get a green light, it could be a pidgey, it could be Mewtwo… no way of knowing. It might need a great ball, might need an ultraball, no way of knowing. In the end, the only real way to know is to pull out your phone every 20 seconds and see what’s around. Which pretty much defeats the whole purpose of the Pokemon Go Plus.
As you can imagine, after a good long session with the Go Plus, I usually come home to find my box full of pidgeys and rattatas. Maybe a venonat or eevee here and there, and that’s about it. Anything bigger that that, simply got away.
Really, the catch dynamic is one thing Niantic needs to redesign for the Pokemon Go Plus. Right now, buying a Go Plus is pretty much paying $35 to shoot yourself in the foot. You might as well go to your local store, get a blindfold, and play the game blindfolded. You’ll catch pretty much the same stuff, at the same rate, and it won’t cost you $35.
Worst part is, improving the catch rate isn’t rocket science. It’s a matter of programming a correction into the game that will know if you’re using a Go Plus, and up your catch rate so it’s similar to when you’re catching manually. And while they’re at it, they could put a feature to let you configure what pokeballs to use, and when to use them. Just a thought.
Pokemon Go Plus: not your solution while driving either
Many out there are hopeful that the Pokemon Go Plus will be a solution for playing the game while driving. Sorry folks, for the time being that’s not the case.
The lag problem I described above and the extremely weak catch rate pretty much kill any hope you might have of driving with this thing. If you’re driving in dense traffic at very low speeds, yeah, it might work. But if you’re cruising at city speed, forget about it. Most alerts will probably come in when you’re way past the point of interest, and you’ll just get an error light and a wasted pokeball.
Same thing if you’re riding a bike. Pedal slowly, you’ll get some results. But anything above a running speed will send you into no catch land.
Of course it’s way better to use a Go Plus than to be spinning stops and catching pokemon by hand while you’re driving. If you’re one of those people that’s actually playing with their phone while driving, by all means, get a Pokemon Go Plus.
The battery indicator is weird on this thing
The unit will detect when your battery is low, and alert you via a little battery icon on your screen. So far I’ve seen the indicator about 3 times, and all those times, it turned out to be a false alarm. Seems the internal battery level circuit in the Pokemon Go Plus unit isn’t that precise, or the game is simply not able to read the signals right. I’ve seen several users on the internet complaining that playing in cold temperatures will get you a false battery alarm. Wouldn’t surprise me, though my false alarms have come in warmer weather.
Your Pokemon Go Plus is probably defective!
Well, no. I already tried another PoGo+ unit, and it did the same thing. And when it works, it works great, like I said. I’ve played for hours on end without a hitch, and then all of a sudden, the game messes up the connection. No, I don’t think it’s a hardware issue, the software just needs work.
So, the final veredict on the Pokemon GO Plus?
If you asked me today what my recommendation on the Pokemon GO Plus is, I’d say, skip it. I give it a 6 out of 10 score. The user experience with the Pokemon Go Plus is terrible, it’s a pain when it misbehaves, and it really doesn’t add a whole lot of value to your gameplay experience. You’re probably better off just catching pokemon the old fashioned way: on your screen.
Sure, Niantic might have something planned in 2017 for the Go Plus, and they might actually fix some of the stuff that’s awful about it. But in that case, wait until they do before you shell out $35.
Not to mention that if some of the problems actually have to do with a poor hardware design, by waiting you’re bettering your chance of getting a next generation Pokemon GO Plus, that will have upgraded, less buggy, hardware.