Last week, Fallout 4 shipped to countless eagerly awaiting fans. Numerous gamers also received the coveted Fallout 4 Pip-Boy (as part of the Pip-Boy Edition), which is an accessory that enhances the second-screen gameplay experience on your smartphone (and is somewhat similar to games on Nintendo's Wii U). Although the Pip-Boy Edition sold out quickly, and is undoubtedly a neat collectible, it may not be as useful as you might think.
Quality And Design
The Pip-Boy's body is made up mostly of hard plastic, with few exceptions. There are two LED lights, one on top of the Pip-Boy, and one on the front that doubles as a power button. The section that surrounds your arm is thickly padded with rubber and contains a Velcro strap for latching the Pip-Boy on, while a metal locking mechanism holds the shell closed once you have it securely strapped on. There is also an internal metal-hinged compartment where you place your smartphone.
Slightly above the locking mechanism is a sliding button that opens up the Pip-Boy's smartphone compartment. There is also a replaceable watch battery inside of this compartment that powers the LED lights.
The Pip-Boy isn't uncomfortable to wear, but it can be a tad bothersome at times, as it will often dig into your hands if you move them too much. I would consider this a problem, but because most people are going to be sitting in a chair, holding a game controller, or typing on a keyboard and keeping their hands relatively straight, it shouldn't bother most users.
The size of the Pip-Boy is a bit of an issue, however, as even with the straps on, it will slide quite a bit unless you have rather large arms. The Pip-Boy is so large that I can nearly fit my fist all the way through it, and I probably would be able to if not for the strap inside. This forces you to constantly try to readjust the Pip-Boy, and you have to keep tightening the straps to the point of nearly cutting off the circulation in your arm.
Although I understand the desire to want to make the Pip-Boy a one-size-fits-all device, Bethesda probably could have done something to make the Pip-Boy more comfortable for users with smaller arms. The rubber padding inside is removable, and it seems like it would have been helpful for Bethesda to supply larger rubber inserts to help hold the Pip-Boy in place for these users.
Although the plastic materials used in the construction of the Pip-Boy aren't all that surprising -- after all, it is just a collectible video game extra -- the design causes a considerable amount of difficulty for users. The most prominent issue that comes up is when trying to put your phone inside of the Pip-Boy. As I mentioned above, you push a button in order to open the compartment for the smartphone, which is placed directly above the locking mechanism. The problem is that the metal lock prevents the button from moving when the Pip-Boy is closed. The only way to open the compartment for your phone is to have the metal lock below it unfastened.
As a side note, the Pip-Boy only accepts a small set of smartphones: the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5s and 6, and the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and S5. A set of foam rings are included to keep the smartphones in place. However, I was able to use an HTC Desire 510, a $50 smartphone, without any of the foam rings, and it fit perfectly.
Make sure, by the way, that you set your phone to stay awake for a sufficiently long time. If you have it set to fall asleep after a minute or so, you'll have to take the Pip-Boy at least partially off again, open the compartment, wake your phone up, and then close it again. This is made all the more irritating by the locking mechanism that likes to stick and can be difficult to unlock.
Gaming With The Pip-Boy
Starting Fallout 4 with the Pip-Boy ready to go was at first an exciting prospect. The idea of controlling several functions in-game with the real-life Pip-Boy just seems like a natural thing to want to do, and if done properly it should offer a more realistic gameplay experience (not to mention that it saves you from opening and closing the in-game Pip-Boy). Eventually, though, the excitement falls apart after a few hours, and you come to realize that the Pip-Boy is actually not helpful at all.
With the Pip-Boy on your arm, you can perform various actions with your in-game character, such as using healing items, changing weapons and more. A touchscreen, however, is much less accurate than analog controls, and I frequently tapped the wrong item or button due to the app's small text.
At times, using the IRL Pip-Boy may even get you killed in-game in some situations. Imagine for a moment that you are critically wounded and need to use a healing item while being chased by a horde of angry ghouls. With the in-game Pip-Boy, you simply bring it up, which pauses the game, and select which item you want to use. It's safe, easy and fast.
On the real-life Pip-Boy, however, you would need to take at least one hand off of your controller, look away from your display, and find the healing item and use it, all while trying to dodge attacks. The game has no way of knowing that you are using the Pip-Boy on your actual arm, and so the game does not pause. You could of course pause the game manually, or even bring up the Pip-Boy in-game to stop the action and then use the one in real-life to heal yourself, but after a while this gets a bit tedious, especially with the touchscreen controls.
Is This Worth The Extra $60?
Overall, I am unsure how to feel about the Pip-Boy. On the one hand, it's a neat piece of Fallout memorabilia. However, it is fairly useless and at times irritating to wear and use. I don't dislike it enough to want to sell it, but surely Bethesda could have made it so much more than what it is. Although the in-game issues probably can't be resolved, I can't help but look at the knobs and dials all over the Pip-Boy and wish I could really use them.
And think about it: how much more awesome would this be if it connected to your smartphone via the micro-USB port and then used the knobs and extras as controls? At least this way, you wouldn't have to deal with touchscreen controls, and it would add even more depth to using the Pip-Boy while playing the game.
It may seem like a lot to ask, but if companies can sell entire smartphones for under $50 and still make a profit, it seems that Bethesda could have built a hunk of plastic with some actual functioning buttons for $60 instead of just -- well, a hunk of plastic.
Michael Justin Allen Sexton (or MJ) is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. As a tech enthusiast, MJ enjoys studying and writing about all areas of tech, but specializes in the study of chipsets and microprocessors. In his personal life, MJ spends most of his time gaming, practicing martial arts, studying history, and tinkering with electronics.