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Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Rotom Phone review: it’s a literal lifesaver

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s second-generation Rotom Phone might not look like a major update, but its new safety features are a lifesaving game-changer.

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A school boy wearing a collared shirt with a purple tie, matching purple shorts, and two-toned purple and yellow gloves. In front of the boy is a floating orange smartphone that has a case resembling a face on the back. Behind the boy, you can see that he’s standing in a barren desert.
A pokémon trainer receiving a call on his Rotom Phone.
Image: Nintendo

As the Pokémon world becomes a bigger, richer place filled with an ever-growing number of new monsters, the pokédexes trainers receive at the beginning of their journeys have similarly evolved with the release of each new Pokémon game. At first, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s new Rotom Phone might not look like a major step up from the first-gen model introduced in Pokémon Sword and Shield or seem at all novel compared to Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ deific Arc Phone. But the Paldea region’s most popular smartphone features a number of useful updates to classic apps, UI changes, and new lifesaving safety features that make using it feel like a completely new experience.

Though pokédexes have a long history of taking design cues from Nintendo’s handheld consoles, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet mark the return of Generation VIII’s Rotom Phone — an otherwise ordinary smartphone that becomes supercharged after being possessed by a Rotom. While the jump from Generation VII’s Rotom Dex to the original Rotom Phone saw the device go through a drastic redesign to improve pocketability, the Generation IX Rotom Phone is more of an incremental hardware update meant to make the phone more useful for adventuring. Aside from a new second camera module and a thin built-in ring light around back, Scarlet and Violet’s Paldean Rotom Phone looks more or less exactly like last generation’s model and comes in a familiar fiery red-orange but can also be customized with a variety of cases.

Two boys standing in a well-lit room as their levitating smartphones change information in front of them.
Arven’s one of the many Paldean pokémon trainers who have customized their Rotom Phone.
Image: Nintendo

While it’s nice to see the implementation of a dual-camera system on this year’s Rotom Phone, the addition of a second lens doesn’t seem to have done all that much for the phone in terms of its photo-taking capabilities. Aside from 11 filters (none of which are anything to write home about), the new Rotom Phone offers little in the way of features meant to enhance photos or videos you take, and the lack of any zoom functionality makes it especially hard to snap images of Paldea’s wild pokémon without getting attacked in the process. That being said, the new Rotom Phone’s front-facing camera is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor’s, largely due to the fact that it actually works and is accessible rather than simply being a black dot on the device implying the existence of a camera.

The lack of a zoom makes it hard to snap pics of wild pokémon without getting attacked

Some previous Rotom-possessed pieces of kit have been known for being overly talkative and pointing out the obvious when all you’re trying to do is figure out where certain pokémon like to hang out. But the Generation IX Rotom Phone remains pleasantly quiet as you’re using its map, pokédex, and profile applications — the three most useful tools built into the device, which all chronicle your progress as both a trainer and as a student at either Naranja or Uva Academy.

Because Paldea’s so massive and its cities are often connected by beaten paths rather than paved roads or well-defined routes, the new pokédex’s map functionality is key to navigating the land and getting a grasp on how things are situated in relation to one another. In addition to big cities like Mesagoza, the new Rotom Phone’s map automatically spotlights Tera crystal coordinates where Tera Raid Battles can be undertaken, the locations of various gym leaders, and the places where especially powerful titan pokémon are known to dwell. Even though the map app’s zoomed-out view sometimes feels a bit unwieldy, when you’re zoomed in, it proves to be surprisingly useful, both as a navigation aid and as a lightweight detector for whatever pokémon happen to be in your immediate vicinity.

A zoomed-in view of the Rotom Phone’s Map of Paldea.

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A zoomed-in view of the Rotom Phone’s Map application.
Nintendo

With there being so much to do in Paldea, and you having the freedom to visit cities in whichever order you’d like, the Rotom Phone’s ability to set waypoints that are then reflected on your minimap is invaluable once you set out on either your Koraidon or Miraidon. But there’s a certain amount of finickiness with the map as you’re zooming between different views of Paldea that occasionally makes jumping in and out of the application more of a hassle than it should be. This is especially true considering how much of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is about exploration.

Each pokédex entry features a unique, detailed wildlife photo

Though the new Rotom Phone’s map will tell you when certain wild pokémon are nearby, getting more detailed information about the different creatures will require you to fire up the new pokédex application developed by Naranja / Uva Academy biology teacher Jacq. Like previous pokédexes, the Generation IX iteration automatically registers and displays important stats and descriptions of pokémon after you’ve caught them or battled them. But rather than presenting all of its data as a simplified vertical list featuring different sprites, the new Rotom Phone’s pokédex app is styled more like a horizontal, skeuomorphic bookshelf lined with dozens of books that each represent a different pokémon’s entry.

Unlike the ancient pokédexes of old that had to be filled out by hand, the new Rotom Phone comes loaded with details about their general habitats and the specific kinds of places within those habitats that they like to frequent — both of which become available after you encounter a pokémon in the wild. Generally speaking, the amount of information the new ‘dex provides you with is more or less the same compared to previous generations, as are their descriptions of many classic pokémon. But the way each pokédex entry features a unique, detailed wildlife photo of that particular pokémon is a welcome change that makes filling out the digital encyclopedia a delight (and a reminder of how limited the Rotom Phone’s camera is).

An image depicting a duck with a blue bouffant standing on a cliff next to a fence.

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Quaxly’s pokédex photo.
Image: Nintendo

As pretty as the new entries are, however, scrolling through the new Rotom Phone’s pokédex can also be an exercise in frustration due to the way that pokémon sprites take a few seconds to load when you’re paging through the app at high speed. Hopefully that bit of roughness can be smoothed out in future updates, but in its current state, it’s definitely something about the pokédex that leaves much to be desired.

The same is also true of the new Rotom Phone’s profile application, which adorns a selfie of your choice with information about how many badges you’ve collected, how many pokémon you’ve caught, how many sandwich recipes you’ve collected, and how many shiny pokémon you’ve battled. Though it’s nice to be able to see when you first enrolled at Naranja / Uva Academy, how much cash you’ve got on hand, and what gym badge effects apply to you, the profile application feels like the least fleshed-out part of the Rotom Phone. Were that all there is to the new Rotom Phone, one might be hard-pressed to really understand why upgrading the Paldean model’s worth it. But all it takes to really appreciate the new Rotom Phone’s coolest feature is for you to have it on your person while falling from a dangerous height that might seriously injure or kill someone.

Trainers familiar with the Hisui region understand well how dangerous it can be to wander out into the wilderness in search of powerful pokémon who tend to prefer living in remote locations that aren’t exactly safe for humans. The Paldea’s pokémon aren’t quite as aggressive as their Hisuian ancestors, but the region’s mountainous terrain is often every bit as dangerous as Hisui’s thanks to its myriad steep cliffs that are beyond easy to slip from. Similar to the way that Apple’s most recent generation of iPhones and Apple Watches are outfitted with Emergency SOS features to assist people regardless of where they are in the world, the new Rotom Phone can detect when you’ve fallen from a great height and will spring into action to make sure that you don’t plummet to your untimely death.

A boy falling off a cliff and being saved by his levitating cell phone, which flies out to break his fall just as he’s about to hit the ground.
A pokémon trainer’s Rotom Phone saving him from a steep fall.
Image: Nintendo

While the Rotom living within each Rotom Phone doesn’t appear to be all that interested in your well-being in normal situations, during falling emergencies, it will take control of the device and use its ability to levitate to keep you from crashing to the ground so long as the phone’s in your hands. Along with saving your life, the new Rotom Phone will also offer to fly you back up from the point you fell from because it understands that while you probably don’t mean to tumble from lighthouses or off rock faces, you do presumably mean to be up in those places for one thing or another.

Pokédexes (or the devices containing them) are seldom the most interesting things about exploring new regions of the Pokémon world, and the Paldean Rotom Phone is no exception. The new phone definitely feels like a piece of hardware that understands the basic role it’s meant to play in your next great adventure, and rather than trying to pack in a bunch of little features here and there that you’ll never use, it’s focused on doing a couple of things very well.

It might have been nice to see the new Rotom Phone outfitted with a more robust set of photo-taking capabilities akin to New Pokémon Snap’s research camera, and the lack of a major aesthetic overhaul may disappoint some. But the fact that the new Rotom Phone will literally save your life in situations where your life is in peril makes it a must-have for any and all trainers looking to make their way through Paldea.