Friday, July 30, 2021
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I’ve Given Up Fighting Spam Calls and Let Charizard Take the Wheel

Fight off those spammers with your favorite Pokémon.

Fight off those spammers with your favorite Pokémon.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

No matter how many times you decline the call or add your number to Do Not Call lists, the spammers are ultimately going to find you. They will stop at nothing to remind you of your expiring car warranty.

Even with the Google Pixel 5’s AI-driven auto-answering features, the bots persist. But rather than engage them in a back-and-forth with the Google Assistant, I’ve been using PokeDialer. Because if you can’t beat them, you might as well play Pokémon instead. It’s been my life strategy since I played the first Pokémon game on my Game Boy Color back in 1999, and it hasn’t failed me yet, even as I approach the threshold toward becoming a so-called geriatric millennial.

PokeDialer is a non-official, fan-made app for Android that functions as a replacement for the stock Dialer app. Any time you get a call, PokeDialer flashes the timeless Pokémon encounter screen. You can choose to Battle (answer the call), or you can choose to Run, which is, I think, a much more polite way of declining a call.

PokeDialer works like any Dialer app. You can answer and decline calls and dial numbers.

PokeDialer works like any Dialer app. You can answer and decline calls and dial numbers.
Screenshot: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

PokeDialer will enter into “battle mode” if you answer the call, and your pre-chosen Pokémon will go up against a random opponent. You can choose any of the first 251 Pokémon from the National Pokedex as a starter. Shiny variants are also among the Pokémon you can encounter.

As any Pokemon player will know, half the fun of the games is attempting to catch them all. PokeDialer isn’t a traditional Pokémon game like the one you grew up playing or the ones that exist now, but there is an element of gamification around which random encounter you’ll have, which is why PokeDialer works so well for spammers. The more errant phone calls you receive from numbers spoofed to look like people you know, the more you increase your chances to meet with different Pokemon.

Spam calls are a real problem, and they are pernicious, sometimes swindling the most vulnerable of us out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. There are ways you can try to block them on iOS and Android or via your wireless carrier, though some scammers still sneak through. But until we can figure out how to put a stop to spam calls and put the companies behind them out of business, I’ve decided to have some fun.

If you like to play Pokémon Go on the smartphone and Pokémon Let’s Go on the Switch, you might also like that PokeDialer focuses heavily on meeting shiny Pokémon, which are often rare and extremely hard to find in the games where it’s possible. PokeDialer even uses Bulbagarden sprites, which are community-renowned since they match the graphics from the vintage games. Pokémon players thrive on nostalgia, which has helped PokeDialer receive such high ratings from users.

There are a couple of in-app purchases to help support the developer. You can unlock your favorite shiny Pokémon with coins, which you can procure by taking phone calls, watching video advertisements, or purchasing them directly from the Play Store. Note that it will take at least seven days and 40 video ads before you have enough to unlock a shiny Charizard. But that’s if you don’t run into the Pokémon by chance when robocallers are hollering.

Support the developer with a few bucks and unlock the shiny Charizard. Or you can wait to happen upon it randomly.

Support the developer with a few bucks and unlock the shiny Charizard. Or you can wait to happen upon it randomly.
Screenshot: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

The rest of the PokeDialer looks and acts primarily like an app you use to make phone calls. There’s a recent calls list, plus your favorites are marked as shinies as if you were playing the full-featured Pokémon Go. There’s a Dark and Light mode you can switch between, and PokeDialer also lets you set up quick custom responses for missed calls.

I got the idea to look for the PokeDialer after seeing a tweet circulating of a jailbroken iPhone showing off a similar Poké battle feature. Thankfully, the open nature of Android and its transparent permission allowances have made custom dialer apps a popular category on the Play Store. They also require no rooting, so installing PokeDialer was as easy as downloading it from the Play Store. However, you will have to enable a few permissions for PokeDialer, including the ability to allow the app to view your call logs and contacts list.

PokeDialer has been around for a little over a year and appears to be consistently updated. It’s easy to set and remove as the default Dialer app, so you don’t have to use it as your daily dialer if you want to have some fun. I still have the stock app as my primary for making phone calls, though I receive calls through the PokeDialer. I’m not sure I will ever have it any other way.

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