Wearable technology has become a new hot topic, which has so far produced just one consumer-ready device: the smartwatch. However, smartwatches aren’t the only wearable technology being developed right now — there are also glasses with built-in heads up displays. Sounds familiar? You may be thinking of the Google Glass, and we were lucky enough to get a pair to review.
We bought this Google Glass with our own money — it wasn’t sponsored by Google, and we didn’t get it for free. We paid for it at our own cost, and now, we’re telling you what we think about it — our opinion is absolutely impartial.
What is Google Glass?
Google Glass, first introduced in February 2013, is an attempt by Google to place a computing device closer to your eyes, so that you always have the information you want or need just there. It does so by projecting a heads-up display in your field of vision which you can look to for information. One of its goals is also to allow you to communicate with it through natural language, just by speaking to it. It does have the potential to replace a smartphone, and it’s already on the right track, but it still has a long way to go. So far, Glass is available as an “Explorer Edition”, which is just a nice way of saying “beta”. Google is expecting the first consumer versions of Google Glass sometime in 2014.
Before we begin, we have to note that Google Glass isn’t the only player in the market — in fact, it’s not even publicly available at the moment. There’s a surprisingly long list of up-and-coming competitors: Sony Entertainment Access Glasses, Microsoft Glass, Recon Jet Glasses, Oakley Airwave, Oculon Smart Glasses, Epiphany Eyewear, GlassUp Augmented Reality, and many more are in development.
There are also smart prescription eyewear called Icis being developed by LAFORGE Optical for just $200 that was open to pre-order (has since reached its limit). Google Glass, on the other hand, costs a whopping $1,500 (not including tax) and is still a very limited invitation-only beta. All of these offer a similar heads-up display idea, but they are all implemented differently.
Because Google likes to stay somewhat mum about the full details of the device, this is all I can say as to the specifications of the device:
- Texas Instruments OMAP4430 (not confirmed by Google)
- 570 mAh battery (not confirmed by Google)
- Battery is supposed to last all day long.
- Display: 640 x 360 pixels. “High resolution display is the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away.”
- Camera: 5 megapixels, 720p videos
- Audio: Bone Conduction Transducer
- Entire right temple of Glass is touch-sensitive for interface navigation
- 802.11 b/g WiFi
- Bluetooth (I believe it’s 4.0)
- 16 GB of flash storage, 12 GB available
- 50 grams
The device comes shipped in a very minimalistic box that is completely white, with “Glass” across the top and “XE” for Explorer Edition on one of the sides. This box is rather long — one side is almost the length of my forearm. Another box directly below the main one holds some accessories for Glass. Accessories include a charger, a USB cable, a soft carrying case, and “Active Lenses” which act like sunglasses.
Although the device looks extremely geeky, it’s still modern if not futuristic which makes it enticing to try out. Whether you can walk around town without a few people giving you weird looks is another thing altogether. While wearing it, it’s a little less appealing because it you’d probably look like you’re wearing a weird headband-type contraption, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s not a final design and you’ll be too excited to try it out anyways. I know I was. There were a few different color choices (half of them being various shades of gray), but I just went with white because I thought it was the best-looking one and the cleanest.
There is one long metal band which goes from ear to ear. It is flexible yet strong, so it should fit any head. The actual hardware is all on your right side, which includes the display, camera, touchpad, battery, and other internal components. It’s also here on the underside where you’ll find a microUSB port which is used solely for charging. Provided you have an acceptably long cable, you can use Glass while it’s charging — in fact, it automatically turns on whenever you have it plugged in. The nose pads can bend and actually stay in new locations if you overbend them a bit — so in other words, they’re adjustable. So is the actual display, which can swivel toward and away from your face, rotating at the hinge where it’s connected to the rest of the hardware.
The Glass is very customizeable and it works well for each individual user. So far the only users who might have issues are those are already wear glasses and won’t be able to view the projected display without prescription lenses.
Google Glass is surprisingly comfortable to wear. It’s supported very well on the ears and nose, and having almost 50 grams of weight on the right side (as all the hardware is on that side) actually isn’t a big deal. The main issue is the display itself — because it’s so close, it does create a lot of eye strain. Google doesn’t document this but I read elsewhere online that it’s suggested to only use Glass for an hour a day initially.
There are plenty of notes around the box to show you what is what, and how to get started. The main tip here is to get the MyGlass app from the Play Store (which needs Android 4.0.3 or higher) or the iTunes Store and have it walk you through the process of setting up Glass. It’ll also give you an idea of how to navigate the interface, which you can do by swiping or tapping at the surface on the right temple. Depending on what you want to do, you can swipe forward and backward to scroll, up to bring up options, down to exit out of your current screen, and tap to select. It’ll also guide you to connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and get the MyGlass app to communicate with it.
The app isn’t available for any other smartdevice platform. However, you can use your computer as well to set it up — Glass will tell you which URL you need to visit. You’ll just have to connect to a WiFi network instead of using Bluetooth and follow the instructions on your computer. From there, you should be able do the same things on your computer as you could with the MyGlass app.
Glass can reach the internet by using your smartphone’s data via Bluetooth, or by connecting itself to a WiFi network. Note that if you choose to use your smartphone’s data, you may need to pay tethering charges depending on your carrier. That can get expensive pretty quickly, so be careful.
In between these steps, you will have to choose your preferred Google account if you have multiple Google accounts set up on your smartphone.
I’m able to take screenshots of what is displayed on Glass because the MyGlass app allows “screencasting” onto the paired smartphone. You can even perform the same swiping and tapping actions on your phone and have them interpreted by Glass.
Once the setup is out of the way, you can finally start using Glass! Before you begin messing with it, note that Glass uses pages. Information is shown in very little amounts at a time, and they’re split up into different pages. To switch pages, just swipe forward or backward to move between them.
The main page that you’ll see will just be the time and “ok glass”. Since during the setup, Glass asked you to say “ok glass” multiple times in order to recognize your voice and only yours, you’ll want to do this. Before issuing it a command, it’ll show a list of different possibilities, which you can scroll through by tiling your head up and down. Then just pick one of the options by saying it, and then complete the rest of the command if needed (tell it what to Google if you asked it to Google something for you).
Built-in by default are commands like “google…”, “take a picture”, “take a video”, “get directions to”, “send a (text) message”, “make a call to” (which uses your smartphone for the call, but audio goes through Glass), “make a video call to” (via Google Hangouts), and “take a note”. You can extend the list of possible commands by adding Glassware (the app equivalent for Glass), but more on that later.
Once you’ve done some things with Glass (such as take pictures, searched Google, etc.), then it’ll remember those and have them accessible by simply swiping forward or backward to move between pages. When you’re on a picture or video, you can tap on it or swipe up to view some options. Pictures and videos will have a Share option, but videos will also include a Play option. You can then tap to select the currently “highlighted” selection.
Sending a message is also interesting. It works very well, but you need to add contacts to your Glass via the MyGlass app on your smartphone before you can actually send messages to those people. Also, in my case, it used my Google Voice number instead of my regular phone number — I wasn’t able to find a way to change this.
Glassware can be enabled via the MyGlass app on your smartphone. Just scroll down past the Glass device info and contacts, and you’ll see various Glassware apps that you can add if you’d like.
You may set them up on your smartphone (logging into Facebook or Twitter and authorizing access), and the functionality will be added to Glass via Bluetooth. Each Glassware app provides different functionality. For example, Facebook only really adds an additional share option for the social network, but not much else. Twitter adds additional share options as well as extra pages which show popular tweets of people you follow. The Google Now Glassware app adds some pages that are similar to the cards you’d see on your smartphone — one for weather, one for the traffic on your commute, one for an upcoming sports game, and so on. Finally, the Allthecooks app lets you search for recipes or record your own using the “ok glass” interface. The list of currently available Glassware is decent, but still contains no more than 20 applications.
Battery life is a major issue with Glass right now. Although Google advertises that it should last all day, that is maybe possible if you use it very sparingly throughout the day. If you’re like me and want to mess around with it continuously as it’s a cool toy to have, then it might last for two hours before requiring a recharge. I’m certain the battery needs to improve before Glass becomes truly portable.
Things It Can’t Do
While I understand that Google Glass is still in beta, I expected it to be able to do a few more things. For example, it can read out any emails you receive, but it’s not possible to reply to any of them. Like I mentioned above, it also seems impossible to use your smartphone’s number while texting with Glass (if you have a Google Voice number). Also, it would have been nice if it could have taken the role of a personal assistant — it should be a lot more interactive. All I heard were lots of dings and dongs.
Battery life isn’t the only issue here. The Glassware “app store” is still rather limited and some apps don’t do very much (Facebook, I’m looking at you), Glass currently costs $1,500, and is increasingly being banned in various locations, most notably while driving. As far as functionality goes, there’s plenty of potential that hasn’t quite been achieved yet, along with more Glassware (and more-developed Glassware). However, there’s still a long way to go in that regard, and with the need to actually integrate the hardware with prescription glasses, make the batteries last longer, and bring the price down significantly, there’s still plenty of work left for Google.
So, after all of this — is Google Glass cool? Absolutely! Is it functional? Sort of — not quite, but it has plenty of potential. Is it worth getting? Definitely not. It’s a very neat concept, but all it does is smartphone-like things without actually using your smartphone. Unless they eventually develop Glass into something that can fully replace a smartphone, all it does is replicate. Therefore, it’s not a necessity but rather a very expensive convenience. So expensive, that I really don’t think it’s worth getting.