Introduction and design
- Update: Google Glass ceased production in 2015, but the novel head-worn computer experiment may live on in a foldable Enterprise Edition one day. The Snapchat Spectacles may give consumers many of the camera-based features going forward. Here’s our original Google Glass review.
Google Glass is the controversial wearable that had its sci-looking beta testers turning heads and being peppered with questions. How does it work? What does it feel like? And, of course the inevitable, well, can I try it?
The increasing number of Google Glass invites has led to Project Glass being open to everyone in the US and now the UK, so curious, tech-savvy early adopters can answer most of these questions on their own.
It’s a little easier for them to say "yes" to Glass now that it’s been upgraded with more memory and new apps. There’s a speedier 2GB of RAM on board instead of 1GB and 12 new apps including Shazam and Live Stream. The Google Glass app list is officially over the 50 apps threshold and the most recent update puts all Android notifications in the top right corner of your eye.
But there’s one query all prospective Glass owners all struggling with right now at checkout, and it’s a question I get all of the time: is Google Glass worth it?
To answer that burning question, I turned a critical eye to Google’s wearable computer and tested its Explorer Edition of Google Glass for eleven months. I also upgraded to the brand new 2GB model.
With the sound of my voice, I took hands-free photos by saying "Okay Glass, take a picture." I instructed it to upload the resulting point-of-view image to Twitter and Facebook and attached a caption, all with voice commands.
I saw flight information automatically beam to my eye with a gentle Google Now reminder the day before traveling. The weather for both my departure and destination cities, and directions to the airport were already being provided by this instinctual software. All of this data appeared in the top right corner of my vision, all without the need to take out my smartphone.
Google has continued to make the complicated ownership decision easier by adding more to its Explorer Edition heads-up display. In addition to the new 2GB version, an update late last year saw a tweaked form factor that made prescription glasses compatible with attachable frames.
Google has even been throwing in a free pair of frames or premium shades with all new orders since mid-April. Moreover, new apps and updates to the linear operating system that weren’t available at launch make the current Google Glass Explorer Edition a tempting buy.
Still, this new Project Glass model is better at addition than subtraction. While features have been added, the price hasn’t dropped. At $1,500 (£1,000, about AU$1,589), Google’s experimental wearable is exorbitantly priced for the average person. It’s also best if you’re an Android, not an Apple person.
Compatibility with the iPhone has improved thanks to the launch of an iOS MyGlass app and the ability to read text messages, but it stops short of tapping into Glass’ hands-free SMS response capabilities. Maps navigation also requires MyGlass to be open on the iPhone, not in the background. All of these features are missing for Windows Phone 8 users entirely, though technically any Bluetooth phone can offer Glass tethered data with a personal hotspot enabled.
Google Glass is very much a prototype, even after more than 20 months of being in the hands and on the faces of tens of thousands of beta testers.
But that’s partly why this out-of-reach, futuristic-looking curiosity is so fascinating, despite, or possibly because of the massive cost to your Google Wallet (that’s actually how you have to pay for Google Glass). Peoples’ mind=blown reaction, more so than snapping photos hands-free and getting directions that turn with your head, makes whomever is donning Google Glass a walking wonder.
How to get Google Glass
Google undoubtedly wanted Glass in the hands of developers who will make the experience better, more so than curious individuals who want it for personal use. Therefore, developers were the first to qualify for Google Glass invites.
Now it’s for sale to anyone living in the US and UK. Google threw Project Glass into open enrollment for 24 hours on April 15 and then permanently made it available a month later. Good things come to those who wait, too. All new Google Glass models come with free frames for prescription glasses or a free sunglasses shade attachment that typically costs $225 (£175, about AU$239).
Signing up for the normal Google Glass waitlist in June of 2013 after Google IO gave me access to an Explorer Edition beta code in November, while my friend who registered in December received an invite less than three weeks later. That alone shows how much easier it became to receive an invitation.
Strict rules still limit who can ultimately take advantage of the invite code and purchase a prototype. For example, you must be 18 years old and a US or UK resident, so adults living in the other parts of Europe or Australia aren’t eligible. These age and country-specific rules are still in place.
Google Glass now ships to US and UK addresses, though the company still encourages beta testers to pick it up in person at its New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles offices. In the UK, "base camp" is in King’s Cross, London. But across the pond in LA, specifically Venice Beach, is where I went for my "fitting experience" with a friendly Glass guide named Frank.
The Google employee helped with my Google Glass unboxing, adjusted the nose pads, tweaked the delicate nose stems and shaped the malleable titanium head band until it didn’t sit so crooked on my face.
Within ten minutes it looked perfect, or at least as perfect as one can appear with a wearable computer sitting on their face.
Though pliable, the titanium head band remains durable as it stretches from ear to ear. It runs alongside a plastic casing that hides Glass’ key components and gives it an overall clean look. This subtle style makes the exposed parts like the camera lens in the front stand out even more – for better or worse.
Everyone’s attention is also immediately drawn to the adjacent cube-shaped glass prism that sits above the right eye. It has an acceptable 640 x 360 resolution and hangs just out of the way of the wearer’s line of sight. For the wearer, this personalized display acts as a much bigger screen, one that’s equivalent to a 25-inch HDTV sitting eight feet away.
The Google Glass dimensions are 5.25-inches at its widest point and 8-inches at its longest point. It’s too long and wide to fit into my pocket, even though I’ve been able to carry a Nexus 7 tablet in my jeans’ back pocket with a little squeeze.
Society has banned fanny packs and the titanium head band doesn’t collapse, so storage options are limited. When out and about it’s either on my face or in the complementary case, which I stow in a backpack. There’s no in-between.
The new Google Glass is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor, and the fact that it comes in the same colors doesn’t help you tell them apart. The options are black, orange, gray, white and blue. Or, as the Glass guides insisted: charcoal, tangerine, shale, cotton and sky.
Charcoal and cotton, the two non-color colors, appear to be the most popular, as they were initially sold out when I first entered my invite code to buy Google Glass. Luckily, before my seven-day invite expired, both options became available and I chose white. The choice made online actually didn’t matter until I got to the on-site appointment. I was given one last chance to switch colors during the moment of truth.
The glaring exception to Glass’ svelte design is the battery that rests behind the right ear and juts out rather noticeably. It’s too big, yet it’s not big enough for a full day’s charge. Battery performance did improve with the Android KitKat update in April, but more power from this energy-eating wearable is still a priority of Explorers.
Also prevalent among beta testers that I’ve talked to was Google Glass succumbing to summer heat. I experienced this problem first-hand on a hot, but not-too-hot day of horseback riding. Air bubbles began to distort the reflective mirror that caps the Glass prism.
The good news is that Google was quick to the rescue, speedily shipping me a a new Google Glass unit and asking me to mail back the broken version. For a brief moment, I had $3,000 (£2,000) in my hands and awkwardly on my head. I didn’t pass up the chance to foolishly wear both at once.
The funny this is that horseback riding, with two hands occupied, was one of the most useful moment I’ve had as an Explorer. I was able to issue photo and video voice commands while properly holding onto the reigns and saddle. But my experience, and that of almost every other Explorer I’ve talked to recently, proves that Google Glass is still very much a gadget in beta.
Even with the bulkiness of the battery and durable frame, Google Glass is extremely lightweight and comfortable resting on my face. It weights just 42 grams (1.48 oz) and because everything, including the screen, is just out of my line of sight I often forget I’m wearing it.
At first, Google Glass did give me slight headaches as I strained my right eye to focus on the tiny prism in the top right corner of my vision. The team at the Venice headquarters did forewarn me about temporary Google Glass headaches, instructing me not to use Glass for more than a few hours the first couple of days. It’s incredibly unnatural to have just one eye focus on a screen while the other goes without use, but my eyes and brain adjusted to the phenomenon in a few days to the point where it’s now intuitive.
Like a modern smartphone, there are few physical buttons and ports on Google Glass. That’s because most of the interaction is done via a long 3.25-inch touchpad on the right side. Underneath the touchpad is a micro USB port for charging the device and on the top is a camera button that’s great for quick snaps in noisy environments.
The most discreet button is tucked away on the inside on the touchpad and near the temple. Giving it a light press turns Google Glass on and powers up the all-important apps.
Fitting Google Glass to your face is a highly personalized experience. Same goes for setting up the software. Getting it on WiFi, pairing it with a smartphone and running through a handful of apps for the first time all occurred on-site at Google. There’s a web-based tutorial for people who have Google Glass shipped, but the experience is better appreciated in person.
There, I finally understood why everyone wearing Google Glass constantly cranked their head up as if they have a nervous tick. The default wake up angle is 30 degrees. This head gesture is a touchpad-free way of turning the display back on each time it goes blank to conserve battery life.
Configuring WiFi for the first time proves easier with Google Glass than any other device I’ve owned, backing up its futuristic look with a "this is how it should’ve worked in the past" reaction.
Selecting a router name on the Google’s in-office Chromebook Pixel, entering the password and staring at the automatically generated QR code got me connected to the internet within 10 seconds. The same setup on mobile devices usually requires entering the wrong password a bunch of times on a cramped keyboard. Luckily, an expensive Chromebook pixel isn’t required to complete the task at home. The same functionality is available on the MyGlass website and matching Android and iOS apps.
Tethering Google Glass to a smartphone can be just as easy, even if that device is an iPhone. Google is eager to play well with others here, allowing Glass to pair with my iPhone 5S via Bluetooth. Of course AT&T, in its infinite wisdom, won’t allow people clinging on to a grandfathered-in unlimited data plan to activate iPhone’s personal hotspot setting, so it didn’t work on my personal iPhone handset.
For this reason, and because the voice-enabled SMS responses don’t work even when Google Glass is successfully paired with an iPhone, I opted for the larger Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I wouldn’t have had a way to respond to texts without it, and wouldn’t have been able to get directions hands-free due to iPhone’s navigation limitations. Glass can’t initiate directions while an iPhone is in sleep mode.
Glass generally works better in step with the Android platform and Google Play’s MyGlass app. The tighter integration makes for a smoother experience and has proved problematic for Apple’s walled-garden.
Google Glass operating system
Google Glass is all about eliminating the all-too-common temptation to take your smartphone out of your pocket and look down at its infinitely distracting screen. So once I had data up-and-running, I launched into Glass’ pre-installed features list and didn’t look back down.
I was able to take my first hands-free photo by simply saying, "Okay Glass, take a picture." From here on out, I used the "Okay Glass" voice command to initiate all of the apps, whether my intention was to Google something, record a video or get turn-by-turn directions.
My first photo and all subsequent snaps land in the Google Glass XE 22 linear operating system, which is controlled by sliding forward and backward on the touchpad. The newer Android KitKat interface works the same exact way, only it’s a little smoother thanks to a behind-the-scenes performance upgrade.
Sliding down cancels actions and, with enough swipes down, returns to the "Okay Glass" home screen. Tapping the touchpad brings up contextual options like share, delete, add a caption, read aloud, etc.
The Google Glass OS is similar to the card-based user interface that has worked its way into many of Google’s product including the Google Now-inspired Android Wear smartwatches. The idea may need a redesign of its own pretty soon. At first, this content slideshow contained a handful of my previously taken photos, old searches, archived Hangout conversations and CNN Breaking News updates. I was generally able to find something within a few swipes.
A week later, sliding the touchpad back through the all of the built-up content became less fluid. Add to the fact that there’s a nasty bug that resets you to the beginning of the timeline if you slide too quickly on a tethered device in screencast mode, and it’s downright frustrating.
Google issued a Google Glass patch that bunches photos together to reduce this known clutter, but the timeline can still turn into a cumbersome mess.
Connecting Google Glass to a computer through its micro USB port offers an imperfect remedy to offloading content. It’s limited to exporting photos, and on a Mac, Glass doesn’t show up as an external drive. OS X users are forced to open up iPhoto or the Image Capture to download their images. Windows 8.1 makes it considerably easier because it pops up as a connected drive.
There’s not a whole lot of options outside of copying photos to your computer, unfortunately. Clearing non-photo content from the card-based timeline has to be done manually using Glass and rearranging or importing old files isn’t possible. Developers can use the micro USB-to-PC connection to delve into code using the Android SDK, but that’s not meant for the average user.
It being a Google product, my second task was to I asked a question. "Okay Glass, what’s the population of China?" It read back the answer as "1.351 billion as of 2012," data derived from the company’s extensive Google Knowledge Graph. There’s no anticipate functionality (or room to implement it on the tiny screen) that lays out the populations of India and the US in comparison. That feature, which I wrote about at the Google IO 2013 conference, is still reserved for computer and mobile-based searches.
Digging a little bit deeper to test the Google Knowledge Graph, I asked "How tall is Morgan Freeman?" which resulted in the computerized voice reading aloud "6′ 2" (1.88 m)." The synthesized voice isn’t as smooth as Morgan Freeman’s natural oration, but it matches the one used for Google Maps directions on phones and tablets.
Remarkably, Google Glass doesn’t contain a natural speaker to audibly transmit voice prompts that are the result of Googling questions, playing CNN videos and asking for directions. Instead, it vibrates behind the right ear through its Bone Conduction Transducer, a hearing aid technology that relays the information through the skull. Best of all, it’s nearly inaudible to everyone else. The personalized viewing screen meets a personalized audio frequency with Google Glass.
There’s no ordinary speaker to project sound from the device, but there is a microphone to pick up whatever the user says after delivering the "Okay, Glass" prompt. It enables Google Glass to act as the world’s most expensive Bluetooth headset for hands-free phone calls and video calls. The sound quality isn’t a problem – it’s actually very clear – but asking it to "Make a call to…" followed by someone’s name on your MyGlass contact list is limited.
Currently, the maximum number of contacts Google Glass supports by saying their name is ten. Initiating phone calls and sending messages to anyone outside of this favorites list requires tapping the touchpad to enter the often-overlooked manual "Okay Glass" menu, scrolling to the message, call or video call, and scrolling through your entire Google contacts list.
It’s unfortunate that the quicker voice-controlled method of setting up conversations is capped at ten contacts. It’s even more confusing, Google forces you to manually enter the "Okay Glass" menu to scroll through your greater contact list. There’s no "Making a call to someone outside of your ten favorites" option at the end of the ten.
The microphone is also essential for transcribing messages: emails, text messages, Google Hangouts and adding photo captions on social networks. Sadly, sending texts is limited to Android phone tethering.
Turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps isn’t exclusive to Android devices anymore, but Apple only allows third-party app developers to initiate directions while the iPhone is awake. Having to exit from sleep mode every time you want to get directions negates the phone-free utopia Google Glass is driving toward. This inconvenience may still be worth it; Google’s maps on Google Glass are more sophisticated than the still-hobbled Apple Maps on iOS devices if you don’t own a car. It includes options for driving, walking and public transit routes whereas Apple’s own maps do not.
Even more amazing in Google Maps for Glass is the fact that turning your head changes the map orientation in real-time. Left and right twists of the neck swing the stationary triangle indicator to the left and right. Google Maps with surreal head-tracking follows you every step of the way without the need to tap a compass button to orient your perspective on a map.
Glassware refers to Google Glass apps that developers create specifically for the wearable. It’s modeled after the Google Play store and iTunes App Store, only the Glassware app list is less populated at just 64 apps, a very slow uptick from the 37 apps available seven months ago. Even Chromecast has more apps.
Ten of these 64 apps were created internally and Google Now is by far the most impressive Glass app. It’s always located one swipe back from the "Okay Glass" home screen with contextual cards for information like the weather, sports teams I follow and directions to places I’ve recently searched for on Google.
Traveling anytime soon? Just like the Google Now Android and iOS app, this predictive software will dig through your email and bring up your flight information. Better yet, the weather will change, giving you the forecast to both the city that you’re in now and the place you’re about to go. Top that off with directions to the airport complete with the approximate travel time. It’s all done automatically like you’d expect from a device from the future.
As you’d expect, Gmail is here and it pings you whenever an important message hits your priority inbox, Google Music plays songs with a "Listen to…" voice command and YouTube gives you an audience for your 720p #throughglass videos. You can’t actually explore the rest of YouTube, though. The same applies to the write-only Google+ application.
Google’s more straight-to-the-point Compass app shows the four cardinal directions and their intermediate directions, and reads the degrees aloud with the tap of the touchpad. The Stopwatch and Start Timer apps would replace Siri as my favorite way to countdown my time-sensitive tasks if it could set the clock with voice commands. Siri still wins for now.
The aforementioned Hangouts app now supports sending photos in replies thanks to April’s upgrade to Android KitKat. Visually being able to answer "What are you up to?" with more than just text via voice dictation makes Hangouts a better experience. After all, snapping photos is Glass’ biggest draw.
Google Glass games have been theorized with plenty of augmented reality YouTube videos of what the gameplay from the first-person perspective. Google’s own Mini Games app takes advantage of all of the tiny sensors onboard to do just that. Its five AR games involve balancing objects in the world in front of you, shooting clay targets in the distance and playing tennis anytime, anywhere.
Third-party Google Glassware
Big name developers have already gotten onboard with Google Glass. Social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Path and now Foursquare are meant for sharing status updates, photos and videos to your timelines. Twitter and Google+ handle Google Glass best, pushing updates with a #throughglass hashtag, making photos from Explorers’ first-person perspective easy to find.
The newest addition to the Google Glass app list includes Livestream and Shazam. Say "Okay Google, start broadcasting" and it’ll will beam whatever you see to your video channel without delay. Curious about a song? The awkwardly phrased "Okay Glass, recognize this song" identifies the artist and title. These are smartphone app repeats, but Glass either gives you a neat new perspective or a hands-free way of searching.
Evernote is now less than one button press away thanks to the voice-controlled Google Glass and IFTTT can automate everything in life including turning on WiFi-connected lights in an apartment without the need for an "easy button."
News gathering is also an act of the past with updates for CNN Breaking News, The New York Times, Mashable and Elle fashion. There was a Wall Street Journal app, but it has disappeared, a common occurrence among the budding Glassware app list. Explorers have hardly noticed.
Weather Alert, which is supposed to notify me of dangerous conditions, is one of the newest Glassware apps. In the end, I disabled all but CNN because apps, especially Mashable and Weather Alert, pinged me with too many unimportant alerts or false alarms to the point of annoyance. They need to work more like the iOS and Android Breaking News app that lets users dictate which stories are important to them.
Google Glass can also encourage lifestyle changes with sporty apps like Strava Cycling, Strava Run, Golfsight by Skydroid and the new LynxFit trainer. For the first time since carrying around a smartphone to aid my exercise routine, my two hands were suddenly free to grip my bike handles and not worry about checking a phone’s screen to see how far along I was on my route. Food apps like AlltheCooks Recipes and KitchMe have the same effect. Washing your hands and cooking while reading the ingredients aloud without dirtying your phone is less messy with Google Glass.
Word Lens, now a Google owned company, is toward the end of the alphabetically listed Glassware app store, but it’s one of the most impressive apps by a third-party developer. It can scan and visually translates words in English to and from Portuguese, German, Italian, French and Spanish. It can overlay words on top of an existing foreign-language stop sign or menu using Augmented Reality, just like the iOS and Android app by the developer. It’s a little more uncanny when seen through Glass.
Another useful Google Glass app offers closed captioning for real-life conversations. Before you call it creepy, keep in mind that Captioning for Glass is intended for deaf or hard of hearing. Conversations appear in the top right corner of the screen after saying the command "Okay Glass, recognize this." So far, it’s an Android-only app, but could be extremely useful for people with disabilities.
More Google Glass apps to come
Google opened up its Mirror API so that web-based services can take advantage of Glass and now there is a sneak peek at the all-important Google Glass SDK. Developers are still waiting to download the final version of this app-driving software, but there’s no official release date for the development kit.
A lot of developers are also bringing their apps from iOS and Android devices and making the experience more personal. Hang w/ is once such video streaming app and it happens to be backed by rapper 50 Cent. Its goal is to allow people to broadcast and narrate interesting moments in their lives or follow people who are doing just that. Celebrity involvement could make Google Glass’ point-of-view concept and apps like this the next Twitter.
When the final GDK makes its way to everyday developers, I expect the card-based Glassware user interface to explode with too much content just like my Google Glass timeline. Google would be forced to categorize apps and implement a rating system, and that’s a good problem to have. New apps are going to be what makes this device useful more than hardware tweaks. Glass owners are currently in a state that’s akin to the first iPhone without the iTunes App Store.
Camera and video
The Google Glass camera shoots 5-megapixel photos equivalent to that of the iPhone 4 camera and each picture has a 2528 x 1856 resolution. To Google’s credit, it took last-generation specs and made them useful again thanks to the camera’s distinctive hands-free interface and, given the right lighting, terrific image quality.
There are three ways to take photos when that 21st-century Kodak moment strikes and your quickest method of capturing it is Google Glass. Precisely saying "Okay Glass, take a picture" (not "take a photo") snaps an image within the blink of an eye.
Believe it or not, the second way is by actually blinking your right eye. This recently added Wink feature is deemed as experimental by Google, so it also picks up your eye-shutting big yawns and sneezes for awkward, unexpected photos.
The third way to take a picture is by pressing the physical camera button at the top of the hardware. It’s not as forward-thinking as talking to Google Glass, but it’s ideal for noisy environments in which the otherwise strong microphone isn’t a viable option.
All three methods allow you to bring up the viewfinder beforehand thanks to the update that arrived just prior Google IO 2014. Saying "OK Glass, show the viewfinder" brings up the four L-shaped corners and makes lining up the perfect shot even easier. Before this update, it was trial-and-error guess work.
Photos are saved to an internal 16GB flash drive of which 12GB is actually useable memory. The operating system controls the rest. This space doesn’t fill up easily, as images are 1MB on average and are routinely synced with Google’s cloud storage.
Syncing photos to a smartphone through the MyGlass app is also helpful, especially when you want to edit them before posting. As of September, even iOS users are in on the Photo Sync feature. Deleting photos en masse, however, doesn’t work without plugging Glass into a computer via its USB cable. It’s a feature I’d like to see in the future.
Best Google Glass photos
Sunsets, friends’ portraits and first-person snaps of everyday life offer the best photo results and make the camera the most rewarding Google Glass feature. Each one comes with a laundry list of caveats, though. Sunsets need to be bright, but not so bright that direct sunlight whites out the entire image.
Portraits need to be well-lit and your antsy friends can’t be moving – at all. "Everyday life photos" should be read literally with an emphasis on day, and the subject needs to be close because there’s no zoom function or cropping tool.
Google Glass’ inability to crop and zoom either when the picture is taken or post-snap is one of the biggest disadvantages to its 100% hands-off approach to photography. I didn’t miss the opportunity to take a photo of an abnormally large dog on the sidewalk thanks to Glass, but I conversely couldn’t put it into a better perspective before sharing it to Facebook sans a cropping tool. That large, distracting electrical box in the periphery remains.
Most #throughglass photos are admirably untouched, a rarity in the age of Instagram. Still, basic editing functionality by beaming a photo over to a smartphone or tablet before uploading it to the world would have been valued. Google+ does a nice job with Auto Enhanced photos with a few tricks.
An LED flash and better low-light performance is another obvious Google Glass feature that’s sorely missing from the prototype. Taking photos and video in dimly lit environments is almost a non-starter, cutting down on the fun you can have with it in conjunction with nightlife scenarios.
More sophisticated camera software could improve Glass in the future, but given the Nexus 5 camera problems, it might not be high on the Google’s priority list when it should be No. 1.
Google Glass video
Google Glass also takes high-resolution video with all footage at a fairly steady 720p resolution. The camera’s video performance mirrors its still image quality: it lives and dies by lighting and, if the right conditions are in place, provides a unique window to explore your everyday life.
This is exactly what happened when I filmed my too-often-repeated airport security line routine through the first-person perspective. Ever wonder what it’s like to go through a luggage X-ray machine? Glass shed some light on the not-too-crazy-looking experience #throughglass. It also proved that airport security is way too frantic of an operation and that an indoor, well-lit airport environment is the best format for a Google Glass video.
The quality took a hit when I attempted to film rides at Disneyland. Without proper illumination on rides, it failed to capture the excitement of the theme park indoors and as soon as the sun set, the outdoor video and photo quality took a major dive along with the, by then, exhausted battery.
Google Glass filming privacy
The Google Glass POV camera perspective is the most fulfilling feature, but it’s also the reason the wearable is seen as being so invasive. It’s always pointing forward at people and it often elicits a half-joking, half serious, "Are you filming me right now?"
Privacy concerned individuals are usually overreacting. Still, it’s an accusation every Glass user has to expect. Casinos, clubs, and a handful of restaurants and bar have unceremoniously banned the prototype even before it’s readily available. Google went as far as posting nine tips on how not to be a Glasshole.
Google+ Auto Backup, effects
Google+ automatically saves photos and video through the social network’s Auto Backup feature. It syncs to a private online album when Google Glass is plugged into a charger and it’s within WiFi range. It’s essential to meet these two conditions if Auto Backup isn’t working, a complaint echoed through Google’s private forums for Glass users. When it does function properly, it has some extra surprises that are worth checking out.
Select pictures are automatically enhanced with Google+ photo editing software, panoramas are stitched together right away and animated GIFs are already moving about before you say action. During the holidays, twinkle and snow effects were routinely added to photos – although it didn’t look right in a lot of cases. Luckily, all Google+ enhancements are saved as a copy of the original photo in the Auto Backup folder and never shared without your permission.
Google Glass accessories
New Explorers receiving Google Glass 2 as opposed to the older Google Glass are treated to a slightly different set of accessories than what the first beta testers received at the prototype’s launch.
Don’t feel badly for the earliest of early adopters, though. Google allowed them to upgrade to the new version of Glass for free until February 5 and all accessories are available to buy separately for a price.
New Google Glass 2 accessories
Adding to the black-and-white box is a mono earbud, enabling better sound quality when making phone calls, listening to music and watching videos. Its comfortable in-ear design features a tiny forward-facing speaker that pipes sound straight into your ear canal the same way that Apple’s EarPods do. Only its nylon-coated cable is much shorter at just 3-inches and it includes a micro USB connection at the end, not a standard RCA jack. Glass won’t work with all of the normal aux cables, negating the 3.5mm vs 2.5mm debate altogether.
The mono earbud fits into the same micro USB port that’s located underneath the touchpad and is used to charge Glass. Its 3-inch cable size can be adjusted by retracting it into a loop behind the ear so that there’s as little as 1 ½-inches of cord dangling between the earpiece and port. The twist-off cap color that’s included in the box is cotton (white). Buying an extra mono earbud comes with five interchangeable caps that match each of the Google Glass colors, but it’s prohibitively expensive at $50 (£40, about AU$53).
The same can be said about the even pricier stereo earbuds, not included with Glass, that are $85 (£65, about AU$90). Because stereo earbuds with auxiliary ends won’t work and would be too long, these form-fitting earbuds are the best way to completely encapsulate yourself in the Google Glass experience and you’re definitely going to be separated from the rest of the world with two nylon cords running out of the micro USB port. The left ear cable extends further than the right one and lays behind the neck, making you look even more like a cyborg at this point.
The included mono earbud and separate stereo earbuds are new as of late October 2013. They join the existing sunglasses, tweaked for Google Glass 2, that securely lock into place between the two nose stems. These active shades effectively block all sunlight emanating from the real world around you. Peripheral light is only visible when looking out of the corners of your eyes, but your field of view is completely dimmed, including the still-very-visible Glass prism.
The question is what do you do with these almost flat-looking clip-on shades when they’re not needed or you don’t want to look like Robocop for a minute. They can be tucked away in an included micro-fiber slip case, but that’s another accessory to always carry around.
The same high-quality material is used in the indispensible pouch. It’s Japanese micro-fiber and made from recycled material, according to Google. This soft bag fits Glass perfectly, cleans it when it’s slide inside and contains a hard shell at the bottom to protect keep the prism. It’s thankfully included. Ordering an extra pouch is $50 (£40, about AU$53) and may be the one thing in Google’s accessory store that’s worth its price.
Glass comes with an excellent micro USB cable and charger that features a flat cord to keep it from bunching and tangling. Its micro USB end is at a unique right angle, which stabilizes Google Glass on a flat surface. Better yet, it sports a two-tone black-and-white color scheme at each end. Explorers can easily distinguish the orientation of USB and micro USB’s non-symmetrical design.
You won’t be trying to fit the USB cable into the charger backwards thanks to Google’s smart design idea. But you also won’t want another one. The price for an extra is $50 (£40, about AU$53), which verges on double gold-plated HDMI cable territory. It’s just a micro USB cable and charging block.
Normal micro USB chargers, used by Android devices, work just fine too. Google even notes that while Glass is designed and tested with the included charger, there are thousands of micro USB chargers out there that do the same basic thing.
Missing from the Google Glass 2 accessories lineup is the clear shield that came with the first prototype. It works just like the clip-on sunglasses minus the tinted lenses and makes you look like you’re ready for weed whacking in the front lawn rather instead of a law enforcement from the fighter. They’re still available to purchase separately for $85 (£60, about AU$90).
Google Glass Explorer Edition is one of the most expensive gadgets from the Mountain View company, beating out its premium Chromebook Pixel laptop with an LTE chip included. You could buy five HP Chromebook 11 laptops instead and still have money left over.
It costs $1,500 (£1,000, AU$1,593) plus tax for this imperfect prototype. But that’s not the total price for most beta testers. In California, the with-tax price equates to an especially painful $1,635. The Google Glass UK price includes the VAT, just like other items the Google Play Store sells.
Even though Explorers are paying top dollar, the specs are remarkably limited. Its has a dual-core OMAP 4430 chip that’s really a 2011-era mobile processor designed by Texas Instruments. Most Google Glass models have 1GB of RAM, though the specs have been upgraded to 2GB of RAM for new orders
Analysts have pegged the bill of materials to be under $200 (about £120, AU$212), meaning the gross margin is $1,300 (£880, about AU$1,381) on each Google Glass sale. That doesn’t take into account Google’s expenses like R&D and marketing, so the actual profit is likely a lot less. After all, someone has to pay all of those Glass guides running through the one-on-one fitting appointments every day and the free domestic or imported beer that they offer you during the visit.
Some of that money also goes to shore up the Google Glass warranty. Meant to cover defects in materials and workmanship, this limited one-year warranty is surprisingly long and reassuring given Glass’ prototype nature.
Of course, the warranty doesn’t include accidents, fires, software modifications and just about every other your-fault incident you can think of. Reselling Google Glass voids this guarantee just the same.
The high price of Google Glass didn’t just have an impact on my Google Wallet, it made me constantly afraid of losing it or, worse, having it stolen. I’m always more anxious when wearing it in public due to its value. Not-so-funny comments like "Hey, is that Google Glass? Meet me in the back alley. Ha!" made me think twice about taking it everywhere.
As much as I wanted to capture New Year’s Eve fireworks a few months ago in the city of Philadelphia, I decided against wearing Google Glass downtown. It actually helps that a majority of people I run into don’t know what Glass is right now, but you can never be too careful.
There are ways to try to recover a lost or stolen Google Glass. The MyGlass website and app reports the last device location every few minutes, but it needs to either be logged into WiFi or be paired with a Bluetooth phone to do so. That makes it ineffective compared to Find my iPhone and Android Device Manager.
Price drop theories
Price is the biggest hurdle for beta-only Google Glass right now, as the Explorer Edition costs more than seven times as much as an iPhone 5S and five times as much as a Galaxy Note 3 with a two-year contract in the US. It doesn’t adequately replace these devices either. In fact, it can’t. It’s a slave to their shared Bluetooth data when you’re away from a WiFi connection.
There could be a price drop in the future, as the parts don’t actually cost Google anywhere near what it’s charging. The Google Glass consumer price could be dramatically cheaper, spurring everyone to get one even if they’re unsure of its feasibility. Google’s decision to make Chromecast inexpensive had that same "add to shopping cart" effect.
Existing beta testers are paying through the nose pads right now, but that could be because Google doesn’t want everyone to own Glass just yet. It needs developers to make great apps first. Without apps, if the price as low as it could be, the general public would pick up the device and immediately put it down. It would instantly be ahead of its time.
Explorer Edition owners, who paid a premium and helped develop the foundation of Glass, have floated the idea of receiving the likely more affordable Google Glass consumer edition for free. The idea is that their theoretical free Google Glass explains the steep price. It’s built in. But that may just be Explorers’ hopeful thinking.
Google’s official estimate for the Glass’ battery life is "one day of typical use." Features like video recording, however can drain the battery even more quickly, the company warns.
Avoiding these more intensive features, I found my Google Glass battery to last between three and five hours depending on how many hands-free photos I was taking in that time span. Recording a video wiped the battery out in less than an hour after continuously shooting.
That’s far short of the official estimate, but keep in mind that there’s a tremendous difference between being connected to WiFi vs Bluetooth via a tethered smartphone. Relying on a phone’s shared LTE data connection drained my battery more quickly.
Google Glass also ran much hotter over Bluetooth, something that was pointed out to me every time I demoed Google Glass to a large group. Typically, this observation was noticed by the time it was passed to the last person to wear it.
Teardown specs indicate that Google Glass contains a puny 570 mAh lithium-polymer battery, even with its larger-than-desired battery size located behind the right ear. Luckily, the small battery size means that it doesn’t take exceptionally long to charge, with less than two hours giving me a complete 100% battery life to drain it all over again.
To conserve battery life as much as humanly or cyborgly possible, I turned off head wake up, on-head detection and Wink for picture. I also carried around an external high-capacity battery pack in my pocket with a USB cable running to the micro USB port. I don’t suggest this look.
Google Glass in public
Google Glass is more fun than functional primarily because of the reaction derived from donning a wearable computer in public. Onlookers’ curious and questioners’ amazement always turns into a flood of ways they think Glass can be used in the future. Becoming an Explorer within the first year, I have had to constantly answer questions, but that’s part of the fun. Explaining gadgets to people is why I became a technology journalist in the first place.
Peoples’ fascination certainly kept me occupied in lines at Disneyland, where they wanted to know more about Google Glass, take a photo, wear it themselves and take another photo. Only a handful of people knew a little bit about it, often mistakenly saying, "There’s those Google Glasses!" even though there’s only one glass involved. A majority of the people had no idea, timidly asking "Can I ask you about the glass on your face?"
I was able to test if Google Glass is waterproof, or at least water resistant, at Disneyland’s log flume ride, Splash Mountain. It survived my drenched-in-water decision to sit in the front row, though I wisely slipped it into the micro-fiber case to dry it off immediately after the final hill. Google doesn’t recommend letting liquids near the internal components, especially the battery, though Robert Scoble has proven that it can be worn in the shower without incident.
The reaction at CES 2014 was a little more muted considering all of the extravagant technology at the week-long Las Vegas conference. But I still had to field questions and tell people, no, they couldn’t pick it up in the South Hall. It’s still beta-only, but should be out later this year.
Peoples’ trepidation of Google Glass can sometimes sap some of the fun out wearing it or create wearable gadget faux pas that didn’t exist before, as it did twice as CES. Its so lightweight that I often times forgot I was wearing it, including an exceptionally awkward moment when I entered a public bathroom. I wondered why I was receiving bizarre stares up until I went to wash my hands and looked in the mirror.
Public bathrooms are not Glass friendly for obvious reasons, and that’s where putting it away in the case and the case inside a bag becomes cumbersome.
The second incident occurred at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where I was walking on the outskirts of the casino strictly because I was making my way back to my hotel after a long day at CES. Moving rather quickly – not stopping – with a group of fellow tech journalists, I was approached by a panicked security guard who shouted "Sir! Sir! No Google Glass in the casino."
I took off Google Glass without protest, but found it strange considering I had a giant Canon T3i DSLR that can shoot 1080p video hanging from my neck and sitting at chest level. It didn’t matter to him that I had it pointed at the casino the entire time or that most everyone I was walking with had similar recording tech on them.
Wearing Google Glass while driving has been the subject of court cases, and even when it’s not on, the new technology is still in murky legal territory. People have reportedly gotten kicked out, banned or harassed for wearing it. The only way to overcome peoples’ Google Glass fear is through wider adoption. Remember when cell phones with cameras were routinely banned at concerts venues?
Glasses wearers are no longer at a myopic disadvantage now that Google Glass prescription lenses and frames have officially been made available after an annoying 11-month wait.
Tech’s smartest-looking early adopters can finally experience Google Glass while still being able to see the world in front of them. Nearsighted or farsighted, it doesn’t matter. They can see through Google’s wearable computer by looking up into the top right corner of their vision, and then see near and far by peering through specialized glasses.
Even better, the glasses attachment gives the device a less offending, more natural look and style. That’s due in part to the four attractive Google Glass frames on sale: Curve, Bold Split and Thin. Of course, corrected vision comes at a price.
These compatible premium frames are currently free with new Google Glass orders, but normally cost $225 (£175, AU$239). A Google employee in Los Angeles said he didn’t think the free frames deal would last very long.
Of course the glasses frames with false lenses, which means there’s still the unfortunate extra step and cost of visiting an eyecare provider in order to have the specialized prescription lenses cut to size. It’s still not easy having imperfect vision while looking like you’re living in the future.
It’s certainly better than attempting to wear Google Glass overtop of prescription glasses. It just doesn’t work in most cases that I have tested out. Existing frames are usually too big to properly fit underneath of the Glass hardware and ultimately feel too uncomfortable to stand for more than a minute. It’s also extra bizarre looking to walk around with Google Glass on top of crooked glasses.
Without the new prescription lenses, Google Glass can still be tested by nearsighted individuals because they can see everything on the prism that sits two inches from their right eye. But day-to-day use isn’t feasible because the myopia suffers won’t be able to get very far without their normal glasses.
Other manufacturers did beat Google to the market with unofficial Google Glass prescription lenses and frames. Rochester Optical was the first company to do just that as it rolls out its clip-on product, RO Gold for Google Glass. It began shipping at the start of the year for the lense price of $99 (about £59, AU$105) and the separate clip price of $129 (about £77, AU$137).
Whether you order the official Google Glass prescription lenses or opt for the cheaper Rochester Optical solution, it’s essential for nearsighted or farsighted glasses wearers to find corrective lenses that work before joining and really enjoying the Explorer program.
Release date and upgrades
Google Glass was expected to have a "consumer version" release this year, but there was no official announcement timed with the Google IO 2014 developer conference in June or since then.
"[In 2014], I want to have a broad consumer offering," said co-founder Sergey Brin to Bloomberg two years ago. Maybe the fact that Glass is now available in the Google Play Store counts as that consumer offering?
Either way, what’s next for Google Glass? More than any single upgrade to its tech specs, significantly dropping the retail edition’s price would put it on more faces, even some of the skeptical ones.
That’s certainly feasible, as a number of analysts have calculated Google Glass’ bill of materials to be less than $200 (about £120, AU$212) based on the known components.
Naturally, now that the invite-only process has ended in favor of open enrollment in the US and UK, the next step is to make Google Glass available worldwide, including Explorer-deprived regions like Continental Europe and Australia.
The Google Glass consumer version is likely to contain a bigger battery, even though Google is going to struggle with the bigger form factor resting behind the ear. It’s already big enough at 570 mAh.
The camera, while adequate at 5 megapixels, is also a desired upgrade for the retail version. It’s one of the most used features of Google Glass, as demonstrated by all of the fun-to-look-at #throughglass photos on Twitter. I still prefer to use my iPhone 6 or Nexus 6 for pictures when it matters, especially in low-light situations. Google Glass is only used for novelty and convenience purposes.
The number of Glassware apps is going to naturally increase in the future. Its current count of 64 is just the beginning, and augmented reality games could have a really big impact on Google Glass in 2014. Further out, it could better connect with the company’s broadening ecosystem, possibly integrating with Chromecast for screencasting photos and video, or the newly released Android Wear smartwatches like Moto 360 and LG G Watch R.
Google hasn’t laid out an official timeline for the public version of its trendsetting wearable, but with Google Glass competitors launching over the next several months, it may fast track the release date and scope. We expect to hear more on or before the Google IO 2015 keynote, hopefully with a consumer version introduction that’s as grandiose as 2012’s skydiving entrance.
Google Glass in its current prototype form is an unfinished trailblazing avant-garde piece of tech. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around. I worried about whether I’d be able to tell if it was really the next big thing or a huge waste of time and money.
Glass sure wrapped itself around my brain though, and with considerable comfort. I was able to test it easily in my everyday life and that’s what Google Glass is all about: putting one’s smartphone down, yet still being able to share pieces of your life with your friends and family through a unique first-person perspective.
The excitement surrounding Google Glass made wearing the invite-only prototype a thrill, but you have to be the right sort of technology-loving visionary to benefit from people’s curiosity. I couldn’t go a day without a half dozen people asking me about it. Explorers should expect the same.
In between all of the welcomed questions, I found taking hands-free photos, uploading them to Facebook and Twitter and adding captions with my voice to be the most entertaining part. Receiving and replying to work-related Hangout messages while cooking dinner and then getting walking directions at the spread-out CES 2014 venues made it productive.
Google Now is by far the best app of the 64 available with flight information, weather, and sports scores available based on what I’ve searched recently. I also habitually take advantage of being able to Google any question that pops into my brain, leaving no answer unknown with my smartphone still in my pocket
We didn’t like
Using Google Glass doesn’t always go as planned, especially when it comes to a full day of use. The battery life is abysmal and tethering to anything but an Android is less than satisfying. Text message replies and directions are sorely missed when using it with an iPhone.
The camera’s low-light performance could be better and the microphone, while surprisingly strong, often took a couple of attempts to properly add captions in moderately noisy situations.
Price and privacy are two issues that are of concern right now. As a consumer, $1,500 (£1000, about AU$1,593) plus tax is too much to pay for most any gadget, especially one that’s still in development. You do get offered beer during the Google Glass appointment, which helps ease the pain.
There’s nothing like Google Glass, so upon being "invited," I jumped at the chance to empty my Google Wallet for what my bank account poorly categorized as "Glass – Home Improvement." It did nothing for my home, but it did provide conversation-starting "improvement" in social settings outside of the house.
Its hands-free photo taking capabilities encouraged me to seek out more adventure that required two hands but still warranted capturing. I put down my smartphone for a record amount of time. Instead, I searched Google Now, used hands-free Google Maps navigation and responded to Gmail and texts through the built-in microphone.
The 5-megapixel camera isn’t nearly as good as what you’ll find on a current smartphone, especially the iPhone 5S and Galaxy Note 3, and the voice recognition software doesn’t get everything entirely right. The battery life and price get everything wrong – one is too small, one is too big; it would be great if they switched.
But when you think about it, Google Glass is the first of its kind – at least with a major company behind it. The first iPhone with its pre-installed apps and novel touchscreen had the same "is this worth it or just hype?" question surrounding when Apple launched it in 2007.
Owning Google Glass is even more reminiscent to a previous generations’ owning the first TV on the block. No one has seen it in person before and everyone want to come over and try it out. The intense public interest is entertaining, but not worth the Explorer Edition price for most consumers.
It’s still more fun than functional right now with the promise of becoming the next big thing.
First reviewed: January 2014
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