This is not a review, because I don’t know what I’m reviewing yet. This is my experience so far.
I was one of the lucky bastards who was selected to participate in the Glass Explorer program and purchase Google Glass for the bargain price of $1500 + tax. I’m not that notable of a developer or personality so presume I was a random grab in the Google+ application procedure.
4 months later, I was notified that I was eligible to order Glass and schedule pickup.
I was given the option to schedule my appointment online and, living in San Diego, I opted to head to the LA office. I made the decision to pick up my Glass on the way to Idyllwild, CA with my tired, hot, and cranky family in the car. Note that the only similarity in direction that LA and Idyllwild share is “North” which, being in San Diego, could also be said about Portland, Boston, and Canada. Note to self: Venice Beach is not remotely “on the way” to Idyllwild.
There was a valet sign for Glass Explorers at the Google LA offices surrounded by smiling Google employees all wearing their Glass (“shale” being their color of choice, it seems). I may have been slightly delirious after driving in hot LA traffic for 4 hours, but the sight of a half dozen smiling nerds was a welcome one. At the start everyone was happy and excited and it was easy to buy in to that atmosphere and get prepared for something fun.
My family and I were escorted in by a couple of employees, given a quick tour, offered drinks and food (mimosa and cookies or “breakfast” as I call it at my house), and set in front of a chrome pixel at our station. I was given the opportunity to choose my Glass color even though I had already picked one during the purchase process. I had selected “shale” (grey) but ended up choosing “carbon” (black). The orange and blue colors are really nice shades and, were I a less self conscious person, I would have chosen orange.
My Glass guide moved me through the pairing process, registration, the standard array of commands, and asked questions as to how I wanted or thought I wanted to use Glass. It was pretty basic and I wanted to play more but had a family to tend to. My son was antsy and was finding google an increasingly entertaining facility to explore and I was afraid of him molesting the displays of obscenely expensive glasses.
You’ve already read the gist of what Glass is, how it works, and what it does. Hopefully I can give you something new.
Picture: “Good enough”
There is nothing wonderful about the screen projection, other than the feeling that you are living in the future with an LCD projected in front of your eyeball. It works, but is difficult to read in sunlight and when looking at anything bright. It is not too hard to focus on but extended viewing is not too satisfying, easy, or comfortable. This is not usually a big deal because the information presented in your timeline isn’t enough to make you strain, but this may become relevant now with the latest update and the ability to browse actual websites (and play html5 video. Yeah, for real, right in front of your eyeball).
My wish : That it was slightly larger and easier to focus. It always has a “ghosty” feel due to reflection or being partially out of focus.
Audio: “Neat, but poor to useless”
The “bone conduction” technology used to transmit sound seems gimmicky and barely useful in this form. The theory is that a small, hard plate vibrates behind your ear and transmits sound to your inner ear via bone. In a quiet room you can definitely make out the sound and get use out of the text to speech, but other people can hear it as well so “bone conduction” is not really as critical an aspect as it sounds. In any amount of noise the sound becomes difficult to impossible to hear because 1) it’s not very loud to begin with, and 2) there’s no earbud so you have to compete with all ambient noise as well. The only way I know there is something being said half the time is because the vibration tickles my ear.
Unfortunately this is a pretty big deal because it makes using Glass as a bluetooth mic/speaker for your phone nearly impossible. This is doubly important because the idea of Glass benefits when you have more and more reason to keep it on all the time. I understand the need for non-intrusive audio delivery but this technology just doesn’t work well in common usage.
My wish : At least provide an audio jack and earbud options for people who find this important. I would even prefer no audio unless an earbud is used, that is how useless “bone conduction” is ending up for me. This is worth a slightly larger profile or dealing with the burden of an additional part to fumble for.
Camera : Awesome, awesome, awesome. Much better than expected.
I was impressed with the camera right away. It doesn’t suffer from the “press-and-wait” of most cell phone cameras; the picture is taken immediately. This camera does a really good job at capturing the picture the way I want the memory to be stored. This is the killer app for me so far and it’s hard to stress how impactful it was upon first use. I have never been a big picture taker and don’t really like having to worry about camera quality or settings when I’m just trying to capture my memory.
As a father, the memory I have of my children is largely dependent on the angle at which I look down at them, the height at which they look up at me, and eye contact. I can get these memories from Glass.
My Wish : To be able to take a picture via a two finger press or swipe of the touchpad. The physical button takes fumbling to find and requires coordination to press, and saying “Ok, Glass. Take a picture” is neat but gets tired after the 10th time and gets worse once your toddlers start running around the house saying it.
Feel and fit : Pretty good
Glass is much lighter than I expected and fits my head well. The screen is placed just above my right eye and is mostly in focus. Having demoed Glass literally over one hundred times, I’ve seen it just simply not fit on some people’s heads. Nothing is configurable except for the nose pads and the angle of the screen. If your ear doesn’t fit in between the touchpad and the battery, you are out of luck. If you have glasses, you are out of luck. If you can’t focus on the screen, you are out of luck.
That said, it fits me and fits me well. After long periods my right ear will get sore having bore the weight of glass, but that happens with regular sun and eyeglasses too.
There is a slight squeak as the metal and plastic bend while walking. Ok, it’s not much, but it’s my blog and I can post shit like this.
My Wish : Not much, Google did a damn good job. It also looks pretty slick.
Voice Input : Awesome, cumbersome, and awkward
The good: It does work and works well most of the time, even in loud ambient noise.
The Bad: Sometimes it doesn’t pick up anything, and it will also always pick up other people’s voices. This gets fun when you have people who get a kick out of shouting “OK GLASS, TAKE A PICTURE” as soon as you touch your temple.
The Awkward: When you want to google something, your first thought is “Hey, brain, let’s google this thought!” It is not “Hey brain and mouth, within 200 milliseconds, let us construct and enunciate an appropriate voice command followed by a query that will get us what we are looking for.” This leads to initiating the command for search as your brain gets hit with the first impulse followed by “Um, I uh where is uh get directions to, no, map chicken waffles, wait, michael jackson.”
The Reality: This doesn’t scale. If there were a lot of people with voice activated devices in public it would be so effing annoying. It is also difficult to know just what to ask in order to trigger special handling. I can ask “show traffic near me” and it will show me a map with traffic, but something like “How long will it take me to get home” doesn’t hit. “Will I need an umbrella today?” gives me a nice rundown of the weather and chance of rain, but “What will the weather be like tomorrow?” gives me standard google results. I understand this is complicated, but it’s important.
My Wish : Mind control or more gesture control.
Battery Life : Acceptable
The first day the battery life was awful. There is a feature to activate Glass via tilting your head up and down which works great but also seems to suck the battery down. Turning that setting off improved the life and I have been able to get a reliable day out of Glass. Video recording and navigation drain the battery a lot, a 20 minute video takes 40% of the battery (at least).
My Wish : A removable battery, and move the charging port to the very back so that people could conceivably charge Glass discreetly with a cable running down their back (hey, I would do it). Offer a battery addon that completes the wrap around the head and attaches to the left side. Battery life is going to be important. If Glass is expected to be worn often then it is going to need to be reliable. I can see Glass being commonly used for video recording and that is not something that can be done without worry right now.
Glass is awesome, but a lot of that awesomeness is that it is new, special, rare, and unique. It requires substantial retraining to use a device like this instead of the phone you’ve already grown reliant on. To retrain yourself you need to use it all the time. To use it all the time you need a reason to use it all the time.
What’s that reason? We don’t know yet. I feel like a guinea pig trying to show Google how somebody relatively normal would use their new toy. Right now I’m using it for pictures, video, and navigation. Everything else is icing and an excuse to keep the device on, but it’s not my core usage yet and, if it disappeared, I wouldn’t notice.
One last thing, you have to get used to being pointed at or stared at every time you wear Glass. People commonly criticize or make fun of me or the device from within earshot either because they aren’t aware I can hear them from 4 feet away or they just don’t care. This has been a fun process of self-growth over the past few weeks but it still takes me considerable effort to actually wear them in public. I used to be very introverted and self conscious but have forcefully pushed myself out of that hole over the past few years. Even still, I need to stop and take a breath before stepping out of my car and mentally prepare for questions, criticism, stares, and curiosity. Yes, poor me.