Google Glass, it’s all about potential [Review]

IMG_9696I’m a known advocate of wearable technology. It fascinates me, and I become enthralled in the possibilities of such devices. I own a Pebble, Nike+ FuelBand, and of course, Google Glass (referred to as simply “Glass” for short).

Google Glass is something that interested me from the day it was announced back in 2012. It is hard to believe that it has been that long since its announcement, but sure enough we are approaching two years since the iconic device was shown off at Google I/O for the first time. Now, it’s available purchase; for a fairly hefty price, of course. Let us take a walk down the path to getting Glass…

First off, you can’t just wake up one day and decide “Today is the day I buy Glass!” Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that easy. You have to receive an invite from Google to become what is called a Glass Explorer, and then you can activate your Google account with a special token that authenticates you as someone that has received a Glass invitation. Then comes the fun part, picking a color. I chose the darkest; it just seemed to go with more things and was the only one that seemed to fit my preference (other than white, that one looks nice too). After you’ve chosen what color you like, you get to the checkout part. Here is where many will immediately turn around and say that Glass is just not for them: it costs $1500, not including tax. I know, kind of crazy, but at the moment that is the price of living in the future (don’t worry, Google says the consumer version will be cheaper).

Finally, after a day or two (it ships overnight once the order goes through), you receive a box that holds your wondrous new toy inside, along with a few other goodies as well. When you open up the box, you peel away a barely translucent piece of thick plastic that then reveals Glass sitting in a molded stand of sorts that points to all the different ports, buttons, and peripherals: the micro-USB charger, the power button, the camera button, the vibrating sound motor, and of course the prism that acts as the heads up display, a.k.a. the reason it is called “Glass” (though, in actuality it’s just a very clear piece of plastic). Take that out of the box and you will find the carrying pouch, the earbud, the charger, and all of the miscellaneous instruction manuals and legal info that, be honest, none of you will read.

The charger is something that I have personally not encountered before, as to say, the wire is completely flat. It’s not the average round wire, instead being flat and thin, most likely so that it can be plugged in while wearing Glass so that you can load applications, etc, on the device. Something small and seemingly insignificant – but actually incredibly useful – is the fact that the USB plug and the wall wart are both color coded (black and white on each half), and to plug it in you simply line up the colors; that way, you can never plug it in the wrong way. Simple, but useful.

IMG_9688After that you turn to the next, smaller box. Inside you will find either the sunglasses lens or the clear lens that you ordered with Glass (I chose the tinted sunglasses style ones). All you will find is the lens itself as well as a microfiber sleeve that it fits nicely into.

But, what about actually using Glass? Here is where stuff gets much, much more interesting.

Setting up Glass is easy, you turn it on, download MyGlass on either your Android phone or iPhone (the rest of this will be talking from the iPhone point of view, seeing as I have an iPhone 5s), and follow the directions on the Glass display as well as MyGlass until your phone is completely set up and connected to Glass via Bluetooth. At this point, you are ready to go. But wait, there’s a catch for us iOS users: if you don’t have a tethering plan, you will be extremely limited on features (even if you do, you’ll still be more limited than Android). Android users can do things such as send SMS messages through Glass, where as – because of iOS limitations – iOS users cannot. If you have tethering on your device, however, you will be able to take advantage of a fair amount of Glass functionality. By connecting Glass to your iPhone over Bluetooth and setting up a Bluetooth tethering connection (you are walked through this during set up in MyGlass), you are then able to do things such as ask Google questions, take pictures and share them to Facebook or Twitter, send messages via Hangouts (not SMS on iPhone, remember), video chat with someone, get  turn by turn directions to places, and a few others.

Glass, without any Glassware, is honestly quite the let down. You can do some pretty cool stuff, but nothing near what is worth the price tag. Glassware, if you didn’t know, is what Google has dubbed the applications that run on Glass, so we are on the same page. Well, Glassware such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are great, but it is what you can find outside of Google’s reviewed Glassware section in the MyGlass app that’s great. With the release of a sneak peak at the GDK (Glass Development Kit), developers have already been going at writing Glassware that expands the usability of Glass beyond what Google had ever thought of; but that is the entire point to the Glass Explorers program. Glass runs on a very slimmed down version of Android 4.0.4, and therefore has a lot of similarities when it comes to writing applications. Because of this, developers have been able to pick up quickly with the new APIs for Glass, and some great software has become of it.

For instance, I currently have an unofficial Foursquare application on my Glass called Glasquare. It simply let’s you say “Ok Glass, check me in” and low and behold, it grabs your location from your phone and checks you in. It’s that easy. Other things I installed include an app called Glass Compute, a Wolfram|Alpha front-end for Glass, as well as one called SpeedHud which puts your current speed and direction in your field of view, so if you are driving you aren’t constantly looking down at your speed, it is always there for you to see.

Just as I said in my Pebble review, wearable technology is all about the potential. Developers are going to be a key player in the wearables market, and with the Pebble app store coming out soon we are seeing how at least one player in the smartwatch market is accomplishing this. Google Glass is no different, it will need developer support. With it only being in its early stages still, and with developer support as strong as it is already, I have high hopes for the future of Google Glass. Developers already know how to write apps for it because of its Android base, and that means that many people are already able to write fully functional applications for Glass. All we need now is a consumer edition so more people can get it in their hands (or, on their face).

IMG_9694Next up, battery life. Something everyone is always concerned about.

Battery life is very controversial; some people say it is horrible, some say it is manageable, some say it is great. If you know how to condition a battery, you will be perfectly fine with Google Glass. I can use it all day without a problem, and have a little charge left when I plug it in for the night. I take pictures, send a few Evernote notes, upload pictures to Google Drive, etc. By no means would I call myself a heavy user, but an average user for sure. Could it be better? Well, what device couldn’t be better? The only devices that don’t have trouble with battery life are the thick DROID RAZR MAXX and ULTRA MAXX from Motorola, or the obnoxiously large Galaxy Note series from Samsung (no one needs a phone over 5 in. unless you are nearly blind), and you aren’t going to be strapping something that large to your forehead. Overall, I have no major qualms over battery life.

Something that is also controversial is the looks of the device. Some find it futuristic and awesome (myself), some find it horrid to look at. Personally, as I just indicated, I think it looks awesome. But I fit into a category of people who love the futuristic look and feel of a device that hasn’t really had something else like it grab the attention of so many people before. Glass is unlike anything that we have had in a consumer market (even though, well, it technically isn’t there yet either). It looks like something taken right out of a sci-fi movie, and being someone that is a fan of those, the look of it appeals to me. To those that are appalled at having something seem so lopsided with the actual Glass unit being on only one side of your face, you will hate it most likely. But, to those that don’t like the looks, I challenge you to use one without liking it. It is lighter or as light as a pair of glasses, and is extremely unobtrusive when you want it to be. You can clearly see through the prism when the screen is not on, and sometimes I completely forget that it is there. If you don’t like Glass, try it first, and you will love it.

Overall, because it is still a work in progress product, it is far from perfect. Software is still very limited (unless you sideload 3rd party Glassware), and the price is somewhat high for what is offered if you are just an average consumer that got an invite. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 7/10. Keeping in mind that it is still a work in progress, the three points that are taken off account for it being limited by software, and the very expensive price tag. If Google could get the price down, and work out an App Store for the device, it would very easily be the perfect wearable tech product.

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Feel free to send me question on Twitter @TiP_Kyle, and check out the picture gallery below for more Google Glass.

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  • vange92

    What about talking to it on the street/bus/overground? Cause I already find it weird when people talk in the phone with a Bluetooth headset. Same reason why I don’t use Siri outside of home or when people can hear me. Thanks.

  • DrewPage

    I think people are missing the point of Google Glass.  Its pretty unlikely Google would release it to the public in its current form, for many reasons.  The current hardware is just a test bed to see if something more marketable can be produced for the general public.  Its half baked at best.  Google has a long way to go before the general public would bite.  It is coming along nicely though.  I have to wonder why tech bloggers are all of a sudden reviewing it?