By Special Correspondent Brian Ward
Durham, New Hampshire—My second day on the job and I was already getting to play with new toys. When Katie asked me to try out her new pair of Google Glass (pair of Google Glasses? The official name is “Glass,” which I’ll use, but it sounds kind of oh-so-uber-hip-techy), I was instantly onboard. I’m a bit of a nerd, so a chance to try out the newest creation of Google’s sci-fi labs was pretty sweet.
Then I tried them on. I found a few problems:
1. They don’t fit over regular glasses very well. A huge problem when you consider that 64% of Americans wear glasses. While Google is making prescription Glass, that only means the vision impaired will have to pay extra for an item that already costs $1,500. For a sense of comparison, I would have to forgo my next 10 pairs of glasses to buy one pair of non-prescription Google Glass.
2. They’re difficult to use (at least for me). When I first tried Glass on, I tried to use it without a manual to see how intuitive the controls are. They aren’t. Katie told me what a few of the controls were, like, “OK Glass,” and how to scroll with the touchpad. I figured out maybe two other controls before giving up. After 10 minutes trying to find the voice command for, “go back,” I caved and read the instructions.[emember_protected for=2-3-5 custom_msg=’This article requires a subscription. Sign up now and get 30 days of free access to the world’s best source of knowledge and insight about measurement. Or log in if you’ve already signed up.’]
You use Google Glass through a mix of voice commands, a touch pad on the glasses’ stem, and head motions. Reading the instructions helped quite a bit (obviously), but it was far from ideal. Once I knew what the touchpad controls were they were pretty easy, and the voice recognition software is very good. I couldn’t get the motions settings to work, particularly the “tilt your head up to wake up the device” setting. The experience improved, but I spent most of my time thinking, “I could do this easier on my phone.” Maybe it’s just because I’m an inflexible 21-year-old set in my ways.
3. Bad image quality. Admittedly, the projection device for the Glass screen is a brilliant idea, but it needs some work. The screen appears as a transparent rectangle in the upper right corner of your eye. While I didn’t find that it interfered with my ability to see or move about, the picture quality was not great. The edges of the screen wobble with the tiny movements of your head and the picture itself was weak and watery. My biggest problem was the picture size. It’s hard to describe, it’s like looking at a really large projection screen very far away with the words written extra-large so you can see them. My phone is capable of HD and has a nice large screen, so the image part of Glass didn’t really draw me.
4. It’s not very useful on the go. Which is ironic considering that portability is one of Glass’s main draws. True, it fits on your face, is lightweight, and hands free. However, let’s not forget its abysmal battery life and its need for super-strength wi-fi. While Google states that Glass has a battery life of one day, people who test it (including me) have found they get 3-5 hours of life from a full charge and moderate usage. Record a video and it’s drained in an hour. In addition, Glass is wi-fi only, which limits its usability when you’re wandering the big wide world. So the very portable Glass can only be used a few hours at a time and can’t surf the web unless next to a strong Wi-Fi connection. In addition, Glass has no hinges so you can’t fold it up when you’re not using them. They are either on your face or in a special case or bag that you can’t fit into your pocket.
5. I felt silly wearing them. That’s highly subjective, but I thought I’d bring it up. One thing I thought when I wore it is that I would never go out in public wearing these things. I felt rude when I was in a room with someone and I was doing a Google search. You know the feeling of answering your cellphone while you’re in a meeting and feeling like everyone’s annoyed with you? That’s what it’s like using Glass with people around. I instinctively found myself leaving the room every time I did a search. All the search functions on Glass are voice activated, so there’s literally no way to quietly look something up. To click on links within a page you have to hold the page still by pressing the touchscreen and then moving your head around till the screen lines up with the link. When using Glass you are mumbling to yourself while tapping the side of your face and twitching your head around. That will make you very popular in a crowded room very quickly. Then again that’s just how I feel. People had the same problems getting used to cell phones and Bluetooth headsets when they first came out. I know a bunch of people who’d wear Google Glass to a funeral if they could.
My first impression of Google Glass is that it’s a cool idea and may open up to a wider audience in the future. But not right now.
True, the more I used Glass the easier I found it and I definitely expect the technology to improve.
What I kept coming back to was that everything you can do on Google Glass you can do better on a phone.
With my smartphone I can already surf the web, make calls, watch videos, check the weather, etc. My phone is cheaper, the picture quality is better, the coverage is better, the battery life is better and it lets me chose between a keyboard and verbal commands. I can use a phone discreetly and tuck it away when I’m done; not having to make a show of it every time I use it.
My sense is that Google Glass and its descendants will be more like Blu-ray than DVDs. When DVD’s came out they were such a spectacular improvement that everyone flocked to them. Videotapes were wiped out and turned into an aging cultural reference. When Blu-ray came out it didn’t have the same effect. The picture quality was better, but other than that it just did the same things a DVD did. Now they exist in tandem with DVDs.
Google Glass is like Blue-ray; it’s got a cool new twist, but other than that it just more money to do something an existing device can already do. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Google Glass, but for the time being I’m keeping my smartphone. ∞
Thanks to Soudip’s Photoblog for the image.