Google Glass First Impressions: Hands-on with Google's wearable tech
Google glass has really captured everyone’s imaginations. Everyone in our office has wanted to have a go at trying the latest Google frames and lenses – and it’s not hard to see why. Who could resist something that you wear on your face, which is voice controlled and is capable of sending its interface in front of your eye? It’s the stuff that sci-fi is made of.
So what can it do?
Switch on Glass and then tweak the hinged prism until the interface is projected into your field of vision. Then, just touch the panel that sits by your right temple and you’re off.
What you see is something like a carousel of Google Now-style cards, yet in actual fact Glass actually runs on a highly altered version of Android KitKat.
Each card that you see shows something that you have done recently with Glass - such as snaps taken with the 5MP snapper, directions (either for walking or taking public transport), texts, emails and so on.
But the big thing about Glass is that it is voice controlled – remain on the home screen and then you need to say ‘Okay Glass’. This will get Glass to wake up and offer suggestions such as record a video, take a picture, get directions and so on. Glass is able to understand all kinds of accents and is not put off by any background noise – mind you, you could get a few looks if you start talking to yourself on the bus!
One small point – and bear in mind this is just a prototype at the moment – is that if someone nearby is talking, it can get confused between their voice and yours.
Following directions on Glass is rather surreal – it’s entering the world of science fiction as you see a map floating infront of your eyes and see it rotate and turn as you walk along. It’s basically doing the same thing as a smartphone, but having it projected in front of your eye is a very different experience.
So how does it appear?
What you need to know first is that the interface doesn’t take over your whole field of vision. It feels rather like holding up a smartphone about a foot in front of your right eye. And what you actually see is see-through – which means it is rather hard to see in bright light. However in the right light it looks really crisp and is easy to read. Having to look up and towards your right feels a tad unnatural to start with but you do soon get used to it. You wouldn’t want to read a book using Glass, nor would we really want to browse the web with it, although it does offer a web browser, which is rather complicated to use.
The aim of Glass is to be a discreet tool that can allow you to be aware of incoming messages and the like, without you having to pick up your phone. And for this it works seamlessly. In the office, I could be made aware of emails and texts with a sound that comes though the bone-conduction speaker, before the message itself appeared. It’s really straightforward to use, and is a good alternative to your phone if you want to be hands-free.
At the moment, its functions are pretty limited – Google has done the work on creating the product and now it is being left to developers to make the apps for it. Developers have each paid £890 for Glass, so that they can work on the apps. They could be on the verge of successful businesses – if Glass does turn out to be a success.
When Glass was first put on sale for developers it didn’t look like a pair of spectacles, but now Google has decided to alter the design to make it more acceptable and an appealing gadget for anyone who wears glasses. Google has also designed a number of frames.
My Glass model has the ‘Thin’ frames – there are four styles to choose from. You can have plain glass or have tinted and/or prescription lenses fitted. Originally Glass had a nose rest and titanium band – but now it looks less like something from a sci-fi move and more like a stylish pair of spectacles.
It doesn’t exactly look ‘normal’ but Google has set up a deal with Ray-Ban and Oakley company Luxottica – so it is moving in the right direction to becoming a mainstream product rather than a gadget owned by a few geeks.
Now Glass is a pair of glasses it makes them eminently usable. I don’t even wear glasses, but I soon got used to it resting on my face. Sure, the main unit obscures your eye but you get used to it, just as you get used to smartphones with smaller or bigger displays.
Yes, but do you need it?
The answer is no, but it is still a fantastic piece of technology. If you have even a slight interest in gadgets you’ll want it. We’ve found everyone wanted to have a go and have their photo taken wearing it. But as it stands at the moment, there’s no real reason to have one – we wouldn’t want to call it a gimmick because such a lot of work has gone into it. The problem with Glass is that it is the sort of thing nobody will buy until everyone else is wearing it – a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
It’s the sort of thing that’s great to show off to your mates, and getting notifications on it makes more sense than on a smartphone, but at the moment that’s it. While smartphones are first and foremost phones, the Glass doesn’t have a primary reason for being. You need a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection for it to work, its battery can’t last a full day – and at the moment in prototype stage, it costs a far too pricey $1,500.
Already it has been shown by developers that Glass will be used by pilots, athletes and surgeons, but there needs to be a good reason for your average member of the public to use it, to bring it out of being purely a niche product,
According to Google a new version of Glass will be made available to the public later in the year – it should be cheaper, have more features and better specs. Until then we can’t say if the gamble of producing a pair of Glass glasses has actually paid off.