Google Glass Review: Heads-On With Google’s Fanciest Gizmo – Know Your Mobile

As a device reviewer Google Glass is one of the most annoying pieces of tech on the planet. On a phone or tablet, I can take photos or screengrabs which show you what I’m seeing, but as I have to wear Glass on my face this is pretty much impossible within the confines of a press event. So, dear reader, I’m afraid to say that you’ll have to just take my word for it on what it’s like to wear Glass, though I did take some snaps of its exterior, for what it’s worth.

As a piece of hardware, Glass is not particularly impressive, it is quite simply a pair of specs with some bits attached to it. But the exterior isn’t really where Google is trying to impress you, as is so often the case these days, it’s all about the “experience”, man.

For the say so, however, I will go into a bit of detail about the build. The spectacle designs come in a variety of shapes designed for different faces, and like any pair of specs they’re a bit thin and fairly flimsy feeling – don’t sit on them. However, the actual workings of the Glass part itself – the clump of coloured, matte finish polycarbonate bodywork which houses the internals, camera and features a little adjustable arm for the display – is quite sturdy and robust, with an impressive finish and quality to the touch.

Which is just as well, because this is really what Google Glass is, the frames are sort of superfluous, to the extent that Google was demonstrating sets with no “glasses” or lens attachments whatsoever – purely a headset. This is why Google is teaming up with designers and established eyewear brands left, right, and centre: it makes the hardware and software, while the people who’ve been making glasses and shades for donkey’s years figure out how to fit stylish looking facial gear around it. Google showcased a few fairly slick looking pairs of sun-Glass-es at the hands-on showcase I attended, and very nice they were too.

But enough about that, what about the functionality? This was the first time I’d been in a position to touch Google Glass let alone stick it on my bonce and witness what it’s capable of. My first encounter was with Google’s translation software, with several boards around the showroom hosting a range of signs in different languages – there’s an app which can translate this stuff right in front of your eyes, but first I had to access it.

Glass has a handful of methods for interaction, including voice commands, hand gestures and conventional touch controls (taps and swipes) operated on a section of the bodywork on the right-side of the frames.

As instructed by the helpful helper lady, I tapped the side panel to wake Glass up, the little screen in the top right of my vision displayed the time in white luminescent text, with a keyphrase written underneath…”Ok Glass”. Uttering that phrase gave me a selection of options on-screen, which I was able to swipe through by gesturing forward or backwards on the touchpad, selecting the translate option with a tap. It’s then a case of using the same control method to select what language you want to translate, I went for Italian to English for the sign I was currently ogling.

I had expected the translation to appear imposed over the sign as some kind of set of floating subtitles, but was quite pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case – the sign shows up in the top right window exactly as it appears in your regular vision, down to the same font, except the text is now English. Needless to say, a double-take was in order to ensure I was actually seeing an English translation and not just a repeat of the same thing.

Google’s rep explained that currently this only works for larger text, it hasn’t been honed for anything as small as a restaurant menu, for example, but that stuff is in the works for the future.

One really compelling bit of software was the Star Chart application, which uses GPS information to show you exactly where all the constellations and planets are. Bearing in mind I was in a building, in the middle of London, in the daytime, it’s really quite amazing looking up and seeing the night sky. Not just the night sky though,  the constellations and major planets are highlighted and when you focus on one of them a pop-up will appear with snippets of information – if it’s a constellation, an image will appear superimposed over it, such as a lion for Leo.

I must admit, it’s at this point a few cracks started to appear – some of Star Chart’s features are accessed via voice control and in the noisy showroom it was somewhat temperamental. The Star Chart rep attempted to get round the issue by having me do some gesture controls, which also didn’t work. I can’t say whether this was software or hardware related, a faulty unit, or simply the foibles of pre-release gear, but regardless, the concern is there that, without a touchscreen interface the control inputs need to be very reliable and accurate. Is Google Glass going to achieve this? It seems too early to say.

I also had a quick go on a football app, which allowed you to view match reports and highlights in the corner of your vision. According to the rep, at a later date it’ll be refined further so even if you can’t watch or attend a game, Glass could pop-up with footage of key goals and events as they happen. Fans might find this appealing but I’m not sure how it’ll go down at social or formal events. It’ll be the modern equivalent of secretly listening to a game on headphones – imagine everyone’s horror when you suddenly jump to your feet and scream “YES!” at the top of your lungs during, say, a wedding, funeral, or similar.

This is all just a taste of things to come, as so much is still tied-up “potential”. One developer I spoke to has created an app for pet adoption centres – the idea is that as you enter the centre you’ll be handed a Glass headset. Looking at a dog, cat, or whatever, will bring up some info on screen including their name, breed, age, history and any other important details. Users would be able to save their favourites and this info would be stored by the centre so they can move forward with you on your adoption process. You could also have the information sent to you after your visit, and potentially even record playtime with whatever creatures you spent time with to view at a later date or share with others.

Another example gives firefighters the floor-plan of a building they’re going into.

At the event Google said it wants to encourage people to stop looking down at their phones all the time and instead look back up. The idea is that things like navigation become organic, you look around to get your bearings rather than staring down at a touchscreen. My hands-on time with Glass has left me more intrigued than I was, it no longer feels quite so gimmicky. While Glass is impressive for its commercial, industrial and service applications,  I still remain unconvinced by it as a consumer product, particularly considering the price.

As a final note, I’ll add that during my test with Star Chart I noticed the side panel of Google Glass started to heat up rather a lot, something we see plenty of with modern smartphones. The hardware is processing a lot of information in a confined space – it will be interesting to see whether this causes problems further along, either simply with performance, or through the fact that people may be far less comfortable with processor heat on their face than in their palm.

Google Glass Review: Heads-On With Google’s Fanciest Gizmo – Know Your Mobile

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