Ten days with Google Glass
December 23, 2013
Here at Gizmag, we're very interested in the present and future of wearable tech. So we thought it was fitting to sign up for the Google Glass Explorer program, to give you a better idea of what Sergey Brin and company have brewing up in Mountain View. Though we aren't quite ready to dish up a proper Google Glass review, we want to share some more thoughts about our first ten days with Glass.
My first few days with Google Glass were mostly about the self-consciousness of wearing it in public, along with some grandiose thoughts about a cyborg future for the human race. After another week or so, has anything changed?
Well, yes. As I suspected, the more I wear Glass, the less I give a damn about the stares and funny looks in public. It's becoming surprisingly easy and comfortable to wear it out and about. It helps that Glass' look is starting to grow on me. When you're uncertain about your own appearance, you're more likely to be hyper-sensitive about others' reactions. But once you're more comfortable in your skin (which apparently includes US$1,500 cyborg skin), it's easier to laugh off strangers' gawks, stares, and furrowed brows.
As others before me have pointed out, the biggest concern in the Explorer Edition of Glass is its battery life. I can usually eke a full day of use out of it, and that's really all I can ask from it at this point. But if I wear it from wake to sleep without charging during the day, it's usually cutting it really close, hovering somewhere around 15-20 percent (or less) remaining by day's end.
My typical use involves voice messaging, reading emails and Hangouts messages, snapping and sending quite a few pictures, asking Google the occasional question, and some fitness tracking with the Strava Run Glassware app (pictured below). If I did any of these things much more than the light to moderate amount that I do, though, I'm sure it would conk out an hour or two before bedtime. And the times I've used Glass for turn-by-turn driving navigation, it sucked the battery dry much faster than usual.
Looking at Google Glass through the lens of being a beta product, I think the battery life issue is par for the course, and really not that big of a deal. Now, if the retail version of Glass launched without improved uptimes, that would be a different conversation ... but I imagine Google will add at least a couple hours to its battery life before it ships to the public.
One beef, that shouldn't be too surprising, is how much Glass coaxes you into using Google services for things that you wouldn't otherwise have to. For example, if I snap a picture and want to send it to my wife, I can either send it through Google Hangouts or I can share it with a Google+ circle that she's in. You could technically also use Facebook or Twitter, but I committed social media Seppuku long ago, and no longer bother with those virtual town squares. The point is, simple photo-sharing options like MMS and email attachments aren't possible on Glass right now. Maybe that's the world we're increasingly living in, but you'd think the maker of Gmail would make it more of a priority to let you to send a photo as an email attachment.
A recent update to Glass, that I almost missed, has already fixed my other big annoyance. Before, when using the "OK Glass, send a message to ..." voice command from the main menu, Glass would follow a preset hierarchy of contact methods. It prioritized Hangouts, then went to SMS, and if those weren't available, it used email. But now the MyGlass smartphone app lets you set the preferred contact method for each of your friends. Now you aren't forced to send chat messages to that work colleague or acquaintance that you only wanted to email.
Google Glass only has a 5-megapixel camera, but I think it takes very solid pictures. More importantly, I now take a ton of pictures everywhere I go because, well, Glass makes it ridiculously easy to do so. Google's December software update even lets you snap a pic by winking your right eye. The feature works most of the time for me, making it incredibly fast to go from looking at something to having captured it in digital form. Even though every smartphone I've used in the last year or two has a better camera than Glass does, I take more/better pics with Glass just because it makes it so damn quick and easy.
The big questions we're working towards here are a) whether it's worth joining the $1,500 Google Glass Explorer program now (provided you can snag an invitation), and b) if Google Glass is a product that can change the way we live our lives. These questions are going to keep popping up as we spend more time with Glass, but we do have a few thoughts on these fronts now.
As for joining the Explorer program, well, unless you're a hard-core early adopter with lots of money lying around, it's probably best to wait for Glass' retail release. Google has said that the shipping product will go for less than $1,500. Now we don't know whether we're talking $350 or $1,450, so that doesn't necessarily say much ... but I wouldn't be shocked if Google launched Glass with some pretty aggressive pricing. After all, this is the company that spearheaded the $35 Chromecast and the $350 Nexus 5. If a sub-$1,000 Google Glass is just a few months away, then you might kick yourself for throwing down so much money on the beta version.
As for the long-term future of Glass, I'm starting to think Google might be onto something here. The big challenge is still going to be getting non-geeks comfortable wearing computer gear on their faces. The geekier among us are probably going to be psyched about Glass no matter what, but Google doesn't want this to carry the social stigma of a pocket protector or thick glasses. A formula for widespread adoption that is not.
The more cool uses for Glass that developers come up with, though, the more incentive people will have to jump into that fray. Right now I see notifications, photography, messaging, fitness-tracking, navigation, and Google queries as its best features. Being able to do these things 100 percent hands-free, hovering above your field of vision, makes Glass a pretty damn useful and exciting product. It's close enough to being a revolutionary product that I can imagine a few more killer apps – and a few more hours of battery life – being enough to push it past that threshold.
We're going to have a lot more to say about Glass in the coming weeks, so be sure to keep checking back at Gizmag.