Report on Google Glas

Pros   

•Contemporary, comfortable design

  • Easy-to-take hands-free photos
  • Head-tracking navigation
  • Conversation starter

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Short Battery life
  • 5MP photos need good lighting
  • Limited number of apps
  • Privacy Concerns

The Google Glas headset has a very simple, clean and elegant design, but in some regards, clumsy. Its plastic-backed titanium band sweeps around and forms the frame that grows very thinner in the middle and thicker on the edges. Two nose grippers arc down, each one terminating with a clear silicone pad with enough friction to keep the whole assembly in place without sliding. The continuous titanium band provides a simple, basic shape that has an instrument package slung from the right side. All the circuitry for the device lies in two plastic housings, one that rests behind the wearer’s ear (containing the battery and bone conductive speaker) and a second that's up front (with the processor, camera and display assembly). The side of the forward portion is also touch-sensitive, forming a slender trackpad. This division balances the device evenly, with the battery mass offsetting that of everything on the front.

In practice, however, I had a hard time getting the native Glas to sit evenly for long periods of time. The right side (with all the equipment) tended to shift lower than the left. Google Glas fits over most eyeglasses, but rarely will it do so comfortably and depending on the size and shape of those glasses, the eyepiece may be partially blocked by the frame. This issue was alleviated in my case since I acquired Google frames and had them fitted with my prescription lenses.

I found very little is adjustable in Glas. I could modify the wake angle (how far back you must tilt your head for the display to come on) and enable or disable head detection, which automatically turns off the headset if you remove it. I couldn't adjust volume levels or display brightness, disable WiFi or Bluetooth (both appear to be always on), re-arrange the application cards in the interface or set their priority, modify the default screen timeout length, or enable a silent or do not disturb mode -- simply taking Glass off serves the same purpose, but that has to be done using both hands.

The battery size is unknown, but battery life is very poor. In what I consider average usage such as reading emails and taking short pictures and videos, I got about five hours before the headset suddenly, without warning, shut itself down. With lengthier filming of videos (at remote locations like the Arecibo Observatory for later playback as virtual tours) , which was demanding enough to make my temple warm, I could deplete the headset's power reserves in a couple of hours. The Google Glas can function with a WiFi (802.11b/g) or Bluetooth data connection from a mobile phone, but also is a fully independent device. I could leave my phone behind and walk around anywhere with WiFi without losing connection. which was a real convenience in the classroom.

The display in Glass is built into the headset and beams an image directly into the eye and appears to be floating in space. Google says it's "the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away" and that appears about right -- except that the high-definition part seems overrated. Colors are somewhat muted and while contrast is reasonably good, seeing the display in bright sunlight can be problematic.

Setting up the Google Glas headset was straightforward. I installed the MyGlas app on my iPhone and tapped a few choices to pair a new headset. Bluetooth was enabled and a QR code appeared. Holding that code in front of my face Glas automatically signed into my account. It took a few minutes to learn the basics, but once I did it was easy to get around. One can also use the app or go to Google.com/MyGlass to configure the headset. Setup is limited, but through a big, tiled interface I could select which contacts are accessible by name, which Glas apps are enabled (Google+, Gmail, Google Now and Path are there by default) and which WiFi networks the headset can connect to.

I could activate the display in two ways: by tilting my head up or tapping the capacitive touch portion on the side. The default display is a clock with "ok glass" written below. This is actually quite useful, since just tipping my head up was a quick and easy way to check the time, though it'd be nice if I could turn off the "ok glass" phrase. Using the touch controls, I could swipe forward or backward. Swiping forward takes one back in time, with all recently captured photos and videos mixed in chronologically with emails, messages and notifications from apps. Swipe backward from the start screen and one gets Google Now cards and, ultimately, a screen showing connection status and battery life. Flick a finger and one moves one screen at a time, but slide it more quickly along the length of Glas and one cycles across multiple screens. Tapping on any of these options brings up a context menu. For example, tapping on a photo or video shares or delete it. Tapping on an email lets one read more of it or reply.

If trying to operate in a hands-free mode, the key is "Okay, Glas." This initiating command must come before any other command, but Glas itself must be enabled first. So, you can't just say "Okay, Glas." You have to tilt your head up or tap the side first. Then is it will honor commands such as"take a picture" or "record a video." Googling is also a very handy one, where you can say "Google, what's 20 percent of $39.95?” to calculate a tip at dinner, or "what year was Brave New World published?" If you ask a simple question like the above, you're likely to get a result you can read on Glas. If you ask for something more detailed, like "Google a list of Ron Olowin citations,” you'll only be able to read the first few results.

Glas knows location and weather, defaulting to the current location, but letting you ask about other places, too. Navigation is also a convenient feature, with a command like "give directions to 1928 St. Mary’s Road.” You have to speak the address, or a business lookup by name or category, for example, saying "find me the closest pizza" and it will bring up a card showing a result, which you can tap on to call or get navigation directions.There are some other commands, including translation ("say hello in Spanish"), photo search ("Google photos of Jeff Sigman”) and flight information ("what time does Delta flight 123 depart from SFO?”). In general, all are received and understood without fault.

There are two ways to capture imagery with Glas: by voice or by hitting the shutter release on the top-right of Glas. Click it once to take a picture, and whether you do it by voice or with the button, there's a momentary delay. For video, one holds the button down for a moment. By default, Glass captures 10-second videos, but if you want longer, you can tap on the side twice and it will record until you run out of storage -- or battery. Once captured, you can swipe forward or backward through what you've seen. Although, it must be said, the photos I tried to share often took minutes or sometimes even hours to get online. If the connection is anything less than very solid, you could be looking at a substantial lag. Larger videos will naturally take even longer.

The camera pointing out the front of Glass is a 5-megapixel unit capable of recording 720p video. Resulting photos range from very good to very poor, largely depending on the amount of light available. On a bright, sunny day, Glas can capture some genuinely good shots, with bright, accurate colors and good contrast. In mediocre lighting, shots can be acceptable, but they very definitely fall into the "mediocre cameraphone" quality, with murky colors and often blurred results. After the picture is taken, it's shown to you for a few moments, a useful feature since there's no viewfinder at all and the angle of the picture won't line up exactly with where you're looking. Also, if Glass isn't perched perfectly on your face, there's a good chance the picture will be at an angle, meaning you may need to cock your head one way or the other.

The same can be true for video capture, but here you get a real-time view of what's being recorded. Quality is generally quite good, again largely dependent on the amount of available light. One has to be careful to be steady while walking, but in general I was able to capture smooth video without too much trouble.

Privacy concerns

I can't talk about Google Glas without addressing privacy concerns. There are many, and they are troubling. The most disconcerting issue is that you can be recording video at anytime and there's really no way for anyone else to tell. Google made the unfortunate decision to not include something like a red LED on the front to indicate when Glass is recording, which would have been a limited (and easily defeated) step -- but it would have been something. The point can certainly be made that it's possible to take a picture or video of someone these days without their knowledge, but the situation with Glas is a bit reversed: nobody knows if you're not taking a picture or video of them. I’ve receives some good-natured "Are you recording this?" comments in conversations but, as time goes on, as a wearer, I’ve noticed that people act a little more cautiously around me. This is particularly noticeable in the classroom where students struggle to maintain eye contact.

People can and should be a bit concerned about someone walking in a public restroom with Glass on and, since you can't fold them up and stick them in your pocket, finding something to do with them while you do your business is a challenge. I can easily imagine plenty of other situations where Glas owners would innocently wear their headsets much to the discomfort of others and as of now, there's no way to assure them that you aren't recording them. This can be especially troublesome in the classroom where an environment of trust and confidentiality is assumed.

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