Tuesday, March 18, 2014

REVIEW: Google Glass–Part II of II–Not Ready for Prime Time

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Google Glass with Active Shade attached

I’m a geek and early adopter of cool gadgets, so when I first heard about Glass I thought – WOW, that’s awesome! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them, but it took quite a while for that to finally happen.

In early March I got my invitation and ordered right away! Without asking they were shipped overnight, but if I lived closer to a Google campus I could pick them up direct at their campus.

Initial Experience

When I took them out of the box I thought WOW, these are awesome! Even though I know I’m supposed to charge devices, I can’t wait so I just tried to turn them on. Most electronics companies these days send their products fully charged, so 99% of the time this works – but not here. My glasses showed me a flashing battery icon so I had to charge them before I could use them. I’d quickly learn that the reason for this is that Glass doesn’t last very long before the battery dies even if you have a full charge! Perhaps this is why they were sent overnight, but due to a signature being required I wasn’t able to get them until the next day.

Once I had a full charge I popped them on and was expecting some major coolness, but what I got was a very dim display with no diopter like you’d typically find on a camera with a viewfinder. Diopters allow you to make basic corrections to help you see a camera viewfinder better, so I was finding myself needing one to help me see the glass display better. Sadly the lack of one meant that I had to resort to prescription glasses which I hadn’t worn in over a year.

Google Glass-237
Google Glass with Active Shade attached
Interior View

Once I had my prescription glasses on the Glass didn’t fit quite right because my glasses interfered with the design. While there is an ordering option to get prescription glasses, I prefer to only use my glasses when necessary so I fall into that grey area for the design. I can add prescription glasses lenses but have to wear them all the time instead of as needed as I do to today, OR I’d have to fight to see the difficult to read display that isn’t much bigger than an average thumb nail.

WiFi Setup and Tethering Required

Determined not to let this bother me, I dealt with the problems – found a dark area and set up my Glass. The setup process wasn’t hard, but I found it odd that I had to manually type my SSID for my wifi network in. Hopefully the final version will include WPS support, or at least a better way to avoid having to type a network name instead of choosing from a list.

Another “oh crap” moment with my Glass was when I discovered that if I wanted to make the most of them when I was out of range of my WiFi that I’d need to have tethering support for my phone. Since I’m with AT&T this is an expensive option, so I don’t have that feature. While I don’t knock Google for this, it was starting to remind me of what it is like to own a iPad without cellular – major suckage! Of course an iPad makes it easy to join wifi networks, and glass doesn’t so once again I found myself very disappointed.

Since I couldn’t read the display very well I had a hard to time with the initial setup, and it wasn’t clear which way I needed to swipe. Sadly I got the swiping right by accident so I couldn’t read what it was telling me and quickly got lost. This resulted in me having to visit the website to learn what I missed and start over again.

Contact Management Sucks

Once I got them setup I was puzzled to see that there contacts that I didn’t recognize, but some that I did. Despite having a lot of contacts on various services and over 4000 friends in my circles, my contacts listed consisted of about 5 strangers and two people that I knew. While there was an app that you could use to add contacts, it wouldn’t let me just add an email or cell phone contact – it wanted to pull from some list that was never explained. Since I’m a iPhone and Office 365 email user, I don’t really use Gmail so my contacts weren’t stored in something that my glasses knew about. As a result, I found the whole contact management experience to be very poor – the worst I’ve used in fact since the pre-smart phone days. If you are a Gmail user this probably won’t be a problem, but honestly it annoyed me.

Camera Usage – Not as cool as expected

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My first Google Glass Photo – Whoops!
f/2.5 for 1/15 sec at ISO-954 @ 3mm
Click for full-size original

Something went wrong during my setup so I never got prompted (at first) on doing wink to take a photo. As a result, I found myself pressing the button on the glasses or using verbal commands.

What I quickly noticed was that the little preview area for the photo was much different than what was actually captured, so I often ended up with really bad shots like the one of my empty plate above. The quality was crap too with very interesting values in the EXIF metadata (see above).

I wasn’t sure how to get to my photos so I just wanted to send it to myself. Sadly I ended up accidentally sending it to one of those contacts I didn’t know because my swipe was misinterpreted as a tap when I scrolling my contact list. In fact, 100% of the photos I tried to share with myself or others ended up going to complete strangers!

Eventually I discovered that my photos are stored in my Photos section on Google+ (private to me unless I choose to make them public).

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My best Google Glass Photo – Sucks, huh!!!
f/2.5 for 1/15 sec at ISO-2176 @ 3mm

I was so unimpressed after 10 failed attempts of taking photos that I didn’t bother using the camera anymore.

Now What?!!!! – Let’s browse the web!

Frustrated by the camera and contacts I decided it would be cool to browse a web page or play a YouTube video. While I think the kinks will be worked out into something usable eventually, these tasks didn’t work out so well. Since you can’t type a direct URL (at least that I discovered), you have to Google search for what you want. I searched for my blog and my glasses read back to me a bunch of info about my blog. Neat, but not what I wanted.

Eventually I got to my site and they do have a clever mechanism for effectively using your head as the mouse pointer. It sorta works, but takes some getting used to.

Next up I repeated the process to play a YouTube video which at first seemed like it would work. Eventually I got the video to play but big controls covered up half of the video so it was really just a sliver of the video and audio that was played back – with a lot of issues (Bluetooth seemed to be the culprit).

Hum, how about trying out this has a hands free phone device?

With everything failing to impress me I decided to try to use my glasses as a hands free device. I eventually got paired with my phone which meant that my car didn’t want to pair with my phone when the glasses were paired. I resolved this by turning off my glasses, but I think there’s definitely room for some work here.

Using my phone I called some friends and family and everything seemed to work okay. This led me to the conclusion that I effectively had a $1500 Bluetooth headset that was bigger than any thing I’d ever used before.

The Social Experiment

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Glass at the Dentist

Highly unimpressed with my weekend experiment with the glasses I decided to conduct a social experiment and wear my Google Glasses for a day around town and at work.

My day started with a dentist appointment where you get the sunglasses to protect you from the glare. This illustrates the problem I had with my regular glasses where things just don’t pair well.

Surprisingly my hygienist said my glasses didn’t interfere, so I kept them on – and did nothing because the battery was dead. I usually go to bed around 3:00 AM and with a 7:00 AM wake up time for the dentist, that wasn’t enough time to charge my glasses for them to be of any use this day.

For the rest of the day I wore my glasses turned off and just observed what people would do. Fortunately nobody got hostile as I’ve heard has happened to some, but I did have a couple guys ask me about them. For the most part I got lots of stares and double takes with some being more obvious than others. If you are someone who doesn’t like to be looked at then don’t get these because you’ll get stared at sometimes like you’ve got a unicorn horn on your forehead!

Despite being happily married, I suspected I might get a conversation from women about them – but like most gadgets women seemed to ignore them. Even at my high tech company during the day they seemed to be of more interest to guys than gals.

I also noticed that after a couple hours the off balance weight started to be noticeable on my head so despite their light weight, they got a little cumbersome to wear. I took them off for an hour and then used them again and I was fine. Lesson learned – they aren’t really for all day use.

I did have some friends laugh when they saw me wearing them, and my boss’s boss said I looked like a dork. I figured that was better than being called a Glasshole, so I ended my experiment after only a day of field testing. 

In the end I thought they were cool to wear around, but I’m a geek and don’t mind talking about geek toys. However, I can see people thinking it is showing off, which people once did to cell phone users. I’d feel more comfortable if they were mainstream before actually wearing them out in public on a regular basis, but that kinda defeats the purpose of having them right?

Conclusion

In the end it was fun to get a chance to try this product out, but I can’t justify spending $1500 for them. Even if my employer were to reimburse me for them (and they didn’t), it just isn’t worth the hassle of the expense report because I know I won’t use them. They already have sat and collected dust for over a week, so there’s no point in keeping them.

These should be called NASA glasses because I think Google is pushing the envelope in many areas that will result in inventions that become useful in other products (like the space program has done). I can see these being really cool 10 years from now, and if enough people are wearing them then there won’t be the social stigma associated with wearing them.

For about $500 I can get a Galaxy S4 and $30 will get me a decent Bluetooth headset which will give me everything I get in Glass, but in a much better and easier to use manner. I’d still need the phone with Google Glass, so really I’m back to my earlier statement of paying $1500 for the most expensive Bluetooth headset ever!

My advice to my readers who are jonesing for these is to find a friend who has them and borrow theirs for a day. They’ll let you use them because they won’t be doing anything with them, but be sure to get the battery charger – you’ll need it! After a day or two you’ll have your fun and the newness will wear off enough to where you think – why would I want this?!!!

I do think this product has potential and this is a pre-release product, so who knows what they will become with more bake time. As a geek I wanted these to be great and I planned to keep them despite the cost. However, there just wasn’t enough there to keep my attention.

Things I’d Like to See Fixed

If the following issues were addressed I probably would have kept my copy of Google Glass – assuming they were paid for by someone other than me personally:

  • Needs a camera viewfinder-like diopter to better read the display for those who don’t wear glasses, but also don’t have perfect vision.
  • WiFi setup is too cumbersome and not practical when roaming. Needs to behave like a cell phone.
  • Cellular needs to be part of the glasses with a cheap signup option (like iPad’s with cellular offer).
  • Battery life is unacceptable. They should last at least 18 hours on a charge with average usage, and at least 8 under heavy full-time usage.
  • Contact management is poor and no current support from using your existing contacts if you aren’t on the Google platform (i.e., you use iOS, Exchange, etc…).
  • Camera quality is poor, framing is difficult, and accessing them is confusing until you figure it out on your own. If it’s not as good as a cell phone then what’s the point of using it? (unless you’re a perv in which case that’s why some people hate this product)
  • Integration with part-time third party glasses use needs to work better.
  • Weight needs to be better distributed without so much weight on the right ear.
  • Left eye version needed. My left eye has > 20/20 vision and my right is my bad eye, so I’d be better off with a left eye version.
  • It needs to be harder to accidentally get a tap when making a swiping gesture.
  • More durable – I still feel like they are going to break if I don’t baby them

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Disclosure

By day I work for a Google competitor, but my role includes staying abreast of new technology and understanding what makes competing products great. As a result, I tried to be as unbiased as I could in this review and share my honest personal opinions – as a geek – not an employee at a competing company. This article was written with no input from my daytime employer and done at home during personal time using my personal property.

This product was purchased by me personally for ronmartblog.com use with the intent of reviewing this product for my blog. My employer did not order or pay for this product nor was any attempt made to be deceitful in any way. I’ve answered all questions by Google truthfully and tried hard to carefully understand abide by the terms of the sale agreement.

In 2013, Google was my largest blog partners and one of my top sources of income. My partnership mostly with Google ended when they closed the Google Affiliate Network such that my current revenue per month is not enough to keep both my household vehicles fueled for the month. While I hold no ill will against Google for this, I felt it important to disclose this fact.

I do not make a commission or earn any direct revenue by publishing this article or other Google related articles (i.e., Nik Collection by Google products).

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

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