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A Cup Of Coffee And Google Glass
Date: Oct 29, 2013
Author: Seth Colaner
Introduction and Experience
I recently had the good fortune to sit down with David Drum, Research Manager at MOREnet and Google Glass Explorer, to get some hands-on time with the high-tech face computer that Google is testing in the wild. Over a cup of joe at a local coffeeshop, David gave me a chance to play with Google Glass for myself.

The first thing I realized upon inspecting Google Glass was that I really should have put in my contacts that morning instead of my usual specs. Google Glass and eyeglasses don’t mix very well. Here’s a vote for Google Glass with pop-in prescription lenses.

Wearable computing is all the rage, and for good reason; pretty much everyone can agree that although our smartphones are immensely powerful, they’re actually rather inconvenient. Using one requires at least one hand, often two, and it’s cumbersome to dig into your pocket, purse, or bag to retrieve them whenever you get a notification. We’re slaves to those dings and boops.

Google Glass is one of the more promising bits of wearable technology out there. Smartwatches are proliferating like rabbits, sure, and other glasses-type tech is in the offing, but Google Glass has the full backing of one of the largest companies in the world and is also the pet project of one of its founders.

And, I can now say with confidence, Google Glass is both an impressive device and it has a long way to go before it’s ready for primetime.

Google Glass

The Experience
David gave me a tour of the specs with such ease, almost as if he’s partially memorized his spiel, that it’s clear I’m not the first person he’s introduced to Glass. It seemed to me that in a way he felt a responsibility as an Explorer to evangelize Glass, or at least to share it with any curious folks that wanted to see the thing for themselves.

He brought with him the whole kit and kaboodle: the Glass specs themselves, two sets of interchangeable lenses (one clear and one dark for the outdoors), the carrying case, and the chic shopping-style bags it all comes in. The extra lenses feature a nifty design wherein they just pop in and out with a delicate yet satisfying snap.

Google Glass with lens inserts

My first thought upon donning Glass is that it’s a bit heavy, or at least unbalanced, and for daily glasses wearers the lack of lightness and iffy balance is a bit of a shock. The display is designed to reside up and away from your eye so that you’re not cyborging it all the time--that is, looking at the real world with one eye and looking at a display with the other--but when you’re wearing Glass, the display is very much in your peripheral vision.

Although Drum said he’s gotten used to the above inconveniences, he also noted that you can give yourself some eye strain, as well as an unpleasant headache if you’re not careful, if you spend too much time looking slightly upwards at the display.

The display itself is surprisingly bright and clear, but I was surprised to see that there was a lot of optical clutter surrounding it. This is due to the prism system: The projection--this is quite clever--is bounced through a prism, off a reflective surface, and back again to give the eye a sense of depth. The extra visual mess around the display might be something Glass users just have to get used to, but I imagine some brilliant young Googler will eventually figure out a way to optimize the setup.

Google Glass HMD

It’s also worth noting that the reflective foil gate on the outer edge of the prism has been known to de-laminate and actually crinkle a bit, like a raisin, in high heat or humidity. Clearly that’s a design flaw that Google will need to sort out. Speaking of heat, I noticed that Glass got rather warm when I was using it; heat dissipation may be another issue that Google needs to address.
Features and Final Thoughts
You still need a smartphone companion to Google Glass to extract all of its full functionality, but the two devices do play nicely with one another. For example, you can use your phone to log into and authenticate a wireless network and then push it to Google Glass, so you can jump on WiFi without having to fiddle with the spectacles. The screencast feature lets you push what you see in Glass to your phone, which is is a choice feature for handling video and photos. And so on.

Although it may be easier to just push media to your smartphone, Glass does back up everything you shoot through your Glass specs to Google+. Here’s a video Drum shot through Glass of a hot air balloon takeoff and landing:

It’s somewhat surprising how sensitive and useful the touchpad portion of Google Glass is considering its size, but I found the touch input to be easy to pick up, with two caveats. One, it’s not clear where the touchpad ends and the rest of the earpiece begins, so I found myself over-swiping too often (although I imagine muscle memory would take over after some frequent use). Two, there are a lot of commands to remember!

You can swipe forward and back to toggle through items on the display; you can swipe down and up; a long press launches a Google search; use a two-finger gesture when web browsing; you can put Glass to sleep with a two-finger swipe down; and a long swipe will take you through your history on the device.

Glass will hang onto two weeks of your use history, actually, although if you fill up the 12GB of flash storage on board, Glass may flush some of it. It’s also worth noting that it appears as though Glass will slow down when the flash storage starts to max out.

Further on the hardware side of things, there’s an accelerometer (which will no doubt be utilized more as developers continue to exploit it) as well as a bone-conduction speaker that I’m told doesn’t actually work all that well.

As the Glass platform matures, so of course will the app ecosystem, and developers continue to tinker with Glass’ capabilities. Already, system updates come down the pipe monthly, and there are a few apps that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. For example, Winky--which we’ve written about before--actually works. Your wink is Glass’ command.

Google Glass

Final Thoughts
For as impressive as Glass was overall, it’s clear that the device is still very much a prototype. That’s not to heavily criticize Glass--it’s just that a truly compelling consumer-friendly Google Glass is not quite here yet. David put it eloquently when he noted, “This is the worst version of [Google Glass] there will ever be”. Which is to say, the future looks promising.

When Glass first emerged, one sticking point for many consumers was cost. The $1,500 price tag for the Explorer Edition Google Glass made some wonder if Glass would end up as an expensive toy for the elite, but it’s more likely that the spectacles will cost far, far less. There was some talk that the device may end up costing about $300 at retail while other hearsay indicates a price closer to $500.

It's entirely possible that the price tag could be even lower than that; regardless, at a price point below what you'd expect to pay for a good smartphone, Google Glass sounds like an even more compelling item.

Thanks to David Drum for showing us his Explorer Edition Google Glass and sharing our enthusiasm for all things tech. David is the Research Manager at MOREnet (Missouri Research and Education Network), an organization based at the University of Missouri that offers schools, libraries, and state agencies a broadband Internet connection and access to technical support, training materials, and other electronic resources.

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