Through the Looking Glass

Yesterday, I took delivery of a Google Glass to look over for work purposes, with a view to seeing what can be done with them for the purposes of student projects and possibly even use for research things of our own.

The first thing to notice is the packaging. Google have really spent some time on this. So much so that it’s almost…Apple-like in its care. There are lots of nice touches: flat simple colours, not much ‘clutter’ to negotiate to get to the kit and the accessories. Everything is clearly labelled and well-placed.

Once you negotiate the packaging comes the equipment itself. In the box you find the headset itself, a charging cable, a board containing the earbud and a pouch in a very tasteful charcoal grey with a hard bottom part to protect the business end of the glasses.

The charging cable is a flatter, ribbon style, which makes it fairly easy to coil up to store after use. The earbud I haven’t unboxed yet and don’t plan on using for a number of reasons. It does however use the same mini USB connector as the charge cable and plugs into the same socket, which sits on the bottom of the right-hand arm of the headset.

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Once you inbox it, the headset itself looks fairly delicate. However it is more robust than you think. The nose buds are designed to be bendable to fit your own bridge. It has to be said that, without shades of glass, wearing Glass is an odd feeling. It’s a bit like being Monkey wearing the band given to him by Tripitaka. We ordered a set of polarising shades to go with it. Outdoors this feels much better, and does make you look (marginally) less strange. The first thing you need to do is charge it though. After an hour or so it’s juiced up sufficiently to do something with. The first stage of that is to connect it to something, which
means installing the MyGlass app onto your phone first.

There are several ways to get Glass working on the network: set Glass up on a wifi network; pair the Glass via Bluetooth with your phone or tether it via your phone (on an iPhone this means switching on Personal Hotspot). This is the most onerous bit, mostly because the walk through process for adding passwords probably needs a bit of UX glossing to work better. However, using a QRcode to activate from the Glass camera is a nice touch and works nicely. I’m still not convinced that the Bluetooth big of the equation is working all that well with my phone (an iPhone 5s). Even Personal Hotspot is a problem if you want you phone to work off the local wifi too – don’t try pairing in that case.

It’s now that we come to my big issue with Glass: the display. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s good. But I have a problem with it. And the problem is my right eye, which is significantly weaker than my left. It means that reading some items is harder than it needs to be, or harder than it would be through my left eye and there’s no chance to swap it. It was a problem I was expecting to have even before I used it and unfortunately it’s well-founded. It’s makes things less readable for me and, as a result slightly less useful as it makes it hard to read things like news updates and notifications at smaller text sizes. I suspect I may be unusual but not so unusual as for this to not cause others problems.

All that said, it’s easy to move the heads-up display into your field of view, and just as easy to move it just above your line of sight, where it recommended you put it. Gestures are nice and simple: taps on the headset right arm to confirm, swipes along it back or forward to move through the card-based menus system and swipes down toward the front to go back or undo. At first, knowing how near the front of the arm to tap is a vague art, but you get the drift fairly quickly.

There are a fairly small number of built in apps: search, calling and messaging and photo/video. To install apps you have to go through the phone app and deploy. Right now there’s a small but growing list, which includes useful features like Word Lens translation, a compass, YouTube uploads, the usual social told (fb, Twitter, g+) and other oddments like The Guardian and CNN.

The kit is idle most of the time on your head to save power, but a quick tap to the arm by your temple sparks it up. Another tap or saying, “ok, glass” opens up the installed features. Photo and video functions work nicely. Photos in daylight are fairly crisp, though I’ve not tried anything in low light yet. So far I haven’t had location services working, though calling and posting content work relatively well, judging by the couple of pics I put on Twitter.

My first tests are mostly done for now, though I’m considering wearing them for my forthcoming visit to Wikimania 2014 in London in early August. Working out etiquette for such social occasions is likely to be an interesting learning experience!

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