You can’t put a price on potential. Or maybe you can. How does $1,500 sound? That’s the price you’ll pay for Version 2.0 of the Google Glass Explorer Edition, assuming you get an invite to buy it in the first place. Google Glass is arguably the most exciting piece of wearable tech currently available, but that’s largely based on what it could do in the future rather than what it does right now. Developers and enthusiasts with deep pockets will find a lot to like here, but everyone else should wait for the consumer edition–and keep your fingers crossed for a much lower price tag.
(Editors’ Note: Google Glass is available for sale(Opens in a new window) to the general public for one day, April 15, 2014. Otherwise, you need to apply, as outlined below.)
Getting Glass isn’t easy. First you need to apply to become a Google Glass Explorer(Opens in a new window). Then, once you sign up for a spot, it’s really just a waiting game. If you’re chosen to become an Explorer, then you face an even harder step: Shelling out $1,500 (plus tax!) for Google Glass.
Now, I understand this isn’t a consumer product. But I just can’t wrap my mind around that price. $1,500 can buy a brand new iMac—with money left to spare. Here, $1,500 gets you Google Glass, a pair of clip-on shades, and a mono earbud. It’s probably the most expensive pair of glasses you’ll ever buy.
Google is likely to release a consumer-focused pair of Glass some time later this year, which will hopefully be available on a much wider scale and sport a more consumer-friendly price tag. As it stands, the Explorer program and the astronomical price of Google Glass really limits its reach.
Design and Fit
If you manage to become an Explorer and pony up the dough, the first rule about Google Glass is that everyone will know you are wearing Google Glass. Simply put, there is no mistaking Glass for an ordinary pair of glasses—even if you pay an additional $225 for one of four traditional-looking frame accessories.
The default setup has a decidedly futuristic look. It’s a thin, titanium frame with adjustable plastic nosepads that anchor it against the bridge of your nose. And despite the name of the product, there isn’t any actual glass here—Google Glass does not have lenses. The left side is just a plain strip of frame, while the right arm holds all of the hardware. At the front, you’ll find the unit that houses the display-projecting prism, as well as a 5-megapixel camera and a touch-sensitive control panel. The back is home to the battery as well as a bone-conduction speaker.
Because all of the hardware is located on the right side of the unit, it makes Glass feel a bit lopsided to wear. It fit my head comfortably, but no matter how much time I spent trying to adjust it, it always looked slightly crooked. But given the whole Terminator 2 vibe, that’s the last thing people are likely to notice. And trust me, people will notice you.
Wearing Glass in Manhattan is similar to walking a really cute dog: People will stop you as you are walking down the street and want to touch it or talk about it. They ask you things like: “How do you like it?,” “How did you get it?,” “Can I try it on?,” “Are you recording me right now?” and, most strangely, “So can you, like, see my skeleton?” So while there are some misconceptions about what Google Glass can and cannot do (like X-ray vision), I encountered no shortage of people who wanted to talk about it.
And while I’m not crazy about the super-conspicuous look of Google Glass in general, these unprompted sidewalk conversations made me feel even more uncomfortable about wearing it. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to draw a lot of attention to yourself, you should probably stay away from Google Glass entirely.
Another group of people who might want to think twice about Glass are those that wear prescription glasses (which is a group that I have long been a member of). Google seems to think you can simply fit Glass on top of your regular pair of frames. And you can, but not comfortably. My somewhat large, round frames made it nearly impossible to see the entire heads-up display on Glass, which is difficult to do even when you’re not wearing glasses. And without glasses, my vision isn’t good enough to see the display clearly. As mentioned, Google now offers relatively stylish frames you can attach to Glass, which can then be outfitted with prescription lenses, but that will drive the cost of the device up even higher.
(Next page: Setup, Performance, and Using Glass)
Setup, Performance, and Using Glass
Setup and Performance
Setting up Glass is relatively simple. You need to do it via Google’s Setup Wizard in your Web browser, or by downloading and running the MyGlass app on an Android device running 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher, or an Apple device running iOS 7 or later. No matter which method you choose, Google provides you with detailed instructions and videos that walk you through the setup process. Basically, you’ll need to link your Google account, establish a Bluetooth connection, and link the glasses to Wi-Fi before you’re ready to go.
I tested Glass using the MyGlass app on an HTC One (M8)($177.41 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) and an Apple iPhone 5s( at Amazon)(Opens in a new window). I had no trouble pairing Glass with either device, though in both instances I noticed that it would occasionally lose connection with the app, even though Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were both properly configured. This was frustrating, since you need to use the app to control a number of features on Glass (more on those features in a bit).
From a hardware perspective, Google Glass comes with 16GB of internal storage, of which you get about 12.5GB available out of the box. Google doesn’t provide specs for the processor and memory, but a teardown has shown that the unit is powered by a TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM. That’s pretty dated hardware, at least from a mobile device perspective, but so far Glass doesn’t require the same kind of power that most new smartphones and tablets do. I encountered a bit of slowdown when cycling through screens, but not enough to adversely impact my experience. As more developers write apps for Glass, though, I can see this becoming a problem, depending on how advanced they become.
Glass currently runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, but Google just announced that an update to KitKat(Opens in a new window) will be rolling out shortly. This update will actually remove the ability to make video calls, but will bring some new features like the ability to organize photos in bundles and send photo replies in Google Hangouts. It’s also supposed to bring improved battery life, which is a weak point right now; I was only about to get about five hours of power on a full battery charge, which isn’t enough to make it through a day of heavy use.
Once Glass is fully set up, you can activate the display by simply tapping on the front of the chunky right arm. Google says the display is equivalent to viewing a 25-inch, high-definition screen from eight feet away. In reality, the prism projector has a resolution of 640 by 360 and occupies as much of your vision as a quarter held six inches from your eye. It’s a translucent image that requires a fair amount of concentration in order to view properly. In other words, you probably won’t to be able to walk down the street and read email at the same time, at least not without paying more attention to one of those tasks than the other.
And for everyone afraid that Glass users are secretly recording everything they see all the time: It’s pretty clear when someone wearing Glass is looking at the screen, so you’ll know if they’re recording. Not only will it look like their eyes are focused a foot or so above you, but you can see a faint light reflected from the prism.
Controlling Glass is easy, once you get used to it. Tap on the right arm to turn it on, then swipe your finger forward or backward on the arm to cycle between screens. Tap again to open something, or swipe down to go back. Aside from a Camera button on the upper right edge, and a Power button on the inside, those are pretty much all of the controls you’ll use.
So what can you do with Glass? Not much right now. From the main screen you get a view of the time, along with the words “OK Glass.” Saying that phrase will let you access a number of voice controls, all of which worked extremely well in my tests. Without needing to use your hands, you can search for things on Google, take a picture, record video, get directions, send a message, and make a phone call. As you load more apps (Glassware), your options will expand, but those are the choices you get out of the box.
Although voice control works well, not all of the actions associated with it do. For instance, I tried sending both text and picture messages to myself, and while Glass said they were sent, I didn’t always get them.
Phone calls worked well, and sound is decent on the built-in bone-conduction speaker—just keep in mind it’s loud enough that anyone sitting close by will be able to listen in. Google also includes a mono earbud, which connects to Glass via micro USB and improves sound quality for calls and music. You can buy an additional stereo pair for $85, but for the price, I really feel like they should already be included.
Probably the coolest built-in feature is the ability to get directions. In order to do this, Glass requires some form of data connection and must be paired to your GPS-enabled phone running the MyGlass app. From there, you can simply ask for directions to a particular address or somewhere general, like the nearest café, and you’ll be taken to a map view. Glass can deliver directions for Transit, Drive, Walk, or Bike, just like Google Maps, and will alert you to upcoming directions whether you have the display on or off. You can also choose to view the route, which includes traffic information.
But again, it’s hard to concentrate on the display and anything else at the same time, so I would strongly discourage anyone from using Google Glass heavily while driving or biking, or even crossing the street on foot. Most states have passed laws limiting the use of mobile devices while driving a motor vehicle (which you can usually find on your state’s DMV site), so it might actually be against the law to use Glass while driving, depending where you live. It’s still probably safer than looking down at a map, but just make sure to exercise the same amount of precaution.
You can also use Glass to capture images of what you see. You can press the manual Camera button on top of Glass, tell it to take a photo, or program it so that you snap a photo whenever you wink. The camera captures perfectly decent 5-megapixel photos in good lighting, though it struggles indoors, with washed out colors and smudgy details. The camera can also record 720p video, which again looks pretty good under ideal conditions, though frame rates slow down a bit inside. I also noticed the back of the right arm often became warm after use, particularly after recording video.
(Next page: MyGlass, Glassware, Future Possibilities, and Conclusions)
MyGlass, Glassware, Future Possibilities, and Conclusions
MyGlass and Glassware
Google Glass gains a lot more functionality when paired with the MyGlass app. For instance, MyGlass allows you to add contacts to Glass. You can add up to 10 contacts, and they’ll be available as an option whenever you make a call or send a message through Glass.
You can also start a screencast, which lets others see what you’re seeing through Glass. If your device is already connected, a screencast will begin as soon as you select it from the app. You can also control Glass from within a screencast by swiping on the screen as you would on the Glass touchpad.
In addition, MyGlass is your gateway to getting Glassware, which is basically a Google Glass app. You can get email alerts using Gmail Glassware, for instance, or breaking news alerts from The New York Times. Facebook and Twitter Glassware allow you to upload photos and videos to Facebook or follow someone’s tweets on Twitter. Games Glassware makes use of Glass’ motion sensors, and IFTTT allows you to create recipes that trigger automatic notifications from more than 70 products and services directly to Glass.
Probably the most useful Glassware currently available is Google Now, which delivers context-based information directly to Glass. It uses and stores your location information for directions and traffic alerts. It also uses Gmail, synced calendars, and Google data to bring you reminders and other suggestions. Receiving that information on the fly, right in your face, is one of the few advantages Glass has to simply using the app on your phone instead.
Where Google Glass gets interesting is in the hands of developers; that’s where you’ll find most of the real innovation is taking place.
Some of this innovation is just for fun. Going to the movies but don’t know what you’re going to see? You can download Preview(Opens in a new window), which uses image recognition to identify a movie poster, then plays back a trailer for that film. That’s the sort of smart, simple app Glass was made for.
Other apps have the ability to be potentially life-changing. A few months ago Google highlighted a story about Patrick Jordan(Opens in a new window), a firefighter and developer in North Carolina. He’s working on a Glass app that could provide instant information like floor plans and nearby hydrants to firefighters, which could literally save lives. Apps like these are what make Google Glass exciting, though they still don’t necessarily make it a must-have for the average consumer.
One thing to keep in mind is that most of these apps weren’t developed by Google; you’ll need to search outside of Google to find and download them. Glass doesn’t yet have an app store akin to Google Play, so installing apps requires some legwork and technical knowhow on your end.
Google Glass has tons of potential, and typically you can’t put a price on that. But Google has, and it’s high enough to put Glass out of reach for most prospective buyers. On top of that, Google Glass doesn’t yet provide an experience that justifies its exorbitant price tag. For most of the functions it currently performs, I actually find it easier to just look on my phone, which can deliver much more information than a few lines of text at a time.
There are plenty of Google Glass competitors popping up on various crowdfunding sites. While most of them are significantly less expensive than Google Glass, none of them offer quite the same range of possibility. Ultimately, that’s what makes Google Glass special. And while it doesn’t justify Google’s sky-high price tag, it explains why so many people have signed up to become Explorers so far.
Should you buy the Google Glass Explorer Edition if you get the chance? Probably not, unless you’re a die-hard enthusiast with money to burn or an inspired developer with a great idea looking to test some code as quickly as possible. Everyone else should probably wait for the consumer version—which, with the right price and app selection, could be a landmark product. As for now, Google might be calling this Glass Version 2.0, but it’s really still in beta.
Google Glass Explorer Edition Version 2.0
The Bottom Line
Version 2.0 of the Google Glass Explorer Edition has limitless potential, although there still isn’t much you can do with it just yet.
Like What You’re Reading?
Sign up for Lab Report to get the latest reviews and top product advice delivered right to your inbox.