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Everything you ever wanted to know about Google Glass (but were afraid to ask)

The device has attracted much attention and criticism since it was first revealed, but what is it really like to use?

The prescription glasses version of Google Glass
The prescription glasses version of Google Glass
Image: TheJournal.ie

OF ALL THE new technology revealed in the last few years, few have received as much attention or scrutiny as Google Glass.

The company’s answer to wearable tech has been followed closely with some looking forward to its arrival while others are concerned about the problems it may bring.

TheJournal.ie had the opportunity to try out a pair this week and find out how it really works. Here’s what we learned.

How does it work?

It’s best to think of Google Glass as a more convenient extension of your smartphone. Most of the actions you can carry out with your phone, you can do here. There are four main features that you need to be aware of.

Touchpad: Located at the side of Google Glass, the touchpad lets you activate the device and cycle through options. While it is voice activated – you say “Ok Glass” when it’s on and you simply ask it to perform an action.

There are three main gestures you need to work it:

  • Tap to activate or select an option
  • Swipe forward or back to cycle through menus
  • Swipe down to go back an action

Camera: Google Glass has a 5MP camera – the same quality you would get from a current low-end smartphone – and can record video at 720p.

There is also a camera button located just over the touchpad if you just want to take a photo or record a video without going through the menu, but it takes a moment or two for it to boot up, much like a smartphone.

LED screen: Google Glass uses a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS), LED illuminated display to show you what’s happening. The screen will take up roughly one-fifth of your vision meaning you can still see what’s happening in front of you and make out what’s on screen.

Speaker: Located near the end of the device, any app that might have extra detail or text involved (The Guardian app for example) can be read out to you at low volume. You can connect headphones to it, if needed.

You do need a phone to work it though, by downloading the MyGlass app for either iOS or Android, you connect it via Bluetooth and start using it.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Google Glass (but were afraid to ask)
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    Source: TheJournal.ie
  • Google Glass

  • Google Glass

  • Google Glass

  • Google Glass

    Source: TheJournal.ie
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What can you do with it?

Quite a number of things. As well as allowing you to perform search, you can take photos, record videos, look up directions, make a call, send a message, translate text (through Word Lens) and other actions.

Activating it either requires you to tap it or activate ‘Head Wake Up’ mode – tilting your head up a certain angle to activate it – and bring up the main screen.

By saying “Ok Glass,” you will be presented with a short list of options, which you can scroll through by looking up or down.

In a public setting, this may look a bit silly, but you can judge for yourself. Here I am, attempting to get started:

Google Glass gif 1 The 'Ok Glass' menu can be scrolled through by looking up or down like this. Source: TheJournal.ie

The display is quite similar to the cards displayed on Google Now. You’re not going to get detailed answers or screens with realms of text. Everything is boiled down to the bare minimum with each action roughly one to three taps away.

What does it feel like to wear it?

Surprisingly nice and lighter than you would expect, to the point where you would almost forget it’s there until you need it.

It does take a moment or two to properly adjust the screen, and you may be using it for a few minutes before you get it exactly the way you want it. You can adjust your glasses or move the LED display back or forward a little so the screen aligns with your sight.

Google Glass Gif 2 You mightn't get the display right the first time round, but you can adjust the glasses and the LED screen to solve this. Source: TheJournal.ie

The screen itself takes up roughly one-fifth of your vision, appearing on the top right-hand corner of your sight. It does require you to glance every now and again at it, but it’s practically on standby and even when it is on, you can easily see everything that’s happening in front of you.

Because it’s such a new concept (relatively speaking), wearing one of these will result in a lot of people staring at you in a not-so-subtle manner (More on that below).

Is it useful?

In short, yes. If you find yourself carrying out basic functions like searching for directions – actually one of the handiest features included since it gives you step-by-step instructions – it reduces the number of steps needed to complete an action.

On a smartphone, you would have to take it out of your pocket or bag, unlock it, activate the app and complete whatever action you want.

The biggest use, and the area which has the most potential, is using it for augmented reality. One example is the language translator Word Lens, which overlays text on signs and menus with the English version (or vice versa). It didn’t work as well with lines of text – it couldn’t take in the whole article so it could only translate segments – but for signs and displays, it’s handy to have.

The voice activation worked incredibly well and any moments where Glass failed to recognise a spoken request was down to either outdoor noises like construction or speaking too quietly.

Doesn’t it get annoying/distracting if it’s always on?

Yes, it would, but most of the time, the screen is off until you actually need it and activate it. It’s a device designed for quick glances and sporadic use and it shouldn’t be used the same way as your smartphone.

The main difference is Google Glass allows you to perform specific functions while still being aware of your surroundings. Smartphones end up taking you out of the moment.

What about the camera?

Ah, the camera, the source of most of the controversy behind Google Glass.

Regarding the hardware itself, the quality is rather decent – as good as you would expect from a 5MP wide-angle lens camera – and while they do appear overexposed when looking at them though Google Glass, they appear fine on your smartphone or computer.

It does feel a little odd taking photos through it. Although the screen displays what you’re taking a photo of, it’s unnecessary to look at since you’re practically taking a photo of what you’re looking at.

The one thing to note is that there’s no way to focus the camera or adjust contrast. That means the lighting and focus can vary from image to image.

Here are some quick examples of shots I took around Dublin city centre, using Google Glass’ camera:

Molly Malone

Trinity 1

Trinity 2

But the potential for people recording without you noticing is huge! How do I know a Google Glass wearer isn’t doing that at all times?

That’s always going to be a concern, but there are two main signs that will alert you to whenever it’s in use. As mentioned, to even activate it in the first place, you need to tap it, meaning you have to bring your hand up to your face – something most people will notice.

The second is you will either have to say it out loud (“record a video”) or tap the camera button to record, which the default is ten second clips. To record a longer clip, you have to press the camera button again, or tap the touchpad and select extend.

Google Glass Gif 3 Recording a video of ducks and seagulls is more difficult than you think. Source: TheJournal.ie

It’s pretty obvious when someone’s performing an action on it, and if you fail to notice someone doing this (or they start recording before you see them) it’s not too difficult to notice the LCD screen on. It’s small, but you can see it.

Also, if you’re really concerned that someone is recording, you can just ask the person if (a) they’re recording and (b) to take the Glass off if you’re feeling uncomfortable. A little communication goes a long way, and provided neither side is confrontational, everything should be fine.

While the scepticism and concerns surrounding Google Glass is justified thanks to recent privacy concerns, most of the criticisms come from not understanding or using the device. There are plenty of visual cues to give you the nod when someone is recording without your permission.

Also, don’t you look like a bit of an eejit wearing them? You’d stick out like a sore thumb with them on!

That’s true, and you do get stared at a lot. Some people were subtle enough to glance after walking past them, others not so much (It probably didn’t help that the colour of the device just happened to match my t-shirt).

Either way, you feel like you may as well be wearing this the first time you put them on.

fVIs5ix "Don't be alarmed, Apu. Just go about your daily routine like I'm not wearing the hat." Source: Imgur

You do feel conscious putting them on first, and it was hard not to notice the stares any time you walked into a store or busy area, but like any good wearable devices, you soon forget you have them on until you actually need them.

Also, you don’t want to be wearing them all the time. They are useful, but having a screen that close to you, no matter how small, will strain your eyes a little if you’re using it constantly.

Is it worth getting one?

Considering it’s still in beta mode, there are still a few kinks to work out first, mainly the battery life (recording video drains it very quickly), but the potential for it is huge.

There isn’t a killer feature for it (yet), but the way it makes smaller tasks easier to complete and the fact that it’s just fun to use works in its favour.

So what’s the verdict?

For now, unless you absolutely have to have the latest gadget, it’s better to wait and see how it develops. There’s still a long way to go before it reaches the stores, but once people learn what it can and can’t do, then things can really progress.

Until then, expect to be stared at every so often if you’re wearing them in public.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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