- A Reality Check
- What Glass Actually Does
- The Good
- The Bad
- The Display, Or Why Glass Is $1500
- What's Missing
- The Glass Software
- The "Ok Glass" Screen And Notifications
- The Command List And Voice Recognition
- Google Search
- Taking Pictures And Video
- Google Maps
- Text Messages
- Phone Calls
- Google Now
- Glassware - 3rd Party Apps
- Battery Life
- List Of Grievances
- Comments (60)
Google Glass is an extraordinary device. Like the Apple II, the Palm Pilot, and the first iPhone, Glass is a category-defining product that will quickly become the template for all other devices of its type going forward. It's the kind of device that will have a place in a computer history museum.
As a technology journalist, I often cover innovative devices, or exciting devices, or devices destined to sell millions, but how often, going in, can you say "This is a device of historical significance?" Wearable computing has arrived. While Glass might not be the very first of its kind, it's the first good one of its kind. There are still many problems, and many things that need to be improved, but don't for a second dismiss what the Glass Team has accomplished here: a genre-defining device that belongs in the history books.
You don't create an entirely new market segment without running into a few bumps in the road and with Glass, there are many.
A Reality Check
While the future of computing has certainly arrived, viewing Glass with the appropriate mindset requires a significant reality check for many people, which I will now provide: Glass is not JARVIS. Forget what you've imagined during the last year of unchecked hype and speculation, and come back down to Planet Earth.
Glass does not do augmented reality of any kind, it does not record things 24/7, and it is not a fully-featured replacement for your smartphone. Expecting Glass do to any of those things is unfair and unrealistic. Glass is a real, functioning, first-generation product made with 2013 technology - it is also a work in progress. Your 3D, AR, facial recognition fantasies are technologically impossible in a self-contained headset, assuming you want the battery to last for more than 5 minutes. So forget about them.
So what is Glass, then? Glass is a floating, 2D, transparent computer screen. That's the best way to think about it - a potentially useful product, but not a Hollywood fantasy. Glass is also a device designed with one thing in mind: conserving battery life. Battery limitations permeate every aspect of Glass's design, and I will cover that a lot in this review. Anytime you say "I wish Glass did _______," you have to also consider how that feature would impact the battery life.
Pictured above: Things that Glass doesn't do.
Also, for now, Glass is a product meant only for developers and passionate tech enthusiasts. It's an unfinished, alpha product that, according to Eric Schmidt, is a year away from a general consumer release. Google knows it's not finished, I know it's not finished, and now, you know it's not finished. So while this is called a "review," it would be unfair for me to judge Glass as if it were a finished product. Still though, part of the reason the Explorer Program exists is to gather ideas and feedback from the community, and I consider this review a part of that. You'll still hear all about the flaws of Glass; it's up to you to not take them so
Since it is an alpha product, Glass is currently not "compatible" with everyone. If you wear glasses, Glass just isn't for you right now. Google is working on integrating Glass into glasses frames, but not for the Explorer program. The same goes for people with problems in their right eye (as there is only a right eye version) or people who have had Lasik surgery. Glass is also not for children under 13, or, apparently, zombies. Glass, like I said, is a work in progress.
The good news is that Google seems committed to quickly improving Glass. Google plans on pushing out monthly updates for the Glass software (Glass OS) and we've seen 2 updates, XE5 and XE6, already. While something like a smartphone tends to have only minor flaws fixed via OTA updates, Glass should be much more of a fluid, changing, growing platform. So it's best to consider this review a snapshot in time, and a good base layer of knowledge for future Glass coverage.
What Glass Actually Does
Everyone goes into a smartphone review knowing exactly what a smartphone does, but you may not have the same rock-solid foundation of just what the heck it is that Glass does. So before I get all evaluatey, I'll give a quick overview of what we're dealing with.
The majority of the time, Glass is off - just like a smartphone. Tilting your head up or tapping on the touchpad will turn it on, at which point you'll be staring at the iconic "ok glass" screen and the time.
From here, you can say "ok glass" and issue a voice command. You can perform Google queries, take a picture or video, navigate somewhere, send emails and text messages, make a call, or start a hangout. You can also swipe to the left and check the occasional Google Now card, like weather, stocks, traffic, and sports scores.
Notifications, emails, text messages, pictures, 3rd party apps, and your Glass usage history are all stuffed into an endless string of cards called the "timeline," which you can access by swiping to the right from the "ok glass" screen. If you "fling" the Glass touchpad you'll get a zoomed out view of the timeline, which is pictured above.
That's about it. There's no way to look at websites, there's no email inbox, no way to listen to music, and no contact list, friend statuses, or Google Hangouts (the chat program). If you want to do anything other than what's listed above, it's time to whip out your phone.
So, now that you have a good enough idea of Glass does and doesn't do. Let's get to it.
First up, as usual, is the specs, but like everything with Google Glass, things are a little different. The official spec list is a little sparse, so I did my best to compile a better one. This is all a combination of some Linux command line, Geekbench, an FCC filing, and a postal scale for the weight. Spec wise, Glass is basically a very light, very tiny Galaxy Nexus.
- Glass is slick. Like really, crazily, "oh-my-god,-I-am-living-in-the-future" slick. The UI designers deserve a medal. They've created software that looks and feels like it's from a sci-fi movie, yet it's functional.
- When you do want to do one of the things that Glass does, you can get it done very, very quickly.
- The display is unlike any other display in existence. A crystal clear, floating computer screen. Seeing it for the first time is an experience.
- Fantastic build quality. Glass feels like an expensive pair of, well, glasses.
- Lots of functionality dead ends. There are many situations where Glass shows you a small snippet of what you want, but will be unable to view more of it, and unable to pass it off to something that can. If Glass is going to be limited, it needs to give you a "send to phone" escape hatch when you hit those limits. Right now it's pretty useless.
- A strange, lopsided design. Why is everything on one side? Why not put a second speaker and more battery on the other side? Glasses need to be weight balanced.
- A terrible picture taking experience. Do you care about framing? Glass doesn't - there is no "viewfinder" mode of any kind. You tell Glass to take a picture, it takes one, and you can look at it afterward. I usually have to take 2-4 pictures if I want to center something.
- No headphone jack. Glass has no serious way to deliver audio.
- It doesn't fold up. Glass doesn't have a set of hinges allowing the arms to fold up the way you would expect a pair of glasses. This makes carrying Glass while not wearing it a pain.
- The battery life. The 570mAh battery lasts just as long as you would expect it to.
- The 3rd party app ecosystem. 3rd party apps that use the recommended Mirror API aren't allowed to do any compute on the device, they don't have hardware access, and they can't add to the voice command list. Mirror API apps will never be any good. Google is also arbitrarily banning entire categories of apps they don't like, like facial recognition.
Can Google please become a full-time hardware company? After the Nexus Q, this is the second thing they've designed and assembled themselves, and, like the Nexus Q, Glass is impeccably well made. This is world-class design and build quality that puts the big manufacturers, even Apple, to shame.
Glass feels like an expensive, futuristic artifact. The prism really does feel like glass of some kind and is particularly impressive to look at. The silver, titanium band and has quite a bit of flex to it, even more so than a normal pair of eyeglasses. The black parts are made from a rock-solid matte black plastic. The whole contraption is light, yet sturdy feeling.
Glass has this elegant, futuristic vibe to it that I really love. On a table, it's one of the best looking devices I've ever seen. I wish the Glass Team would design phones - heck, I want them to design everything.
You primarily control glass with the gigantic side-mounted touchpad. It's basically the entire side of the device. Everything from the rounded back to the seam for the eyepiece hinge is touch sensitive.
The inside of Glass is where most of the important stuff is. Just after the Glass eyepiece, there's the oval-shaped sensor cluster, which, as far as I can tell, contains a microphone, and infrared sensor. The infrared sensor is probably for face detection. You can even see the IR light if you point a crappy phone camera at the sensor cluster.
Further back on the main piece of Glass is the power button. This is strictly for on/off; it's not like the sleep/wake button on a smartphone.
Towards the back is the bone conductive speaker, which is silkscreened with the "Glass" logo. It sits against your skull, behind your ear. While the technology here is neat, in practice this thing sucks - the speaker is extremely quiet. Granted, Glass can't play music, and the OS doesn't use the speaker for much other than notification chimes, so it's not that big of a big deal. While you might not hear the notification chime in a noisy environment, you will feel the speaker vibrating against your head, so it kind-of works. For the few times you actually need the speaker, like for announcing Google Maps directions, you'll find it completely inadequate. You'll need to turn your radio off to hear anything.
This is a bone conduction speaker, so you can actually hear it with headphones on or if you cover your ears - then the speaker is really loud. By the way, there are no volume controls.
And why is there only one speaker? These are glasses; put one on the other side.
There's not much going on on the bottom of Glass; there's just the MicroUSB charging port. Glass supports ADB, so feel free to hook it up to a computer and start hacking.
Glass also comes with this lovingly crafted USB cable and charger set. The MicroUSB side is cleverly designed to work as a stand for Glass when it's plugged in. The unit balances on the bottom of the USB plug and the nose pads.
Just behind the USB plug is a charging indicator/power light, which has this beautiful "breathing" animation when it's charging. You really won't want to charge this in your room at night, because it will bathe the entire room in a pulsing, alien-abduction white/blue light.
The Display, Or Why Glass Is $1500
The Glass display is most likely unlike anything you have ever experienced - a transparent, heads-up display that is always just there in your field of view. Wearing Glass for the first time is an experience. Everyone who tries it instantly smiles.
The Glass display appears to float in front of you in the upper-right of your vision. Despite being about an inch away from your eye, the focal point is a few feet away - nearsighted people aren't able to see it without glasses or contacts, and farsighted people don't need reading glasses.
The Glass display is a 640x360 FSC-LCOS, (that's "Field Sequential Color - Liquid Crystal On Silicon," which works a lot like a DLP projector) probably made by a company called Himax. Google doesn't give an official screen size, but on Himax's website, they offer 640x360 displays in one size: 0.22 inches - about a quarter of an inch. It's safe to say the Glass display is around this size; there just isn't much more physical space for anything larger.
Now, let's put the Glass display in the proper, jaw dropping, peerless context: Here in smartphone land, we all swoon over something like the display of the HTC One, which is a 4.7 inch, 1920 x 1080 panel, with a best-in-class DPI of 468. Glass, remember, probably uses an 0.22 inch, 640x360 display, which would give it a DPI of 3337. That's not a typo - three-thousand, three-hundred and thirty-seven pixels per inch. Wow.
A lot of people look at Glass's specs, see year-old phone parts, and ask "why is that $1500?" Well, this is probably why. A screen this dense has got to cost a pretty penny.
Since no one actually wants to look at a 0.22 inch screen, and since silicon isn't transparent, the image is fired into a glass prism. This magnifies the screen and puts the image in front of your eye, on a transparent surface.
I'm far too under qualified to even attempt to explain how any of this prism magic works, but the magnification probably has something to do with the parabolic mirror on the end of the Glass prism. Here it is reflecting a post-it note.
The Glass display you see in Google's promotional materials is a computer-generated, idealized version of the real thing, so here is my attempt at something a little more accurate.
The display is centered above your right eye, so the Glass display sits right-of-center in your vision. I'm not really sure why Google and other people keep saying "upper-right," because it really isn't.
The "black" background color of Glass has a bit of a purpley hue to it, and there is a border around the floating rectangle, almost like a bezel. There are also quite a bit of reflections around the screen. There are cut off reflections of the display to the left and right, and usually you can see the high contrast parts (like white text) streak downward below the display. My guess is that this is caused by the bottom side of the prism. They're a little distracting at first, but you quickly learn to ignore them after a few days.
Since Glass is a clear prism all the way around, the amount of reflections is influenced by the room lighting. External light can occasionally enter the prism and cause more streaking.
When Glass is off, you can see the clear cube in your vision, but your brain will learn to ignore it after a few days. You might have headaches until then, though.
Since Glass uses separate red, green, and blue LEDs for the picture, you can see a rainbow effect if you pay attention. Here I've managed to take a picture of each color, no Photoshop needed.
All the flaws of the display system are very minor. Glass manages to float a clear, crisp image in front of your vision that works wonderfully. You quickly get used to the reflections and stop seeing the rainbow effect; it's just a little strange at first.
One of my big disappointments with the hardware is that it ignores one of the basic design tenets of a pair of eyeglasses - it is completely rigid. When I initially saw Glass, I just kind of expected it to have hinges on the left and right, and thus, the ability to fold up, the way a pair of regular glasses would. Glass can't fold up though; there is no "compact storage mode." It takes up as much horizontal space as a human head, and always will.
The lack of hinges makes carrying Glass when not wearing it a real pain. Look at how ridiculously large the case is compared to a normal glasses case. Wearing Glass is not appropriate in all places; you will have to take it off sometime, but the design of Glass makes that a huge pain in the butt.
I could imagine a person choosing to use Glass similarly to sunglasses - to be worn only in certain circumstances. Sunglasses, because they easily fold up, can be stowed anywhere. You can toss them in a small case, or hang them on a car sun visor or a shirt collar. Glass can't do any of this. If you're in public, and want to take Glass off, you don't have anywhere to put it, aside from the massive, unpocketable case it comes with. Next time you're out in public with your sunglasses, take them off, and pretend they can't fold up. The only thing you can do is awkwardly hold them or leave them in your car.
Yes, hinges would add a small amount of complexity to Glass, since the computer would be on one side of the hinge and the display on the other, but this is nothing that hasn't been solved a million times over by flip phones and laptops.
Glass won't be pumping out Bibio anytime soon, because, somehow, Google has neglected to equip the thing with a headphone jack. For that matter, there also isn't a music app, and it's currently impossible to build one. There's mono bone conduction speaker, sure, but that's more analogous to a phone earpiece. It's for notification tones and voice reproduction - it's definitely not something that's capable of high-quality sound.
I've seen Glass pitched as a great device for joggers, cyclists, and city dwellers. You know what 100% of these people do on their mobile devices? Listen to music. Heck, in the very first (completely fictional) Glass video, "Music - Stop." was one of the demonstrated voice commands.
The lack of a headphone jack cuts off a huge swath of usage possibilities for Glass. If you're an active lifestyle person, this would have been a dream device. Hands-free music while jogging/cycling/weightlifting? Where do I sign up? Part of the reason for the Explorer program is experimentation, and a headphone jack would have given developers one more thing to play with.
One of the reasons for the success of smartphones is that they are Swiss Army knives. They can do anything, and each user has a different set of features that they just can't live without. By just outright omitting high quality sound capabilities, they've left a huge hole in Glass's ability to pick up the traditional mobile device workload.
A Symmetrical Design
The weight balance on Glass is really lopsided, because everything is on one side. The speaker is also really quiet, and the battery life sucks. You know what would have probably helped all of these problems? A symmetrical design. Why not put a speaker and more battery on the other side of glass? There is currently nothing there right now. There's really no reason for Glass to be unbalanced.
Google made the Glass design "modular" and one-sided so that someday it could be attached to a custom pair of glasses, but I really don't see the point, since you'd have to have custom Glass frames anyway. Why not have both sides be modular with a small connecting wire built into the custom Glass frames?
You really don't need me to provide sample images of the camera, because they are extremely easy to come by. Glass tags any images uploaded to Google+ with a "#throughglass" hashtag, so if you're really interested in the camera quality, a quick search for that will bring up millions of Glass pictures.
Still I feel obligated to provide a couple, so here:
It's a pretty crappy 5MP cell phone camera - there's not much else to say. It's ok when you have some sunlight and a muddled mess when you don't.
The Glass Software
Remember, Glass is a constantly-changing alpha product, so, for the software section especially, things are subject to change. In just the time it took me to write this review, Glass received a software update to version XE5. Google should be pumping out updates once a month, so just consider this a snapshot in time. I'll cover what works, what doesn't, and what would be nice to see in the future.
Glass presents everything in a large-format card interface, and it's all controlled either by voice or on the touchpad. The touchpad has 4 actions: swipe left, swipe right, back (swipe down), and enter (a tap).
The main screen is the "ok glass' screen. From here you can see the time and say "ok glass" (or tap) to activate the command list.
To the left of the "ok glass" screen are Google Now cards and the settings, and to the right of the main screen is your timeline, which contains notifications, pictures, cards from apps, and your history.
In the left picture, the folded over corner is called a "bundle," which means tapping on that card will drill down to a larger set of cards about that subject - in this case, multiple settings cards.
The touchpad has a special "fling" gesture that works on the main timeline. It will show a zoomed out view of your cards and allow you to quickly scroll through the timeline.
The "Ok Glass" Screen And Notifications
The coolest thing about the "ok glass" screen is that it can also show notifications. When appropriate, the voice command text goes away and will be replaced with a phone call or low battery message.
This is a fantastic, clean way to present information; I just wish more stuff in Glass would do it. I'd love to hear about new text and emails like this. Currently there are no "notifications." You hear a chime and stuff just sits in your timeline. If you don't hear the initial chime, there's nothing alerting you to a new one. I wish I could configure the screen to turn on when a notification comes in, or at least show the notification when I immediately turn on Glass after a chime.
The Command List And Voice Recognition
There's two ways to get to the command list, you can say "ok glass", or, as of XE5, you can tap on the "ok glass" screen. From here you can speak a command, or side your finger along the touchpad to scroll up and down and tap to choose a command.
There are actually two modes to this screen. "Voice activation mode" kicks in when you say "ok glass," at which point the command list will scroll up and down with your head movements. This is pictured in the left screen, and here, every command is the same color.
The screen on the right is "touchpad mode," which happens when you tap on the "ok glass" screen or if you touch Glass at any point while the command screen is open. In touchpad mode, head scrolling doesn't work, because you're expected to scroll with the touchpad. The current command is highlighted, and the others are dimmed, and a tap will start the currently selected command.
"Take a picture" and "record a video" are both instant commands. Tap or speak them and you're off. Anything with an ellipsis will ask for additional information. While it may seem like commands are split up into sections, you don't actually have to wait for them when issuing voice commands. You can say the full string of commands on the first screen and Glass will just figure it out.
Other than the cool "ok glass" hot word detection, the voice recognition seems to be the standard Google voice solution that you can currently access from Android or the desktop.
The only downside to Glass's voice recognition is that you have to nail the phrasing of the command list. It's "get directions to..." not "navigate to..." or "show me how to get to ..." - anything other than the exact phrases listed will not work. This is really annoying if you live in the Google ecosystem, because the Google voice commands are not even consistent across devices. "Navigate to" will work on my phone, but not on Glass.
There are two ways to start a Google Search. You can say "ok glass, Google" and then your query, or you can long press on the pad from anywhere in the UI (new in XE5) and it will bring up the Google search voice recognition screen.
Now, the really crippling part of Glass that you always need to keep in mind is that Glass does not have a web browser, and cannot display web pages.
Ideally your question is in Google's Knowledge Graph, at which point you'll get an audible answer and a nice looking card. If not, you'll be shown a web snippet - the same paragraph of text you see under site links in Google results. If you're asking about a factual thing, you can usually get a useful result; if you're not, you're probably going to need to whip out your smartphone.
Knowledge Graph Searches
Google searches bring up not just one card, but usually a whole row of cards. If you're searching for a famous person, place, building, animal, or other encyclopedic thing, you'll usually get a Knowledge Graph result. These will bring up a picture and the first few sentences of their Wikipedia entry, and after that you can swipe through Knowledge Graph stats about that person. Wikipedia cards are read out loud by the built-in robot voice, and a quick tap will shut it up.
The Wikipedia cards are really nice, but they also expose Glass's current biggest problem: there is no way to "read more," which is what I always want to do. Reading on Glass is just fine. I would happily skim though the whole Wiki article on Glass; I'm just not able to. Having an option to send this article to my phone would be a decent option too, but there's no way to do that either. Glass is riddled with functionality dead-ends like this.
If you Google Larry Page on a desktop, on the right hand side you'll see a little fact table - that's basically where Glass Google searches pull all there info. So you don't even need Glass to see how useful Googling people is on it. You can try it yourself right now - each line is a card.
Searching for "pictures of ____" will bring up a set of image cards. The first card is a grid of thumbnails, and from here you can scroll over to bigger images of the thumbnail.
You're done now. You can't share the images to anything, or email them to anyone. All you can do is look.
When Google doesn't know what to do with your query, you get search snippets, which are basically the same ten blue links you would get on Google.com, just in a Glassier format. It would be great to see more of this, or open one of these pages, or send it to a phone, but none of that is currently possible. You'd better hope whatever you're looking for is in these snippets, or you'll be repeating your search on a more capable device.
Most actions on Glass create a timeline card. The screenshot on the right is a search timeline card. Tapping on the card brings up "show results" which will repeat the search, and you can swipe over. You can tap on the timeline card to bring the search up again, or delete the item from your timeline.
Taking Pictures And Video
Taking pictures with Glass kind-of sucks, mainly because there is no "viewfinder" mode. You just blindly aim at something, say "Ok glass, take a picture" (or press the shutter button) and hope your picture is framed decently. This screenshot pops up for about 1 second while the picture is processing.
Since you can't do anything other than take a picture in a general direction, I usually end up taking three pictures instead of one: On the first, the framing is way off, the second is a little closer, and the 3rd is good enough, or I just don't care anymore. This is wildly inefficient - imagine if the camera icon on your phone didn't open the camera app, but instead immediately took a picture. It seems like this was designed to give a neat demo rather than to actually be useful. An "omgtakeapicturerightnow" mode is fine, but not every picture needs to be like this.
The other big problem I have with pictures is that there is no way to zoom into them on Glass. I often take pictures of documents or text with my phone instead of writing something down. The intent is to read the text later, but I can't zoom in on Glass, so I stand no chance of reading the text. Glass would be a killer note taking device if I could just zoom in.
There are also no camera settings of any kind. You're not going to be messing around with exposure or white balance or HDR. As of XE6, HDR is supposed to kick in automatically when there isn't enough light, but there's no way to make that happen on demand.
(By the way, these are screenshots of an Android phone mirroring Glass's viewfinder, so don't use these to judge image quality. Go look at the camera section for sample pictures.)
Video mode can be triggered by voice or by long pressing the shutter button. The most frustrating thing about this mode is that Glass wants to initially limit you to a 10 second recording. There really is no reason for this, especially since Glass has 16GB of storage.
You can extend the video by pressing the camera button while taking a video, or by tapping on the touchpad twice. All of this causes camera shake and takes time, so the first few seconds of all my videos involve lots of nothingness and shaking while I make sure Glass isn't going to cancel recoding my video for no reason. I want to turn this off!
This is such a crazy contrast to the picture mode: pictures require way too little input, and video requires way too much. Maybe you disagree with my take on these modes, and think 10 second videos are ideal, and that you can frame a picture well enough by eyeballing it, but this is a perfect example of how Glass is a very personal piece of tech. It really needs a million settings so it works the way each person wants it to and isn't frustrating. One size does not fit all. Both of these modes are the complete opposite of what I want, and as a result are very frustrating.
While recording, you can tap on the touchpad and get an option to extend the 10 second video (if you haven't already) or stop the recording.
Here's the timeline card for picture and video (pictures don't have the play symbol). Video cards auto-play after a few seconds, but everyone who sees them for the first time (me included) tries to tap on the touchpad to play them. A tap is the "go" command for every centered icon except for this screen. Tapping will actually bring up "Share (to Google+)" and "Delete" options. The share menu brings up G+ contacts you've added to the share menu, and the "public" circle.
The little "refresh" symbol in the lower left means the picture hasn't made it to the internet yet. As of XE5, Glass doesn't do instant upload anymore. You have to be powered for pictures to upload, which means you're stuck using a wire like some kind of elderly iPhone user. I want to turn instant upload back on, but I can't.
Also, the actual camera button on Glass has a hair trigger. If you put Glass upside-down on a desk (which is the most natural, stable orientation) the camera button will touch the desk, and often Glass will take a picture. Face detection doesn't seem to help at all with this. So in my usual Glass camera roll, there are lots of upside-down pictures of desks and tables.
Google Maps made the jump to Glass, and it is easily one of the coolest apps on the device. "Get directions to..." will fire up the app and start navigation to your destination. Just like on Android, you can direct it to a specific business, search for a type of business, or speak a whole address.
Once you start navigating you'll get the screen on the right, which works just like its Android counterpart.
Maps actually has a bit of Android integration. The MyGlass companion app will register a navigation intent, so when you navigate somewhere on your phone, the intent picker will pop up and offer to send the directions from your phone or tablet to Glass.
The options on the right are what pop up when you tap on navigation. "Show Route" will show a zoomed out view with traffic information, mileage, and ETA (pictured earlier). "Stop" will, of course, turn navigation off, and "Walk" and "Bike" will change the navigation mode. Mass Transit isn't available. Glass will remember your navigation mode for next time, though, which is pretty cool.
The "Stop" command is necessary because Maps will run in the background if you don't turn it off. Maps will let you know by "pinning" a directions card to the left of the "ok glass" screen. Tapping on this will jump back into Navigation. Glass runs like pure death while Maps is running, so multitasking is really not recommended.
You can search for types of businesses, too. Here are the cards that popped up when I said "get directions to the nearest ice cream place." You scroll through the list just like Google results, and a tap will start navigation. There's no way to call these places or view hours. You can occasionally get and option to call someone from a Google result, though. (That's "ok glass, Google, nearest ice cream place.")
As I said earlier, Glass's speaker is incredibly quiet, so you won't be able to hear navigation instructions over any kind of noise. Listening to music while navigating via voice instructions is not going to happen.
Glass also has access to Gmail, but it seems to only deliver mail marked as "important" by Priority Inbox, even if you have it turned off. There's no way to turn this off and get all your email, so if you haven't been training Priority Inbox, start now.
Gmail reminds me a lot of the newly revamped Android app, distilled to its core interface elements. The timeline card for a Gmail thread shows profile pictures for everyone in the thread, and the subject and lest message is displayed on the right.
The folded-over corner means the email can be tapped on, which will take you to individual messages:
The messages are, of course, presented in a horizontally scrolling list, tapping on one will bring up various options for it, including "read more" for the longer ones.
You get all the normal Gmail commands except "Forward." "Reply" and "Reply all" will bring up the voice typing interface.
So, that's what you can do, now for what you can't do: For starters, there's no inbox. Glass treats email as a series of notifications, just like everything else. Emails go into your timeline and mix in with all your pictures, searches, and texts, and you have to scroll through the whole timeline to find them.
Gmail supports plain text, and that's about it. Even things like forwards don't work properly; you can see the message from the sender, but not the forwarded message. The email on the right has an attached picture, but there's no indication of that, and no option to view it.
There's no way to start an email thread; you can only reply to existing ones. There's also no labels displayed on anything.
Text messages look and work pretty much identically to emails, so much so that I often can't tell the difference. You can start one with "ok glass, send a message to [contact name]" and then dictate your message. Glass needs to be tethered to your phone to send a text; it will use your phone number or your Google Voice account. Tapping on a text will bring up options for "Reply," "Read aloud," and "delete."
All text messages get appended with "| sent through Glass" which gets really annoying for the other person when your message is just "ok." There's no way to turn that off.
The way Glass handles contacts is really strange. It won't just import all your contacts; you have to specifically tell it who you would like to be able to communicate with on Glass.
Glass will act as a fancy Bluetooth headset for phone calls. You can start one with "ok glass, make a call to [contact name]," and, as long as it's tethered to a phone, the call will go through. Glass displays the card on the left while you're in a phone call, and it gets pinned to the left of the home screen so you're free to do other stuff.
The coolest part of a phone call is the home screen notification that replaces "ok glass." If you swipe over to the main screen, you'll see "In a phone call."
Tapping on the phone call card will bring up a sparse set of options: end call, and mute, and that's about it, it's a phone call.
XE5 brought along Google+ support. The G+ cards are actually pretty complex. Along the bottom there's a comment count, timestamp, and a logo letting you know this is from Google+. Considering so many cards are just text and pictures, it can often be hard to tell what app or service is generating this message, so the logo in the bottom right is nice. I'd like to see that on email and texts.
G+ posts with pictures are displayed as the background. If this picture is white, good luck reading the skinny, white message text on top of a white background on a transparent display.
Let's talk about the G+ card on the left. Now, seeing the folded-over "bundle" icon might make you think tapping on this will bring up the 6 comments for that post, but that isn't the case. That's not a bundle of comments, it's a bundle of Google+ notifications, so tapping on it will bring up the main posts of other, unrelated Google+ notifications. You can only see the original post, you can't read comments.
Once you drill down to a single G+ post, you can tap on it to comment (by voice) or +1. You can't follow links or view pictures.
Glass sticks Google Now cards to the left of the home screen. Google Now is, of course, predictive, there's no way to see certain cards on command, so I've included as many real pictures as I can get, a few times I'll just have to cheat and use the stock images from Google.
Here's the traffic card, which will pop up for you commute home or for any place you've Googled recently. Tapping on it will get you an option for "Get directions," and that's it. Why not just launch the GPS if that's the only option?
The stock card will pop up on weekdays. Tapping on it will give you a scrolling list of the companies on it, which are automatically added and removed, based on your Googling.
"TM" is actually "Toyota Motors," but I was just looking for the superscript trademark symbol (™) to paste into a chat program somewhere. There's no way to add or remove stock tickers from Glass.
The weather card will show you the high, low, current temp, location, and chance of precipitation. Tapping on it will give you the 3 day forecast. I like this card.
The Flights Card will show you your flight status, and tapping on it will let you scroll through the list of gates for your entire flight.
The Sports Card will show the score of your favorite team, and that's it. There's no expanded stats or anything like that.
A "places" card exists, but I can't ever seem to get one to show up. They're supposed to look like this. I have plenty of places cards on my Android phone right now, but they don't show up in Glass.
I hope you like all of these Google Now cards being wedged in between your home screen and settings. There's no way to turn Google Now off, there's no way to disable individual cards, and there's no way to dismiss cards. The other big pain is that there's no way to refresh the Google Now cards, which is something I use on my phone all the time. With Glass you're stuck with the default update period, however long that is.
Here's the main settings screen, which is always the right most card on the timeline. The icons and text change to reflect the current status of your device - even the cloud will display a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth symbol, or a sad face, depending on your connection.
Tapping into settings will get you this strip of cards. Here you can deal with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the device info, head wake angle, on-head detection, and guest mode.
Tapping on Wi-Fi will let you switch networks or forget the current network. This screen is mostly used Wi-Fi status, because any network that requires a password needs to be connected to using the MyGlass app.
If your network doesn't have a password, Glass can detect and connect to it without any help from MyGlass at all.
The Bluetooth screen is mostly just used to get a connection to your phone up and running. Tapping on it when you aren't connected will put Glass in "discoverable" mode; tapping on it once you're connected doesn't do anything.
Device info shows Glass's rapidly increasing version number, the space remaining, and the serial number. Tapping on it will allow you to view licenses, toggle ADB, and wipe all the data on the device.
You turn Glass on by tapping the touchpad or by looking up. "Head Wake Up" will allow you to set just how high you have to look up for it to turn on. Set this too low, and Glass will accidentally turn on all the time, too high and you'll sprain your neck trying to check the time.
Tapping on this will allow you to turn it off completely, or set the wake angle.
On-Head Detection will keep Glass off when it's not on your head. Tapping on it will allow you to calibrate this to your head, at which point Glass will play an instructional video showing how to take off Glass and put it back on.
Lastly is Guest Mode, which will lock down Glass into a sort of demo mode. Your timeline will be hidden and replaced with a generic one about jellyfish.
MyGlass is the companion Android app for Google Glass. It handles tethering and Phone-to-Glass communication. Glass doesn't have GPS or a cell connection - it gets that from your tethered device through this app. This also functions as Glass's backup plan for the times when you really need a keyboard, like for a Wi-Fi password.
MyGlass will show your device's info and location, and will allow you to turn off (but not remove) Glass apps. It's also how you add contacts to Glass, which, remember, you have to individually choose. Glass won't just access all of your contacts.
I'm not sure who the heck designed this app, but have they ever used Android before? Individual options are presented as pop up windows (see: middle screen) and the "X" in the top right is used to exit them.
MyGlass will also handle the Bluetooth connection between the phone and Glass, and the "screencast" feature will mirror the Glass display on your Android device, which is where all these screenshots came from.
Glassware - 3rd Party Apps
3rd party apps are awesomely referred to as "Glassware," and that's about the only awesome thing about them.
It's time for the really bad news, and no, I'm not going to complain about the app selection, it's much worse than that. The most crippling part of Glass right now is that Google is not giving developers the tools they need to build great apps.
In Android, everything Google uses to make something like Gmail is available to a 3rd party developer. Generally, you have just as much programming access as Google does. With Glass, this is not the case. Google has all the cool toys, and they're keeping them to themselves.
Google gets to write native apps, and developers get to write crappy REST apps through something Google calls the "Mirror API." Basically, 3rd party Glass apps don't have access to voice commands, and they can't do on-device processing of any kind. 3rd party "apps" don't even install on your device. The developer registers their app with Google, Glass talks to Google's server, the server talks to the 3rd party app in the cloud, and the app is allowed to pass cards consisting of text and images to Google's server, which passes it on to the Glass timeline. That's about it.
Since all apps are cloud based, if the server for that app goes down, or if they hit Google's extremely low daily API usage limit, (which is what happened to the RSS app I was using) the app stops working.
In fact "app" is too strong of a word for what these 3rd party things are. They're more like card delivery systems. Someone can make a special card stream, like say, content from a website, and you can subscribe to it. That's about the extent of "apps" on Glass. It's more like "apps" are RSS feeds, and Glass is just an RSS reader. You aren't allowed to do any compute, or touch the camera, or the voice menu, or anything that would make for a compelling app.
Remember when the first iPhone came out, and Apple only allowed HTML apps? The same thing is basically happening here. There's also no app store yet, but that's fine, because there will never really be any good Glass apps with the current restrictions.
Google wants to be in total control of Glass, and they seem to have no problem killing the 3rd party app ecosystem to have it. Everything runs through their servers, which gives them the ability to kill any app they don't like. They've already banned facial recognition apps for no reason other than they don't like them.
Thankfully, Glass runs Android, so you can write Glass-friendly native Android apps and skip Google's closed, limited ecosystem. These are real apps that are actually capable of on-device compute. If any compelling Glass apps are made, they'll be side-loaded Android apps, and completely ignore the crippled Mirror API.
Terrible. I mean, really Google? A 570mAh battery? That's laughably inadequate. You'd need three times that to approach a run time that would be considered "mediocre".
The exact run time is actually a hard thing to pin down for Glass. The standby time is great; Glass will last longer than 24 hours if you don't touch it. The question is, how often do you touch it? When Glass is new, and you want to play with it all the time just for the novelty, the battery will last anywhere from 1-2 hours, which is terrible. Once you get used to Glass and notice all the gaps in functionality it has, you use it less, and less, and less. I can't even use it as a communications device because it doesn't support Google Hangouts Chat, so I'm really not sure what a typical usage time is supposed to be. If Glass were ever updated to be able to support only my communication needs, I suspect the battery would last around 4-5 hours, which is still terrible.
As Glass gets more and more capable, I would theoretically use it more and more, and the battery time would be shorter and shorter. So it's bad now, and will only get worse. In order for Glass to be taken seriously, this aspect of the device will need to be seriously rethought. Making the sides of Glass symmetrical, with a battery on both sides of the head would be a good start.
List Of Grievances
Glass isn't done yet, but just how "not done" is pretty significant. To give you an idea of how far Google has to go, here's a list of things I've wanted to do while using Glass, but couldn't.
You can't go on the internet.
You can't listen to music.
There's no app store.
There are no notifications.
There are no mass transit directions.
You can't use Google Hangouts Chat.
You can't view your Gmail inbox.
You can't send new emails.
You can't see email labels.
You can't see email forwards.
You can't forward emails.
You can't see email attachments.
You can't view your G+ stream.
You can't view G+ comments.
You can't view G+ links or pictures.
You can't disable individual Google Now cards.
You can't dismiss Google Now cards.
You can't refresh Google Now cards.
You can't frame a camera shot.
You can't turn off the 10 second video default.
You can't force an account sync.
You can't disable the "sent through Glass" signature.
Glass is a very slick, yet very-incomplete product, and everything from the hardware design, to the software, to the policies surrounding Glass are implemented with a rigid, forceful command of how you are allowed to use it. You don't get to configure Glass to fit into your life, you have to configure yourself to fit into Glass's life. Some people are fine with that, but for me, it's highly annoying.
As wearable computing matures, I think people will realize that, because of the extremely close relationship between you and the device, wearable tech needs to work perfectly in order to not be annoying for the user. Everyone will want something different, so that means lots and lots of options. I believe the form factor Google created can really work, but it needs to be highly customizable. I dislike some of the decisions Google made in regards to the UI, and "just deal with it" takes on a whole new annoyance level when the device is strapped to your face 24/7.
Glass is not a finished product, so saying something like "Glass isn't useful" (which is true) really isn't fair - it's not supposed to be useful right now. What I can say is that Glass is a fantastically cool product that I want to use, if it would just work the way I want and support the services I use. That's probably the best praise Glass could receive at this point in its life: I want to use it.
The hardware and software is extremely slick and futuristic, and the display feels like a mind-blowing leap in technology. I would use Glass all the time if I could configure it to work the way I want, and if it supported the services I want to use. Google just needs to entirely rethink their battery strategy, and use both sides of Glass for electrical components.
What is extremely disappointing about Glass is the hostility toward people that want to build on Glass and turn it into something great. It's hard to say "just wait for the great apps" when Google bans things like facial recognition, tries to shoehorn app developers into cloud apps, and limits the availability of Glass for seemingly no reason. What happened to this being the "Explorer Edition"? We're only allowed to explore the places Google wants us to? I expected an open, inviting, "Google" ecosystem, but instead got a closed "Apple" one.
Hopefully the strict control, lack of options, and dead-on-arrival app ecosystem are just symptoms of Glass's nascent nature, and Google will work to improve them. To their credit, they have stated that they plan on releasing a native Glass SDK at some point, so maybe this will all be sorted out soon. I can't help but think if Google had gone the normal, open, Googley direction from the start, my voice command list would be filled with useful commands right now, like "save this to Google Keep," "create a calendar appointment," and "search YouTube."
Glass is a beta product, and the software is changing all the time. Right now though, 3rd party developers aren't really invited to the party, so the only entity that can make Glass better is Google. Hopefully they'll realize how Android got to the point it is today, and open the app development floodgates to their extremely cool piece of hardware. Until then, we wait.