Google Glass: What You Can and Can't Do With Google's Wearable Computer
Looking past the buzz: this is what you can do with Google's wearable gadget.
May 2, 2013 — -- Some people whisper, "I think that's Google Glass." Others stop and ask, "How do you like it? How does it even work?" And then some just pull out their phones and snap a picture.
They all have something in common, though. They want to know what it is like to be looking through the other side of the glass -- Google Glass, that is.
For close to a year, Google has been teasing its connected glasses, which overlays digital information in the real world. And earlier this week, I finally got a pair. I purchased one of the first $1,500 Explorer Edition models, put them on my face and started to see what it is like to live life with a tiny screen in front of my right eye. So what have I been seeing, besides lots of people taking photos of me? What is it like to see the world through a digital lens?
Here are some answers.
How do they work?
First, let's talk about the contraption that's been drawing all that attention. The glasses, as you can clearly see, are not like your typical spectacles. Inside the right arm are the parts of a smartphone-- a processor, 16GB of storage, a Bluetooth radio, a small battery and more.
On the front, you have that star of the show -- a small little glass square. That's the screen, and when you put the glasses on you can adjust them so that it sits slightly above the top of your right eye. If worn right it really doesn't obscure your line of vision. No, I haven't been walking into walls. In fact, when I picked up my Glass, a Google employee (or Glass Guide) fit me for them and showed me how to slightly glance up to see the screen. You can also adjust or swivel that screen when you have it on to bring it closer in or out from your eye.
(If you're a leftie and wondering why everything is on the right side, it's a good question. Google doesn't have plans at the moment to make a left-sided pair; it says most people are right-eye dominant.)
The glasses pair with your phone to get connectivity. There is iPhone support now for some functions, but Android support is much deeper. Using the Android MyGlass app you can configure the connection and even use a Screencast feature, which mirrors the Glass display on the phone. (An iPhone app is coming, though Google wouldn't give me a firm timeframe on when.) You pair them with your phone via Bluetooth and if you have Bluetooth tethering you can use your phone's 3G or 4G connection. If you don't, you can connect both the Glass and the phone to WiFi. Without connectivity, you can still take photos and video, though.
To the right of that glass box is a 5-megapixel camera. There's a button on the top of the glasses for taking photos, but the easiest way to control that camera is with your voice.
How do you control them?
And your voice is one of the two modes of controlling Glass. You can navigate the screen either through voice commands or by using the trackpad on the right arm of the glass. That entire arm is touch-sensitive: sliding your finger on it allows you to move through the Glass interface and tapping once on it lets you make selections.
You also have two choices of how you can wake up the glasses: Tap on that arm, or tilt your head back. Tipping your head back looks incredibly awkward but it's one of the easiest ways to get the glasses' attention.
Similarly, it looks very odd when you talk to the glasses or yourself, but it is one of the easiest ways to get to some of the basic functions. All you have to do is say aloud, "O.K., Glass, take a picture" and the glasses will snap a photo. "O.K., Glass, Google ABC News" and you'll get some basic news results on the screen.
That gets us into the main things you can do with Glass right now. When you look into Glass, you get a very basic interface. It works like a carousel; you can swipe to the left or right to see features and your history -- what you searched for, what you took photos of, etc. Right now there are three main things you can do or see through Glass.
Take photos and video. Sure, it might seem like any wearable camera, but not having to fumble for your phone to snap a photo is a very convenient trick. That said, you will still want to grab your phone. Or at least I have wanted to – the 5-megapixel camera doesn't take very impressive photos and you can only share them on Google Plus for now. No Twitter, Instagram or Facebook sharing yet.
Get notifications and e-mails. You can view your Gmail messages, text messages and incoming calls. And then you can even respond to them by swiping through with the touchpad, tapping and hitting reply. Then say your response outloud and Glass will convert your speech to text. In my experience it has been quite accurate.
Many have asked if those notifications are distracting. They're really not. The notifications don't pop up when Glass is off; it's only once you turn them on and swipe through to other screens that you can see them. When I did get a call, though, it rang in my ear.
Use Google stuff. Then there are all of Google's goodies. You can see the weather, search Google and get mapping directions. As you see in the video, all you have to say is, "O.K., Glass, get directions to New Jersey," and it will show you the route right on the screen. The coolest part might be asking Google to translate something. "O.K., Glass, Google how do you say coffee in Italian," and you will then hear the answer in your ear -- caffe.
What can't you do with them?
Of course, there are a number of things you can't yet do with Glass. Sure, you can't do a lot of pie-in-the-sky things -- like look into the future -- but there are some things I expected them to do that they simply can't.
You can't look at something and have them search. No, you can't simply look at the subway and have the glasses recognize it. You can look at something and tell it to search for it, but that's about it.
You can't e-mail a photo. You have to share the photo on Google Plus right now.
You can't wear them all day long. Well, you can, but they will just be a funny-looking accessory since the battery doesn't last more than 3.5 hours right now.
You can't wear regular glasses or sunglasses with them. While Google makes a clip-on sunglass frame, you can't put these over a pair of regular glasses right now. They just don't fit well.
You can't easily connect. Setting up Glass on a home and open wireless network is easy, but when you move beyond that, things get complicated. You can't connect to a wireless network that requires you to sign on via a webpage. You also can't use 4G or LTE if you're Android phone doesn't support Bluetooth tethering. While you can use your iPhone with the glasses, it doesn't support text messages or GPS directions.
You can't buy or afford them. I paid $1,500 for my Glass. That's what Google is charging for the limited Explorer Edition, which it has promised to a couple of thousand early adopters. Google isn't selling them right now, but says it plans to sell them either later this year or early next for a more affordable price. But as they stand now, $1,500 is way too much for the limited functionality.
But all those can'ts are all part of this being something brand new. Google is calling these the Explorer Edition for a reason -- they want people to explore life behind a screen and think up new ideas and apps for the non-explorers. See, no matter how many questions I answer, there will be a lot more coming soon.