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My First Impression of the Google Glass Explorer Edition Part 1: Getting Glass and the Hardware

   



     You can read some other more professional reviews of Glass and even check out a complete teardown of Glass by clicking the links or doing a simple Google search.  I would like to focus on what the everyday user will find.  

     I have had Google Glass for a little over a week now, and I can say that it is certainly a revolutionary product. Glass is certainly still in it's infancy.  There are not too many apps available and we have no idea what the final product is going to look like for consumers, but in this post, I will attempt to address the different parts of Glass and the experience of getting Glass as an Explorer.  I will try to give some suggestions for using Glass in it's current state.  I will also offer some of my ideas on how the Glass team can make some improvements before they release it to everyone.  




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Glass Explorers- Rolling out the Red Carpet

     I was very excited to have been selected to the Glass Explorers Program.  However, it has been a big undertaking, as Explorers had to pay for Glass, and the trip to New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco to get them.  It is a huge investment as the trip cost my wife and I at least as much as Glass itself and at $1500, it was not inexpensive.  We made the trip into a little vacation. San Francisco was a place we really wanted to visit anyway, and going to the Googleplex was a huge bonus.  

     Getting to go to Google was one of the highlights of our trip and made the price of Glass feel a little better as well.  We had picked a Saturday to get Glass, and upon arriving at the Mountain View Google campus we realized things were pretty quiet on the weekend.  Immediately, we saw some cool things like a conversation bike pictured below.  Google is an amazing company, and it's clear that their employees have an outstanding place to innovate. 


     It was clear from the second that we walked up to B46, the Glass building, that Google had rolled out the red carpet for the Explorers. After clearing security, which Google has more of than I would have thought, we were greeted by Googler Raphael Feldman.  Raphael would be our Glass Guide.  He did an exceptional job fitting me, running me through the MyGlass App, and answering any questions he could.  By the way, I pushed him for answers to things I knew he couldn't comment on. I asked Raphael about the hour boat tour for Explorers picking up Glass over the week of July 4th that I had heard about on Google+.  Google I want to let you know he didn't give away a thing! 

     After getting Glass up and running, Raphael gave us a Googleplex tour. Along the way, he pointed out all kinds of cool things, took us to great places for photos, and answered any questions we had about Glass or Google.  It was great seeing the campus, and getting to go into one of the buildings. My only disappointment was not being able to go into the Google Store to pick up a couple of extra souvenirs.  Raphael told us it was closed on Saturdays. :-(  We did get to play with the super cool Google Earth kiosk that has several screens and an interesting controller to guide you anywhere on earth!  Raphael said we could take our time and we did. We never felt rushed and felt welcomed everywhere we went, once we had proper credentials.  


Taken with Glass

 So that was my experience getting Glass, so what is it like to use? Let's dig in!
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Hardware

Source: The Verge

     Glass has a camera, screen, and touch pad that all reside on the right side of your head while wearing it.  There is also a bone conduction speaker that sits just behind your right ear.  Let's start with the little screen that has a huge impact on Glass's user experience.  It's important because Glass has a very optimal viewing angle, meaning if it doesn't sit just right parts of the screen are cut off and/or the Glass interface is not as clear as you might like it.  It is also important to note that I may be difficult to fit as I have a rather large schnozz. 



     The Glass Explorers also received two sets of clip on lenses; one clear and one for the sun.  I mention this now because it's really important that you fit Glass to your face so that it works both with the lenses attached and without. It took me over a week to really get them where I wanted.  My Pro Tip is to fit Glass with the lenses on to get the nose pieces in the right spot, take them off, and pull the nose pieces apart some, put the lenses on and repeat until you get it right.  I'm also very bothered when Glass doesn't sit straight on my face, and that was a battle until I used the lens method as well.  

     I would really like to see the Glass team do a couple of things with the design here.  The first is to have the lenses attach to the frames instead of messing up the nose pieces.  The lenses are really secure now, so that may be  why they went with this method.  But when you put the lenses in now they often separate the nose pieces and cause issues with the fit.  Second and more important, I think they should make Glass symmetrical with the exception of the screen, which I would keep in the same place.  There are a few reasons for this.
  1. It would allow for the opportunity to store a larger or secondary battery for Glass. 
  2. It would allow for a second speaker in Glass which would be very welcome.
  3. It would allow for a second noise cancelling microphone on the other side of Glass. (More on all of these things later)
  4. I believe it would drastically help with keeping Glass straighter on your face all the time without having to work so hard to fit it.  
  5. Lastly, it would make Glass look more symmetrical; we humans really like symmetry in other humans.
     Once Glass is properly positioned on your head, you can still adjust the color display in or out to make sure nothing gets cut off.  It would be nice to have an up and down or rotational adjustment as well, but that might be quite a bit more difficult and may lead to a less sturdy product.  The screen functions great in all lighting conditions except direct sunlight. It's easy to read and pictures/videos look just great considering you are viewing them on a transparent display.  Overall, I like the screen and when it's off, I can see right through it which is a huge bonus.  There is a little bit of reflection on the top and bottom of the screen, but it's not distracting at all.


Screenshot of Glass from the MyGlass App on my Galaxy Nexus

     If the Glass team cannot make the screen easier to move around, it would be a great thing to improve off access angle viewing.  When the screen is in the sweet spot, it is very crisp. However, if it is off just a bit, one part or another of the screen can be hard to read.  I have heard rumors that the consumer version will have an LCD screen and if that would allow for more flexible placement and better viewing angles Glass would be much easier to fit to anyone really quickly.  If that doesn't allow you to see through where the display is, that may be an issue too.  I have supreme confidence that the Glass team will get it right though.  


Screenshot of Glass from the MyGlass App on my Galaxy Nexus

     After the screen, sound is the next most important piece of Glass.  It has a microphone, which picks up sound really very well most of the time.  For videos and voice input the mic has worked awesome. However, for phone calls and Hangouts, the mic doesn't seem to work quite as well.  When Google released XE7 at the beginning of July, 2013, things did improve greatly in this area, but they still could be better.  People on the other end of my calls often reported that I was very hard to understand, I cut out a lot, and wasn't loud enough.  Hopefully, with some software tweaks this will continue to get better.  



     I still think that adding a second mic or maybe an array of mics, would drastically help with noise cancellation and picking up the user's voice.  If Glass was symmetrical, more mics could be added and that would make a huge improvement.  This is a communication device after all, and to have outstanding audio input is very important.  As it stands now, Glass's mics are serviceable, but I expect things will get better with each software release, and will be even better on the consumer version.

     With audio input out of the way, how about output?  Glass has a bone conduction speaker.  If you are unfamiliar with what that is, this link will provide more information.  In brief, bone conduction is a headphone and hearing aid technology that doesn't have to go in your ear and allows you to hear what is going on around you.  It's very cool and I'm pretty familiar with it as my wife and I each have a pair of Aftershokz bone conduction headphones and we love them. 


     Glass's speaker is on the small side and with the alert tone, it works very well, even while driving with the radio on in the car. From here, the speaker falls a little short.  There is no way to adjust the volume so in a quiet space it can be plenty loud, but in a noisier environment it is really hard to hear.  With bone conduction, you can plug your ear and that does help, but it's not always plausible to be able to do that.  

     This is one area that I really think Glass can be improved. If they stick with one speaker, it needs to be bigger and more powerful.  Aftershokz speakers go in front of the ear not behind. I suspect that this would help Glass as well, but may not be easily done because of the other electronics on board.  I really believe that it would be fantastic to have a second speaker on the left side as well.  

     Again, this goes back to making Glass symmetrical.   If it had larger speakers on both sides of the wearer's head not only would it improve the user experience and ability to hear important details from Glass, but it would allow for listening to music through Glass too.  Right now, you cannot listen to music, and you probably wouldn't want to because Glass's speaker is so poor.  I actually prefer listening to my Aftershokz over my other ear buds because I can hear what's going on around me, and they are really comfortable.  As it stands with Glass now, I would have to wear the more uncomfortable in ear headphones to listen to music while wearing Glass and that just seems silly. I really hope this is improved for the consumer version.  Tip for Google, buy Aftershokz, use their tech in your products including phones (Motorola), and let them make headphones.  Everyone wins!  

Aftershokz Bluez

     The last piece of major hardware left is the the camera.  Glass has a 5 megapixel camera and can record video at 720p HD resolution.  I believe that the camera is very good, especially when paired with all of the software enhancements the Glass team has put together so far.  Both still pictures and video are excellent, and when you pair them with Google+'s Auto Enhance they are even better.  I have even taken some photo's at night and they have turned out very well.  My only thought of improvement for Glass's camera would be to make it a little less wide and more focused on what is in front of you, but that is very minor.  I would also like to see panoramas and Photospheres added to Glass, but I'll talk more about that in part 2 of my initial impressions.   

     Below are some examples of pictures and videos taken through Glass.  The rest of my impressions will focus on the software, battery life, what it's like to wear Glass, and the reactions of others to Glass.  Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed Part 1!













     





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