The Google Glass wearable computer is finally available to selected developers - but can it takes on Apple’s rumoured iWatch?
Google Glass comes with Marmite spread all over it: you’ll either be eager to get your Android eyes behind it, or feel paranoid that everyone with a pair is videoing your crotch.
Wearable gadgets like Pebble smart watches and Recon Instrument’s GPS snowboarding goggles are popping up all over, but only Google Glass has the weight of a tech giant behind it. Can the voice-activated Google Glass free us from the tyranny of our smartphones, or is it a privacy-swallowing monster that will enslave us for good?
Google Glass: Size & build
From the left side, Google Glass looks like a pair of thin, metal sunglasses. From the right, it looks like a scary Borg-like implant. Either way, there’s no mistaking its distinctive lop-sided profile. That also means Google Glass won’t sit flat on a surface without tilting over, although its 42g weight was light enough not to feel unbalanced when wearing it.
Google Glass: Features
While on-board Bluetooth enables basic hands-free use with any smartphone, you’ll need an Android 4.0.3+ device to enable GPS and SMS messaging. An on-board camera can snap 5MP stills or 720p video, and a tiny in-frame mic picks up your voice, and ambient sounds for video.
Although you can flip through menus with a tap on Google Glass’s touch-sensitive frame, much cooler is to say the magic words ‘OK Glass’. This wakes up the Siri-style voice recognition, which lets you take pictures or launch Google searches.
In our brief test at Google I/O, it handled a British accent with no problems but interpreted a Swedish journo’s search for ‘Stockholm’ as the much ruder ‘F**k home’. Or maybe it just has something against Scandinavians. We didn’t get to test Google Glass’s much-hyped navigation features, but Larry Page assures us that it’s pretty awesome.
Google Glass: Screen
Google touts the tiny prismatic high resolution display as equivalent to a 25-inch HD screen from eight feet away. That might be true but probably a fairer comparison is to your phone’s screen held at arm’s length – a four- or five-line menu is easy to make out but you couldn’t view a web page or even read much of an email.
We also found the screen a little tricky to line up – if the frames move a centimetre on your nose, much of the display simply fades away. Images and video looked fine, if rather skimpy on detail viewed within the Google Glass itself. We did not video anyone’s crotch. Honest.
Google Glass: Performance
In the busy wireless environment of Google’s I/O conference, either the Glass had trouble either linking to its phone or the mobile couldn’t get internet access. Either way, it’s a little temperamental. When it worked, it worked very well, pulling up web results in a flash and shooting pictures in the blink of an eye (sadly, not literally).
Users are clamouring for automatic picture-taking, like the new Memoto gadget, but at the moment you have to speak to shoot each one – which may put shy types’ minds at ease.
Google Glass: Verdict
Google calls this the ‘Explorer’ version of Google Glass and is limiting its availability to developers and Silicon Valley royalty. By the time a consumer version comes out, expect to see a wider range of features and more dedicated apps, particularly along the lines of life-logging, health, fitness and navigation.
As it stands, Google Glass is a great gadget for a niche audience (Larry seems to have designed it for taking pictures of his young kids) but a toy for most. It needs a wider choice of apps and a much lower price-point to make the transition from a geek’s toy to a truly essential hands-free accessory.
Product name release date: Out now (developers only)
Google Glass price: $1500
Hands-on review by Mark Harris