Hands-on with Google Glass
You've scanned the headlines, gawked at the photos, and guffawed at the "Saturday Night Live" video (also embedded at the end). But you still have questions about Google Glass, the Big G's futuristic new techie facewear.
This FAQ tackles some of your most-often-asked questions about what Google Glass is and isn't, what it does, who it's for, when and where you can buy it, and what it's like to wear and use. I break questions into overarching sections to make it easier for you to find what you're looking for, and this article will update as time goes on.
If you've got a question I haven't covered, shout it out in the comments below.
Google Glass basics
What is Google Glass, anyway?
Google Glass is a wearable technology device that acts as an extension of your smartphone screen to perform a set of simple tasks. It resembles a pair of glasses.
The Google Glass Explorer Edition, which is the model CNET has, is very much an intentional beta product that's meant to spark a wave of new hardware and software applications down the line. This is conceptware, pure and simple.
What isn't it?
At this stage, Google Glass isn't a finished, commercial product -- and it isn't meant to be. It isn't a cell phone or a computer, and you won't find it today on Amazon or in your local Best Buy store.
What does it do?
- Voice search
- Initiates turn-by-turn driving, walking, or cycling directions
- Captures and shares photos and videos through Google+
- Starts a Google Hangout
- Accepts phone calls
- Sends texts
- Delivers search results, including the weather
- Hooks into third-party apps
What do I need to make it work?
Glass isn't a cell phone, but it connects to one using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You can also use Glass on your home Wi-Fi network. You'll need a Google account to use Glass, and a Google+ account to share photos and video.
Will it work with a non-Android phone?
Right now, Glass will work with an iPhone, but it's more limited. Android smartphones will give you the full range of features. Google hasn't announced compatibility with other smartphone operating systems.
Who is Glass for?
Right now, Google Glass is intended for developers who have purchased the product for $1,500 (more than $1,600 with tax). Journalists like us also have to buy the device, though some people received a pair of Glass in the course of a Google social-networking campaign.
In the future, expect third-party devices and glasses frames to support Google Glass optics and technology, like companies that manufacture sunglasses and prescription frames.
Google Glass hardware
What does Glass look like?
Glass looks like a pair of rimless glasses with a thick, heavy right stem and a cubic rectangle sticking out of the front. It has nose pads and an adjustable arm in the front. There's a power button, a speaker, an indicator light, a Micro-USB charging port, and a camera shutter button.
The battery sits behind your right ear, and a touch-sensitive navigation pad is embedded in the right arm near your temple. Scroll through the photo gallery or watch the video (both above) for a closer look.
In the future, glasses-makers like Warby Parker will build sleeker-looking models with Glass integrated in various ways.
Which colors does it come in?
The Explorer Edition that's being seeded to developers is available in white, black, gray, orange, and sky blue, though we had our choice of only the first three (even though we loved the last two).
Where does the screen sit?
The small "screen" (the glass of Glass) measures 0.75 inch deep and 0.375 inch by 0.375 inch wide and tall, and it sits between your eyebrow and upper lid, not in front of your eye. You glance up and to the right to read the active display area, which is half an inch at the diagonal.
Can you switch the display to the left?
Not in the Explorer Edition, though in future releases, it's always possible that you can order frames with the display oriented on the left.
What is the display mostly used for?
Viewing search results, texts, and everything you can do with Glass.
What's the display resolution?
Google is a little cagey about this one, describing Glass' screen as having "a high-resolution display [that is] the equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from 8 feet away."
How clear are images on the head-up display?
The answer to this question is a big "it depends." The display is small -- 0.5 inch -- so it helps if you've got strong natural vision or corrective lenses. Since the display housing is transparent, it's easier to read the screen in front of a darker backdrop rather than, for instance, staring into cloudy, overcast skies.
How do you control Glass?
Two ways: there's voice recognition, which you trigger by saying "OK, Glass." The device's touch pad (aka right arm) works in tandem with voice controls. You'll tap and swipe forward, backward, or down to scroll and back out of "screens" you see in the display.
Do you control it with your eyes or head?
Moving your head won't change a thing, but if you look up at the Glass module, the screen should light up so you can verbally command it. Otherwise, you can bobble your eyes and head at will, and navigate Glass through deliberate voice and manual controls.
How strong is the device?
Made of titanium and plastic, the Glass Explorer Edition frame adjusts by hard bending, so it's pretty sturdy. I've also (accidentally) dropped pairs on a concrete floor from a height of 6 feet without any damage whatsoever.
Is it waterproof?
Definitely not! Google's response to this very question: "Don't let the Glass device or battery come in contact with liquids. Liquids can get into the electronic components, leading to corrosion."
What is its battery life like?
Google says battery life will last a full day, unless you use more-draining features like a Google Hangout. However, both of CNET's Glass units drained much, much faster, in a few hours of intermittent use. That doesn't mean, of course, that the final product won't see improved battery life, but for now staying juiced is an area of weakness.
Can you charge it wirelessly?
Wireless charging isn't a feature here, but the device could lend itself well to next-generation charging, which will take advantage of vertical space. For now, you'd have to lay the device flat against a charging surface -- not very practical for a shapely frame like this.
How much storage do you get?
Glass comes with 16GB of internal storage and Google cloud-syncing. Not too shabby! But users have access to about 12GB to 12.5GB of the total.
Is Glass heavier than regular glasses?
Google Glass weighs 1.28 ounces, which can be lighter or heavier than your usual frames, depending on their build. Future frames made with Google Glass inside may weigh a tad more than specs made without Glass.
Can you use it as an aid for the visually impaired?
While there is voice readout, Glass doesn't work with augmented reality (yet), and this beta Explorer Edition doesn't have any other helpful sensors for ambient light, proximity, and infrared that might be helpful. That said, I'm sure Google would love to work with vendors on this technology.
How do you reboot it?
Easy: just press the circular power button to turn the device on and off. To initiate a hard reboot, press and hold the power button for 15 seconds.
Google Glass camera and video
What's the camera resolution?
Glass has a 5-megapixel camera.
Is the camera quality any good?
Image quality is fair -- for a sample image read CNET's review. I'm guessing that the convenience factor is more important in this prototype than actual photographic excellence. We'll take a closer look in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned.
One thing to note until then is that Glass uses a viewfinder only when you give the verbal command. If you press the button instead, you get a chance to look at the image only after you snap the photo. (Boo.) At least you can delete any unwanted image from Glass directly.
Does the camera zoom?
It does not, though it does have a wide focus area, which could be good or bad depending on what you want.
How about video?
You can shoot 720p HD video through the camera lens. Videos default to 10 seconds apiece, but you can press and hold the shutter button to extend the length for as long as you'd like.
How do you share media content?
There are two ways to share photos and video. The first is to upload it through Google+. The other is to offload content through the Micro-USB port and go from there.
Can I use two at the same time (one for each eye), one giving driving instructions and the other checking for restaurants?
Since there's no mount for Glass on the left side yet, that's a no.
Google Glass software
Which apps can you use with Glass?
You can download the MyGlass app from the Android Google Play store (it's free). But you'll also need to set up some things, like favorite contacts, from the My Glass Web site. Setup is fairly painless.
Will it support third-party software?
Absolutely. The New York Times and Path already have apps you can verify from the My Glass Android app. With the number of Glass units out there, many more developers will introduce their own wild and wonderful (and maybe weird) contributions to the Glass universe.
Can I watch videos on it?
You can watch videos you shot using Glass, but as for streaming clips, that's a big, huge, unequivocal "no," unfortunately. This device isn't yet meant to be a harbinger of an individualized movie screen, and to be honest, you probably wouldn't want to watch "Iron Man 3" on a half-inch lens sitting above your right eye, either. That's a fast-track to Headacheville right there.
Can you input commands without using your voice?
Some, yes, but Glass was made to use your voice and taps in concert, so you won't really be able to get away without talking to it in public. Prepare yourself for the stares.
Can you take screenshots with it?
In a roundabout way, yes. There's a setting called Screencast that'll do the trick by showing the contents of Glass on a smartphone screen. You can take hardware screenshots from there.
How does voice recognition compare with the smartphone?
Glass uses the same recognition engine, so it operates about the same, generally speaking.
How does the software handle accents?
Since it uses the same software as Google's search app, you should see just about the same results you would on the phone.
Will I be able to read QR codes?
Yes; in fact, you take a photo of a QR code to get screen-sharing set up.
Will it use OCR or character recognition?
There aren't any apps enabling this yet, but I wouldn't rule it out in the future.
Wearing and using Google Glass
What does it feel like?
If you've got it adjusted right, Glass feels more or less like wearing a regular pair of glasses, though the right side is notably heavier than the left. Over time (hours and days), our Glass reviewers noticed some strain and a little discomfort with the device.
Is it distracting?
You will probably never get the Glass display out of your peripheral vision, though it helps that it's see-through. This is one of those cases where you'll need to get used to wearing the device over time.
Will Glass give you a headache?
It might, at first, so Google recommends using it gradually until you get used to it -- not a full 8 hours on the first day. All of our Glass users noticed a little bit of eye strain after hours flicking our peepers up and to the right to stare at the screen.
Is using the touch pad easy or cumbersome?
It's really easy, actually, and so is learning the motion.
Can I use it while driving?
Technically, yes, and we have used it to follow turn-by-turn directions. That said, driving while distracted is always risky, and we wouldn't recommend using any other feature while handling a 2-ton vehicle.
Sure...but it isn't necessarily ideal -- or how Google intended to make this beta version of Glass. We'll have a deeper look at using Glass while wearing specs very soon. Scott Stein, a glasses wearer, evaluates Glass with glasses here.
What are they like as sunglasses?
As part of the $1,500 price tag, the Google Glass Explorer Edition box comes with a pair of polarized shades you slip into the frames. In the future, Glass will likely come in sunglass or prescription options, but for now, you'll do fine blocking the sun with these protectors.
Safety and privacy
Will you get near-sighted wearing Glass? Will it affect your field of vision?
Glass isn't corrective eyewear on its own, and at this stage, there haven't been studies into how looking at Glass' screen would affect your long-term vision. Google told CNET that it consulted at least one ophthalmologist, Eli Peli, a Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, about long-term use. So far, Google says there's no cause for concern. We also plan to look deeper into this issue as well.
Do I need to worry about radio emissions?
Google Glass isn't a smartphone, which means that there's no cellular transceiver, and no SAR radiation rating. The device connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Bluetooth transmits at a much lower power than a cell phone, so it should be just like wearing a Bluetooth headset.
Wi-Fi is also weaker than cellular signals, and we're surrounded by them all the time, in addition to radio signals and signals from cordless landline phones. However, wearing Wi-Fi next to your head may be a different matter -- and one worth exploring. The debate over Wi-Fi's possible health effects is much more muted; this device and others may be enough to trigger further study.
Is Glass spying on you?
Drop that the conspiracy theory novel! Using Glass requires deliberate action; it does not scan or analyze your surroundings, and it isn't transmitting photos and videos to the mother ship. So relax...
Well, do people know you could be photographing or recording them?
Right now, the Google Glass Explorer Edition clicks audibly whenever you take a photo, if you're not commanding it with your voice. I'd say that in balance, you're about as obvious as you would be slyly shooting or recording people on a city street.
Can someone else hijack Glass with their voice?
Because of the one-two combo of your voice input and a touch, someone would have to be deliberate to use Glass however they wanted. One CNET editor noticed that her pair of Glass glitched when the device mistook the blaring Yankees game crowd for a command to call a contact and start searching "Oklahoma."
When and where can I get it?
How much will it cost to own a pair of glasses with Google Glass?
That's a really good question. A pair of high-tech prescription specs or shades will certainly cost more than the usual pair, but glasses-makers wouldn't sell too many pairs at $1,500. I'm going to go out on a completely speculative limb and suggest high-end Glass specs for about $600 to $800 for early adopters, with prices dropping as time goes on, as competition kicks in, and when the features become more commonplace.
When can I buy a pair?
Right now, Google Glass Explorer Edition isn't commercially available, and if you didn't buy them as part of a developer program or win them as apart of a social media campaign, you'll need to wait until the first pair becomes commercially available in 2014.
Where will I get them?
Frames with Google Glass integration will likely sell wherever you buy prescription frames and high-end sunglasses now. Since there's a tech angle, you can also expect to see Glass designs popping up in tech chains like Best Buy and perhaps as accessories in carrier stores.
In case you're still wondering...
Google Glass does not work like this: