A Review: Does Google Glass Make Sense?
I was pretty excited when I first heard about Google Glass and got on the list early hoping to get my hands on it. When Google held a one day sale earlier this month for their Explorer Program, I was keen to sign up. It arrived just two days later and I was excited to put it through the paces. Quickly, though, it dawned on me that it needed to be measured for any unique value or applications that may help justify the enormous $1,500 price point. Could the Google Glass enable someone to do something entirely new that could justify the price?
While there are a lot of videos online describing the design, materials, and look of Glass—I didn’t see much showcasing practical ways to use the damn thing. So, I embarked on a week of daily use and got comfy with it. I found that while it’s a cool device and has some usability advantages over hand held devices, it’s not much more than a GoPro camera combined with a bluetooth headset affixed to your face. This thing doesn’t really think on its own. It has to be connected to the internet, naturally, which leads to a problem right off the top. You can use WiFi, but don’t try walking very far. To be mobile, you have to tether Glass to your phone and have a data plan to support it. This means that to use Glass you have to spend another (in my case) $40 a month to breathe life into it. This is definitely something consider when surmising it’s standalone value.
The UI in Glass is intuitive, clean, and easy to use. This isn’t unique and should be expected of a device with a $1,500 price tag brought to market by one of the world’s leading technology companies. Swiping and tapping feels natural and the voice dictation works very well, for the most part. I Googled a few things, sent some messages, posted some tweets, got directions, and looked at the weather. It all worked but that’s about all I can say about that. These features are expected to work and therefore I wasn’t blown away at all by how the functions were implemented. Bigger than that, all of these features already live on my iPhone. I literally can do all these things without looking like the Monopoly guy stepping out of a Delorean. Siri handles voice dictation well, so going hands-free is already a part of my regular day.
So I focused on video and photo quality to find a substantive difference in what’s already on the market and that of Glass. The quality of both video and photos is apparent. They both look great but not so much better than the cameras that are shipped in smart phones or iPods today to warrant a purchase of Glass. The hands-free use of Glass, and the fact that it’s perched on your head for stability, is a distinct advantage over any hand held device. I shot videos of the same scenario, pitting the Glass and iPhone 5S against each other, and was very impressed with how well the Glass captures the POV effect of driving a car or demonstrating something with your hands. I felt like I hit something here that could uniquely be Google Glass if it weren’t for GoPro cameras. In fact, GoPros enjoy better video quality and cost a ton less (as low as $199.99).
Slightly frustrated, I took the Glass to the streets to find out what onlookers thought about the radically designed device. I was a little anxious about it, to be honest, what with all the assaults going on and everything. I approached a number of people and asked them a few questions directed at how foreign it looks, what it can do, and of course whether or not they’d spend the cabbage to get one. Everyone was interested in Glass but mostly didn’t see spending the big money on it. Most stated they could see themselves buying it for $500 or less, or 1/3 of the price that I got in at. My favorite response was a lady who compared the Glass to a down payment on a car and she’s not far off.
The Glass was also widely regarded as “strange” looking, foreign, and “not inconspicuous”. Those that I didn’t approach for a comment leered at me from a distance with confusion. That’s the other highlight of the device: it will be noticed, and that’s definitely a mixed bag. You’d think Google would be sensitive to that fact by now with all the examples of assault and social acceptance documented in its short life span. However, I found a shortcut you can set up in Glass to enable picture taking without lifting so much as a finger. If pushing the button over your right eyebrow burns too many calories for your liking, you can train Glass to take pictures with a wink. Yep, a wink—because that’s not creepy when you’re wearing a spy monocle. It’s like someone asked if you could get slapped on demand and Google responded with, “There’s an app for that!”
At the end of the day, Glass is a unique device that sparks curiosity. I jumped in with both feet and walked away flat footed. Glass does some cool stuff but most, and I mean 90%, of what it can do you already have on your smartphone. There is an app store dedicated to Glass which is developing more directed uses. I took a look and wasn’t altogether impressed. The combination of the data plan, redundant functions, and the social awkwardness makes the Glass less than ready for prime time. Oh, and did I mention the price? I cannot believe Google is targeting mass adoption of the Glass because it doesn’t serve up enough value to come close. I do believe there are specific use cases where Glass will find viability (i.e. surgery through the eyes of a physician and other similar demonstrations) but it will remain specialized.
See the results of using Google Glass yourself in this four-part video and let me know if you disagree.