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Six Weeks On – Review of Google Glass in an Academic Environment

I have been lucky enough to have been a Google Glass Explorer since mid-October, and have been using Glass in my day-to-day life at University since then.  So, how am I getting along with it?

Me With Glass

Me With Glass

Let’s get the whole “it’s a new product and people stare” thing out of the way first.  Yes, it is a new product, and most people are either not aware of it or have never seen one before, so wearing it does attract an unfortunate amount of attention and excitement.  It’s great to be able to share the experience with people, most of the time.  So I find myself wearing it only whilst I am in my flat, my CS department or in an outdoors situation where I feel totally safe (i.e. day light in central London).

What’s the Device Like?

From a technological perspective, it’s really awesome.  Let’s start with the one potential flaw though – the Interface.

The Interface is one of the most confusing parts about Glass at first – many of you will have seen the voice interaction but less of you will have seen the touch pad on the side, and this is where the interaction problems lie.  Let’s take a mobile phone as an example.  It doesn’t take long when getting a new mobile phone to build a ‘map’ of the menus in your mind (a tree structure of menus and submenus, all containing functions you may wish to use).  Contrary to this, on Glass it takes a longer time to build this structure.  One way this shows itself is when you give demonstrations.  Almost immediately after someone puts Glass on, they are lost in a menu somewhere, despite having given them a description of the 4 gestures that can be performed on the touch pad.

I’d like to make it clear that after the first day or so of using it, Glass is just as intuitive and natural to use as your phone (actually, I’d argue more so) because you have built this structure of the menus in your mind.  I believe that the extra time it takes to build up this structure is because of how different Glass is from platforms that we might have used before rather than how intuitive it is to use, but I don’t know how I could actually show this in a feasible experiment.

The screen (“prism”) is one part of Glass that the Glass team have done themselves proud on.  Whilst it’s off, you can see right through it and barely notice it is there, but when it is on it’s very bright (if necessary) and the colours are vivid.  The resolution is also very good (you can’t discern individual pixels) and the refresh rate seems to only be limited by the graphics power of Glass (i.e. it’s very good, ignoring the rare occasion when Glass is doing something intensive in the background, when it becomes choppy).

The battery life is, in my opinion, also something the Glass team have done really well with.  There have been lots of complains in reviews so far that the battery life doesn’t hold out for the whole day it is meant to.  The story here is a little more complicated than they tend to make out however.  Once you’ve got used to Glass (i.e. you’ve stopped browsing through every single menu card and novelty of saying “OK Glass, take a picture” has worn off) and stopped wearing down the battery by having the screen constantly on, the battery life dramatically increases.  This is because most of the time Glass is on your head in standby mode – it’s only when you wake it up to read an email, hangout with someone or Google a fact that it starts draining the battery, and though that’s quite often it never takes long so Glass can quickly go back to sleep.

In an academic situation, you spend a significant number of hour chunks in lectures / practicals etc, and only interact with Glass in the bits in-between.  This works very well with the battery – whilst walking from one lecture to another for example, I can go through all the emails I received in the time in-between (and not walk into a lamp post because my head isn’t angled at the phone in my hand), and then the battery gets an hours rest!

I should point out that demos consume an awful lot of power.  A good demo where you give someone a really comprehensive idea of what it is like using Glass day-to-day takes up to 10 minutes, so if you do a few of them back to back you can easily loose 80% battery in an hour.

Everyday

My Glass is becoming more and more accepted by lecturers as they get more used to me wearing it.  At first I was asked a couple of times whether I was recording them whilst having a conversation, but after giving yet more demos everyone seems happy.

Glass really comes into it’s own whilst doing mundane research.  I am taking a Software Engineering module at the moment where we as a team design and create an Air Traffic Control game in Java.  Glass is really coming into it’s own when we have a quick question to ask or need some information retrieving – questions like ‘Does Java support multiple Inheritance’, ‘How far must aeroplanes be apart from each other whilst cruising’ and ‘What’s the circumference of a circle with radius 15’ are answered immediately by Glass, before I’d even have opened my Laptop lid.

Glass is also incredibly useful when you need to be able to constantly refer to something.  Taking the above example again – whilst designing Class structures, it was incredibly useful to have the UML diagram of one segment of our application right in front of me rather than having to keep turning around / refer to a printed copy.

The camera in Glass is another thing the Glass team have just done staggeringly well with.  The colours are bright and saturated (I guess due to some HDR magic), images are crisp and there’s very little noise in them, even in evening shots.  I’ve included a small gallery below of shots taken from Glass and a pair of videos recorded from it (note how stable the video is whilst I was walking).

Summary

Am I glad to have Glass and do I prefer to be wearing it than not wearing it?  Definitely.  Having all these features right on your face, and not causing any distraction or obstruction whilst they are not in use is just incredibly useful and I can’t wait for this technology to progress even further!