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Saturday, July 06, 2013, 10:21 am PT (01:21 pm ET)

First look: Google Glass unboxing, setup, and first impressions


E-mail



Adding contacts can be difficult. When we started with Glass, we found we had to explicitly add which contacts we wanted to be able to talk, message, or have a Google Hangout with through MyGlass app.

Until this was done, we could only initiate contact with contacts that had been explicitly added. However, we could reply to contacts who e-mailed us, even if they weren't on our list.

Once the contact issues are resolved, e-mail is easy to use. Google Glass can accurately dictate messages through voice, as advertised.

We did find it annoying that the system automatically adds a "Sent from my Google Glass" signature to every e-mail. In addition, this is hidden when viewing an e-mail thread on Glass.

Phone calls



Glass acts as a Bluetooth handsfree device for calls and Hangouts, but it has no speaker. Instead, it uses bone conduction to transfer audio to your head. In practice, we could feel the subtle vibrations on the side of our heads.

Glass


There is no volume control. In order to hear in noisy environments we had best results by putting our fingers in our ears. Glass does display in the activity stream a nice image of the contact, contact's name and elapsed time of the call.

Glass Calling


Google Hangouts



Text-based Google Hangouts work great with Glass. Like most things the system does, it's possible to have Glass read messages aloud with speech synthesis, or to swipe through the text.

Video hangouts, however, are another story, because Glass isn't able to take a front-facing picture of your face. As a result, in a conventional hangout with friends, a Glass user can only show their friends what they are looking at — not their own face.

News



We added official apps for CNN and The New York Times to Glass via the MyGlass app. Every few minutes, these would check for the latest headlines. Glass then delivers a story with a picture, and the ability to read the summary aloud.

Glass News


We didn't add Tumblr, Elle, Evernote, Facebook or Twitter. One of the cautions from Professor Steve Mann who has been working on wearable computing for years is the importance of restricting who has write-access to your eyeballs. This caution seems more important than ever. It is one thing to get periodic updates and another thing to drown while drinking from a firehose of updates. When using a phone, you mediate that firehose by putting the phone away or switching to other apps.

Still, the news applications do work well. The stories appear with nice photographs, short summaries, and having them read aloud provides a convenient summary of the story. We weren't sure what semantic analysis is being conducted to make the summary or even whether it is Google or the news source providing the summary, but it seems to be working.

Glass NYT


Where does Google Glass go from here?



In its current incarnation, it feels like Glass is still very young, and there's a lot more it can do. What if the apps on your phone were to become apps for Glass? This is starting to happen, albeit slowly.

PrivatBank is one of the financial institutions working on a Glass app. Users can view their balance, withdraw cash at an ATM, fuel up at gas stations, and make video calls to their personal banker. This appears to be using a QR code system, or taking photographs with Glass of bills to pay them.

In the future, Glass could become a great platform for augmented reality. The hardware already utilizes the 3D accelerometer, compass and GPS of a connected Android device. We imagine notifications in the viewfinder could eventually augment what we are seeing, with data from Wikipedia or a service like Layar. But Google Glass is not there — yet.

At the moment, Glass is merely an accessory for a smartphone, but it's not a replacement. For traditional users, Glass might make sense if someone rigorously uses their calendar and needs reminders of what's next to stay on schedule.

The headmounted camera only seems to make sense for a few use cases, where it might be important to see what a caller is looking at rather than their face (surgery, aircraft and automotive maintenance, virtual field trips). It's possible that Google is trying to replace pulling out a phone to take a picture or video the same way the iPhone replaced consumer digital cameras.

The truism is that the best camera is the one that's always with you. This becomes the best camera that's always ready on your head. But even then, it's too hard to compose a picture or avoid making your video chat partner seasick.

In all, we found these experiences on the early build of Google Glass provided to developers just don't replace our smartphone experience. Wearable computing will be a rapidly evolving field in the years to come, but for now Glass is meant for developers, enthusiast, and only the most early of adopters.