Google Glass Australian Hands-On: I Just Had The Future On My Face

They say you can have egg on your face as a phrase indicating the embarrassment one ought to feel when looking stupid, and from one look at Google Glass, you probably should think twice about getting around with this weird gadget on your bonce for just that reason, but I’m not so sure. I just had the future on my face, and it’s so beautifully simple. This is Google Glass.

What Is It?

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months, Glass is a piece of wearable tech from the boffins at Google and Google X — the top secret lab inside the world’s largest search company.

Glass is simple: it’s a tiny screen, mounted to a pair of stripped-down Glasses that you wear on your face to take the technology out of using technology: to give you information without a smartphone having to get in the way. That’s Google’s dream, and Glass is its living embodiment.

These futuristic pseudo-specs have been getting around the US for some time now, but they haven’t yet landed in Australia. Nobody outside of continental North America is allowed to be a so-called Glass Explorer (read: beta tester paying for the privilege), and all the coverage we’ve seen so far has been as such. Until now.

Using It

The first thing you notice about Glass is the weight, or lack thereof. All this face-based future tech tips the scales at only 46 grams, which is probably a good thing if Google intend you to wear it all the time.

Glass tethers either to your phone via Bluetooth and piggy-backs its data connection, or it has a Wi-Fi antenna to glom onto your home or work networks. There’s no cellular antenna, which means you still always have to have your phone on you.

No matter the data connection, Glass pulls information from your Google account like GMail, Google+, Calendar and so on to display it on the device in the form of cards. If you’ve ever used Google Now, you’re familiar with the way Mountain View loves its cards.

On the right hand side of Glass is a control arm: a concealed touchpad under the side of the specs that responds to swiping forward and backward, as well as up and down. Down indicates cancel, back scrolls left in the cards to present your Now information (Weather, Stocks, Calendar, etc) while swiping forward dives back into your history.

Glass has a few simple but powerful functions, all controlled by voice. “OK Glass” triggers the device, and you navigate down the command tree from there.

“OK Glass. Google. Who is the Prime Minister of Australia?” I ask nervously.

“The Prime Minister Is Kevin Rudd,” she replies quickly.

“How old is he?” I ask after another tap.

“Kevin Rudd is 55,” she adds, complete with a card illustration of Mr Rudd from Knowledge Graph and a card showing his date of birth.

You learn something every day.

Glass also allows you to take a video or a photo with an utterance of your voice, or by tapping the camera button on the top right hand side of the unit. Videos go for 10 seconds by default, but a double tap on the control pad extends the video recording infinitely. You can always tell when someone is rolling film on you, however.

To save space, Glass uploads video and photos straight to your Google+ account in a private album. That way it doesn’t take up space on either your phone or your Glass unit. Why use physical when the cloud is better?

From there you can share it out wherever you like.

Glass also gives you navigation options using Google Maps.

“OK Glass. Take me to the Sydney Opera House,” I ask, more authoritatively this time.

“Head west,” she replies, throwing a map onto my transparent glass display that responds to my compass location, adjusting the map as I go. I actually rode to the Google building, so two quick swipes and I’m onto Bike directions. Lovely.

You can also trigger Hangouts and such on your Glass by making a video call to people in your Circles. You see them through your Glass screen and they see what you’re seeing via the front-facing camera.

For the most part, Glass is fairly comfortable. It sits quite high on your nose so that the arm and the glass-cube screen are out of your way when you’re not using them. If you go about your business, it politely fades into the background of your peripheral vision until you need it again.

Glass automatically realises you want to use it again when you either tap it to wake it up, or tilt your head up by 35-degrees (the angle can be adjusted). Then you can just dive into your Glass like you would your phone.

Bone-conduction audio in the back of the device vibrates to transmit sound through to your ear-bits without actually bellowing it to those around you. All the people near you hear is the same thing they would if you were on a phone call, for example: an almost sub-aural hum of someone talking in the background, likely only audible in the quietest of rooms.

The promise and hype of Glass has been far too high to live up to what you get when you place it on your face, but that’s ok: the core concept and execution of Glass is enough to quell your weirdly aloof expectations.

Glass is like having a personal assistant on your face. Someone to help you navigate your day and the world around you. Someone smarter than you to educate you about things you’re not so sure with. Someone who speaks every language and can tell you how to say you want another glass of wine in German. Someone to give you your calls and texts and emails and all the relevant information that might affect your day.

It’s the promise of information without technology fulfilled in a beautiful polycarbonate and aluminium accessory that will change the way you live your life. It’s Google Glass, and I want one.

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