Living With Google Glass: Calling on Glass

Hands-free phoning with Google Glass is challenging, but not without appeal

Published: May 09, 2014 04:45 PM

This is the second in our Living With Glass series. Until a couple of weeks ago, Google made Glass accessible only to a group it calls Glass Explorers. But for one day in April, the company made Glass available to anyone who wanted it. The going price: $1,500. We bought a pair, and I’ll be using Glass over the next several weeks. We’ll even put it through some  lab tests. It’s all about how the everywoman might use Google Glass. 

There’s an adage that goes something like, You never forget how to ride a bike. Change that to, you never forget how to make a phone call. Then try using Google Glass to make said call.

Making a call with Glass isn’t much different than using a Bluetooth headset: In fact, Glass does actually work as a Bluetooth headset once you’ve paired it with your phone. But there’s definitely a learning curve.

Before I could even make a call, I had to go to the My Glass site to enter some contacts. I would have liked to import my iPhone contacts into Glass; I was unable to figure out how to do that. But you can export your contact lists from certain e-mail accounts, some more easily than others. With AOL, for example, you’ll need to create a custom file. I chose to go to the Google/MyGlass site and add contacts that I frequently call manually from my Google account. It's a bit onerous, but also the best option for now.

If you’ve turned on Head Wake Up, you just tilt your head to get Glass going, and say the command, “OK, Glass, make a call to [name].” It dials using the connection from your smart phone, and you can start talking.

An earbud is included that you can use, or you can just listen through Glass itself. For that, Google uses a “bone conduction transducer," or BCT. That’s a fancy name for a speaker, which looks like a button on the arm of Glass, that works by transmitting sound to your inner ear through your skull. Sometimes during a conversation I could feel it vibrating against my head, but generally it wasn’t as uncomfortable as the words “bone conduction transducer” might make it sound.

For more on wearable tech, check our reviews of six smart watches.

Sound quality was fine, both on my end and that of the call’s recipient, with one exception: If I talked at the same time as the person on the other end, my voice cut out, similar to what happens when you’re using a speaker phone on a traditional handset. But I could hear the other person talking even when I talked over her.

It can be difficult to hear someone talking through Glass if you’re in a noisy place, especially without the earbud. Google recommends pressing the BCT against your head, and that helps a bit. But it also made my head vibrate.

Another Google recommendation: Cup your had over your right ear, which is where the BCT is located. But considering one of the big advantages of Glass is that it’s a hands-free device, both of those suggestions sort of defeat the purpose.

As I used Glass for numerous calls, I found it unable to make some connections. For example, it had a hard time recognizing the word “home.” One solution: Use the touch interface and scroll through your list.

Bottom line

Even for something as simple as making a phone call, it required quite a bit of practice to use Glass. When do you tap, when do you swipe, how do you set up your contacts? With a little time, however, I found it appealing to use Glass for making calls. I like the hands-free aspect, I like using my voice to tell Glass whom to call, and I like just reaching up to the side of my head and tapping Glass to hang up the call (another move that took some getting used to—I inadvertently hung up on one of my calls). Of course, those are all things you can do with Bluetooth on your phone—and who needs a $1,500 smart phone?

But Glass can also do plenty of other things hands-free. Which leads me to next week's story. I’ll let you know how Glass accomplishes other simple tasks like playing music, taking and sharing photos and videos, and sending e-mails.

—Donna Tapellini

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