Living with Google Glass: Getting started

My first experience with Google’s wearable tech was surprisingly easy in some ways, and challenging in others

Published: May 02, 2014 11:00 AM
Google Glass, without and with prescription glasses.

This is the first in a series of posts on using Google Glass. 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 to do everything from the simple—making a phone call—to the more challenging—improving my golf swing (which is currently nonexistent). We’ll even put it through some tests in our labs. It’s all about how the everywoman might use Google Glass.  

Every so often, it's dangerous to be a tech journalist. Take my first evening with Google Glass, for example. I took it out of the box, put it on, and started tossing my head in a backward motion to activate it. I also spent a lot of time talking to it, ordering it to do various things. I quickly had a stiff neck, a wife telling me I was annoying, and friends telling her to lock me out of the house. OK, my wife and friends were just kidding. Sort of.

Google Glass is an entry into the growing world of wearable tech devices, which also includes smart watches and activity trackers. Put it on, and you have hands-free access to the Internet, apps, directions, and music. You view its tiny screen out of the upper corner of your eye. You can take photos and videos. You can make phone calls. You can even use it to improve your golf swing. (More on that in a future post.) Everything is done with voice commands, taps, and swipes on the sides of Glass, and even eye winks.

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

My first discovery when putting Glass on was something of a no-brainer, but disappointing nonetheless: Glass is not easy to use if you wear prescription glasses. It’s hard to perfectly position the device so you can easily see the screen from the optimum location, just above your right eye. It’s not comfortable to have two earpieces hanging from your head. And, depending on the reason you wear glasses in the first place, the display might be just a blur if you try to use it without them. So if, like me, you are among the 64 percent of Americans who wear eyeglasses (according to the American Academy of Opthalmology), prepare to add the cost of new lenses to your Glass frames.

Google hopes to solve that problem by offering special frames that can fit prescription lenses. So far, it's offering four $225 frame options to its Explorers (people who've purchased advance versions of the device under programs run by Google), and it recently signed a deal with the frame-maker Luxottica.

Setting up was relatively easy. First I downloaded the Glass app onto my iPhone. Glass tied into my Google account, and was also set to work with my phone. Next, I scanned a QR code displayed on my phone with Glass, but it took a few tries before Glass was on the right menu to pick it up. When it did, Glass and I were wirelessly connected to my phone.

But that only lasted as long as my iPhone was connected to Wi-Fi. What I needed next was a personal hotspot. I set that up with my wireless provider—it only took about five minutes—and learned that it’s going to cost me an extra $20 per month for that service (with it comes an extra 2GB of data). But a personal hotspot is essential to using Glass. It’s the kind of gadget you want to get outside and use everywhere.

One thing to watch out for: Once Glass and your iPhone hook up, every time you use your phone you’ll need to look out for the audio source. The first couple of times I used my phone after setting up Glass, I couldn’t hear anything on my phone. That’s because I had to choose from Glass, iPhone, or speaker for the audio source.

So, setup is finished. It was actually pretty easy, considering this is a whole new computing paradigm. I’m happy to report that my marriage remains intact. But Glass is going to cost more than I expected.

—Donna Tapellini

Next week: Out in the real world

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