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Wearable Tech

First look at Google Glass

TREVOR TAN checks out Google Glass to see how this wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display works

Published on May 5, 2014 4:08 AM

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The trend of wearable technology is gaining momentum, as more smartwatches and fitness trackers pour into the market. But no such gadget has caught the imagination as much as the Google Glass has.

Announced in 2012, this wearable computer is still just a prototype while Google is in the enviable position of being able to sell current versions for US$1,500 (S$1,917) a pop and only to select buyers who are, in effect, paying to use the device to provide user feedback to Google.

This is under the Google Glass Explorer Program for United States residents who are invited to buy the Google Glass Explorer edition (or prototype).

You wear the Google Glass as you would regular spectacles, so people like me, who wear spectacles for myopia, will find it a bit of a nuisance as it has to be worn over your prescription lenses.

Thankfully, the frame and nosepads are made of titanium and are adjustable.

The display can be adjusted to ensure you can see the tiny projected image. It should hover around the top right corner of your right eye. I found the image quite unobtrusive. It readily shuts down when not in use. It is not always there and always on, as you might think.

The left side of the Glass is bare. The works are housed on the right side, including the module with which you interact, and the display, which is controlled by your right hand.

This main module features touch sensors. A finger tap wakes the device. Swipe left and right to go through previously used functions, swipe down to exit functions.

You will find a button for shooting pictures on top of the module, near the corner of your right eye. Under the module is a micro-USB port for charging the Glass.

A power button is located at one end of the module near your temple. Audio notifications come through a bone conduction transducer speaker that sits behind your ear.

The device's 5-megapixel camera can shoot 720p videos. It has 1GB of system memory and 16GB of storage, of which 12GB is usable.

The Glass lacks a built-in cellular module or Global Positioning System (GPS). So it needs to be connected to a smartphone running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher via the MyGlass companion app using Bluetooth 4.0. It can also connect to Wi-Fi. A MyGlass app for Apple's iOS exists but we used an Android smartphone for this demo.

To start, you say "OK, Glass". Then a screen with the various commands appears. To browse through the commands, you incline your head.

To take a photo, just say "Take a picture" and move your head to where you want to frame the picture. It snaps a shot quite quickly - in less than a second - after your command.

Say "Record a video" to initiate a video recording. By default, it records only a 10-second clip. You tap the module to extend the recording.

Translation is another neat feature. If you look at, say, a Spanish menu, just say "Translate this" and you can see the Spanish words turn into English on the projected image. But you must first set the language to be translated. And there are times that the translation does not work.

Personally, I think the most useful feature is navigation. Say "Get directions to" a location and it will find a route for you.

You can even browse transportation modes by swiping the module. When driving, you no longer need to take your eye off the road to view the map on your GPS or smartphone.

It understood my Singaporean accent and picked up every command I uttered. Every command except "Google". When I instructed it to "Google Siri", it did not work. But "Google Liverpool" worked. A second try at "Google Siri" worked. Guess I need to work on my pronunciation of "Google".

It could not recognise non-English street names such as "Toa Payoh". But it found "Marina Bay Sands" and "Dover Road" with no trouble at all.

The standard "Send message to", "Make a call to" or "Hang out with" (video chat) commands worked perfectly.

Maybe I worked it too hard. The main module heated up noticeably after my 30-minute tryout, but not alarmingly so.

Google says the battery should last a day of "typical use". But if that involves a significant amount of navigation or video recording, I reckon you would have to look for a power socket by midday.

Although still in the prototype stage, the Google Glass has plenty of potential as a wearable gadget with accurate voice recognition and tools that are useful yet work unobtrusively.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 29, 2014.