I picked up my Glass Explorers prototype device in New York City last Friday at Google’s offices at Chelsea Market. I’ve spent 72 hours with the device and wanted to jot down some initial impressions about the experience and the device itself.

Short version: I like it a lot, and it’s quite refined for a device still in beta.

The grand tour

At the point of purchase I set an appointment and then just showed up for my designated time; waiting for us was a Glass guide who spent an hour with us to go over all the basics in how to set up and use Glass.

I got to bring someone along to the appointment, so Lehigh journalism student Katie Hommes accompanied me since she is already in NYC this summer for an internship. Say hi to Katie (and our Glass guide at the left) via my first-ever Glass photo, which I took with a simple “OK Glass, take a photo” command.

katieThe picture there gives you a good look at what Glass’ camera can do in optimal conditions. The 5 MP camera really does a nice job and gives you crisp photos at high resolution.

The Guide walked me through the basic setup, including:

  • How to add a WiFi network through the MyGlass website.
  • How to do photos and video.
  • How to Google something
  • How to send and receive messages
  • How to use the MyGlass app for Android (I had to live vicariously since I’m an iPhone user)
  • How to enable apps for different functions such as sharing media and note taking.

I shot the photo above and also did some video of the New York skyline. Katie also got a chance to try it, and it was interesting to see her use it because she was basically listening to instructions without seeing the interface. She caught on quickly.

katie2

This is Katie’s photo

What I liked about this appointment-based pickup is they really walk you through everything, listen to your questions, and give you a chance to play.

Because this is a new type of device (with a $1500 price tag!) they don’t want someone to walk out not knowing how to use it. Frustrated people will only trash the device in social spaces, and given the limited rollout that can’t happen if you’re Google. They really want you to walk out of there confident you can use the device right away, but they also show you two resources via the MyGlass website where you can get help from other Glass Explorers and Google employees (not to mention their phone support!).

Using Glass

All that said, the learning curve really is about 30 minutes to learn what you need to perform most functions. Even three days later most of the swiping and head gesturing are becoming second-nature to me.

The photo at the left shows the basic look at Glass. The circle above the model’s right eye is the camera hole, which contains a 5 MP camera capable of shooting 720p video. To the right of the camera (in the picture) is the translucent screen that is your visual interface for using Glass. More on that in a second.

The long white part there is the right side of the frame, and while it might appear thicker than necessary it houses all the tech guts needed to make this thing work. In addition, that white part serves as a type of touch pad where you can scroll through items you see on screen.

This touch pad becomes essential because of the way in which you have to scroll through all the media you capture with the device as well as the information available to you, which we’ll talk about next.

An example of a cards timeline. You only see one of these at a time on the screen.
An example of a cards timeline. You only see one of these at a time on the screen.

The visual screen interface works on a system called “cards.” The best way I have of describing it is it’s like a timeline with the most recent stuff first. Any time you take a photo, do a video, send a text, reply to an email, share something on Twitter, etc., it creates a card to denote that action. On those cards are either results (such as telling you a tweet was sent or the results of a Google search) or the content you made (such as a photo or video).

What you are scrolling through, essentially, is a history of what you’ve done with the device. You can only view one card at a time. To go to the next or previous one requires some sort of action to get there.

This is a very efficient system for getting what you need in Glass. It’s not terribly efficient for reading, and the implications of that we’ll get to in a bit.

The Glass home menu.

From here you tell it what to do, starting with OK Glass which brings up a list of a few things that are possible, such as Googling something, sending a message, recording a video, taking a photo, etc.

Anyhow, you scroll through your timeline two ways. There are head gestures, such as leaning your head to one side or another to get it to move. Or you can use gestures on the touch pad. I find the touchpad to be way more efficient – it actually is quite versatile.

There are a few basic gestures:

  • Tap once to take you to the home screen, or if you’re on a card already it selects that card and gives you a timeline so you can see what choices you have with that card (such as sharing, emailing, deleting, etc.).
  • Slide forward to go through the cards in whatever interface you are in (timeline, settings, options for a picture, etc.)
  • Swipe backward to go into the settings
  • Swipe down to return to the main menu from another layer.

About the only head gesture I use is the one to bring up the home screen (the screen powers off if Glass is unused for 10 seconds), which you can bring back either by tilting your head upward or by touching the touchpad once.

Glass card for an information search via Google.
Glass card for an information search via Google.

The device is WiFi enabled but there is no cellular data option built in. What it does have is Bluetooth tethering capability, though, so if you can enable your smartphone for Bluetooth internet sharing you can give the device some 3G capability (albeit with less battery life).

You can record video as long as 42 minutes but I’m not certain if that’s a storage issue or a battery issue. The battery goes about 3-1/2 hours but much less if you’re doing video the whole time. There is a charger on the underside of the right frame, and if you have an external USB battery charger (and don’t mind looking like even more of a dork with a cord hanging from your Glass device), you can extend the battery life that way.

Finally, this thing is optimized for Android smartphones. There is a MyGlass app available that gives you the ability to do things like screencast to your phone, send SMS, and get turn-by-turn directions. Nothing for iPhone users like me, which is a bummer, but I’m hopeful Google and Apple can work this out at some point.

The camera

This thing has a crazy good camera for a 1st generation beta device. It takes crisp photos and the raw resolution images are quite nice. I took a walk around my neighborhood and these are some of the shots I did. You can click on the slideshow to make it bigger.

From Glass

If you want to see what a high-res version of one of the photos looks like, check this out.

The video camera is pretty impressive as well. While the footage won’t be in something grand like 1080p, which we see in a lot of cameras these days, the video will be solid for a beta device. This was a video walking up a street near our house.

You can see it starts to pixelate as I move a bit faster, so the quality really does depend on you in some ways. The audio was more clear and had more range than I expected. You can hear my feet crunching on debris on the road as I walk, and that’s about 5 feet from the camera.

Another thing I’ve realized is you have to retrain yourself to remember that YOU are the zoom lens here. There is no focus feature on Glass, so if you want to feature something you need to get close. Real close. This is going to take some trial and error. Looking up at the glass screen is one way to go, but it’s such a small image that you really need a mix of visual interface and instinct here.

So what can you do with all this stuff?

Every time you create a photo or video, it’s there as a card on your timeline. From there you have options. If you’ve enabled Facebook, Google+, and/or Twitter from the MyGlass interface, you can one-touch on that card and pick where you want to share it. The latest software update lets you add a caption to images as well.

Twitter is a standard share with few options, which I hope changes. As of now it tweets out a “Just shared a photo #throughglass” message followed by a Twitpic link. You can’t customize the tweet even if there’s a caption there. This can get annoying fairly quickly, so I hope Twitter adds some functionality soon. You also allegedly can share video to Twitter if you have that turned on via Twitter’s site, but I’ve been unsuccessful at this so far. There also is apparently a bug with the Twitter app – I’ve twice encountered a situation where it kept posting the same photo over and over, as if I had given the command several times. At first I thought it was my error, but it’s not.

Facebook only allows image sharing for now, but at least the caption comes with it so the photo has context. I’ve never been a fan of Facebook video so I don’t really care if this feature is added, but I imagine some will. Everything shared here gets the #throughglass hashtag.

Google+ is the one that gives you the most share options. With Twitter and Facebook you really only have the option to share to those sites. With G+ you can pick whether to make it a public share or share to individual circles. It also is the one that is the fastest in terms of the time it takes from send to publish.

One other very nice feature – everything you capture is automatically backed up to your Google+ profile in the media section. It’s not published, but it’s there for you in case you want to download it and work with it. I downloaded about 20 photos and three videos totaling about 6 minutes in length, and it comes to you in a zip file. Took me about two minutes on my home internet.

Sharing to G+ or Facebook might be all that some people want. But for people who want to use that content to do other things, such as edited videos (you can’t edit video within Glass for reasons that are pretty obvious once you see the interface), the ease with which you can retrieve content is great.

Journalism

I was an advocate for Glass’ use in journalism before I got my hands on this thing. I’m a bigger believer now. Tim Pool, an independent journalist, has been using Glass to cover the uprisings in Turkey this month. We’re at the beginning of this, but imagine how powerful a hands-free camera would be for a journalist on the scene.

But we need to think bigger than the idea that Glass is just a snazzier camera setup.

I got to meetup with one of our fabulous grads, Liz Martinez, while I was in NYC. She observed that an interesting project would be to hand Glass to a source while on a story, capture things in their own words and eyes.

I was thinking citizen journalism at first, but she was on to something bigger. Rare is the chance to show something from another’s perspective even though that’s part of what we strive for. Journalism that blends first and third person would be an interesting type of hybrid with which to experiment, and Glass makes this possible. Perhaps new storytelling types can emerge if we’re willing to try things.

This fall we’re going to do a series of “glassumentaries” in my multimedia class. Glass will enable us to experiment with forms of storytelling. How does a story look all in 3rd person, all in 1st person, or as a combination of both where the journalist is guide and editor rather than sole reporter?

Only 72 hours and I’m already thinking of ways we can use Glass to the fullest. I’m grateful to the people at Google for selecting me to test out Glass and am quite sure we’re going to produce some interesting results by the end of the year. I’ll be blogging the whole experience, which you can follow on the Project Glass tag I’ll be putting on all my posts here.

For now I invite you to follow me two ways. This summer I’ll be testing out Glass and you can circle me via my own G+ page. This fall, I’ll be changing the device to the professional profile I’ve set up for my Multimedia Storytelling class, and stuff my students and I will produce will be there, so be sure to circle that one too. Finally, follow the#jour230lu hashtag on Twitter, where a lot of this content will be popping up.

In conclusion …

This is only at the beginning. The thing is comfortable to wear but you still stick out in public. My interactions with people in public have all been about curiosity. I do think there is some interest, and whether the fashion sense gets in the way of adoption remains to be seen (I got the “shale” colored specs just in case, thinking gray was less obtrusive than the other colors).

For those thinking of this as a smartphone replacement, I’d caution against that. Yes it can do calling, photos, and video. But individual apps run in very different ways on Glass. For instance, with Twitter you can only post content, get replies/DMs, and reply to those tweets. You can’t yet send out a text-only tweet except via SMS, and you certainly can’t read the timeline of those you follow – in fact, given how the cards system works, you wouldn’t want to.  With Facebook, you have limited posting options as well.

Reading, in my view, will be a nightmare on this thing, so don’t think of it that way. The goal of Glass it so get technology out of your way. Worries about people sitting in cafes blankly staring at the Glass screen while reading news or Facebook are overblown. Glass isn’t set up this way, and it would be a terrible experience if it were. If people tried to use Glass this way, they’d hate it – smartphones are much better for grazing information than Glass is.

For a device in beta, it’s pretty smooth. There are a couple moments when it goes wonky on you and you have to power down and then power up again, but not as many as I expected. The communications end of things, from social network connectivity to wifi/tethering, work like a charm. Adding wifi networks is a bit harder than it should be, but none of this is the kind of thing I expect to see be a problem within a year.

I’d like to see the Twitter bug fixed. I’d like to see apps added for YouTube and Instagram as well so we have more posting options. I’m assuming all of that is to come, and sooner rather than later.

But read what my wonderful colleague Robert Hernandez has to say, because he’s spot on. These things might look clunky and huge now, but take a cue from Zach Morris. Everything is going to shrink over time, and fashion sense problems today won’t be as big an issue in later releases.

“OK Glass, we’re out of here … “

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72 hours with Glass: First impressions
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