Through Glass:

Pushing buttons with Tnkgrl

Myriam Joire (aka tnkgrl) is one of the most awesome people you’ll ever meet in the tech-writing business. She’s formerly of Engadget and now with Pebble. You can follow @tnkgrl on Twitter and read her blog at tnkgrl.com.

My spouse took one look at me and said: "yep, you’re a fucking Glasshole." I’d just picked up the device at Google’s swanky San Francisco office and barely taken my first picture. This reaction would set the tone for my experience with Glass. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of wearing devices that enhance and augment my life. (I work for Pebble, after all!) I want to be a cyborg — bring on the implants!

It all started at Google I/O 2012 when I missed the opportunity to sign up for the privilege to be one of the first Glass Explorers. I was busy covering the event for Engadget, so I decided to line up later, not realizing there was a limited number of invites. That fall, I finally got to try Glass behind closed doors at Google’s HQ — after signing my life away, naturally. That first encounter was exciting: I was experiencing the future.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013. The first Explorers started getting devices, and the first reviews soon followed. Many lauded the technological achievement that is Glass but also questioned the usefulness of the product, even for tech-savvy early-adopters. Still, I was fascinated by one aspect in particular: hands-free photography. Better yet, the photos and videos shot with Glass looked half-decent.

Since I’d missed the boat at I/O the year before, I decided to ping my contacts at Google on the off chance one of them would be able to hook me up with Glass. Several weeks went by and nothing happened. I’d all but given up when, out of nowhere, an Explorer invite landed in my inbox. And that’s how I ended plunking down $1,500 only to be called a Glasshole by my spouse minutes later – I’m a sucker, I know!

For the next few weeks I became a Glass ambassador, answering the question "why?"

For the next few weeks I became a Glass ambassador, answering the question "why?" countless times and giving demos to friends and strangers alike. My answer: "I just want to be one of the first to take it for a spin." I tried using Glass regularly but quickly learned that this was not practical — the device’s battery life is just way too limited, and many tasks (even simple ones) are just easier on a smartphone.

Here’s what I learned: It’s almost impossible to use Glass as a headset — the bone-conduction speaker is just too quiet. Texting works reasonably well, other than the obnoxious "Sent through Glass" signature that’s added to every message. Email’s fine too, but I have multiple Gmail accounts, and that’s not supported (yet), so I’m missing out on the majority of my email. Voice commands are solid: "OK Glass, take a picture."

Social media’s a mixed bag — Twitter spams my Glass timeline with every single one of my friends’ tweets when all I really want are mentions and direct messages. Facebook and Google+ are the exact opposite, with no integration beyond the ability to share photos and videos. Google now integration is great, as you’d expect. What’s missing is a way to selectively pipe Android notifications to Glass.

I do like the ability to query Google using voice. "What’s 18 percent of $69.75?" "What’s 42 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?" Navigation is pretty awesome with Glass, too, especially when walking. I discovered this on a trip to New York City last summer, at the expense of battery life. There’s also support for Hangouts, music playback and translation, but I don’t use these features very often.

Photography is where glass really shines.

For me, photography is where Glass really shines. Being able to shoot photos and video hands-free lets you be spontaneous while remaining focused on the moment. Image quality is impressive considering the device’s rather pedestrian 5-megapixel camera. Google uses auto-HDR, low-light processing and other clever tricks to enhance pictures, and it pays off. Glass also benefits from the human head being a very stable camera platform.

I’ve recorded a couple of spectacular first-person videos with Glass. I was lucky to go for a spin around Sonoma Raceway last summer in a tandem IndyCar piloted by none other than the legendary Mario Andretti.

Then, in the fall, Lexus let me drive a $375,000 LFA at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Needless to say, this is where Glass shines.

Regardless of the pros and cons, it’s impossible to discuss Glass without touching on the public’s negative perception of the device. This is the product’s biggest hurdle. Sure, Google will continue to iterate and add functionality, but that’s not likely to make much of a difference when many (most?) people inherently dislike not just Glass, but the entire idea. It’s even a polarizing device within tech circles!

Here in San Francisco, the sentiment towards people wearing Glass has soured to the point where I (and several other Explorers I know) no longer feel comfortable wearing the device in public. Restaurants and shops have even started banning Glass altogether. This is also true in other cities, like Seattle. So I end up taking the device with me to conferences and events instead, primarily for hands-free photography.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Glass is a major step forward in wearable technology. Kudos to Google for creating this device, putting it out there, and testing the waters. If anything, it’s a product that pushes people’s buttons and challenges how we interact with computers, the internet and each other — more than any other personal gadget, Glass has turned the world on its head, and that’s significant.

Myriam Joire Myriam Joire

Myriam Joire (aka tnkgrl) is one of the most awesome people you’ll ever meet in the tech-writing business. She’s formerly of Engadget and now with Pebble. You can follow @tnkgrl on Twitter and read her blog at tnkgrl.com.

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