Google Glass and Home Try-on Kit Review

I recently had the privilege of trying out Google’s various Glass frames via their home try-on kit, and even managed to get two different units running! Here’s my review.

I received the kit on Friday. After observing the different frames, I found that I favor the white color scheme with the Thin frame. The brown with the Curved frame was my least favorite, in both color scheme and the frame itself (a bit too round for me). I would prefer a frame that is more of a rectangular shape however, with a smaller height than what the current frames offer (maybe about ⅔ of the current size I believe would look good personally). But overall, Google does a decent job of providing different frames for most people.

After looking around the Glass unit a bit, I eventually found the power button, and to my surprise, the unit actually turned on. I was under the impression that the units being sent out were totally non-functional, but was impressed to see the unit turn on, display the Glass start screen, and eventually the low-battery warning. This was the beginning of a rather interesting experiment.

Ripped open Glass, for science!
The first objective was to get Glass open. After failing to open the device with brute force, I decided to check out a teardown guide. There was a convenient teardown guide over at catwig that provided enough info for me to get inside the unit, albeit with a bit of a mess. But to be fair, most of the damage wasn’t immediately visible to onlookers anyway.

The next objective was to figure out how to get power to the unit. Knowing what little I do about USB ports and electricity, there should be at least one thing for power, and another for ground I figured. I checked out a pinout of a micro USB port, and was able to find that the first and last pins did just that. I then proceeded to make a makeshift charger, which consisted of a Nexus 7 charger port, a clipped USB cord, and sewing needles attached to the red and black wires of the USB cord (green and white unused).

It took a bit of effort (along with trial and error), but I managed to jam the needles into the tiny space between the connectors, and the Glass unit powered on. I then decided it would be best to leave the unit to actually charge for a bit before trying to mess with it.

Really annoying to plug in
After waiting about 20-30 minutes, my eagerness kicked-in and I then decided to throw Glass on to check it out. I learned that the touchpad didn’t work, but that was fixed by simply making sure the cord was pressed back in it’s port, and rebooting. After that minor setback, I was then able to set Glass up with my Nexus 7. I looked through the few cards that were present, but I then noticed battery was still a bit low, so I decided to rig the charger back up, did a little bit research as to how to use Glass, and went to bed for the night.

The first bit of knowledge I found was that it takes about an hour for Glass to be mostly (if not fully) charged. Other knowledge I learned was that Glassware are like apps for Glass, Glass itself has WiFi (only 2.4GHz), and I was able to check out the serial number and software version for that Glass unit. The software version on the Glass proved to be rather interesting a bit later in my testing, but here’s a bit of side info about it.

At least two of the Glass units that I powered on both had the software version of XE13, and according to various sources online, such an update doesn’t exist. One thing I noticed with this version is that the shutdown screen has a blue and then red outline that flashes on the outer edge. This behavior may be consistent with some developer setting present in Android, but the rest of the interface that I’ve seen didn’t show such outlines. The debug setting is also enabled by-default. I also noticed I was able to somehow force a manual bug report (there was a card showing for it), and I also noticed that I was able to get a glimpse of an Android interface on Screencast during Glass’s initial startup.

I also seem unable to receive any Glass software updates. Perhaps all the try-on kits have this version, but I wonder why. Maybe Google made such a version to keep track of special-scenario units, like store models. It’s mainly speculation at this point, but it is rather interesting nonetheless.

I got a few hours with Glass to myself on Saturday, and liked what I saw. Voice commands worked really well, and even had no problems on picking up my kind-of quiet voice. Touchpad commands worked well enough, but one major annoyance I ran into was the down-swipe. Most of the time, Glass wants to register it as a small left or right move. It could just be the angle of Glass on my face, or maybe the implementation needs a bit of work to get right.

The Glass unit ran rather smoothly most of the time, but there were times where it got noticeably slow, usually for a short time right after taking a picture or video. The worst was probably right after boot, but that’s to be expected. Video recording with Glass was smooth though, unlike on my older phone where the video can hitch if something occurs in the background.

Another problem in my case was that I happened to use prescription glasses. I’m nearsighted, but I find Glass to be hard to read. You can’t seemingly just attach your own frames to Glass either. I’m sure I could of just took out the demonstration frames and crudely attached Glass to my own glasses, but with the rather sub-par battery life and makeshift charger, this wouldn’t of proved too ideal. In the end, I found that I could wear Glass with the demonstration frames on-top of my actual glasses. Probably would look a bit strange, but hey, it works. If you actually purchase Glass, getting prescription lenses in one of Google’s frames should be possible. Although I have no personal feedback, I imagine contact usage with Glass would work flawlessly also.

The final problem I have with Glass is the battery life. Although it manages to charge up rather quickly, it also seems to drain pretty quickly too. I don’t have specific time details, but after taking Glass off the charger from 100% and then shifting through a few cards and checking out settings and possibly even a reboot, the battery was down to 84% already. To be fair though, this could be specific to the Glass hardware I have. Maybe these units intentionally have sub-par batteries in them. Maybe XE13 isn’t battery-optimized at all, and even has battery usage regressions. Maybe my charging method even affects overall battery life. Simply put, you should take my battery usage results with a grain of salt, but there are complaints from actual Glass Explorers also mentioning poor battery life.

Overall, Saturday was a pretty good day with Glass, and I enjoyed my experience with it. The next day however was a seemingly different story. At some point earlier in the day Sunday, I decided to activate a few Glassware apps, which seemed to work fine at first. A bit later though, both my friend and I had difficulty with getting voice commands to function properly (“ok glass” would work fine, but following commands wouldn’t register). Moving to a more quiet environment didn’t help either. I didn’t quite know what the problem was, but figured a Factory Reset would fix the problem.

The Factory Reset however brought upon new problems, the first being pairing with my Nexus 7. The initial pairing after the reset worked fine, but Glass didn’t want to communicate with the tablet, and rebooting Glass just prompted the pairing request again on both devices strangely. I figured a more in-depth reset was in order, and proceeded to reset Glass from a computer, and also cleared data for the MyGlass app on the tablet, and removed the previous Bluetooth pairing. After that, all was well again, and Glass and my tablet paired and worked fine with each other.

After re-setting up Glass, I found that voice commands worked fine again. I then proceeded to re-enable some Glassware. Voice commands were fine for a short period afterwards, but then stopped working again. After reading a post online about someone with a similar issue, I narrowed the problem down to two Glassware apps, Facebook and Twitter specifically. I ended up turning both apps off, and voice commands worked again. I haven’t bothered to narrow down which Glassware was causing the problem though.

The rest of the day was pretty good though. Had some food on the grill, and even took an obligatory picture through Glass. Took a picture of my mom’s cake for Mother’s Day too. Some neighbors also saw me with Glass on, but they didn’t show much interest.

Early Monday morning, I got the idea to try to take my Glass experience to the next level, and attempted to rig an actual Micro-USB adapter to the unit I was using. Ended up tearing a port out of an old cell phone I had. I also managed to get the destroyed Micro-USB port out of the Glass unit by wiggling it until it came out (really bad idea, but luckily none of the USB pin contacts were snapped off the PCB).

I have little experience with soldering, and didn’t have the necessary tools to really do small soldering work either, so I had to rely on another concept. Ideally, I was hoping the pins from the port would sit evenly on the PCB, and that the plastic port on Glass would keep the Micro-USB port seated exactly where the pins needed to go. This however, did not go as-planned, and failed miserably. Without the original Micro-USB port in-place, my makeshift charger couldn’t be used. On-top of that, the Glass unit started going into an infinite reboot loop too for some reason. Looks like the adventure with the white Glass unit has come to an end.

But my adventure with Glass didn’t come to an end there necessarily. I decided to do a similar endeavor with the blue Glass unit later that day. Was a rather smooth process, and getting the unit open was much easier, along with being far cleaner. The second unit worked very similarly to the first, but there seems to be a strange issue that causes the unit to detect a charger being plugged in and unplugged randomly.

Overall, my time with Google Glass and the home try-on kit has been informative, fun, and a bit annoying too. I got to get a feel for how Google Glass works, and I’m pretty confident now that I’ll be buying a pair once they become available at a lower price.