Looking Through Google Glass Reviews

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A few weeks ago, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) began the limited, invitation-only, release of its Google Glass smartglasses device. A select few app developers and general consumers, known as ‘Explorers,’, were given the ability to test the Explorer Edition, a quasi-prototype version of Google Glass. The reviews are now in. What do these Explorers have to say about Google’s entry into the emerging space of wearable technology?

2011 called…

At $1,500 a piece for each pair of Explorer Edition smartglasses, you might expect Google Glass to have the latest and greatest in hardware and software. You would be mistaken, however, with Google Glass featuring tech found in 2011-era products. Much like Google’s smartphone and tablet products, Google Glass runs Android OS. This version of Android, however, is the older Ice Cream Sandwich version originally released in October of 2011.

The hardware of Google Glass is even older, featuring a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 processor that was first made available in the first quarter of 2011. It is expected, however, that the final mass-market version to be released in 2014 will feature much more recent technology. For the moment though, the internals of Glass are a little dated by the quick to change technology standards of today.

The good

Usability impressions of Google Glass are mostly positive; being described as a straight forward and intuitive device to operate. When the display is not active, a simple finger tap to the touch sensitive piece of Google Glass will activate the display unit (an upward tilt of the head will accomplish the same for 100% hands-free operation). After the display is active, interactions with Glass occur via voice commands.

Saying “OK Glass” will open a menu of possible options. The user can then command Glass to “Send a message to…,” “Record a video,” “Give directions to…” or a number of other commands. Although only a quasi-prototype device, Google appears to have already streamlined the operating side of Glass. This is quite encouraging for a product not officially slated to be released until next year.

The not-so good

Google Glass itself lacks any cellular connectivity of its own. Instead, Glass is a supplementary device having to rely on a user’s smartphone cellular connection for all of its internet connected functionality. This lack of a cellular connection is likely a limitation of current battery technology, as well as the obvious size and weight restrictions for a device that must rest comfortably on a user’s ears and nose (and by all indications, Google Glass is a comfortable device to wear).

This, however, brings us to the most notable complaint of Glass users: the battery life. To be fair to Glass, battery life is a complaint nearly everybody has for any number of portable electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.). Like other computing devices, battery life for Google Glass can vary greatly depending on the applications being used. Operating under what can be considered “average use”, Glass users can expect about five hours of battery life. Certainly not good, but not awful either.

Average use would involve reading occasional emails, taking a few still photos, and recording some short HD videos. Recording longer HD videos can hurt the battery life considerably though, with continuous video recording being reported to drain a fully-charge battery in a mere 30 minutes. If this battery life issue cannot be addressed in the final version, this is potentially huge knock against Google Glass, to be sure.

Potential competitors and collaborators

Google has the first-mover advantage, but other companies’ smartglasses strategies are beginning to come into focus (terrible pun intended). Last month, images were leaked of Baidu’s (NASDAQ: BIDU) Google Glass competitor, codenamed Baidu Eye. Although Baidu has confirmed the very early development of this device, it is not clear at this point if it will actually be released.

Although less reliable than Baidu’s development-confirmation, analysts rumors and patent applications indicate that Microsoft and Sony respectively will be releasing their own Google Glass-like products sometime in the future.

There are many potential Google Glass competitors, but there are a few potential collaborators as well. Luxottica (NYSE: LUX), the world’s largest eyewear company, has been developing smartglasses optics technology for 15 years and has many patents in this emerging space. It has been speculated that Google will work with traditional eyewear companies, such as Luxottica, on the official mass-market release of Google Glass.

And while the current Explorer Edition does not support this, Google has confirmed that they will make a modular version of Google Glass that will function with existing prescription and sunglass frames (allowing for any traditional eyeglass frame to become a Google Glass device).

Foolish bottom line

Google Glass has the potential to change the way we interact with our connected devices. That is, if Google can iron-out a few wrinkles. Although the battery life of the Google Glass Explorer Edition leaves a lot to be desired, usability and comfort appear to already be top notch. This seems to be a good first attempt and a promising look at what we can expect from the final version of Google Glass in 2014.

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Matthew Luke owns shares of Luxottica Group. The Motley Fool recommends Baidu and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Baidu and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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