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Google Glass: Ergonomics, Performance, And Practicality, Tested

The Performance Of Glass

What can you expect from the hardware comprising Glass? No doubt, Google chose the platform’s specifications in an attempt to balance performance and battery life. Given the operations currently available (at least in the XE4 build; my Glass hasn’t updated to XE5 yet), speed really isn’t an issue. Battery life is far more important to address.

Glass ships with 16 GB of flash, 12.6 GB of which is reported usable. That’s a ton of space for pictures and 720p video. There’s no way to fill the device up in one sitting, though. From a full charge, I recorded 52 minutes and 32 seconds, filling 1.88 GB, before depleting the battery. More casual use is pretty consistent with what other folks have already reported—I’d expect five or six hours of use if you’re looking up driving directions, snapping random pictures, sending some texts, and recording some 10-second videos. I don’t see how you’d get a full day of use out of Glass at this point. Google does appear to be taking steps to shore up battery life; an update to XE5 changes Glass’ sync policy to require power and Wi-Fi for background uploads.

Outside, the camera takes great-looking shots.

The 5 MP camera takes remarkably good-looking pictures in natural light. Its performance falls off quickly indoors or as it starts getting darker outside, though. The same goes for video quality. You get a great picture outdoors with consistent lighting. In a fluorescent-lit room, video is a lot grainier and washed-out.

Glass’ microphone is most effective at close range, so long as you can keep it shielded from the wind. Even in a bar, with lots of ambient noise, it’s super easy to distinguish between the background bustle and foreground conversation. The downside is that, if you're recording video, as your subject gets farther away, they quickly get more difficult to hear. And if you're driving 20 MPH with the windows down, the mic is buffeted hard enough to drown out anything else.

I was expecting much better quality from hangouts...

Despite a connection to a plenty-fast wireless router at home, voice and image quality aren’t nearly as crisp as I was expecting using the “hang out with…” command. I synced up with our news director, Marcus Yam, over the weekend, and what he saw from Glass was pretty pixelated and choppy. And while I could hear his voice well enough, calling the video feed a slide show would be generous. The same applied to a call with senior editor Don Woligroski, who reported a pretty terrible-looking picture on his Nexus 7. No combination of tethered LTE or at-home Wi-Fi got us any better than this. A third call from my PC was a lot smoother, so we know Google’s hangouts at least have the potential for fluid motion and reasonable quality.

The bone conduction transducer sits just behind your ear.

Coming back the other way, Google’s bone conduction transducer does an admirable job playing sound back into your inner ear. Funnily enough, Glass sounds best when you plug your ears with your fingers. Frequency response is lost otherwise. But I could go back and watch my recorded videos, I understood the turn-by-turn directions narrated to me, and Google did a beautiful job translating phrases in different languages to me. Spectacular. My biggest complaint is that volume cannot be adjusted. So, any time I jumped on a phone call in the car I had to roll up the windows, turn down the radio, and shut off my air conditioning to understand the other end. Even standing next to a busy street was too loud to carry on a conversation using Glass via Bluetooth. 

The prism projector is less obtrusive than I thought it’d be. Google claims it’s equivalent to a 25-inch high-def screen from eight feet away, and you’ll see it appear above your right eye’s normal field of vision. Output appears in your peripheral vision, but you do need to look up to see clearly. Readability and responsiveness are both good, and the display is bright. Right away, I noticed that two of Glass’ pixels were dead. Four or more need to go out before Google considers the projector defective, though.

It's really hard to see anything through that sun, but Glass still snaps a picture

One reader asked how Glass adapts to adverse conditions. The projected screen is very difficult to read in direct sunlight (in the image above, I’m in the car—the sun can’t be avoided). But the camera sensor works well enough. Moreover, you can glance up above the windshield and get the display in a more readable position if you really need to see something. I didn’t have any rain at my disposal, though Google is explicit that Glass shouldn’t get wet.

Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • Benthon
    I'm personally excited to see where this takes off to. They just need to bring the price down and they have a new generation of product. Great review! It definitely was cute to see your kid walking around and getting him water/playing with him from his perspective.
  • blackmagnum
    Elitist geek tech. Making it illusive like Gmail beta. We can only watch and dream.
  • witcherx
    why not just make lens.. come on aliens...
    why give us outdated products...
  • CaptainTom
    This really is the future. It will just take the third generation or so before it becomes mainstream practical. Oh and I want the lenses to be screens themselves, that would be cyberpunk badass!
  • virtualban
    Why do you keep saying "Equivalent of a 25-inch HD screen from eight feet away"? The resolution, according to other sources, is not even 720p.
    You could say "Equivalent of a 16:9, 25-inch screen from eight feet away"
  • cats_Paw
    Considering the Privacy issues this will bring on the population, this product might be a big fail.

    I know if i had any form ob bussines, i would not allow my customers to be filmed there. That means, no google glass.
  • Vorador2
    cats_PawConsidering the Privacy issues this will bring on the population, this product might be a big fail.I know if i had any form ob bussines, i would not allow my customers to be filmed there. That means, no google glass.
    Privacy issues? The same than people with a phone. Nowadays anyone with a smartphone can take photos or record videos.

    The only thing it needs to do is to put a led than lights up when people take photos or make videos.
  • kettu
    "Take it from a dad, though: there’s something to be said for playing with your kid and recording it, rather than watching him run around, passively, through a smartphone camera (50 minutes of video at a time, that is)."

    I bet that recording everything gets real old real fast. What are you going to with thousands of hours of video? Show it to your friends? I bet they'll love every minute of it! :)
  • randomizer
    That is going to be shown at his 21st isn't it?
  • butremor
    I like this video showing how it looks like looking thoriugh a glass