Google Glass: First impressions from an early adopter

The fact that Google Glass is months away from launch hasn’t dimmed speculation about what the most-anticipated tech product of 2013 will be like to use when it actually lands in stores (late this year, a Google spokesperson confirmed to us). Meantime, a group of “Glass Explorers,” 2,000 consumers invited to buy Glass early, received their gadget two weeks ago. That’s long enough, I thought, to interview one of them about their experiences so far.

First, a quick primer if you’ve been out of the loop on Glass: The wearable computing device comprises a set of eyeglass frames adorned with a small rectangular projector mounted over the right eye, towards the top of one’s peripheral vision, with a built-in front-facing 5-megapixel camera. A speaker and mic are built into the Glass frame. Glass connects to mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which delivers video and audio content to the projector and accepts commands from Glass.

For Mia Choi (shown above), the Explorer I interviewed at a Google press event this week, Glass serves primarily as an additional digital assistant whenever she’s on the move. The owner of an event-planning business, Ms. Choi’s been using the device for five to six hours a day since receiving it two weeks ago. Almost all of that “Glass time,” she says, happens when she’s on the road, en route to or at her many daily appointments with clients or to view event sites.

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The gadget hasn’t so much increased her connection time, she says, as changed it—shifting time spent with her smart phone alone to time with Glass. Typical uses are to send quick e-mails saying she’s running late using Glass’s voice activation, and receiving calendar reminders on Glass’s projector screen. Both work fairly seamlessly, she reports.

What about increased multitasking indoors—say, using Glass while doing laundry or washing dishes? Not really, Ms Choi says. At home or in the office, she can lean forward and use her computer, or look down and safely use her phone, because she isn’t simultaneously trying to navigate sidewalks, elevators, or subway platforms. And, no, she hasn’t used Glass when driving, which has raised concerns about driver distraction. “[Google] asked us not to,” she says.

Consumer Reports plans to do a full hands-on report on Google Glass soon. Meantime, I jumped when Ms. Choi gave me a chance to briefly use her gadget. I found it to be comfortable to wear, and immersive—though not to the point where I thought it might seriously distract me. And I tried a few tasks, including taking a photo. While speaking with Ms. Choi, I said, “OK Glass… Take a picture,” and an image of her appeared almost instantly on the screen. You can also use the command “Take a video” to begin capturing a 10-second video.

I could also have more quietly snapped the shot—or carried out other tasks—using the long, thin trackpad on the right arm of Glass. Glass’s ability to surreptitiously capture images has raised privacy concerns, but Ms. Choi has yet to encounter anyone who was concerned about sneaky shooting.

Google Glass remains very much a work in progress, with limitations. Unsurprisingly, it’s Google-centric—for now, functionality is limited when used with an iPhone, for example, and sharing is only via Google Plus. And even a Google aficionado like Ms. Choi looks forward to being able to access more than one of her Gmail accounts from Glass, as well as to the host of other apps that will surely emerge when the gadget actually launches.

Google hasn’t announced what Glass will cost, but Ms Choi and the other Explorers paid $1,500 for theirs. It’s an investment she seems happy with, even if wearing Glass requires building in a little extra time when going from place-to-place for the inevitable requests to see and talk about the device. “It’s my first-ever taste of being a celebrity.”