Google's Glass Explorer Edition is finally shipping, and Verge staffers worldwide have been waiting to try out the new headset. So we're sending our editors out to live life with Glass, to explore the brave new world we're lurching into whether we like it or not.
"Those are some unique glasses." "Are you wearing Glass?" "He's got Google Glass on!" My appearance can be ostentatious at times, but wearing Google Glass in public drew a truly unparalleled amount of attention — never have I seen so many strangers (and people I know) give me this look of, "uh, what's on your face?"
I wore Google Glass to Justin Timberlake's show at Roseland Ballroom this past Sunday for two reasons: to get a good understanding of what it’s like using the headset in the real world, and because Glass seemed like a perfect fit for watching and recording a concert. I also wondered if I might steal just a little bit of attention away from Justin.
I got in line early to ensure that I'd be near the stage during the show, and security guards were already checking IDs and distributing wristbands to save time at the doors. As I handed over my driver's license, the security guards began asking questions. "What are you wearing on your head?" "What does it do?" I explained Glass to them, and took a couple of photos and a video. "Oh my god, that’s insane! That’s crazy! It makes calls too? And directions! Wow." One of the guards asked if I planned on recording some footage inside, and I said absolutely. They didn’t mind, and after our short conversation I got in line.
Looking like a cyborg might scare some people off
I’d been using Glass over the weekend to get a solid grasp of how it works — getting to know the device surrounded by thousands of screaming Timberlake fans didn’t seem like a good idea. Plenty of heads had turned 180 degrees as I walked around wearing Glass on the streets of New York and New Jersey, and almost everyone I looked at was already looking at me. Over the course of the weekend, dozens of strangers and friends approached me and knew exactly what was on my face. "Holy crap, you’re wearing Google Glass! Is it cool? How do you have it?" Others gave me a blank stare, and were seemingly afraid to even ask what I was wearing. Waiting in line at the venue, no one directly asked me about it, but I definitely noticed people whispering to their friends about what was on my face. For one reason or another they were hesitant to approach me and inquire — who knows, maybe it’s because wearing Glass makes you look like a cyborg.
Google Hangouts struck me as the perfect way to share my concert experience with someone else — imagine a bunch of friends gathered around their computers and watching the show through your eyes — so when I got into Roseland I tested it out with my younger brother, Johnny, while waiting for the show to start. Everything about it was awful. There was terrible lag on both ends, and Glass’ bone-conduction audio made Johnny nearly impossible to hear. Worried about the battery, I gave up after about 30 seconds.
Treading water in a sea of glowing smartphones
It wasn't until the pre-show music volume lowered and the lights dimmed that I felt like Glass already has some game-changing potential. There I was, standing amidst thousands of rabid Timberlake fans, excited for the show to start. But something was different. I was treading water in a sea of glowing smartphones held by extended, shaky arms. With both of my hands still free, I was capturing better video than these people. And I was still watching the concert.
Glass could legitimately change the way we interact with real-life events. No matter what, holding a smartphone during a concert is distracting, not only for the person holding it, but to the rest of the people in the audience. As the show went on, and JT played hit after hit, more and more people were recording videos with their smartphones as I watched the show and captured moments with Glass. Even though I was bobbing my head and dancing to the music, the headset stayed put — there were even times that I forgot I was wearing Glass altogether.
Wearing Glass let me near-instantly record a video or snap a photo whenever I chose, and alleviated the inconvenience of reaching into my pocket for my iPhone. It’s much easier to press a shutter button on the side of your face while you're looking at your subject than it is to take out your phone, activate the camera, and snap. Glass’ wide-angle lens does a very good job of capturing exactly what you’re looking at, and you don’t need to tilt your head to frame your photos. What you see with your eyes is what you get.
Of course, there are plenty of ways Glass doesn’t work at a concert. Voice commands are out of the question — Timberlake, his band, and the thousands of fans singing along drowned out my best attempts of taking pictures and recording video using my voice, no matter how loud I shouted or how closely I cupped my hands to the microphone. Battery life is also a serious issue: I entered Roseland Ballroom with around 80 percent battery life and walked out with around 20 percent left. I drained 60 percent of the battery by recording and snapping several videos and photos of Justin on stage, doing that 30-second Google Hangout, and demoing Glass to random strangers. That’s a bit concerning to me.
But I’d already rather use Glass to capture concert footage than my iPhone 5. It's a sad truth, but these days we so often choose to view a live experience through a device right in front of our faces instead of looking at the actual performance. Of course people want to capture concert moments for future viewing, but doing it with Glass made recording with a smartphone seem almost counterintuitive. My Glass was more distracting to other people than it was to me, and I’m betting that by the time I see Justin Timberlake live again, they’ll have stopped looking.
There’s really nothing like watching a concert with your eyes, and capturing moments without holding a physical device in your hands. I was fully engaged, and was able to thoroughly enjoy the show with my eyes as it was happening in front of me — and I still have a record of the whole thing that’ll make my friends jealous later. Good thing, too: it was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen.