Looking at San Francisco through Google Glass

Aug 12, 2014 by Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times

After you slip on Google Glass - the new computer you wear on your face - you get things rolling with the voice command, "OK, Glass." Then you tell the eyeglass-like contraption what you want it to do - take a picture, shoot a video, give you directions, tweet and more.

When I experimented recently with Google Glass in the City by the Bay, my second command was this: "OK, Glass. Help me see San Francisco through new eyes."

SF and I have a sometimes-less-than-OK relationship, mostly my fault (thanks to traffic tickets, romantic weekends that weren't, body parts that malfunction), not the city's (except for that epic rainstorm two years ago, not that I'm bitter).

But it's also a familiar place that offered a basis of comparison to help me see how well this titanium-framed little tech wonder would work and whether it could change a traveler's perspective. Nob Hill's Stanford Court hotel was offering a Google Glass package that allowed a tryout without laying out $1,500 for something I wasn't sure about.

My experience with Glass? Just OK.

I'm neither a techie nor a quick study. I use PCs and an iPhone (Glass is an Android device), and I think I know more about technology than I do, so I am grateful for electronics that don't require a Ph.D. to operate.

Glass didn't require a doctorate, but it did take a bit of explanation, which is why I visited Google Base Camp in Los Angeles for a demo beforehand. There I learned that I needed some extra gear and other apps to get the most use out of Glass.

Even with that grounding, it wasn't always easy to make Glass bend to my will, despite the voice command and the tap-and-swipe-the-temple-touchpad feature (the mouse, as it were). I sometimes found myself swiping when I should have been tapping and vice versa. More user time might have solved that problem. The little screen above my right eye wasn't always easy to read, partly because I wore Glass over my glasses.

With experience, I might become a convert, even though I don't think Glass, which was offered for sale online starting in April, is ready for prime time. Still, by the end of my Bay Area stay, I was swiping and tapping, photographing and videoing like a semi-advanced amateur.

Thanks to my quest, I had a chance to enjoy again the Exploratorium museum, Lands End and the Conservatory of Flowers on a beautiful summer day. A nighttime bus tour that wound through the city let me see the Bay Bridge from Treasure Island just as the sun was dancing off to bed.

I captured some of it on Glass, some with a point-and-shoot camera and some with a single-lens-reflex camera. Which was best? You can judge the results.

Perhaps the best travel use of Glass occurred on Sunday morning as I walked down California Street to Old St. Mary's Cathedral. The Field Trip app offered quick lessons in history and architecture along the way. Inside the church, I violated etiquette by using Glass - forgive me, Father - to photograph and take video of the interior, but I will treasure those visual mementos as reminders of an uplifting Sunday message.

In the end, the message of my Glass experience was better than the experience itself: Try something new. Change your perspective. Don't be afraid to fail. It's rarely fatal.

More than OK, Glass.

GOOGLE GLASS CAMERA VS. NIKON SLR AND NIKON POINT-AND-SHOOT

To see how well the Google Glass camera stacks up, I took it, a Nikon SLR and a Nikon point-and-shoot to several places in San Francisco. My disclaimer: I am not a trained photographer, and if I took an IQ test of visual intelligence, I'd rank in the bottom of the class.

So I asked Kathy Pyon, one of the Los Angeles Times' photo editors, to evaluate the results. Here is her report card:

Bay Bridge at sunset

Winner: Nikon SLR

Compositionally, the Nikon picture looks better because of the framing of the photo, although the way Glass captures the blues is impressive.

Conservatory of Flowers

Winner: Glass

Both look good, but the deeply saturated colors of the point-and-shoot look almost unnatural. The color range from Glass is nice and realistic in daylight.

Exploratorium, Pier 15

Winner: Glass

The colors that Glass captures are rich and natural. The downside: To compose this photograph without less means getting closer. An interchangeable lens would help Glass.

Stanford Court hotel room

Winner: Nikon

The Nikon has the advantage of having a flash. The composition and lighting are cleaner.

Lands End

Winner: Both

These are hard to compare, but Nikon has the edge. The zoom lens helped capture the moment. The sky and rocks in Glass look great; it picked up the texture nicely.

Google Glass: Pros and cons

Here's some of what wowed me or annoyed me in my two days with Google Glass.

Pro: It gives you a sense of freedom, as though there's no limit on what you can know or find out. You can Google (natch!) when you're out walking. Need a number for a cab? Just Google it.

Con: You can do the same with your smartphone. To make Google Glass work, you must have a Wi-Fi connection. I carried a Wi-Fi hotspot in my pocket (instead of converting my phone into one). It worked, except at Lands End where I lost the signal.

Pro: Glass is designed to be used in . Like a smartphone, its power should last all day if it's used correctly.

Con: I was using it intensively. Glass is a bit of a power hog. By the end of 90 minutes in the Exploratorium, it was only 57 percent charged so I took a "juice break." At my second stop, I had to plug into my reserve batteries (one for Glass and one for my hot spot).

Pro: The frame on Glass is adjustable and so are the nosepads.

Con: I was wearing glasses so I had to layer Glass on top of my glasses. Every time I adjusted either, the seemed to shift slightly on this 1{-ounce device.

Pro: Accessing information through the Field Trip app was like having a little tour guide on your face. You can hear it or read the info on the tiny Glass screen.

Con: If you're in bright sunlight, it's hard to read or see what Field Trip is showing or telling you. If it's noisy, you won't be able to hear unless the earbud is in.

Pro: You can easily make calls. No more walking around with a phone glued to your head or a Bluetooth device sprouting from your ear.

Con: None. At first, I thought the call reception was bad. It wasn't. What I thought was static on a call to my sister was the crowd roaring as she cheered on the Orioles at Baltimore's Camden Yards stadium.

Pro: Glass' still camera and free you to capture a split-second moment in a way that a handheld camera can't (or, at least, can't for me).

Con: You must learn exactly where Glass' lens is pointing. Framing a photo isn't always easy.

Pro: On a night bus tour of San Francisco, Glass was the only thing that was warm.

Con: Under regular circumstances, Glass felt a little toasty on my right temple.

Google Glass: Some things to know before using it

To make Google Glass work effectively, here are some things you need to know:

- It's a good idea to schedule a demo before you set out on your own with Glass. The Stanford Court hotel handed me a bag that contained, besides the device, some brief instructions. You'll probably want more. You can schedule an appointment at Google Base Camp, www.bit.ly/1ncz7kc. And you can read through some of the FAQs, www.bit.ly/1jkmEjh

- Have Gmail? Good, because that's the email that works with Glass. Familiarity with Google Plus (www.plus.google.com) is a plus.

- You'll want to install the Glass app on your smartphone beforehand. Once the app is installed, you'll find a Glassware Gallery that lists what's available.

- You can download your Glass photos easily by connecting its USB cord to your laptop. (I was carrying a MacBook Air and installed Picasa as another photo manager just to be safe, but all ended up on Google Photos.)

Explore further: Google challenges nonprofits on ideas to use Glass

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