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Google Glass: will they be a game changer for travelers?

 

When Google released the futuristic prototype of its much heralded Google Glass in April, many called the hands-free device revolutionary and speculated on how they could change the travel game as we know it for tourists.

Think of it: Now you can have your GPS right in front of your eyes without using your hands, or take pictures or video with a simple voice command.  There's also the possibility of, say, getting real-time flight information as you walk to your gate or ditching those guide books completely and using it as a built-in tour guide when visiting museums or historic sites. In fact,  many of the icons on the current prototype's modified screen already have functions used frequently by travels, such as camera, location, search, chat and maps. 

Google Glass aren’t scheduled for release until the end of this year, but I managed to get my hands on a pair and decided to put them to a real test to see how well they work on a leisurely day trip.

This time, instead of asking for directions, I used the voice command to find nearby restaurants. Jackpot! I was actually surprised at how well the voice recognition software worked.

Living in New York City, there are plenty of towns a stone’s throw from the city. I decided to head north to Sleepy Hollow in Hudson Valley, N.Y.-- a picturesque town filled with cafes, shops and historic sites, made famous by Washington Irving and his tales of the Headless Horseman.

As of now, Google Glass can do things like record video, send text messages, provide translations, and give directions. It doesn't yet have its own cellular radio, so it has to sync up with mobile phones via Bluetooth to access Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G data connections.

The trip was about 45 minutes door to door.  Before I headed out, I powered up and connected Google Glass to get directions. The GPS function doesn’t work with an iPhone yet, so I had to use an Android phone.When paired to a smart phone, using voice activation, Google Glass can provide maps and turn-by-turn directions that you can see through a tiny lens that’s attached to the device.

I quickly realized that driving with the device wasn't every easy. The lens makes it difficult to follow the directions and drive at the same time.  This may be something that can be improved with better fitting of the glasses, but for some it could remain a distraction. Luckily I had my car’s GPS for back-up.

When I arrived in Sleepy Hollow, I followed the signs to the center of town and figured I’d give Google Glass another try. This time, instead of asking for directions, I used the voice command to find nearby restaurants. Jackpot! I was actually surprised at how well the voice recognition software worked. I didn’t have to repeat myself and Glass gave me a list of choices within a few miles from where I was standing.

Glass’ voice recognition can be used for just about anything: to ask a general question, get a phrase translated, find flight information, speak and send an email or text, take a picture or record a video, and share them with friends, and the list goes on. At this point, I needed to use voice recognition to find an ATM. And once again, it worked perfectly, listing several banks in the area.

While I was on a roll, I decided to try to book a hotel.  Three for three. Google Glass gave me plenty of options to choose from. I would have liked to see them separated by price, even ranked, but the ones listed fit my criteria of being “nearby." So, after using the track pad to swipe through my choices, I picked one of them by tapping the track pad. Glass gave me the address, and the options to get directions or call the hotel. I tested Glass once more by tapping “call,” so I could to make a reservation. That worked too.

Then it was off for a bit of sightseeing. I “woke” up Glass by tapping the touchpad. Then once again, using the voice command to navigate its menu: “Ok, Glass”…”Google local landmarks.” I expected to see a list of places where, according to Washington Irving, the Headless Horseman claimed his territory in the 1700’s. Instead, Glass presented the Google entry for “Sleepy Hollow.” While it was an accurate definition of this little town, Google Glass failed to deliver on my request. That’s strike number two for the pair of glasses that could “change our lives.”

Okay, so I had to use my iPhone to find cool places to see. But I did rely on Google Glass to help me photograph my trip.  The glasses eliminated the need to reach into your pocket, unlock the phone, open camera, press the “Click” button to take a photo. All I had to do was "wake up" the Glass, this time by tilting my head back, and use the voice command, “Ok Glass…” “Take a picture.” It captured whatever I saw through the lens. Even though I couldn’t zoom in, I was impressed with the quality of the images and how simple it was to take them. There is also a video camera built into Glass. 

Though Glass video quality isn’t bad, I’d say iPhone is better.

Another downside is the that after just a few hours, Google Glass needed to be re-charged. So with perfect memories in hand (or stored in Glass anyway), it was time to call it a day. I tucked Glass in its protector bag and once again relied on my car’s GPS for directions for the trip home.

Google Glass has a lot of room for improvement, but then again they are still in the testing phase. The pair that I used cost $1500. The cost for consumers, like the release date, is still under wraps. But, it’s safe to say they probably won’t be cheap. 

So, is Google Glass worth it? I have to confess, I am a Mac fan. I don’t know how I ever lived without an iPhone. But, after seeing the world (or a least a tiny part of it) through Google Glass, I must admit, the future looks pretty bright.