Having smartphone functionality in your field of vision is great, but would you be willing to look like a science fiction character in order to get that? That's basically the tradeoff that Google has been asking its beta-testing "Explorers" to make. And while that's still an issue to some degree, I think these new prescription frames just might be the secret de-nerding sauce that we've been waiting for.
But before we delve into that, let's rewind a bit and take a look at the frames themselves. If you're already a Glass Explorer, then you just pick your style and color of choice, pay Google US$225, and have a snazzy-looking pair of frames shipped to your door. Grab the special screwdriver that's included in your package, unmount Glass from its default visor (easy), and within a few minutes you'll have the smart specs attached to a real, honest-to-goodness pair of glasses.
I chose the "Split" style in the color "Charcoal" (which matches the color of my Glass). It's very lightweight, modern, and stylish-looking. If you subtract the face-computer part, this could easily be something you might pick out at your optometrist's showroom.
Of course Google doesn't ship them with prescription lenses. You just have a pair of clear dummy lenses to fill the frames, and you'll have to take them to an eyecare provider to correct your vision. But whether you actually need a prescription or not, I think the frames are an important step forward for the product. It really dials down the geek quotient by at least a few notches.
There's a lot that I like about Google Glass, but it was always hard for me to get past looking like a distant cousin of Geordi La Forge. And while I wouldn't necessarily describe this new Glass look as "normal," I do feel much less self-conscious wearing it in public. Now it looks less like a futuristic contraption living on my face, and more like I have an interesting accessory attached to my regular glasses. They're now less funny-looking and more ... different-looking.
The proof came when I actually wore the new frames out in public. While running simple errands like shopping and eating in a restaurant, I only noticed one or two people even giving Glass a second look. Even people I talked to up close didn't act like there was anything strange about it. That was never the case with the standard Google Glass visor, as I couldn't walk a few steps in public without feeling the quizzical stares piercing me from every direction.
The frames feel good on my head. It's about like you'd expect: combine the feeling of wearing regular glasses with the feeling of wearing Google Glass, and there you have it. The lenses don't interfere with seeing Glass' screen, though I do notice glare on it a little bit more than I did before. Of course you still have that thick bar curving around the side of your head, but at least now it's anchored to something that's more familiar and socially acceptable.
I haven't taken the frames in to get actual prescription lenses just yet, and I'm not sure if I will. I've been wearing them (somewhat redundantly) along with my contact lenses, so I can't yet speak to the process of getting lenses fitted to them. But Google does supply you with a small pamphlet to give to your eyecare provider with instructions that they should understand. Though Google does recommend some official Glass Preferred Eyecare Providers, it looks like it's simple enough that your own eyecare specialist should be able to handle it.
But, as I mentioned earlier, I think that's only half of the equation here. These frames aren't just for those who already wear glasses. It's for anyone who wants to wear Google Glass without sticking out like a sore thumb everywhere he goes. If you're a Glass Explorer, I highly recommend adding these to your purchase, and I'd also be very happy if Google included them as the standard with the upcoming retail version.
For more on Glass, you can read our full review. If you want to sign up to be an Explorer, you can register for an invite (and start setting aside US$1,500) at the product page below.
Product page: Google Glass