Hardware

Google Glass teardown reveals hits and misses on repairability

Bill Detwiler cracks open Google Glass and discovers the wearable computer's sturdy construction also makes repairs impractical.

Not since the iPhone or iPad has a gadget generated more buzz than Google Glass. So of course, I wanted to take it apart and explore its internal hardware. Unfortunately, as I'll show you on this episode of Cracking Open, Google Glass has both hits and misses when it comes to repairability.

According to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Glass is still "probably a yearish away" from hitting store shelves. But true to the company's iterative development style, Google is shipping ten thousand or so Explorer Edition units, to developers, beta testers, and winners of Google's "If I Had Glass" contest. And while the company may make a few tweaks to the product before launch, these test units still give us a good idea of what to expect in terms of overall design and hardware.

Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Google Glass Explorer Edition

According to the Google Glass Tech specs page, Glass has a 5-megapixel camera that can shoot video in 720p. It supports 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Audio is provided by a bone conduction transducer, and the display is "the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away." As for buttons and connectors, Glass has a Listen button, on/off button, capture button, touch sensitive area, and Micro USB port for charging. There's also a status LED and rear-facing sensor array.

Google notes that Glass has 16GB of Flash storage (12 of which are available to the user). The company doesn't however, specify what processor the unit uses or how much RAM it has. Normally this wouldn't be a problem. As fans of Cracking Open know, this the point where I show you how to pop off the gadget's cover and get to the tech inside. Unfortunately, Glass was less than cooperative.

Cracking Open observations

  • Removable frame and nose piece: Cracking open Google Glass begins by removing the frame and nose piece. Thanks to a single Torx T5 screw, this process is relatively simple.
  • Easy-to-remove eyepiece cover: Removing the eyepiece's plastic housing, which covers the camera and display assembly, was also relatively simple.
  • No easy way to open repair main and rear modules: Unfortunately, this is where my cracking open came to a screeching halt. I tried everything I could think of to get inside Glass' main and rear modules. Prying, poking, even heating. Nothing worked. And because I wasn't given the green light to destroy this unit during my teardown, cutting the plastic off wasn't an option.

So what are the CPU and RAM specs for Glass?

Developer Jay Lee used an Android debugging utility to pull information on the Glass CPU and RAM from the device's operating system. If his information is accurate, Glass has a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 processor (which was also used on the Amazon Kindle Fire) and 1GB of RAM. Given what other developers and journalists have posted online, Glass also appears to have a host of sensors, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, and ambient light sensor.

Bottom line

I know this Cracking Open wasn't as thorough as most. And I hate not being able to show you the circuit boards and chips inside Google Glass. But as there are so few of the Explore Edition units available and given that they cost $1,500 each, I just couldn't risk damaging the device.

Perhaps that's the biggest takeaway from this "sort-of" teardown. Glass is a mixed bag when it comes to repairability. The titanium frame and nose piece is simple to replace. And given the eyepiece's construction, it's not inconceivable that it too could be removed and replaced. But I don't see any way to safely get inside the main or rear modules. If they break, you'll likely need a complete replacement.

For more information on Google Glass, including real-world tests, check out Rachel King's non-nerd's guide on ZDNet and of course CNET's full review.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

5 comments
NZJester
NZJester

Could you just remove the main piece and bolt that onto the side of a real pair of correctional lenses? Is that wide back piece on the back of the frame part of the glasses unit or could you just use that other piece once removed from the frame?

Tomas Samsung
Tomas Samsung

As you already mentioned, I hope we can see which chipset & components are in their plastic cover after getting real teardown approval. Looking forward to see them.

DanielSlack
DanielSlack

Run the thing through an X-ray machine... you would be surprised at the resolution of the pictures..

rkegel
rkegel

the end products can be used with your current glasses (If you wear glasses). It seems like the Google Glass arm should be able to be mounted on most if not all glasses. So if you wear glasses now you can just clip it on the side of them. I don't see why this couldn't be a reality. It would suck to have to pay for prescription lenses for Google Glass especially since most likely you won't be wearing them all the time so you'll probably need a second pair of glasses for when you're not wearing them. If the only way to buy Google Glass is by buying the whole glasses, then I can see that as an issue for a lot of people.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I'll try to get an x-ray machine in the budget for next year.

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