Over the last few years, the world of wearables has truly gone from fantasy to reality. With the advent of devices like Google Glass, Android Wear, and the bevy of available fitness trackers, the mainstream is becoming more aware and interested in wearables.
Epson took note of this trend as far back as 2011, when they released the Moverio BT-100 smart glasses, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a hit. In many ways you might say it was before its time.
Well as of this year, Epson has taken another crack at the wearable market by introducing their next generation of Moverio glasses, the BT-200. I’ve had my hands on these for a couple of months now, and, well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The specs on this device are hardly earth-shattering, realistically. The CPU has been around since 2011, most modern devices come with at least 2GB of RAM, and so on.
|CPU:||TI OMAP 4460 1.2Ghz Dual Core|
|Internal Memory:||8 GB|
|External Memory:||microSD (max.2GB) / microSDHC(max.32GB)|
|Battery Type:||Li-Polymer  mAh|
|Wireless LAN:||IEEE 802.11b/g/n with WiFi Miracast|
|OS Version:||Android [4.0.4]|
|LCD Size:||0.42 inch wide panel (16:9)|
|LCD Pixel Number:||518,400 dots [(960x540) x 3]|
|Sensors:||Compass, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, GPS|
|Weight Headset:||Approx. 88 g (without light Shielding / without harness)|
|Weight Controller:||Approx. 124 g|
That said, it’s really the design that makes this device interesting, in my opinion. Looking at it from the right direction, it’s effectively a tablet that you attach to your head (sensors, camera, display) with a trackpad and a few buttons in the handheld unit.
What you might take away from the table above, though, is the weight of the headset. Google Glass weighs in at around 50g, so you’re talking about 75% more weight on your face. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, after an hour or so, you’ll definitely notice.
As far as the software goes, it’s pretty close to stock Android. An older version of Android, but stock Android nonetheless. That said, it doesn’t come with any Google services, so obtaining new apps can be a bit challenging. I managed to root the device pretty quickly using a root method called “Baidu”, sideloaded the Google Play services APKs, and I was good to go, though. That said, it’s running Android 4.0.4, with no real mention of incoming upgrades, which is a bit disappointing.
This is one of the things that makes the BT-200 really interesting, and a bit frustrating. Since the device’s sensors are all available in the headset, any games or apps that require movement, such as augmented reality applications, can take advantage of this. Just about anything else, though, will require you to use the hand-held controller.
I’m not going to say the controller is bad. It’s not. Using it to quickly open an application, or swipe around while browsing a web page works quite well. The home/back/menu buttons are all very solid and useful. Just don’t try to type using it. Most of this problem can be worked around by attaching a Bluetooth keyboard, but I wasn’t smart enough to think of that at the time.
In terms of interacting with the screen(s), they’re generally quite easy to see while you’re indoors, but Epson also included a pair of sun shades with them just in case you have trouble seeing while you’re outdoors. However, I actually ended up using those sun shades primarily while I was indoors. It blocks out just enough light to make for a pleasant, immersive experience. Pair that up with some form of media (Netflix, YouTube, or videos copied over to the device’s memory) and a pair of headphones, and you’ve got a really nice, almost theatrical experience without having to leave your living room.
Additionally, since the screens are placed on prisms sitting in front of your face, no matter where you look, your screen looks with you, so you don’t have to worry about being at the wrong angle, or being too far away from the screen. Seems obvious, but it was a really refreshing experience for me.
Probably best not to talk about it. It’s a VGA camera, so don’t expect it to be amazing. I really can’t imagine using the camera on these while you’re out and about for taking photos, but for augmented reality applications, it works acceptably. Which actually leads to an interesting topic…
Augmented Reality Applications
This is one of the places where a device like this should really shine. In theory, a full tablet interface placed in front of your eyes, combined with a camera, sensors, and some decent software makes for an amazing augmented reality setup. In practice, with this device, it works, for the most part, but the limited hardware and the less-than-stellar camera, it’s not a mind-blowing experience.
The device came with a few AR games, most of which performed quite well, though they were mostly proof-of-concept and a bit limited. It also had a few practical AR applications, for things like air traffic control, store inventory checking, and CAD. Those… weren’t so great. A more powerful device probably would have helped quite a bit, and it’s quite possible that the software wasn’t 100% optimized for the device.
Either way, it’s a great jumping-off point for true AR, though the weight and size of the device make it a bit cumbersome for the movement that’s required to interact with the apps in that way.
At 2720 mAh, the BT-200’s battery is larger than a lot of smartphones, and significantly smaller than most tablets, but Epson claims it’s capable of nearly 6 hours. In daily experience, it seems as though that estimate is pretty close, though I can’t honestly say I ever used the device for that long at one stretch. After an hour or two, the weight from the frames and lenses becomes a bit uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, this is one area where the device is a bit limited. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to root the device fairly easily and add Google Play services, but the apps to actually take full advantage of the device are still a bit few and far between. That’s where you guys come in! If you’re interested in developing for the device yourself, head on over to Epson’s Developer Program website for more information!
This device is a bit of a mixed bag, in my opinion. It’s a bit large and bulky to wear for long periods of time, and being constantly wired to the controller makes it a bit unwieldy, but at $699 retail, and providing a full Android interface, it’s really an interesting alternative to something like Google Glass.
Overall, I give this a huge thumbs up for media consumption (especially when paired with the sun shades and a pair of noise canceling headphones) and a bit of augmented reality gaming, but a thumbs down for size and weight. Perhaps the next generation will be a bit more slimmed down, and possibly have a wireless controller (or be able to pair to your existing smartphone)? Only time will tell.