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Google Glass Explorer Edition teardown reveals hits and misses on repairability

Bill Detwiler cracks open a Google Glass Explorer Edition beta unit and discovers that the wearable computer's sturdy construction makes some repairs impractical.

Now playing: Watch this: Cracking Open: Google Glass Explorer Edition

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, this version of Google Glass wasn't built to be easily dissected or repaired.

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 10,000 or so Explorer Edition units to developers, beta testers, and winners of Google's "If I Had Glass" contest. And while the company might 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.

The Google Glass specs page says that 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 8 feet away." As for buttons and connectors, Glass has a Listen button, an on/off button, a capture button, a touch-sensitive area, and a 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 (12GB of which are available to the user). But, the company doesn't specify which processor the unit uses or how much RAM it has. And normally this wouldn't be a problem. As fans of Cracking Open know, this is 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 in 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 are 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.

A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open.