- Official Store: https://www.madgaze.com/glow-plus/
You might not have heard of MAD Gaze before but the company already boasts 5 mixed reality (MR) or augmented reality (AR) smart glasses in its portfolio, all targeted towards consumers. That’s quite impressive considering how major players in this field like Microsoft and Magic Leap target these tech towards enterprises; meaning exorbitant prices for their headsets ($3,500 for the HoloLens 2 and $2,295 for the Magic Leap 1).
MAD Gaze on the other hand lets consumers experience similar technologies that these headsets deal with but at a fraction of the price. Their latest smart glass, the GLOW Plus, underwent a successful crowdfunding campaign and started to ship recently. Priced at $599, this sunglasses-like headset augments the wearer’s reality to a mixed one. Having never tried proper MR headsets myself before, I was quite excited to put on the GLOW Plus, or what’s among one of the first consumer MR glasses out there.
Contents and first look
After unboxing the rectangular box that ships, you’ll find the following items:
- MAD Gaze GLOW Plus smart glasses x 1
- Glasses hard protective case x 1
- Soft pouch x 1
- USB Type-C cable x 1
- Corrective lens screws x 8
- Corrective lens frames x 2
- Corrective lens samples x 2 (Users need to purchase corrective lenses at local optical store)
- Insulation Strip x 4
There are also some additional accessories that come at an extra cost to supplement the GLOW Plus’ ecosystem, but we’ll get to those later in the review.
My first impression of the GLOW Plus, even before trying it on, was how thin the temples are. Even less smarter glasses I’ve tested like the Mutrics and Lucyd Loud had thick temples to protect the inner electronics and just to make the device sturdier overall. Being thinner might make the GLOW Plus less conspicuous but they do feel flimsy; especially as the build is of mid-range plastic-y quality and the front of the frames are relatively heavy. If these drop or someone accidentally sits on them, I can see the temples break easily. Thankfully, the hard carry case that comes in the box is a sturdy, metallic one that should provide adequate protection. Nevertheless, I’d advise careful handling of the device as, even if it’s affordable compared to what’s on the market, it doesn’t come cheap.
Next up, we’ll take a look at the specs of the GLOW Plus.
Below are the device’s hardware specifications, courtesy of MAD Gaze:
Of note, the model under review is the GLOW Plus but MAD Gaze did release another model, the GLOW, at the same time. The latter costs a little bit less at $529 but has lower resolution, different optics, offers a smaller FOV of 45° and is also heavier. This review will reflect the thoughts of using the MAD Gaze GLOW Plus tethered to an Android phone as these are the setup tested.
Wearing the GLOW Plus
MAD Gaze advises wearers of the GLOW Plus to slip on the glasses by holding it at the ends of the temples rather than at the hinges to prevent damage caused by excessive force. At first, I thought it would be a tight fit but the hinges are quite flexible and fit my face comfortably. However, the ends of the temples being sharp and rectangular would press at the back of my ears and occasionally scratch that area which is as unpleasant as it sounds.
That’s where the included “Insulation Strip” comes in. These are rubber strips with a sticky side and sticking one on each temple’s inner side greatly improves comfort and remedies the issue I mentioned before. Even if these strips came included with the device, I wish MAD Gaze designed the temples with comfort in mind as it seems that these were added after the front part of the glasses was designed. Flimsy build and poor comfort which needs to be remedied with extra accessories signal that these temples might even have been an afterthought.
Once these add-ons have been added on, the GLOW Plus is quite comfortable to wear for extended periods. While the frames carry most of the weight, it’s not so heavy as say, a VR headset. The Oculus Quest weighs about 571g while the GLOW Plus weighs 92g; that’s a considerable difference. It’s not as light as a regular pair of corrective glasses or sunglasses but it’s definitely bearable.
The nose pads are also adjustable to help you find a proper fit and I also found the inclusion of prescription lens inserts a very welcome addition. These are tiny frames that can be screwed on the inner side of the smart glasses; and MAD Gaze also included sample lenses so that a local optician can make those according to your prescription.
One last note on the comfort side of things - and a rather significant one - is that while in use, the top of the GLOW Plus frames heats up considerably; within 15 min of my first use I could feel significant heat across my forehead. Here as well MAD Gaze recommends using the insulation strip on the part that touches your forehead. While this will not prevent the device from heating up, it drastically reduces the heat felt on the forehead. I further found an additional method that almost eliminates the heat transfer to your forehead; I did it by simply placing the GLOW Plus on top of my actual corrective glass frames, with the insulation strip serving as a support. It’s perfectly usable this way, almost eliminates the heat and doesn’t need the user to purchase new prescription frames to fit on the device.
Now let’s finally take a look at the meat of things with what the GLOW Plus offers in terms of features.
Peeking through MAD Gaze’s Mixed Reality
If your phone supports video output via USB-C, then using the GLOW Plus is a plug-and-play affair. At the end of the right temple of the smart glasses is a USB-C port and with the USB-C to USB-C cable included, you can plug it to your phone’s USB-C port and slip on the GLOW Plus. What you will see is essentially a projection of whatever’s on your phone screen but in front of your eyes. What you see is a translucent mirror of your screen’s content that overlays on your surrounding environment. When looking from the outside, someone can notice a bright rectangular display on each lens but won’t make out the details. From the wearer’s end, you’ll essentially experience what’s like holding your phone some 20cm from your eyes.
Typing, running any apps and touch-controlling on your phone will also reflect on what you see through the glasses; and the experience is not totally alien as you basically project your familiar phone screen and apps but see these in front of you rather than having you bend your neck to see these. This made the experience intuitive feel more intuitive than I thought it would. If your PC features a USB-C port with video output, you’ll also have a similar experience with the GLOW Plus.
The great thing about the GLOW Plus is that, unlike virtually all modern tech, it doesn’t need charging as it doesn’t even feature a battery. The phone/device to which it is tethered supplies the power as well as does the processing. But that does mean battery gets drained rather quickly.
I wish that the USB-C port on the smart glasses was positioned on the underside of the temple rather at its end as the cable will protrude behind your head and you can’t fully lie on your bed to use the device.
If your phone does not support video output but is on Android 6.0 and up, then MAD Gaze also has a solution in the form of the 3-in-1 Adapter which is sold separately. Your phone plugs into this power bank-looking device and the smart glasses also plugs into it, and with the third-party DisplayLink Presenter app, you’ll be able to use the GLOW Plus. It’s a weird contraption that requires additional steps and yet another app but it’s a welcome add-on for those with phones without DisplayPort support over USB-C. I tried it with the MOQI i7S and Moto Z Play and it does work, although I did come across several instances where the GLOW Plus’ screen would freeze. Best would be to go with a device that supports video output via USB-C like the F(x)tec Pro1.
Not only will the GLOW Plus let you see stuff from your phone but also hear stuff from it. With the two open stereo speakers at the end of each temple (somewhat akin to the Mutrics), you’ll hear audio playback if you watch a video or play some music from your phone. The audio quality is okay but considerably low, even with the volume cranked up to the maximum. If you are in a moderately loud environment, it’ll be difficult to hear properly with these.
In contrast to the poor audio output, video output is a much more pleasant experience. The 1980 x 1080 resolution that the GLOW Plus outputs results in crisp and vivid visuals. Even if the screen is translucent, this didn’t really interfere with the experience (plus you can adjust brightness via the companion app; allowing the device to be used even outdoors, or more likely, brightly lit rooms, even if optimally you’ll use it in dim-lit conditions). Somehow, the GLOW Plus does not need to be adjusted for IPD and I found it to be comfortable to my eyes.
Even if the FOV of 53° might sound narrow in comparison to what modern VR headsets offer, it’s okay in practice with these MR glasses. That’s because with the plug-and-play approach, your phone’s mirror is static on the GLOW Plus’ display and does not respond to head tracking. If you move your head, the screen will move with you and you can’t really do much with it such as resizing, repositioning or overlapping other windows. It’s constrained by what you can typically do on your Android device.
The must-have app
To get these coveted features and really experience MR as it should with the GLOW Plus, you’ll have to download the MAD Gaze AR Launcher app. It works like a desktop, showing you the time, temperature, your schedule, news and some apps. You use the tethered phone as a pointer and tap on the touchscreen to make a selection. Selecting an app will open it up in a popup window which can be resized and moved across what’s like a 180° desktop canvas (MAD Gaze compares it to watching a 118” screen from 3 meters away). Even with a 53° FOV and 3 DOF, I was impressed by the experience, especially as it overlayed on my surroundings, allowing me to see both the real and virtual worlds while browsing the internet at the same time.
Through the AR Launcher, you can open 7 windows simultaneously and position them on the huge virtual canvas, really allowing you to multitask without having to minimise a window. They’ll stay in place, even if you move your head around and they get out of your field of view. You can even have a YouTube video play in the background while you are scrolling the news in another window. The MAD Gaze AR Launcher app is by far the best app I’ve tried on the GLOW Plus and really shows what the device is capable of and even lets the wearer glimpse at how people might work in the future.
MAD Gaze further sells a foldable Bluetooth keyboard that further allows you to type in search words or websites. It’s well designed and really pocketable and I’d recommend it if you are looking for a compact keyboard to pair with your phone or tablet. While the keyboard works with the phone outside of the AR Launcher, I could not get it to work with that app. This meant that I had to rely on using the virtual keyboard and trying to type each key with my phone as a pointer. This is not an easy process at all as you can see in the demo video I made (shared a little bit below).
However, only a handful of apps feature in the AR Launcher such as YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and Twitter and each of these will require logins, irrespective if you’ve already logged in to the Android app on your phone previously. This is far from being ideal and logging in to such apps via a third-party app raises eyebrows when it comes to security.
The AR Launcher has an apps tray that shows apps you’ve installed on your phone but these aren’t optimised to show up on the desktop canvas; meaning you can have the cool, multitasking, resizing and repositioning experience with them, which is really a bummer. They’ll just show up as a static screen in front of you.
The demo video I made will give you an idea as to what to expect out of this must-have app and its limitations:
Note that this video was captured from my phone but when viewing through the glasses, the black background is not present but instead, the actual environment is there.
Saying that MAD Gaze's AR Launcher app is what offers the best experience brings us to the major lacuna with the GLOW Plus. Even with some hiccups with the hardware, the blatant lack of software is unmistakable. From the MAD Gaze Connector app, you can access the company’s own storefront, register your smart glasses, take pictures and videos from the glasses (quality of these are serviceable at best as you can see in the pictures below). However, the store is lacking in terms of software dedicated for the GLOW Plus, especially first-party apps. Aside from the cool AR Launcher, MAD Gaze developed the MG Hand Gestures app which sounds cool in theory. With the GLOW Plus’ outward-facing cameras, your hand is tracked and allows you to interact with the device’s screen; so that you don’t have to use your phone at all to select and type, just use your fingers and hand! In practice though, hand tracking is very laggy and nowhere as near as you’d experience with, say, the Oculus Quest. Safe to say that it's best to stick to using the tethered phone for controls.
Screenshots from the GLOW Plus' camera
And that’s essentially it for first-party apps targeted for consumers. This poor support is a rather sad state of affairs for a promising tech. But MAD Gaze does provide free SDKs for head tracking, scene tracking and hand gesture control for developers to add these features to their existing apps and enhance the user experience. But so far, I haven’t come across any such apps; save for one game, MADrift, which is an AR racing game which supports certain hand gestures. But I did not try it and it is also a paid app. The MAD Gaze Store does have some apps but you’ll find those on the Play Store as well and they still show up as static screens without head tracking.
There's also the option to separately purchase a Bluetooth controller to play Android games while viewing them through the smart glasses. It's an okay peripheral but not really a must-buy if you already have one that's of better quality and more compact.
It should be known by now that in the tech industry, no matter how good a hardware is, it’s not going to go far without a suite of compelling software. That the GLOW Plus’ killer app is the AR Launcher isn’t compelling enough to make for mass adoption. It will offer a really cool experience but only for so long. Sure, you can still project your phone’s screen and use any app but that’s not really compelling personally, especially with the screen being static. With the 3-in-1 Adapter, you can further connect the GLOW Plus to an HDMI device like a PC or a docked Switch but again, it’ll have a static screen.
I’m told that MAD Gaze is developing a multi-player tower defense game for its device, plans to add new features for the AR Launcher and better optimise hand tracking but as of now, the GLOW Plus seems more like a hardware that’s between a dev kit and a consumer product than a fully-fledged device ripe for mass adoption. If you are a developer, these smart glasses can prove to offer some exciting potentials for your app and MAD Gaze should attract more developers to build and optimise apps for its device. As of now, the GLOW Plus is a far cry from what they advertised in their promotional video, although the tech does support such a vision. I’m just waiting to see it come to fruition.
- Cool experience
- Intuitive use
- Plug-and-play option
- 3-in-1 Adapter to function on most modern smartphones
- Lack of optimised software
- Hand gesture controls are laggy
- Heats up quickly
- Flimsy temples
- Built-in speakers audio output