Lenovo NBD new glass reviews: Google Glass alternative?

Issac_Jong

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1. First look: Lenovo NBD new glass unboxing and first impressions

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Lenovo NBD new glass C100, the latest project of Lenovo’s New Business Development Platform, is arguably one of the most anticipated device yet in the fast-growing wearable computing market in China. Lenovo NBD has sent out the test hardware to only a limited number of testers, and the one unit for me just arrived.

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If you haven’t heard of Lenovo NBD before, well, it stands for New Bench in Chinese, and specified as New Business Development(NBD) in English. It is a new internet-centric business platform in China aimed at startups, providing a vehicle where partner startups can leverage Lenovo’s resources such as software, hardware, sales channels and services utilizing their own innovative technologies and leading-edge concepts in product development. This collaboration is an example of a win-win outcome from sharing resources and can drive the development of more powerful smart devices for customers. The first wave of three innovative smart devices under NBD has already been launched last October, namely the new glass smart glasses, the new air smart air cleaner and the newifi smart router.


Unboxing

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The unit we have received has very fascinating packaging. It ships in an expensive wooden box which, according to Lenovo, costs more than RMB100 ($16) to make. The reason that Lenovo invested so much in the packaging is that our unit is a collector’s edition, the retail version’s packaging will certainly differ.

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You could easily find the Lenovo NBD logo on the wooden box. There is no sign of the all familiar Lenovo logo on anywhere of the packaging, so it’s clear that the products from the NBD Platform are marketed separately from Lenovo’s well-known PC and smartphone lines.

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Opening the new glass packaging feels like opening a drawer, as there are two slide guides on the two side of the box, we simply need to push the cap away.

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Everything inside the packaging has been well arranged and carefully fixed into the openings in a black foam.

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Here are everything contained in the beautiful packaging, including a charger (5V-1A), a data/charging cable (Micro USB plug), a headphone with a single earbud, three clamps which help you fix the new glass onto your own glasses or sunglasses, a plastic frame, and the main body of the new glass itself.

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The 5V-1A charger included by Lenovo NBD can easily be replaced by most of the smartphone chargers, which is good considering that you don’t always have to carry a separate charger for the glass and that any mobile charger can come in handy when the device runs short of juice.

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Instead of a cylindrical cord, the USB cord ships with the new glass is wide and flat, making it really easy to wind up and less likely to get tangled. I’d really like to see more of these with other products such as smartphones and tablets.

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A red headphone with a single earbud is also included. The good news is that it looks fashionable and aligned with the design language of the new glass, the bad news is that you might never want to use it because of its lack of quality and stereo effects. Fortunately it can easily be replaced by any pair of headphones, both my Monster Inspiration on-ear headphone and my Astrotec IEMs work like a charm with the new glass.

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The plastic frame is designed mainly for non-shortsighted users, with two rubber nosepads affixed to attach to the bridge of your nose. Here I do feel the need to lament Lenovo’s choice of material, a more durable titanium frame would have made much more sense for a cutting-edge product like the new glass.

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However, if you are short-sighted and don’t like using contact lenses, you can easily fix the main body of the new glass onto the frame of your own pair of glasses with one or two of these clamps.

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Now let’s take a look at the main body of new glass. It consists of two major parts: a large battery pack that is designed to sit around the back of the wearer’s neck, and a main unit which is supposed to sit on the right-hand arm of the users’ glasses. With a small acrylic prism on the front, the main unit houses 1GB RAM, a 1.2GHz OMAP4460 dual-core processor, WiFi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth, GPS, 16GB of total flash, and more. The two major parts are connected with a red fixed cable.

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On the front of the unit is an angled reflector which receives the projected light, and bends it towards the users’ right eye, allowing them to view the new glass display in all its glory. Lenovo NBD likened the display to viewing a 25-inch HD television from 2 meters away and it’s a claim I wouldn’t refute. The new glass display has a resolution of 800*480, and with all things considered, it looks phenomenal.

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An 8 megapixel camera also sits on the front of the unit, next to a small light sensor. The camera could take pictures up to the resolution of 2592*1944, and record 1080P videos. Although it might not match the snappers on those high-end smartphones in terms of the quality of the photos, it is decent enough and certainly gives the 5MP camera on the Google Glass a run for its money.

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Taking a photo is accomplished by single pressing the camera button on the top side of the unit. Pressing and holding that button, the new glass will start recording videos. The side facing the human face plays host to an earpiece for phone calls and voice assistant, and a proximity sensor.

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On the back of the unit is a very well-designed touch panel, which makes it easy for you to use all the features of the new glass. Swiping sideways you can switch to the left or right page, swiping down then you will go back to the last screen. You can use voice commands as well, but they won’t be as easy or as accurate as the touch operations.

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The battery pack design, now patented by Lenovo, is one of the major differences from the Google Glass. It may look like a blind fold, but it is constructed to sit around the back of your neck.

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The bottom side of the pack hosts a Micro USB port for charging and data transmission, the opening is protected by a rubber lid which keeps the battery pack from dust and steam.

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On the top side you will find a 3.5mm audio jack and the pinhole from which the fixed cable that connects the pack to the unit comes through.

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The Power/Standby Key sits on the tip of the left arm of the battery pack. I personally hate the design as the button is too small and not always easy to press, besides, it is also not as clicky as we would have liked.

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The battery pack is made of environmentally friendly material that is harmless to the human skin. And the area where the pack makes direct contact to the skin is made from thermal insulation material and curved in a way to keep your skin from the heat produced by the battery.

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The clamps can help you easily fix the unit of the new glass onto your own pair of glasses.

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Both my GUNNAR computer eyeglasses and my Bally sunglasses can conveniently host the new glass with the help of those clamps.

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You can also use the standard frame from the packaging if you are not short-sighted or prefer going out with contact lenses.


First impressions

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This is what the new glass looks like when you wear it with the standard frame around your head. There is no denying that the device is striking and head-turning, and easily gets you a lot of attention if you wear it in the street. Some may love how it looks, others may hate it, but either way it is undeniably striking.

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I remember posting this selfie on my Wechat Moments (similar to Instagram) and got hundreds of comments below in only a couple of hours, asking me what the new glass is and what I can do with it. So there’s no doubt that the new glass will attract lots of attentions for the wearers.

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As a first generation product, the new glass doesn’t have an equally rich software ecosystem as the Google Glass, nor does it have as many features. The functions of the new glass are still pretty limited, we only have 5 preinstalled applications: Still Camera, Video Camera, Messaging, Navigation and Voice Assistant. I went out and took some photos with the 8 mega-pixel camera and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by its performance, auto-focus was fast, image production was fast. There were sometimes over or under-exposed pictures, but the overall performance was really really good. Let’s take a look at some of the snaps:

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The functions of the voice assistant are very amateur, definitely no match for what Google Now or Siri is capable of. It only supports Chinese language at the moment, and may support other languages in the near future. Navigation worked as designed, useful, but far from perfect. As the new glass is currently running the earliest firmware, we assume that most of the functions will soon be improved by OTA upgrade.

A more detailed review of the Lenovo NBD new glass C100 will be posted here in a few days, please tell us what you think about the device and what you want to know.
 

Issac_Jong

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Things you should know about the Lenovo NBD new glass


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As Google Glass failed to make its way into the Chinese market due to the PRC’s ban on all of Google’s internet services, many local manufacturers have been trying to create the Chinese version of this cutting-edge device, but it was Lenovo’s NBD (New Business Development) Platform that made it possible. Channeling the resources of the world’s largest computer manufacture, NBD successfully released two models of smart glasses tailored-made for Chinese users.

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While the Lenovo NBD VUZIX M100, with a price tag of $1300, is mainly designed for business users, the new glass is more marketed as a consumer product. Although Lenovo hasn’t revealed the price of this device yet, there is reason to estimate an initial price tag of under $800.

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I have been wearing the new glass a lot these days, and wherever I go, people ask three fundamental questions about the device:

What is the new glass?
What do you see with the new glass?
What can you do with the new glass?


Instead of diving into a fully detailed review directly, I want to address these key questions first. Please keep in mind none of the photos could do the new glass display justice. The holographic nature of the display makes it impossible to give an accurate visual representation, but this is already the best attempt I could give. What you really see with your right eye is a million times better.


What is the Lenovo NBD new glass?

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The Lenovo NBD new glass is an Android-based headset, similar to the most talked about Google Glass. You can wear it with an ordinary pair of glasses, and enjoy the many functions it brings. A beam of light is projected horizontally through a prism in the upper right hand corner of your glasses (or the standard frame that comes with the new glass), which is then refracted directly towards your line of vision. The result: shift your eyes up and to the right and you’ll see a semi-transparent screen, similar to looking at a small computer monitor floating in the air.

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After downloading an app called “Glass Manager” from the official website of Lenovo NBD, you can connect new glass to your phone with Bluetooth, allowing the device access to data such as your mobile phone contacts. With an 8MP camera capable of taking pictures and video, a microphone, an audio jack, an earpiece, integrated battery, a dual-core processor, and internal storage, the possibility is limitless.

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The Lenovo NBD new glass isn’t available for retail at the moment. For now, only a limited number of selected testers and developers have access to the device. Although the hardware is already settled, the software is expected to undergo significant improvements before they’re publicly available.


What do you see with the Lenovo NBD new glass?

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I’ve read a few articles about Google Glass before I tried the new glass, so I already had a sense regarding what it might be capable of. With that said, I was still quite blown away when I put it on for the first time. This isn’t some basic display that shows tiny bits of text and the occasional picture. It’s a fully featured display, as if a computer monitor was affixed to your daily vision. You can take a picture and instantly see how it turned out. You can take a video and watch the full video playback. You can read the latest news by opening a third-party news app. You can access navigation and see a full turn-by-turn display guiding you in real time.

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As a matter of fact, the new glass display is not always on and instead hides by default, to both prevent distraction and save battery. Pressing the power/standby key or tapping the touch panel will wake new glass up, illuminating the display and allowing you to interact.

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The display is semi-transparent, so it won’t completely block any part of your vision. You’ll always be able to see what’s in front of you. With that said, you need to shift your eyes far enough to the upper right to see clearly what is shown on the display. It is absolutely a distraction to some degree, which could raise questions about safety during daily tasks such as driving a car and riding a bicycle.

To sum it up: when the new glass is actively working and the display is on, it’s like having your own personal video monitor affixed in your vision, controllable with swipe gestures and voice commands. When the new glass is at standby, it won’t distract you at all.


What can the Lenovo NBD new glass do?

For now, Lenovo hasn’t built a fully-featured product with the new glass yet. Instead, the new glass is more of a platform that developers can leverage and exploit to create completely new experiences. Lenovo NBD is more focusing on the hardware and basics, allowing developers to create apps and games, hoping that they will extend the experience of the new glass which may end up rivaling the dominant Google Glass.

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However, since there are many people asking, let’s talk about the core components of new glass, and then expand by discussing the possibilities.

Take (and display) pictures
Record (and display) videos
Read and send text messages
Navigation
Upload photos and videos to Baidu Clouds
Interact with the Voice Assistant
Install apps from 3rd parties
Adjust settings

The above set of already existent features are of utmost importance to the new glass experience and Lenovo will focus on perfecting their performance for launch.

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The Voice Assistance can respond to your questions in both audio and text, but probably not the way you want it to. It may even joke with you, but if you are expecting it to perform anywhere like Siri or Google Now, you will be disappointed. Just keep in mind that the Voice Assistant app only supports Chinese now, the English shown on the screenshots are manually translated by me.

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Compared to the somewhat dumb voice assistant, the Messaging app proves quite useful on occasions such as driving a car. Just say the words you and the new glass will convert them into text and then send the message to your specified contact.

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Both the still camera and video camera apps work as designed. Opening the app then the new glass will instantly take a shot or record a video, this could come in handy when you want to record something immediately. There isn’t a digital viewfinder in either still camera or video camera mode, what you see with your human eyes is what you get. The photos and videos have decent quality, although still no match for the snaps of high-end smartphones.

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The Navigation app, which is included in the V1.0 firmware, disappeared in the V1.1 firmware, replaced by a Video Calling app, which I still haven’t figured out how to use. I haven’t tried the Navigation app personally, but according to my fellow testers, it works fine on the V1.0 firmware, and the reason why Lenovo has taken it out is unknown, maybe it will show up again in the next firmware upgrade.

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Photos and videos can be automatically backed up to Baidu Cloud storage if you turn on the “back up” in the new glass settings.

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Meanwhile, Lenovo NBD will also be encouraging 3rd party developers who will undoubtedly bring their wares to this product. Since the Lenovo NBD new glass has a higher display resolution (800*480), it is not fully compatible with the apps available for Google Glass, which has a display resolution of 640*360. Lenovo’s attempt in bringing better visual experiences to the users is admirable, but the higher resolution does become a liability for software development, as there would be more difficulties in application transplantation.

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Fortunately, you can install almost all the Android smartphone and tablet apps on the new glass. I tried many of my favorite multi-media applications and they can all run smoothly on this device.

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I could read the latest news on BBC and CNN while taking a walk, I could listen to music on TTPOD while watching the lyrics on the display, I could also stream live news and TV shows.

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The new glass generally works fine with applications which support landscape mode, so it is more compatible with applications designed for tablets. Apps for smartphones can also be opened, but if the app doesn’t have a landscape mode, it won’t be very useful as things look collapsed and fallen down to one side.

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Even with tablet applications, the experiences are far from perfect. Swipe gestures on the touch panel can help you scroll and browse the content in style, but often fails to select the right link to enter. I often struggled to play the right song in TTPOD, or to open the right piece of news in BBC with the swipe gestures. And sometimes when I swipe down on the touch panel to exit an app, a dialog box pops up, asking me to confirm or cancel, I have no way to accurately touch “Confirm”, the only way out is to press the camera button, take a picture, then return to the home screen.

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Although the Micro USB port on the new glass does support USB on the go and can host a pair of mouse and keyboard, or a remote controller, thus help you precisely control the new glass, it is still very inconvenient and seems like too much burden for a device which is supposed to make your life easier.

But if the new glass could hit the stardom according to Lenovo NBD’s plan, we will expect more applications easily controlled with swipe gestures or voice commands to go online soon after the retail release of the device.

Here are some examples of tailor-made applications I would expect to see available for the new glass in the near future:

Wechat: sending and receiving messages (text and voice), updating Wechat Moments (text, picture and short video).

Sina Microblog (Chinese version of Twitter): browsing blogs, uploading pictures, writing blogs with voice assistant.

QQ: sending and receiving messages (text and voice), updating Qzone blogs.

Youku: browsing and streaming online videos, uploading videos snapped by the new glass camera.

And apps such as Video feeds, TV live broadcasting, Music, News feeds for the new glass may shortly be made available for the new glass. Since the device is mainly targeting Chinese consumers, famous international apps such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram would come later, but I believe the Lenovo engineers will make the new glass compatible with Glassware (applications for Google Glass) very soon.

What about games? It’s a little bit unclear how game applications might fit into the ecosystem of the new glass. While most apps could easily transition themselves to a simplified glass experience with notifications, game developers will need to completely rethink the gaming experience for the new glass. And since Google failed to deliver in this particular area for its Glass, I don’t think the Lenovo NBD could do better.


Summary

Anyway, the new glass, or any smart glasses to be precise, present new opportunities with the potential to create completely new experiences. However, here come the million dollar questions: will developers develop for the new glass? Will consumers buy and wear the new glass?

Typically, developers want to develop for platforms that have lots of users, of which even the dominant Google Glass has very few, let alone the new glass, which isn’t even publicly available. Also, consumers want to use platforms that have a wide variety of apps and games, often playing “wait and see” until a product catches on.

So will the Lenovo NBD new glass catch on? That remains to be seen. The biggest challenges for the new glass appear to be the price, and the reliance on developer support. Being based on Android offers it unlimited possibilities, but if the device is priced too high and doesn’t woo consumers, it certainly won’t attract developer support, either.

But even if the new glass failed on its mission to become a successful consumer product and build a new industry of smart glasses in China, it won’t take long for other similar products to step in and pick up the baton. So, the new glass, in one form or another, is here to stay
 

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Lenovo NBD new glass camera review: Capturing the moment

Lenovo NBD new glass camera review: Capturing the moment

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The camera is one of the most important features of the Lenovo NBD new glass. The ability to take POV (point of view) video and snapshots on a whim sets it apart from any other Android device to date. So, it is any good? Well, let’s explore that a little more.


Hardware

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The Lenovo NBD new glass comes equipped with an 8MP camera capable of taking 2592*1944 resolution images with a file size of around 1 to 2MB each. It is also able to record 1080P videos. Lenovo hasn’t mentioned the aperture size of the camera, and even with the help of some PC software, I still haven’t figured out information regarding the aperture and focus length.


Taking the shot

First of all, it should be pointed out that the new glass is all about capturing the moment — not archiving your life. The 16GB of internal storage can get you pretty far, but the headset is more of a tool for sharing life as it happens then quickly moving on. This is how the device has been designed and how it should be treated.

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With the new glass, you can either press the hardware button located on top to instantly snap a photo, or you can use the touch panel to start the camera app. There is little to no shutter lag in the new glass. Clicking the shutter button almost instantly focuses and takes a shot.

The new glass rests securely on your head, which is the most stable part of your body, which ensures that you can always get stabilized shots. The fact that the camera is always facing the same direction your eyes are looking at means you’ll always be ready for whatever life throws at you, never missing any precious moment, the only thing you need to do it to press the camera button. There’s no digging into your pocket, unlocking your phone, opening up the camera app, holding your hand steady, then pressing the onscreen shutter button.

The biggest difference users will have to get used to when taking pictures with the new glass is simply framing the shot. There is absolutely no live preview, meaning the new glass users go into every shot blindly. Simply press the camera button and hope for the best. After spending two weeks and taking more than 1000 photos with the new glass, I’ve gotten used to it.


What’s missing

Most of us have been somewhat spoiled with the camera hardware of modern smartphones. Settings, HDR, Panorama, time lapse photos — all these features already turn our smartphones into incredibly versatile little shooters. However, with the new glass, there’s no LED flash, no digital zoom, no settings of any kind. This is raw, uncensored, shoot from the hip head digital photography at its finest. Of course, shooting in the dark is all but useless with the new glass, and not being able to tweak saturation, exposure, contrast, white balance, etc. may also be disappointing for some.

I will say, the new glass does deliver decent performance in its default auto mode. Let’s talk more about camera quality.

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Camera quality with the glass is good, although not exceptional. It was actually capable of some pretty decent camera shots. Sure they can be a bit grainy, under or over-exposed at times, and turn to absolute rubbish in low-light, but so will most smartphone cameras. In decent lighting, color reproduction and sharpness are true-to-life and while it’s not a wide-angle lens, you’ll be surprised at how much the new glass can fit into a shot.

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But when it comes to taking shots under direct mid-day sunlight in summer, the new glass fails to live up to our expectations. More than half of the shots are over-exposed, some even end up being totally washed out. It often takes several attempts to get a shot that’s usable.


After the shot

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Once you enable the “back up” function in your settings, all your photos and videos will be backed up to Baidu Cloud as soon as you’re connected to WiFi. The new glass doesn’t provide a gallery app, instead all your photos and videos are simply displayed in a timeline. Whenever a photo is taken, you will have 3 options: sharing it on social media, backing it up, or deleting it.


Camera comparisons

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Alright, I know this is what you have been waiting for, now we get into camera comparisons. We use the cameras on the mighty LG G3, the HTC Desire + (2014 Edition) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 to compare with the 8 mega-pixel snapper on the new glass. Although we don’t really expect the new glass to win against cameras of high-end smartphones like the LG G3, we felt like it would make for a good comparison shootout. Let’s get started.

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The new glass camera performs as well as the camera on the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 in terms of photo quality, and it is a compliment as the 8 mega-pixel snapper on the Tab Pro is the best camera I have seen on any tablet. With that said, the touch-focus, HDR, digital zooming and settings in the camera app allows you to get a much higher percentage of usable shots with the Tab Pro 8.4.

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When compared with budget to middle-end smartphones such as the HTC Desire + (2014 Edition), the new glass easily blows the opponent out of the water. The 13MP camera on the HTC Desire + is no match for the new glass camera in almost every aspect. While the color reproduction and sharpness of the new glass shots are true to life, the photos taken by the HTC Desire + appeared flat and unnatural.

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Even when we compared it with flagship smartphones such as the LG G3, the Lenovo NBD new glass held its ground. The LG G3’s camera let in a lot more light and with that, a few extra colors as well. However, both appear somewhat evenly matched in terms of detail from far away.

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Only when you zoom in that you can see the G3 captures slightly more details than the new glass.


Video recording




The Lenovo NBD new glass is capable of recording videos at Full HD 1080p and 30 frames per second. This is one of the areas where it handily beats the Google Glass, which is only capable of taking 720P videos. Videos taken both outdoor and indoor are pretty high-quality on the visual side, everything is sharp and clear, with nice color contrast and balance, but the sound side is less satisfying as the audio recorded is mono only (not stereo), it sounds uncomfortably piercing, and not so clear, either. This is normally not too much of an issue, but I found it pretty annoying while recording some live performances at the audition of “The Voice”.


Summary

All-in-all, I would say that the new glass fared quite well in the head-to-head, taking nice shots and producing almost film-like quality photos and videos in normal lighting. When it came to photo-shooting in bright, mid-summer daylight, the new glass camera didn’t deliver, as there were simply too many washed-out, unusable shots.

Right now the new glass is adequate and should fulfill the needs of those who merely want to take some quick snapshots to share on social networks, but the over-exposed issue is something Lenovo NBD should consider improving when they release future firmware upgrades.

Below are some other photos taken by the Lenovo NBD new glass:

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Penguwin

VR Expert
Nov 15, 2013
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Thanks for the incredible review! I'm a bit shocked how similar the Lenovo unit looks to the actual Google Glass.

Have you heard if, once it does go on sale to the public, that this may be a Chinese only product?
 

Issac_Jong

Active member
Jul 9, 2015
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Thanks for the incredible review! I'm a bit shocked how similar the Lenovo unit looks to the actual Google Glass.

Have you heard if, once it does go on sale to the public, that this may be a Chinese only product?

I guess the initial retail release will be only in China, but they will release international versions later on.
 

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