There is a lot of hype surrounding Google Glass right now. If you are a tech enthusiast (and even if you are not), chances are you have seen articles on every “Glass” issue imaginable. Maybe you have even been pulled in by inticing headlines only tangentially related to Google’s exciting new product? There are speculation and humor, and then there is a time to get down to business. That time is now, and the question is as follows: is the 1996 Nintendo Virtual Boy better than Google Glass?
We give you five reasons why the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
#1. Default 3D Functionality
The first point is the most obvious: the Nintendo Virtual Boy is 3D, which means it’s going to appeal to everyone. 3D isn’t one of those gimmicky things that pop up every couple of years; 3D is staple in commerce that you can depend on for continued, long-term growth. Nintendo has corned the majority of the market with the decision to pursue 3D.
If you want a 3D immersion using Google Glass, you would need to use Glass over an existing pair of 3D glasses, which is going to make you look like an absolutely crazy person. There are plans in the works for 3D functionality to be added to Glass, but why go through the bother of augmenting something that comes standard on the Virtual Boy? Too much work for something that should have been there in the first place.
The design of Virtual Boy is a marvel to behold. There is that “hot wheels red” stripe across the top of the device, and the lenses look like something from the Empire State Building’s rooftop viewing binoculars. My favorite part of the design, however, is the tripod that holds the behemoth device upright. It’s like how a motorcycle kickstand is the only thing saving the user from being crushed beneath it as it topples over, and the Virtual Boy weighs an impressive 37lbs.
The heavier something is, the less likely it is to break. That is one of the fundamental laws of engineering. So, when you put Google Glass onto your head, you cannot help but notice that the device is a precarious little wimp machine that threatens to snap every time the wind blows too hard. You don’t want to pull an Annie Lennox and end up walking on broken Glass because yours happened to drop on the floor. Stick with the dependability of the Virtual Boy.
When the Nintendo Virtual Boy first hit the market, that (virtual) bad boy cost a cool $180—and that was then, in 1996. Nowadays, you can find them for much less. I got mine (the last one) at a local garage sale. It was in a box that had “Power Rangers Toys” written on it. I can’t believe someone was practically giving away a mint condition Virtual Boy. Best $49 I ever spent.
At their recent I/O conference, Sergi Brin announced that Google Glass would be the range of $1500. That is an expensive step up from Virtual Boy, which for years has been the gold standard when it comes to wearing glasses that do stuff. In that regard, it’s sort of like the iPod: something that has stuck around and endeared itself in the minds of the public because of its sublime functionality.
Google markets glass as a “voice assisted” device because they do not have the technological prowess to compete with Nintendo, who was blazing the trail already in the late 90s with a number of innovations. For instance, the Virtual Boy’s controller comes with the awesome power of dual digital “D-pads,” which you generally tend to need if you want to control those wire-frame characters with any sort of accuracy.
Contrast this with the “intuitive” notion of using your voice and a touch pad to control the device like Google expects of us with the Glass. We tested out playing Mario Tennis 3D and it just didn’t play like one would expect it to. It felt clunky and slow. “Mario, swing” didn’t seem to have an effect on the character at all, leading us to believe that Glass has yet to work out all of the bugs.
#5. Processing Power
Nintendo Virtual Boy:
32-bit RISC Processor @ 20 MHz (18 MIPS)
128KB of RAM
OMAP4430 45-nm SoC @ 1ghz
1GIG of RAM
Take a good look. Google Glass is sporting technology that is more than two years old. It may not be close to 20 years old like the Virtual Boy, but it might as well be. As tech writers, it’s our job to view technology in simplistic dichotomies like ‘old’ and ‘new,’ and anything from last year or later is old and yucky.
We’ll call this one a tie.