The Google Jacket Is Smarter Than Ever (But Still Pretty Dumb)

It’s jacket season.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

I had it all planned out. On the subway ride home, I’d been futzing around in the Jacquard app, assigning actions to my Levi’s Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google. A simple double-tap to the wrist cuff as I neared my apartment, and when I walked through the door, I’d strut in to “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West. Stupid, vain, and mildly dorky yes, but I am extra and it’d have been a fun way to announce I was home to my pets and partner.

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That’s how it would have gone. Except when I double tapped my cuff, Google Assistant on my phone said Spotify was not installed on my Google Nest Hub. Oh. I flicked open the Jacquard app, and set it to turn my Philips Hue lights on. I walked in through the door to my unimpressed family. I was the last one home, so the lights were already on. Complete and utter fail.

That episode sort of illustrates the limitations of the second iteration of Google’s smart jacket. It’s a cool idea in theory, but not so seamless to use in real life.

Like its predecessor, it’s a stylish denim jacket with a touch-sensitive cuff that you can program to do a number of things. What’s different is this time, the dongle’s been replaced with a smaller tag and the jacket’s abilities now include Google Assistant commands, camera control, and rideshare alerts. That’s on top of the notification, navigation, and music control capabilities of the original. It’s also slightly cheaper at $200 ($250 if you like Sherpa lining).

The noticeably smaller tag is welcome, as is the expanded feature set and lower price. It’s just that you still can’t do a whole lot of things that wouldn’t be easier with a phone, or even a smartwatch.

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For starters, you can only assign three actions to the touch-sensitive cuff found on the left arm of the jacket. Brushing out on the cuff in a “make it rain” kind of gesture could be playing and pausing your music. Whereas you might decide that brushing in on the cuff should tell you what’s on your calendar for the day. A double-tap might be hearing the next direction on your way somewhere. Covering the cuff will always silence everything. That’s it.

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This might suffice for your daily commute, but it also might not be what you want for a day of walking around a new neighborhood. In that instance, you’d have to whip out your phone and reprogram your jacket. Maybe instead of music, brushing out is dropping a Google Map pin, and so on and so forth. So the jacket can do a lot more things than it used to. It just can’t do it all at once. This might be fine if you’re patient enough to think about the best way to use the jacket every time you leave your house or experiment with what works for you over time. But even then, you’ll inevitably run into roadblocks like I did trying to joke-announce my arrival home. Troubleshooting isn’t hard per se, it’s just annoying enough to want to quit.

The dongle is thankfully smaller. You can also see the touch-sensitive cuff.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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On top of the three actions, you can also program the tag for a number of alerts. But like the actions, you’re limited to just three at a time. So if the tag vibrates and its LED light blinks blue, that might be a text from one of three programmable contacts. If it blinks green, that might mean your rideshare (Uber and Lyft only) is nearby and you can brush in to hear the car’s make, model, color, and license plate. If it blinks pink, maybe your jacket has detected it’s lost connection with your phone—meaning you’ve left it at home.

This is good in theory. In practice, I sometimes didn’t notice the alert vibrations. Or, I’d get the notification on my phone, Apple Watch, and the jacket—in that order. Not everyone has a smartwatch, but I’m pretty sure at this point everyone has a smartphone. If you’re waiting for your Lyft, chances are you’re obsessively looking at how far away the car is on your phone. As for the “always together” feature, half the time my jacket disconnected from my phone because I was on the subway or for no reason at all. At a concert, the jacket kept telling me my phone was missing. It was right in my hand the entire time.

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The dongle is smaller, but still sticks out. One coworker jokingly asked if I’d stolen the jacket and forgotten to take off the sensor.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

The other snag is that for some of these features to work, the relevant app needs to already be running in the background. So, if you want to control Spotify, you have to make sure the Spotify and Jacquard app are both open. Same goes for the selfie feature. If you want to take selfies with your jacket (because it’s the future!), your camera app needs to be open. It’s mostly fine—a small hiccup—but spending a few minutes in the elevator opening and closing apps feels more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.

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Wearing the jacket everywhere for a week also translated to constantly pulling out my phone to tweak my configuration. That sort of defeats the purpose of a smart jacket that’s supposed to reduce your reliance on your phone when you’re out and about.

To be fair, some of these features are genuinely cool. It was nice to hear a little update about my day while I was walking to the train station, or discreetly swipe my cuff to skip to the next song. Less cool was telling my friends, “Hold up guys, I need to reprogram my jacket so I can tap the cuff for when we take a group selfie. Isn’t that cool? Guys? Guys!” It could be my friends are judgmental luddites, but I received one too many eye rolls while talking about the jacket to comfortably use the selfie feature.

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I took this awful selfie with my jacket. This is the f u t u r e
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

So is it worth it to shell out close to $200 for a marginally smarter denim jacket? Eh. I mean, it’s a cute denim jacket. I felt snazzy wearing it around for a week. I could also get a dumb Levi’s Trucker Jacket at Macy’s for $65. I wouldn’t have to worry about charging it ever (though in fairness, it’s been a week since I first charged my Jacquard tag and I still have over 70 percent battery). I also wouldn’t have to remember to remove the tag if I needed to wash it.

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For $200-$250 I could easily shell out for say, a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or a Fitbit Versa 2. I’d basically get the exact same features, plus added health features. The only thing I might miss out on is the selfie control, but then again, I’m sure there are third-party apps for that. Or, you know, a friend with a longer arm. Maybe a timer on my smartphone camera.

It’s not that I think this smart jacket is utterly useless. I’ll probably still use it to control my music, take calls, and get directions while I’m walking around, doing my errands. If and when I wear it. And that’s the real problem with smart clothes in general—it’s beholden to my vanity and fickle fashion sense. I don’t want to wear a denim jacket every day. It’s a specific look and I already got a closet full of bombers, leather jackets, and dusters that already don’t get worn enough. When the next Polar Vortex inevitably arrives, no number of layers or built-in music control could convince me to pick this over my hideous puffy coat. Thanks to climate change, perfect jacket weather in spring and fall are like, two weeks out of the whole year. That means 50 weeks out of the year, this thing would be expensive moth fodder.

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Me, planning my failed Kanye-inspired entrance in my head.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Still, I did enjoy wearing it at a house party this weekend. It was a conversation starter even if most of my friends weren’t sold on the idea. One friend said, “Well, it does look cute on you” and inside, I preened like a peacock. However, I am not rich. Novelty, limited functionality, and occasional compliments aren’t necessarily worth $200. Then again, maybe I’d have just been happier if it helped me flawlessly burst into the room to some Kanye tunes. As it is, I’m still stuck relying on my phone.

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README

  • Less expensive at $200 ($250 for Sherpa lining). Smaller dongle!
  • Expanded features include Google Assistant, rideshare notifications, and camera control.
  • Is slightly more useful than before, but still a gimmick.
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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.