Google’s Jacquard fabric tech now comes in two Levi’s jacket styles, costs less

Google Jacquard Levis Jacket close up
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Invisible. That’s what consumer technology is striving to be these days, whether it’s a Nest Hub Mini made of fabric that’s meant to look like something ordinary on your shelf, or Amazon’s Echo Frames, which hide Alexa in a pair of normal-looking glasses. It’s entirely the goal of Google’s Jacquard technology, which is woven into the fabric of clothes to trigger specific functions on a smartphone.

I’ve used Jacquard, which was announced in 2015, extensively on the original Levi’s Commuter Jacket that was released in 2017, but the technology is getting an upgrade and a fresh look. Here’s what Jacquard 2.0 is all about.

A smaller tag and more subtle cuff

If you haven’t followed Jacquard, you might be wondering exactly what it is: Jacquard is a technology from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division that allows you to use gestures on fabric to control functions on your smartphone. For example, make a Brush-out motion on the fabric and you can switch to the next song playing on your phone. These functions, called “Abilities,” are configurable through the Jacquard companion app on iOS and Android.

The Jacquard Tag is what houses the smarts of the jacket, whereas the left cuff is where the conductive fibers that allow it to sense your touch have been woven into the denim. The tag is much better-looking than before because it’s barely visible. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that thinks the jacket is smart. That wasn’t the case with the original; while it flew under the radar most of the time, I did have people ask me if I had stolen it because the original looked like the security tag on clothes in the store. It’s easy to insert or remove the tag.

Google Jacquard Tag compared rear
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The left cuff is noticeably stiffer than the right cuff, and the conductive fabric area is smaller than before, but I didn’t feel like it hampered my gesture-making abilities. The ridges that made it feel like it was a different material from the rest of the jacket on the original are gone. It has been smoothed out and feels more consistent.

“That was a very intentional choice, and a topic of much debate: the ability to see where [the Jacquard yarns] are versus having it completely invisible,” Paul Dillinger, vice president of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, told Digital Trends. “Because we needed to make a product that could be washed — it had color loss, it had the high and low of light denim to dark denim that we associate with a piece of vintage jean jacket — it was necessary to remove that textural feature from the denim surface and have the denim be fundamentally consistent everywhere.”

Making Jacquard technology more invisible is the right move, in my opinion. I don’t want to advertise the jacket’s smart features — I just want to look good in a denim jacket and have it help me perform some tasks without needing to fuss about with my phone. Thankfully, the fabric’s sensitivity remains effective. It’s precise and generally did a good job of keeping up with my swipes and taps (I’d have to try again sometimes). Aside from these two parts, the rest of the jacket is exactly the same as the non-Jacquard variant available from Levi’s. It fits me well, though the sleeves are a little tight.

Making Jacquard technology more invisible is the right move, in my opinion. I don’t want to advertise the jacket’s smart features.

It comes in two different styles this time around — Trucker Jacket or Sherpa Jacket — whereas the original was limited to the Commuter Jacket in one color. The Trucker model might be a bit more versatile, as the Sherpa is thick and more suitable for cooler environments. Better yet, there is a range of washes to choose from for a more personalized look. The one you see here is the mustard Sherpa light wash in large.

Swipe this way and that

Once you get the jacket, the first step is to install the Jacquard app on your smartphone and press and hold the button on the tag to sync it. I had no issues pairing it up, but I’m not a fan of the button, as it’s indented and a little hard to press if you don’t have nails. That being said, I can’t stress enough how much of an improvement the new tag is over the original, which was big, unattractive, and cumbersome.

Google Jacquard jacket levis gesture
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

After it’s paired, all you need to do is assign abilities to three gestures: Brush-in, Brush-out, and Double tap. There’s a fourth gesture called Cover, which you can’t configure, but if you place your palm over the cuff, it will silence or stop any active ability or alert. The app explains all of this well with helpful GIFs and articles. What’s nice is if you own the original Jacquard jacket, you can get all the latest abilities and functions thanks to updates still supporting the original tag.

Here ‘s what you can do with Jacquard’s abilities. Almost all of these work best with earbuds plugged in or connected wirelessly:

  • Control music playback and hear the title of the current track
  • Drop pins to save new places
  • Start a counter
  • Hear the current time
  • Ping your phone to find it
  • Hear the next direction, hear your arrival time
  • Ask Google Assistant a question
  • My Day: Hear a summary of your day from Google Assistant
  • Take a remote selfie

It’s a shame you can only perform three gestures. I don’t want to have to open the Jacquard app and change my ability every time I want to do something different, but sadly, this is the case. For example, I set the Brush-in and Brush-out gestures to switching back and forth between songs, and the Double tap to asking Google Assistant a question — I can’t set another gesture to take a remote selfie or hear what song is playing. I’d need to open the Jacquard app and reconfigure an ability, which only takes a second or two, but by then I could have set a timer on the camera app and taken my own selfie, or just looked at the music app.

Ask Assistant

The new Ask Assistant feature is limiting too; you can only ask Assistant one thing or give it one command at any given moment. It’s a preset command you write in the Jacquard app, and the gesture triggers it. It would have been nice if a gesture could trigger Google Assistant, like the hotword does so you can ask it anything. This can be handy, however, if you set up a routine with Assistant to trigger a host of functions. For example, when I say, “I’m home,” my Assistant turns on all the lights in my house, as well as a fan. Instead of walking in the door and talking out loud, with Jacquard I can Double tap my cuff to get it all to work.

Google Jacquard Tag inserted
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

But here’s my default setup: Brush-in to play the previous track, Brush-out to play the next track, and Double-tap to ask Google Assistant to play some music. This way, I’m able to completely control my music playback without ever having to pick up my phone. I’d like to see more abilities — I feel like the list hasn’t dramatically expanded to add more abilities I’d actually use since the launch of the original jacket– but Google did say it plans to add more via software updates.

Alerts

Then there are Alerts. These will light up the LED on the Tag in three different colors (blue, red, and green), and you’ll feel a vibration:

  • When you and your jacket are out of range
  • When you get calls and texts (this can be further customized on a per-contact basis)
  • When your Lyft or Uber is nearby or has arrived

The vibrations on the cuff when I get a call or notification make me look at the LEDs, and when you get a text, you can Brush-in to have Assistant read it out to you, or Brush-out when you’re getting a call to decline it. When your Lyft or Uber arrives, you can also Brush-in to have Assistant read out the car’s make, model, and license plate. These alerts happen so fast that sometimes I’ve missed the chance to make a gesture and hear the notification, but it’s handy when I do catch them.

The alerts and abilities work reasonably well, but they’re not perfect. When you don the jacket after some time has passed, you’ll likely need to launch the Jacquard app again to make sure the two pair up again — you can’t simply wear it and expect the two to reconnect. I tried several abilities on Android and iOS, and I had trouble getting the My Day function — where Google Assistant reads out the weather, your upcoming calendar events, commute time, and news briefings — to work on my iPhone 11 Pro. I ended up using the Ask Assistant ability and setting the command to trigger My Day.

Finally, the other issue is phantom triggers. Sometimes, music would start playing on my phone despite me not making any gestures on the cuff. It only happened a few times, but I imagine I’d be a lot more distressed if it happened when I was in an important meeting or a quiet place.

Redundant tech

My biggest gripe with Jacquard is how it replicates a lot of functions I can already do with a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones. I can control my music playback with gestures on buttons or touch-sensitive areas on the cups of headphones, and I can typically get unrestricted access to Google Assistant or Siri by the push of a button.

That being said, I like triggering these functions through my jacket more than reaching up to my ear. It requires less effort, it feels more natural, and it’s not obvious what I’m doing. I don’t want to look like a secret service agent when I switch songs through Bluetooth earbuds with robotic swipes and taps; Jacquard helps mask these actions and the gestures feel a little more fun.

Charging and maintaining the jacket

Google Jacquard jacket levis hero shot
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Yes, all this tech inside the jacket means it needs to be charged like your smartphone. It’s better than before, as the Tag is significantly smaller. Pop it out and plug a Micro USB charging cable into it to juice it up. It’d be nice if the Tag had a USB-C port, as the number of Micro USB cables in my house are dwindling, but this is a minor quibble.

The Jacquard Tag should last around two weeks, according to Google, and that claim measures up. In the week that I used it, the battery dipped from 60% to 31%. If I started at full, it should have no trouble lasting the entire two weeks. How can it last such a chunk of time? The tag goes into a deep sleep mode when it detects the jacket is not being worn.

Yes, all this tech inside the jacket means it needs to be charged like your smartphone.

Google recommends machine washing the jacket inside out in cold water (without bleach) while tumble drying it at medium or low heat. You need to remove the Jacquard Tag before washing the jacket. Like the original jacket, the tech in the fabric has been tested through 10 wash-and-tumble dry cycles “under more rigorous wash-and-dry conditions than home laundry,” but Google reassured me that it doesn’t mean the jacket will fall apart if you wash it more.

Price and availability

The Levi’s Classic Trucker Jacket with Jacquard is $198 and the Sherpa Jacket with Jacquard is $248, and they’re both available in women and men’s sizes. You can find them in select Levi’s stores in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., or check out Levi’s website. The standard prices for the jackets without Jacquard technology are $89.50 and $98, respectively.

Google offers a standard one-year warranty protecting the jacket from manufacturer defects. Tailoring the jacket will void the warranty.

Wrap-up

The best part of Jacquard 2.0? The price. The original jacket cost $350; while the two new jackets are still pricey, they’re more accessible than ever before. The Jacquard team has also been working to make the technology easier to work on more types of products — it recently launched the first Jacquard-powered product that wasn’t a jacket: the Cit-E Backpack from Yves Saint Laurent. It offers almost the same functions, and the gesture-sensing fabric is woven into the strap of the bag. The downside is that it costs almost $1,000, but Google said it’s planning to partner with more brands to bring more accessible Jacquard-enabled products to customers.

Google Jacquard jacket levis front sherpa
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

“This is just the start because, put simply, Jacquard is an ingredient for creating everyday things, not gadgets,” Ivan Poupyrev, director of engineering at Google ATAP, told Digital Trends. “We’re exploring other potential applications, but everything in your wardrobe has its own context, and we focus on creating experiences that enable you to do more and be more in each of these contexts.”

Maybe it’ll mean we’ll finally get some jeans with Jacquard built-in. Should you buy one of the new Levi’s jackets with Jacquard’s technology inside? If you like the look and you were planning on nabbing a denim jacket, I’d say yes.

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