Android 4.4 KitKat review
It's a curious little spectacle of the human psychology whenever a situation such as this arises. Namely, the hottest OS of the day, Android 4.4 KitKat, has been officially outed, yet there's this vacuum between your expectations and what reality will inevitably bring in just a few short days. Of course, your curiosity (or impatience, but we'll leave this kind of unstoppabe-force-meets-immovable-object type conundrums for the ages to decide) could as well be altogether deaf and blind, for you want to experience the newest Android right here and right now. Luckily, you're at just the right place.
As some of you will undoubtedly know, the source code for Android 4.4 KitKat has been officially released by Google, and a few ports from dev teams, like ParanoidAndroid, have made it possible for existing devices like the Nexus 4 to catch a peek. This is precisely what we'll be doing, waiting can go to hell.
Before you dive right in, a necessary disclaimer is in order. Bear in mind that this is an unofficial build, and some features are not currently working. It's nevertheless quite stable and as stock of an experience as you can get.
Goodbye, cyan-blue Holo theme!
We've drilled this one into your heads for sure, but it's worth pointing out yet again that the current Jelly Bean-esque Holo theme is gone. Android 4.4 KitKat takes onto a dark/white gray contrasting one, and we actually ended up liking it, despite it feeling a bit lifeless. Considering the industry we're in, we've pretty much come to accept change as a fact of life, but it's always nice when things work out in the end.
While still on the topic of the theme, it's worth pointing out that Google has done a splendid job of integrating the new color scheme – it flows through the near entirety of Android 4.4 KitKat. One exception is perhaps the dialer, which still looks nearly unchanged, except in terms of its design, of course.
KISS with a twist: Google is keeping it stupid simple
aspects of Android 4.4 KitKat seem to indicate that Google is going
in the general direction of iOS. It feels simpler than ever and more
intuitive in some regards, to the point of blatantly obvious. One
such example is the slight redesign of the lockscreen, which now
features an arrow on the very bottom, indicating the presence of
Google Now, along with a camera shortcut icon for all the people that
never realized that swiping left already does that. Moreover, lockscreen widgets are now disabled by default, further streamlining the ease of use of the OS. Thankfully, this is reversible, so no harm done.
Moving on, it's probably fair to say that with the amount of publicity the Nexus 5 has received, most of you are already aware that it'll come equipped with a voice-activated Google Now. Lucky for us, our build of KitKat actually has that feature baked in, so we could access Google's assistant by simply saying “OK, Google”. It works very well, though you need to be in view of the Google search bar on your homescreen. Google Now has definitely taken the spotlights with the new Android, and it's actually now available as the leftmost homescreen. This brings the number of ways to get to Google Now to a whopping three – voice activation, swiping to it on the homescreen, and the good ol' swipe-up-from-the-bezel style we've gotten comfortable with.
A feature here and a feature there
Android 4.4 KitKat wasn't really supposed to turn out this way. There was a not too-distant time when we all thought the next Android would be a milestone version, or 5.0 KeyLimePie, to be exact. This didn't exactly pan out, so we're happy to see some new exciting stuff making its way through nevertheless.
features included in Android 4.4 KitKat include a new 'Home' menu
that will allow you to better manage your different launchers, like
Nova, Apex, Trebuchet and whatnot. We've also got a still mysterious
Tap & Pay new menu in the settings, and though the overall idea
is quite clear, we're a bit in the dark in terms of how Google plans
to execute this one. Unfortunately, Tap & Pay does not work on our build, so we can't provide any particular insight, past the fact that only Google Wallet appears to be working with it for the time being. It's obvious that Google wants to streamline the process by allowing you to set a default mobile payments app, but we may be some time off having some actual competition there, seeing as Wallet is still riddled with limited availability.
Scrolling further down the menu, we've got the new Location and Printing menus. As far as the former is concerned, there's no new functionality, it's just more organized, intuitive and informative. Printing, on the other hand, is an altogether new feature, though we didn't manage to get it to detect any printer at the office whatsoever. Early builds are like that. Printing nevertheless appears to be well integrated into the core Android functionality, and you'll be able to quickly print a photo or a document by accessing the triple dot menu that you've come to recognize, though it's missing in obvious areas like E-mail.
A pretty important new feature that Android 4.4 KitKat brings to the table is native screenrecording. A reviewers dream, the new functionality is unfortunately not yet covered via an app, so you do have to work some command prompt magic (easy) for the time being. It basically allows you capture a real time video of what's going on your screen at an acceptable resolution, and without any lag or stutter.
The new apps
The list of apps that have received some fine-tuning includes several. The Downloads app, for example, can now sort your downloaded content, and now has a grid or a list view option. Hangouts has also received a hefty update, and can now be made your default SMS app, though these are still separate from the IM chats. The Clock, too, has been refreshed, and is now ever so slightly more intuitive. Another interesting observation is that Google Earth appears to now be part of the baseline app cache for Android, meaning that you can get the so-called Flyover view of the world through Maps easily, in case you want a more dimensional understanding of a particular area. Last, but not least, the Dialer has also undergone some visual and design changes and now has a persistent search bar to help you sift through your contacts. A nice extra: you can voice search, without having to resort to the Voice Dialer (which, oddly enough, is still present in our build).
Android 4.4 KitKat actually surprised us. Truth is, while there's nothing truly groundbreaking about it (well, perhaps with the exception of screenrecording), it certainly infuses valuable functionality into the core of Android. It's slightly more intuitive, slightly more neatly organized, and more powerful than ever before.
There's one other, potentially groundbreaking thing about Android 4.4 KitKat, and that's the promise of memory optimization to the extent of even devices with 512MB RAM running KitKat fluidly. If this pans out, it could be huge for the platform as a whole, and we can't wait to test it out.