Android 4.4 KitKat review

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



Some 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.



New 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



Google is including some new base-line apps with Android 4.4 KitKat, while also updating some of the existing ones. To start off, productivity suite QuickOffice (which Google bought earlier this year) is now installed by default – a more than welcome addition. Also 'new' is (Google+) Photos, which can automatically back up your snaps in the cloud, in addition to making them look better with Google's Auto-Awesome feature that some of you no doubt know all about.



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).



Closing words



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.


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34 Comments

1. hmd74

Posts: 539; Member since: Jan 31, 2013

Big changes are welcome :)

25. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

I love 4.4 I think its about a week early for a review, though.

29. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I really like when Google flexes it's muscles. Android 4.4 is some impressive gainz as the Hodgetwins would say. lol The king just made iOS 7 look like a girls tea party set.

2. byazatt

Posts: 316; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

And things keep getting better and better B-)

3. promise7

Posts: 894; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

I'm wondering why Google doesn't replace the "Browser" app with Chrome since it is a Nexus. What differences does each one have?

16. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 882; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Browser has flash support Chrome doesnt

23. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Uhhh, they did replace the Browser app with Chrome. A while ago actually. You can only install the browser if you flash an apk off the internet or use a custom ROM.

4. Sniggly

Posts: 7305; Member since: Dec 05, 2009

Pretty good review of the new features. I'll look forward to seeing it on my Mini. Of course, now the waiting begins to see if a 5.0 happens next year, considering that by that point the baseline for the last couple of updates (4.0) will be about 3 years old at that point.

5. LetsBeHonest

Posts: 1548; Member since: Jun 04, 2013

I know it's an incremental update. So they satisfied my expectations. and support for low end devices even 512MB ram w awesome. great for low end phones. And now it's only OEM'S and carriers job to give us updates no more excuses and blames on google. If they can't make their hardware hog skins to work on low end phones, fine just give us stock android. I know that's not going to happen just a damn wish....

6. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

"Some 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" I also quote from Ive "We believe that technology is at its best when it's simply disappeared"

7. amiaq

Posts: 509; Member since: Jun 30, 2012

someone fix the "gallery"! it is painfully slow.

8. hmd74

Posts: 539; Member since: Jan 31, 2013

Works great on nexus⁴ with paranoid ROM...

9. scriptwriter

Posts: 396; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

Big Changes..........that some of us still cant access. I live in the UK and got really excited when i saw the Tap & Pay option leak. However, when i went to set it up last night, it re-directed me to download Google Wallet. But Google Wallet is still not available in the UK. When is Google gonna realize that the world extends beyond the USA?

14. Klamba92

Posts: 212; Member since: Jun 25, 2012

What really? The tap and pay option is still US only work Google wallet only being in the US still? I agree Google need to bring this internationally, it's so annoying because everyone is trying to come up with their own version like EE AND O2!

17. scriptwriter

Posts: 396; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

while some networks still have no options or recommendations for wireless payment apps. There's no standard, apart from Google Wallet which i can't get. :(

24. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

The blame lies 100% on the UK/European Union governments. Google doesn't want to deal with their BS requirements for credit cards so it will likely never come to you.

10. bloodline

Posts: 706; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

I don't see how you can review an unstable build....pretty lame, why not wait for the nexus 5? I received my N5 yesterday (UK) Its definitely awesome.

12. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

It's as stable as they come. It's derived from the source code, so it's virtually stock Android 4.4.

20. bloodline

Posts: 706; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

I still think its unfair, there could still be performance issues.

26. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

Nowhere in the above preview will you see any comments on performance, though. Which is exactly the point ;).

11. Edmund

Posts: 656; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

30. puckhead

Posts: 81; Member since: Jan 13, 2013

omg, it says it took over iOS and Italy! What the bleep is going on in that country????

13. solomonsteve

Posts: 79; Member since: Dec 19, 2012

We should all thank WP for introducing this "simplicity thing". Android and IOS have noe adopted it. Its nice to have that for a change

19. scriptwriter

Posts: 396; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

WP needs settings toggles/widgets

33. Damo579

Posts: 264; Member since: May 18, 2013

We have live tiles which are similar to widgets. I agree WP needs settings toggles hopefully it will in 8.1

15. Klamba92

Posts: 212; Member since: Jun 25, 2012

Don't you think you should wait for official release? Also when are you going to test out the nexus 5?

22. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

John V ordered his, so I guess will see him shortly

27. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

Mhmmm

28. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

Don't know if you already ordered one so I can't say you will review it but I knew he ordered one because he posted it on his account... So

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