Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat
The Google Nexus 5 hit the Play Store about two and a half weeks ago on Halloween. I was lucky enough to get mine the Monday after Halloween, so I've had a solid two weeks to mess around with the device and more importantly, time to dig into Android 4.4 KitKat. The KitKat update has started rolling out to Nexus devices, and the indications point to the update hitting Google Edition phones relatively soon, and of course the Moto X soon as well (it's hard to say about the DROIDs since Verizon loves to delay updates). The rest of you may have to wait a while, but if you do, you may calm yourself in the interim by saying that the latest update of Android is an incremental update; and, despite the nickname change, it doesn't offer huge new features. While it does offer a bunch of smaller changes for everyone, and a few changes that will appeal to a small subset of users, there is one new feature that is surprisingly sticky, and that has the potential to fundamentally change your smartphone experience.

The other changes

When we have gone through all of the new features available in KitKat, the same things are always mentioned because the change log for visible changes is pretty small. There is the Google Experience launcher with its touchless "Okay Google" command (which is a Nexus 5 exclusive for now, unless you want to do a bit of sideloading, but even then you won't get the touchless command), the optimization for lower-end phones (likely the second major reason for the nickname change after the confluence of KitKat and Halloween), full-screen mode for apps (which really just allows for the on-screen nav buttons to disappear, since devs could always take over the notification bar), Hangouts with SMS (not a KitKat exclusive anymore), Emojis (legitimately cool, if you
Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat
hate words), wireless printing (nice, but very few people will use it), screen recording (nice for developers and tech bloggers, but not so useful for anyone else), a tweaked UI, better support for pedometers, and a few other smaller features. That's a fair amount of change for an update that only brings your system from 4.3 to 4.4, but the real flagship feature in KitKat is the new Dialer. 

Given all you can do with smartphones these days, you may forget that they are actually phones, I know I certainly do. For reference, I have averaged just 300 minutes of talk time per month on my cell plan as far back as I bothered to check, and the majority of that talk time is spent organizing dinner prep times with my wife. I tend to chat with friends in Hangouts, do a Skype call here and there, but since I'm a fan of the written word, I tend to use e-mail or text the most. I don't even call to order food if I don't have to, and use online ordering like GrubHub more often than anything else. So, to say that my favorite new feature in KitKat is the Dialer feels a bit strange. 

I use Google Now and voice actions more than anything else in the Android system, but I was already in love with that service, and getting easier access to it has been something that I've done on my own for a while now with alternative lockscreens or always-listening options from Utter! or other apps (although I tend to only put those on my Nexus 10, because a tablet battery can handle that always-on better than a phone, since neither will have the properly optimized hardware). So, while the new access options on the Nexus 5 are nice, they aren't groundbreaking, especially since they don't translate to other devices, not even my Nexus 10. The visual tweaks are nice, but those things don't fundamentally change how you use your device. I'm not much of a fan of how Google has integrated SMS into Hangouts, so I've already switched to Textra on the rare occasion that I have to send an MMS and don't have a quality data signal (because all my SMS goes through Google Voice and I'd usually use WhatsApp or email to send a picture.) I prefer words to emojis; and, while I expect to do some screen recording eventually, it's not an everyday thing for me. 

The Dialer

But, regardless of how little I actually make or receive phone calls, I'm astonished at how often I find myself jumping into the KitKat Dialer. At first, I was thrown off by the changes, because Google has radically altered the UI of the Dialer and has ditched the Holo theme. This definitely caused some issues at first, because I was so used to swiping between the dialer, history, and contacts tabs, but, if you try that in Android 4.4, you're likely to accidentally remove a contact from your favorites list, which is the new swipe action. 

Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat
What Google basically did was make your contact's list the main screen with your favorites prominently featured, and the most recent call in your history right up at the top. Your favorites list has been made smarter, because not only does it list the people you have specifically put in your favorites, but it adds in numbers that you've called a lot, and it rearranges your favorites automatically based on how often you call certain numbers. 

Not all of the changes are for the best, like burying the "add new contact" option in the overflow menu, but a quick tap will get you to your history, or slide in the dialer from the bottom, which is easy enough. If you scroll to the bottom of your favorites, you'll see a button to reveal the traditional contacts list, which is the standard alphabetically sorted list that goes on forever. At first, this choice seems annoying, because you're so used to using that long list to get at your contacts, but the idea is to make that list more hidden in order to promote the usage of the biggest addition to the Dialer - a search field. 

This is Google after all. The search field will let you easily find someone from your contacts list, as you would expect; but, it also goes beyond that. The new Dialer also looks to minimize how much time you spend in other apps only to be bounced back into the Dialer. This means, instead of going to Google Maps or Yelp to find a business, you can search right inside the Dialer app itself. The search field doesn't just return results from your contacts list, but also nearby place results that you would see in Google Maps. So, if you search for "pizza", you'll not only get any pizza places in your own contacts list, but nearby pizza joints as well. 

Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat
While that has been incredibly useful, I think the best new addition though comes in the changes to Caller ID, because that has been supercharged with Google as well. Now, any time you call a number, or receive a call from a number that can be matched to a Google Maps business record, Google will show you that business name, and possibly a picture (though that part of the feature has been a bit dodgy so far), instead of just the phone number. This means far fewer mystery phone numbers in your call history, and if you're like me, it means even more than that. 

I have all of my phone calls automatically logged to Google Calendar using the CallTrack app. Sure, a solid 75% of the calls logged are to or from my wife, but I always find that I'll need a number that I called just one time a few months ago, and I can't find it. Given my relatively light call history, it usually only takes a bit of digging to find the right date, and maybe a few random number calls to pinpoint that exact number I needed. But now, I can just search my Call Log calendar and find that number. Sure, it would be better if I could search my call history directly through the Dialer, but I wouldn't be surprised if Google has that planned for future updates. 


The update isn't perfect, and there are some annoyances with the new Dialer in Android 4.4. The move away from Holo can make navigation a bit odd at first, some features are more hidden than you may want, and some features that you might really be hoping for won't be there just yet. But, if nothing else, it is proof that there are pieces of smartphone software that are still begging for overhauls. The contacts list has been one such place, and it has seen some big
Google makes the Dialer awesome again: this is why you want Android 4.4 KitKat
improvements in Windows Phone. Google has attempted to do the same with Android's People app, but developers haven't hooked in as Google had hoped. 

The Dialer may no longer the central feature of your mobile phone, but it is still an incredibly important piece of how we use our devices. More and more, we have been bumped out into various apps to find the phone numbers we need. Or, we've had to accept the standard limitation that if a number wasn't in your contact list, Caller ID would be unavailable. Google has fundamentally changed both of those issues in Android 4.4 KitKat, and I would be surprised if iOS and Windows Phone didn't follow suit soon enough. Sometimes features are too good to not spread to other mobile platforms. There's a reason the notification tray has become standard, or app stores, or quick settings toggles. 

Ever since Google completely overhauled Android with 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, there haven't been too many big name features in the four subsequent incremental updates to the system. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean brought Project Butter and Google Now. The best you could point to in Android 4.2 were Photo Spheres, because while it did bring gesture typing, that wasn't anything new given the success of Swype. Android 4.3 had Bluetooth 4.0 LE support, but no real consumer features. Android 4.4 is another incremental update with a lot of smaller changes, but I think we'll be looking back after future Android updates and saying this was when Google made the Dialer awesome again. 



1. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Already have 4.4 on my S3. Time to say goodbye before I pick up my Note 3 soon.

2. Wiki_jaan

Posts: 704; Member since: Jun 24, 2012

which rom m downloading cm11 unofficial

7. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Comment #6.


Posts: 225; Member since: Oct 10, 2013

Sumrf, i want to know whether video recording working for you on 4.4? also which rom ? is it OmniRom ?

6. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

CM11 No, screen recording isn't supported (yet) ART is amazing, but you lose access to root if you have it on, which is why I went back to Delvik.


Posts: 225; Member since: Oct 10, 2013

Smurf, but i think if u are little budget oriented,you should buy 2014 flagships.. S3 is still a powerfull and capable for everything for todays need. you just wait for next years flagships..that might be a big upgrade for you. What you say ? And noo i will not tell this in 2014 to wait again for 2015.

19. andynaija

Posts: 1253; Member since: Sep 08, 2012

Lol just keep your S3 and get the next flagship after the Note 3. You're basically up to date already.

24. tentpole

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 21, 2013

No, the new dialler is a mess and a backward step. My Nexus 5 instead of presenting me with a long list of my most recent calls gives me a few numbers and a load of grey boxes. Am I now expected to find some beautiful shots of all my contacts to prettify my phone? No, that is not going to happen. The first thing I now have to do when phoning someone is go straight to the recent calls list (one more tap) or all contacts (2 taps) or search. I cannot change the dialler to always start with most recent calls. Unfortunately some Android UI "enhancements" are made by people living in Googleland. And don't get me started on binning SMS for Hangouts. I have never used Hangouts and don't know anyone who does. I straightaway installed Handcent and got myself back a simple quick SMS UI.

4. rabidhunter

Posts: 90; Member since: Jul 05, 2013

"the Moto X soon as well (it's hard to say about the DROIDs since Verizon loves to delay updates). " Actually, the update process has improved greatly with Verizon. Soak tests invites are going out on the VZW Moto X. The recent update saw VZW Moto X getting the update a week after the other carriers started getting it. Then a week after that, the DROIDs got the update. And Motorola was quick in confirming that the DROIDs will get 4.4 soon.

18. rabidhunter

Posts: 90; Member since: Jul 05, 2013

Score, and confirmed, the recent soak test invites bring KitKat goodness to Verizon Moto X phones! That means that the DROIDs aren't far behind.

5. tsspro

Posts: 23; Member since: Jan 18, 2010

There should be an whole review about the dealer and the hangout.

8. Leo_MC

Posts: 6930; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

When did Google had an awesome dialler?! HTC yes, but Google never had an awesome dialer.

9. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Except the new 4.4 is anything but incremental especially if you have a phone that has ram and memory problems.

13. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Example: Galaxy S, Galaxy S2, Optimus G, etc.

10. bloodline

Posts: 706; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

Android is a growing beast

11. marbovo

Posts: 658; Member since: May 16, 2013

I haven´t uses 4.4 yet, but I think that it will be remembered for it´s ART

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I doubt that because most people would point to Google Now as the big addition of Android 4.1, not Project Butter. ART and Butter are things only a small group of people pay attention to. Consumer features always get remembered more than performance boosts.

16. marbovo

Posts: 658; Member since: May 16, 2013

Yep, I haven´t thought that way...

12. cj100570

Posts: 204; Member since: May 12, 2009

Google has never used the words Google Experience Launcher. I'm curious as to why every website has latched onto the phrase?

14. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Google has never used the term outwardly, but at least internally it seems to have been playing with that name:

20. GeekMovement unregistered

Beautiful I hope Samsung changes the dialer on their touchwiz ui (esp on the note II) I dislike how it doesn't fill the screen unlike the S3/S4 (there's like a thick border around the buttons) and the appearance is not very appealing anymore.

21. scsa852k

Posts: 331; Member since: Oct 16, 2012

I'm loving the new dialer on my Nexus 5.

22. iParkos

Posts: 12; Member since: Jan 15, 2013

On my Nexus 4 I installed the official 4.4, then installed the apk for Google Experience Launcher. The article states touchless commands won't work on non-Nexus 5's, but it does.

23. kefir

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 19, 2013

on receiving a phone number in hangouts, when I click it it opens in the new dialer. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an easy way to send an sms from the dialer, I can only call it. That is an unfortunate limitation in 4.4 hangouts-dialer integration at the moment :-( Or am I missing something?

25. bagou01

Posts: 22; Member since: Nov 20, 2013

Nearby places won't work for me.i tried pizza but nothing... And yes it's activated. Any idea ?

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