This past Halloween saw the (at last!) unveiling of Android 4.4 KitKat and the Nexus 5. This was done almost completely in the dark, without a proper announcement or livestreamed event. Google simply offered the Nexus 5 for sale on the Play Store, and updated their Android page with the new details. Reviews were already prepared, so it’s safe to say that most of the press got a hold of a Nexus 5 with KitKat in advance, and only reported it once Google lifted their embargo on KitKat related material. Pretty crazy launch if you ask me, but then again the Nexus 5 appeals mostly to people who would keep up with the news and expect the launch in the first place, so I suppose it’s okay that the first round of devices and news go to enthusiasts. Right now, the Nexus 5 is already sold out (in fact, it sold out a few hours after being released), so if you weren’t able to order one already, you’re probably out of luck unless you go to a retailer. The current orders are also delayed, so keep that in mind if you’re expecting one already! That being said, come with me as we take a wonderful look into what’s new with Android and what you can expect KitKat to bring your device in the near future:
Android 4.4 KitKat
KItKat is a very interesting update because it sees Google finally dropping the hugely successful Jellybean codename, which brought us improvements like Project Butter, Google Play Services integration with the OS, Google Now, Google Chrome, better Bluetooth stack, and much more. But is there enough in this update to justify a name change in the first place? Well, as it turns out, there is. Kind of. A lot of the changes are, as usual, under the hood, and will not concern or even be noticeable to most users, but there are also different visual and functional aspects that are worthy of taking a look at. So, without further ado, let me go through some of the most notable changes that KitKat will bring us, from under-the-hood stuff to functionality and UI:
1. Functionality and UI
As we had previously reported, KitKat comes with a brand new launcher. It comes with a few visual changes, but one of the most impressive changes is deep integration with Google Now. To bring it up, now all you have to do is swipe right from your homescreen, and you’ll see Google Now right there, without having to open a separate app. For supported devices, you don’t even have to touch your screen to open Google Now. Like the Moto X, saying “Ok Google” will automatically bring up a Google Now search as well, at least in supported devices.
Built-in Emoji Support
Android now comes with system-wide Emoji support, powered by the built-in Google Keyboard. Now, you can finally directly insert Emoji icons and access their list from the stock keyboard. It certainly beats the pants off the current implementation!
Android now supports a built-in fullscreen mode that hides both the notification bar and button bar. This allows content to have the full attention of the user and take advantage of the entire display, if apps request it. To bring them back, simply swipe up or down from the edge of the screen, and they will reappear. To make them go away, just tap the content of the app again.
Apps can now also request a translucent button and notification bar, maintaining their functionality but no longer occupying the screen with the current black bars, allowing the app content to flow under them and only displaying a soft gradient instead.
Hangouts and SMS
The Hangouts app now finally integrates SMS support, meaning you can finally use Hangouts for every form of communication and stop using the stock Messaging app separately every time you want to send a text message instead of chatting.
Android is slowly phasing out the cyan-blue accents that have been standard since the ICS days, now opting for a more neutral accent of grays and white. Already evident in the notification bar, where you can see the usual blue icons replaced by their white counterparts, but also reflected in most of the new visual elements.
Native Printer Support
Brand new with Android is native support for printers, detecting WiFi enabled printers in your house or using Google Cloud Print to manage your added printers. It supports basic printing and has support for some essential features, but printer manufacturers have the option to integrate extra options and special features into the native printing framework using a new API that extends support for individual models.
Smart Caller ID
The new dialer now does automatic searches for unknown numbers and will retrieve information if you have network access available, pulling information about a business that may be calling you but is not in your contacts, displaying an appropriate image and name. However, the dialer seems to be visually the same, unlike some of the images that were previously released which sported a brand new look.
2. Under the Hood
This new project, much like Project Butter, is directed at enhancing a particular aspect of the OS. In this case, memory usage. While Android currently tends to require 1GB of RAM to operate without major issues or running out of memory, KitKat sees the OS becoming more conservative with memory, and now it is claimed that even devices with only 512MB of RAM will be able to run the OS smoothly. This enhancement will also trickle down to more powerful devices, as memory usage is reduced across the board!
New API for Low Memory Devices
Google has created a new API for developers to actually cater their apps for low memory devices, complementing the above enhancement. What this means is that developers will be able to disable features if they are not required and save memory automatically if the device is recognized as a low-memory device, while maintaining the same functionality.
This enhancement brings very low power audio to Android if the device supports it, offloading processing of sound events to the DSP hardware instead of the CPU. What this means is a very significant increase of battery life if all you’re doing is listening to music with the screen off, for example.
New WebView Engine
A new WebView engine (based on Chromium, which powers Chrome as well) is now available to external apps, allowing greater performance and reliability for apps doing operations using the built in web engine.
Again, this new version of Android improves the Bluetooth stack, offering better volume control, media playback integration and much more.
New Transitions API
Transitions are now much more reliable and customizable on Android for developers, allowing fine-tuned and on-the-fly transitions instead of relying on the built-in transitions, which should result in better performance and more fancy animations for all apps that embrace the change or that rely on transitions heavily.
Along with the release of KitKat, the new Nexus flagship phone has been released, the Nexus 5, which replaces the Nexus 4 which had been the lead phone from the Nexus line up to this point. Available for only $349 for the 16GB model and $399 for the 32GB one, the price is, as usual, very appealing. Considering both the hardware you are getting and the guarantee for long term support from Google itself, it’s a bargain, as you can see:
Screen: 4.95-inch 1920×1080 display (445 ppi) with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
CPU: 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
Cameras: 1.3MP front facing camera, 8MP rear camera with OIS
Weight: 130 grams
Storage: 16GB or 32GB
RAM: 2GB RAM
We had reported on many of the details of the Nexus 5 before, and there are no big surprises. It’s a high-end device at a budget price, and it ships with stock Android 4.4 KitKat, so no skin or carrier nonsense. In terms of size, it maintains pretty much the same dimensions (only a few more millimeters) as the Nexus 4, while offering a bigger screen, thanks to thinner bezels. Additionally, you can also pick between a black or white variant. As usual, you can get one through the Play Store, but getting one might be hard at this point. It’s being sold through retailers like Best Buy and Amazon as well, so it’s worth checking out and shopping around if you’re interested. Also, check out the commercial from Google itself: