As Motorola promised, the Moto G saw a KitKat update very early into the year, with the US versions receiving the update as soon as mid-December in most cases. By now, most international variants of the device should have gotten the update, but what exactly is new with KitKat on the Moto G? Stick around as we dive to find out!
1. New Features
Since the Moto G carried pretty much a stock version of Android to begin with, the update brings a lot of the same improvements you might find in a Nexus device or non-skinned device. However, it turns out some features really are Nexus-exclusive and the Moto G did not receive them. Absences of note are the smart Caller ID feature and the brand new Google Experience Launcher, which improves the visual aspect and adds features to the stock launcher. Since these are useful and important features, we detail how you can bring them back later in this post.
However, apart from those, almost everything is there, including the new immersive mode for apps that support it, the possibility to use Hangouts for all your messaging needs, system-wide emoji support, native printer support, system-wide Drive and centralized storage support, and so on. In terms of killer features, the update was rather light, and instead consolidates a lot of what we already expected out of Android.
The visual aspect of the OS changes from a sea of black and holo blue to the brand new white accents that KitKat has pushed, and that mirrors Google Now and all the other Google apps with recent updates. It’s not bad, but I must admit that I loved the old look and still remain unconvinced by the new white theme. The arrival of the new immersive mode also brings forth additions like transparent notification and button bars, which change things up a bit in the visual side as well. The new lockscreen album art and music controls are also pretty darn cool:
One of the only criticisms of the Moto G when it launched was the fact it it carried a mere 1GB of RAM. The amount of RAM shouldn’t be something that directly affects and reflects performance, but it would affect the multitasking capabilities of the device and limit things like the number of tabs opened on Chrome, for example. However, the good news are that one of the main improvements of KitKat was RAM usage and memory consumption, and the latest update surely reflects it. Multitasking was never too bad on the device, but now switching between apps is almost guaranteed not to cause the app to relaunch and will immediately display the content as it should. Things like launcher redraws also seem to be a thing of the past, and I haven’t been able to cause one even when purposely trying to with 30+ apps in memory. Quite nice, and it sort of feels like magic as you wonder how you ever lived without it.
The Moto G isn’t exactly a slouch, but it definitely isn’t a top-of-the-line device either. However, it’s nice to see that even with the latest version of Android, the device behaves as smoothly as you would expect from a modern device. Even things like bringing up Google Now seem to be instant, and it’s just fun to pull your device out and mess with it for a while and see how smooth and responsive it is. It’s nice to see Google focusing on making Android more efficient with every version, rather than it automatically excluding a new class of hardware with each update. As it turns out, the Moto G is a great example of that.
If you would like some of the missing features in the update on your device, namely the new Google Experience Launcher and perhaps the new caller ID feature, you’re in luck. While it may require some elbow grease to get it to work, it’s not impossible. Let’s see what can be done:
New GEL Launcher
If you’re aching for the new GEL launcher and are looking to install it on your device, there are two ways to go about it. The first, and more complicated albeit more solid one is to simply install the actual GEL apk on your device, which you can find here. It’s a bit complicated and your mileage may vary, but all the features should be there once you install and it’s like having the real thing: after all, it’s the real application, just ripped out of a stock Nexus 5.
If however, you’d like a less complicated way of going about it and don’t necessarily need every feature, perhaps the best way to go about it is to simply install Nova Launcher, which reliably mimics the GEL visual elements as of the latest updates. It also seems to perform a bit better and is just an all-around awesome launcher, completely free, so I’d say give it a go in any case and see what you think. There’s a premium version that offers a bunch of extra features as well, but the free version is competent and should be enough for most users.
Smart Caller ID
This one is a bit more tricky, since it’s not as simple as installing the app and requires a rooted device with an AOSP ROM (the Moto G should be compatible). If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find the necessary files and instructions here, and the installation process just involves changing a few permissions around and copying the files to the right place.
However, just like before, you can use a few apps to replicate the functions and offer an approximate experience to the real thing. Apps like Current Caller ID offer options to look up local businesses and offer Facebook and other status updates of the person or business you are calling, thus making it somewhat of a Caller ID alternative. Not only that, it also has native options to block unwanted callers or telemarketers and all sorts of stats, so it’s worth checking out if you’re interested.