An in-depth look at Android KitKat: What new features and improvments does it bring?
After months of leaks and speculation Google’s new chocolate flavoured OS update has finally arrived. So, what does it do? And is it any good? Read on to find out.
There are a whole host of new features and improvements in Android 4.4 KitKat, but one of the most useful is also one of the simplest. Google Now has been improved so that it will launch and recognise voice commands any time you say ‘Ok Google’ from either the Google Now screen or even your home screen, though currently only the Nexus 5 supports it on home screens.
That means you no longer need to press buttons to make it listen, just start talking. If and when other phones get home screen support for it that could be a real game changer but even now it’s great news for anyone with a Nexus 5.
Lower system requirements
One of the hidden features of Android KitKat is that it doesn’t have as high system requirements as previous versions. This means that it should be able to work on older and lower end handsets, many of which have until now been stuck on severely outdated versions of Android. It will still be up to manufacturers and mobile networks to ensure that these phones actually get Android 4.4 of course, but at least now it’s possible.
Alongside the lower system requirements Android 4.4 KitKat also includes memory optimisations and touchscreen improvements which make it more responsive and better at multitasking. The last couple of versions of Android have already felt pretty slick but this takes things even further and brings that slick performance to lower end phones.
Getting immersed in things on a four to five inch phone screen can be a challenge, but Android 4.4 KitKat takes a step in the right direction with ‘immersive mode’, which hides the status bar and navigation buttons when you’re reading a book or watching something on your phone, so you’ve got as much space as possible to get immersed in your media and so that there aren’t any distractions.
If you do ever want to see the status bar or buttons a quick swipe across the edge of the screen will bring them back, so they’re never far away.
Improved battery life
Android KitKat supports a process called ‘hardware sensor batching’, which enables Android to process data from sensors- such as the accelerometer and GPS, without having to be in a high power state all the time.
So you get dramatically increased battery life without losing any functionality.
It’s not all about improved performance and new features. Android KitKat also has a stylish flourish in the form of full screen album and movie artwork. If you’re listening to music on your phone then you’ll get full screen album artwork displayed on the lock screen.
Equally if you stream a movie using Chromecast you’ll get a full screen image of artwork from the film you’re watching, though with Chromecast not yet officially released in the UK that might not get a whole lot of use yet.
Google has given some thought to how to improve on Android’s existing applications and so with Android 4.4 KitKat there are a few changes. For example the phone app now puts the contacts that you talk to the most up at the top so they’re easy to find and it now includes the ability to search for nearby businesses and places right from the contacts screen.
When a call comes through that’s not in your contacts Android will use data from Google Maps to look for matches from businesses, so this could be the beginning of the end of unknown numbers.
Google’s keyboard has also been improved a little as it now includes support for Emoji’s. So if a picture of a penguin says what words just can’t you’ll now be able to communicate your feelings fully.
With the Hangouts app you need never miss a message again, as SMS, MMS, video calls and other conversation types are all put together in a single message stream, so you no longer need to use several different apps just to communicate with someone.
Another area that’s been improved for Android 4.4 KitKat is productivity. Specifically you can now print documents, photos and web pages direct from your phone. All you need is a printer that’s connected to Google Cloud Print, an HP ePrint Printer or just any other printer that has an app available for it.
Android 4.4 KitKat includes a wealth of new features and most of them are genuinely useful. Improving the battery life and performance of Android devices will be a huge benefit to everyone, while lowering the overall system requirements is an important step in minimising the fragmentation between Android devices.
Immersive mode, Hangouts and mobile printing will all come in handy in certain situations and the improvements to the phone app should make it substantially better to use.
The addition of lock screen artwork is minor but appreciated and the changes to Google Now will only be enormously useful right now if you’re lucky enough to have a Nexus 5, but they’re still changes for the better.
All in all it’s a great upgrade and one that you should snap up as soon as you’re able. It’s not a total redesign of the Android experience and as such isn’t initially quite as impressive or exciting as Apple’s new OS, iOS 7, but it brings Android in its current form pretty close to perfection and for that reason it comes highly recommended.
By Simon Thomas on 04th November, 2013