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The Best Features of Android 4.4 KitKat

By James Lu - 8 Nov 2013

The Best Features of Android 4.4 KitKat

The Best Features of Android 4.4 KitKat

While it may look like just an excuse for some cross-promotional advertising with Nestle, Google’s latest Android update, 4.4 KitKat, announced alongside its latest flagship smartphone, the Google Nexus 5, represents a shift towards a simpler, cleaner design and an inclusionary attitude that will let it run well on almost any Android device. We take a closer look at some of its best features.

Cleaner, Less Distracting Design

While not as drastic as Apple’s revamp with iOS 7, there’s still a fresh new look to KitKat. The entire Android OS has been given a cleaner, brighter look with the blue shades of previous Android releases replaced with lighter, white tones. Dark overlays are gone, and both the status and notification bar are now translucent, allowing background images and colors to show through. Small design tweaks and changes have made Android 4.4 KitKat cleaner and simpler.

The entire UI will actually disappear completely in KitKat’s new full screen ‘Immersive Mode’, meaning more screen display space and no more distracting notifications bar or navigation buttons while you’re in a game or app. If you do want to check your notifications, an edge swipe from the top or bottom of the screen will reveal the system UI.

You can now utilize the entire screen display with 'Immersive Mode'.
Google’s Roboto font has also been slightly tweaked into a lighter, thinner “Condensed Roboto” form and there also are new animations when opening up the app drawer and flipping back to the homescreen. A few default apps have also been given a clean redesign too. For example, the old clunky alarms app has been replaced with a slick radial-style clock with a stylish red time picker. A few apps have also been revamped with a fresh new look.

Integrated, Voice Activated Google Now

KitKat has made it much easier to get to Google Now – Google’s digital assistant/Siri alternative. Just like Motorola’s Moto X smartphone, you can now launch voice searches directly from the homescreen by saying “Okay Google”, or you can swipe to the leftmost screen to give you contextual information based on your location such as the current weather, nearby restaurants and attractions.

Google Now is integrated into the homescreen. Just say 'Okay Google' followed by your search query. You can also swipe to the left to view local information.

Google Now itself has also received some upgrades. Google says its 25 percent better at speech recognition, and if it gets a word wrong, you now tap it to replace it with the correct one.


Low Power Sensors

Similar to the introduction of the M7 motion co-processor in Apple’s A7 processor, KitKat includes optimizations that allow Android to collect and deliver sensor events to apps in batches, rather than have each app actively tracking for individual events. This process should greatly reduce the battery drain of any apps using these sensors.

In addition, KitKat adds support for two new sensors: step detector and step counter. The former can recognize when a user takes a step and trigger an event as a result, while the latter tracks the total number of steps taken since the last device reboot.

Apps like Runkeeper should drain less battery with new batch sensor optimizations.

SMS Integration into Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts now supports SMS and MMS messaging and has actually completely replaced the old default messaging app. This means you’ll be able to make voice and video calls, and send and receive SMS and Hangout messages all from the same place.

Google Hangouts now includes support for SMS and MMS so all of your conversations can be in the same place.

Screen recording

Screenshots are one thing but with KitKat you’ll be able to capture real-time video of what’s happening on your smartphone display. By default, the utility will select a resolution equal or close to your device's display resolution in its current orientation and save it as an MP4 file to your internal storage which you can then share directly, or transfer to a PC.


A Smarter Dialer App

There aren’t many ways to improve basic functionality apps like the phone dialer, but KitKat’s does include a few new features. First of all, your contacts list now uses an algorithm to prioritize people based on who you talk to the most (based on who you call, and who calls you). Search has also been integrated into the phone dialer, so you can now search for a business by typing its name directly into the entry field. Finally, if you’re always getting calls from unknown numbers, you’ll appreciate how KitKat will attempt to retrieve caller ID information based on results from listings within Google Maps.

If you don't know the number of a business, you can search for it right from the dialer app.

Better Productivity

KitKat comes pre-installed with Google QuickOffice, an app that supports the editing of documents, spreadsheets and presentations created in Microsoft Office or Google Docs. The new version of QuickOffice has a cleaner look that's more in line with the rest of the OS and will automatically grab any documents that have been saved in your Google Docs and Google Drive account.

QuickOffice supports the editing of documents, spreadsheets and presentations created in Microsoft Office or Google Docs It's also much easier to Cloud Print from your Android smartphone with the KitKat update.

In addition, KitKat adds support for Google Cloud Print, letting you print documents and photos on any printer with Cloud Print support or HP’s ePrint. Google has also opened up the APIs for managing printing and adding new types of printer support.


NFC Secure Element Emulation

Currently, all NFC payment transactions require both an NFC chip and a secure element (usually provided by an NFC SIM card). KitKat looks to do away with the secure element requirement by emulating it at the software level through HCE (Host Card Emulation). This should make it much more convenient for new users to get on NFC payment services as the NFC SIM card and its associated activation costs will no longer be required.

We're currently inquiring with the local telcos on how KitKat's improved convenience with respect to NFC secure element emulation play out in the local field. Stay tuned for a news update on this matter. Meanwhile, if you're interested to know more about NFC, how it works, who's involved and much more, check our NFC Tech Guide.

KitKat removes the requirement for a secure element currently necessary for all NFC transactions.

Project Svelte

While 80% of the world now uses an Android smartphone, the majority of those phones aren’t top-of-the-line quad-core flagship devices. As such, Google is promising that KitKat will run fast, smooth and responsively on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM, the first time since Android 2.3 Gingerbread (released nearly three years ago in December 2010) that this has been possible.

Even a three-year old phone like the HTC Desire should be able to run KitKat smoothly on its 512MB RAM. 

Google has achieved this by streamlining and optimizing every major component in KitKat to reduce memory usage. For example, according to Google’s Head of Android, Sundar Pichai, Chrome in KitKat uses 16 percent less memory than it did in Jelly Bean. Google has also introduced new APIs and tools to help developers create more memory-efficient applications. For example, app developers can now enable a "low-memory" mode, which can detect when an app is running on a lower-spec device and improve performance by reducing graphical flourishes and effects.

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