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Android 4.4 KitKat: An only slightly better Android

Florence Ion | Nov. 8, 2013
Google tried to make the design of the Android 4.4 KitKat more consumer-friendly but there are still flaws to it.

Android has a face only an engineer could love. At least, that's the reputation it has earned over the past few years. Google's mobile OS is a hotbed of mobile innovation and new technologies, but its interface doesn't have the friendly consumer-centric design of iOS or Windows Phone. With Android 4.4 KitKat, Google aims to address this shortcoming, while baking-in a handful of nifty new features.

But the plastic surgery is incomplete. While iOS7 is easily identifiable by its flat bright colors and lightweight fonts, and Windows Phone carries on with Live Tiles, the KitKat interface has no single recongnizable trait. Yes, it's flatter and brighter, but what isn't these days? Worse, the redesign seems pushed out the door too early. Scratch beneath the surface, and you'll find built-in apps and menus that haven't been udpated to the new look. There's a lot to like in Google's first name-branded OS release, but I can't help but this sweet treat isn't quite ready to be unwrapped.

A shiny, vibrant new interface
Here it is, Android users: your newly polished, flatter interface. Google did away with the technophile neon blue-and-black color scheme and adopted a lighter, whiter palette that looks and feels friendlier and borrows some of its look from competitors like Windows Phone 8 and iOS 7.

Though I only used it on the speedy quad-core Nexus 5, screen-to-screen transitions in KitKat feel smoother than in previous versions of Android, and icons are bigger and more detailed. Even the application drawer feels like a big breath of fresh air; you can no longer peruse through widgets or jump into the Google Play store from there. Now if you want to add a widget, all you have to do is hold down on the Home screen to bring up a menu that lets you add widgets, customize the wallpaper, and choose your launcher. This action feels more intuitive than past versions, which require that you dig through the application drawer to do anything to the Home screen besides change the wallpaper. It's a perfect example of Google's minor design improvements.

The rest of the interface remains seemingly untouched, however. The Notifications shade has new icons, but the Settings panel looks the same. Minor apps, like the Calculator or News & Weather, appear neglected. It's almost as if Google rushed through Android 4.4 in an attempt not to fall behind its competitors. Not that it will matter much, since only a small portion of Android users will get to experience the new interface in its native state. The vast majority will see whatever skin Samsung, HTC, or LG imposes on them.


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