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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.

If you've used the Chromebook Pixel, you'll notice that the interface is somewhat similar, a clear indicator that Google is moving toward a universal set of design guidelines to bind all of its products. For now, consider KitKat's new interface an introductory course into what's to come in Google's future.

"Here's what we're doing with your data"
KitKat really pushes Google's services on you, and desperately wants to collect your data, but it also makes it clear what it's collecting, how it's used, and gives you more options to opt out.

Android 4.4 features a new Locations panel that is more explicit about which apps are utilizing location services and for what purpose. From the Notifications shade, you can click through to the Location settings and choose, on an app-by-app basis, whether to allow Location services or not, and how your location should be determined. If you want more accuracy, you can combine GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile network towers. If you want to save battery, turn off GPS. Or, use only GPS should Wi-Fi or mobile networks be unavailable. You can also peep which applications made recent location requests, as well as edit the individual Google location settings for any apps that make use of the data.

Notice, too, that the Settings panel remains dressed in Jelly Bean's dark interface, and it doesn't really match up with what the rest of KitKat has going on in the design department.

The Google Settings application first introduced in Jelly Bean is stuffed with more options. Now you can check up on your advertising ID, a semi-permanent alpha-numerical tag attached to your Google account to let the company know which ads to push out to you. You can also opt out of interest-based ads and control the ones that are delivered to you, and when you tap on those options Android will point you to Google's official FAQ on the matter.

Google has certainly taken a step forward by offering a separate settings panel for your Google account, but they're difficult to parse, and it's unfortunate that they're sequestered away from the device's main Settings panel. It would have been better if Google could somehow tuck these options under the Accounts section of the regular Settings panel, keeping everything in a single logical location.

The oft-forgotten Dialer
We've reached the point where the phones in our pockets are so far removed from the phones of yesteryear that updates to the app that actually makes phone calls are worthy of praise. In KitKat, Google dedicated resources to an application that is often forgotten on other platforms, pegging the dialar as a marquee feature.

The Dialer app sports the new interface and opens with your favorite contacts front and center, as well as your recent calls, instead of that boring grid of numbers. Google has finally acknowledged that we rarely make calls on our phones by dialing numbers on a keypad. Thankfully, Google made it easier to search through your contacts by name, making that ability the first thing you see.

 

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