Android updates are precious, simply because they’re quite rare! But most Nexus 4 mobiles may already have received one. I have been using Android KitKat 4.4 for a couple of weeks now and hence time for exploring good, bad and ugly of the latest OS on Nexus 4. Before diving into the OS, a brief on Nexus 4. I have been using the device as my primary smartphone ever since I bought it in late June, 2013. Of late, the device started heating up so much that, it would resemble an iron box after five minutes of any (call, video, browse) usage! I checked with a few of my acquaintances who happened to use Nexus 4 and their device did not have such problems. Therefore, I wanted to see how 4.4 would do on my device, before taking to customer service centre. LG service center guys reset my phone couple weeks back, and since then I have been using Android 4.4 KitKat.

Android OS update 

Unlike iOS, Windows or OS X, I did not have the choice to cancel the OTA upgrade downloads on the device. Fortunately 239 Megabyte downloaded over Wifi and asked for me to update. However, one of my acquaintance did not have Wifi at home, (hence his previous updates were all on cellular data) could not initiate the download manually on his Nexus 4. Another Nexus 4 user whom I know personally, could not prevent the OTA download that automatically got initiated! Worst part was, at the end of the download an error message showed up, and download started all over again, from the beginning. Android is known for control and options to the users but three different experiences for three devices of same Nexus model looked ridiculous especially when the Nexus line-up is completely controlled by Google. iOS 7 and Mac OS 10.9 were available for download instantaneously across the globe, but Android 4.4 was not available for everyone, even in same city (Bangalore, India) on same cellular network on the same day. I checked a bit more and found that my acquaintances had different Build number (JWR66Y) than mine (KRT16S). Device build number is available at Settings > About Phone > Build Number.

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KitKat 4.4 on Nexus 4: Look and feel

Installation happened smoothly but it had a surprise for me – brand new Android 4.4 looked nearly identical to Android 4.3! I was waiting for the UI and UX makeovers such as setting wallpaper without being asked to crop. I hated the ugly and black app drawer because the very essence of having wallpaper was defeated until 4.3. Similarly, widgets section next to apps in the app drawer was clunky. But KitKat update did not change the look and feel, except for phone and camera app. So if you have upgraded and wanted the look and feel of 4.4 you need to search an APK from Google! I could never understand the logic here. Imagine you have an iPhone 5 running iOS 6, and after upgrading to iOS 7, OS still retained the old UI and UX while iPhone 5s got all the brand new design and UX. Why on earth all Nexus OSes wouldn’t not give uniform design and UX? Eric Schmidt talked about migrating from iPhone to Android as well as Android being secure. What if that Google launcher APK file had mall-ware or if there were identically looking APKs? So additional launcher means one more way to get your settings screwed up. Sometimes, choices are too bad, and this whole thing tells that, Google does not give a damn about users. Anyways, I have been using the Google Experience Launcher  since the day I upgraded to 4.4.

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Wallpaper settings

Wallpaper option for Nexus in 4.3 and prior was awful. It compulsively asked for crop to a very small size  and then zoom in so that best image would look ugly and stretched. KitKat with Google Experience Launcher solves this problem by giving an option to zoom in/out and scroll to desired portion of  the picture if the image is bigger than the device height/width. Interestingly the whole crop option is removed from the wallpaper setting process. This is weird because, most users would not know to crop/edit the photo according to the device dimension which is altogether a different function within the device. In addition, if you had a perfectly fit wallpaper set on Google Experience Launcher and switch to old launcher (Home) the whole UI gets screwed up. Thankfully, if you switch back to Google Experience Launcher again wallpaper would get fixed automatically.

 

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App Installation, Updates and Notification

After installing an app, tap on the Notification area you can directly open the application that’s installed. Earlier this would have opened Google Play Store page of the particular app. However, this issue remains for app updates. Even though there’s an incremental advancement in actionable notification, what I still miss is iOS like notification management. It is quite easy to manage app badge notifications, notifications at the folder level, control center notification and lock screen notifications in iOS. Of course these could be managed by installing apps in Android but Google should have made such elementary settings part of the OS itself.

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Home Screen and App Drawer

Google Experience Launcher gives an improved look and feel for the home screen. Icons are larger the folder layout feels modern. Touch and  hold brings back the widgets, screen switching, wallpaper settings as well as Google Now settings. Effectively, touch and hold anywhere in the home screen you can access Google Now settings. If you want to add more horizontal scrolling screens, simply drag an app short-cut. You can switch the different home screen positions too. Dock does not have the typical line separation. App drawer also has larger icons, faded wallpaper replaces black background, no more widgets section, and paginated display are all quite helpful. Overall look and feel is great with Android 4.4 KitaKat provided you have Google Experience Launcher.

Phone, Hangouts and Google’s Emoji
Phone App is improved, essentially works like True Caller with Google’s own database for all business listings. Once you open the Phone app you are presented with a search field at the top of the screen and rest include your favorite people whom you contact often.Once you reach call log through navigating from the bottom of the screen, to come back you can either hit ‘back’ at the bottom or ‘History’ at the top of screen. It takes longer to reach to ‘All Contacts’ or you may not even understand how to reach there in the first place. ‘People App’ has a colour makeover but by and large works identical to previous one. Hangouts now follows iMessage by combining SMS and Google chat (previously Gtalk).Swipe from right to left archives the conversation but swiping from right edge of the screen takes to ‘New Hangout’ option with all your contacts listed. The ‘+’ option would also lead to ‘All Contacts’. If you click on a contact, you are ready to chat. But in my testing it is by default set for chat, and you may have to tap on the contact name displayed at the top of the screen to get to SMS option. Old SMS app is also bundled with the OS, instead it could have been a downloadable option so that if someone does not want to merge SMS and Hangout chats. Biggest disappointment is Google’s default emoticons. First of all, they are ugly, clunky and ridiculously designed at best. In addition, notification centre takes over Google style icons irrespective of app’s icon style. So if you are on Nexus, Google stamp everywhere – some good and some disappointing ones.

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Clock, Calendar

Clock app has a cleaner and consistent font now. However, setting Alarm is not easy because you are presented with scroll for everything. If your device is in 24 hour format, inside scrolling on the app will give you AM and peripheral scroll will give you PM (in the first attempt it took a bit of learning for me). Users are made to scroll through minutes, which looks like a painful imposition. Of course, there’s an amazing alternative in Timely. Calendar app is quite confusing to find out today’s date, in the month view, unless you notice tiny number at the right top corner. ‘Today’s Date’ is highlighted in brighter white and the next month dates (at the end of the current month view) are also highlighted in brighter and white display. The whole calendar is white and bright and there is no consistent intuitive contrast, and therefore app is generally not interesting to use.

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Play Newsstand and Play Games

Play Newsstand is a good addition to the bundled apps list which works like a combination of iOS Newsstand and Flipboard. You can subscribe to magazines, the news feeder can be customised and so on. However, I could not understand the logic of having Google Current, News and Weather as well as Play Newsstand all bundled together (of course I disabled both Google Current and News and Weather). Play Games is supposed to be the option which imitates iOS Game Centre. When I opened the app, it showed up the games I previously installed. However, in ‘Players’ section there were a few of my contacts who had Gmail account but didn’t ever buy an Android device! Later on I realised that, names show up based on Google Plus. I did not understand why I would be so ‘restricted’ to Google Plus to compete through Android games, virtually.

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Settings, Battery and rest

Data management option remains unchanged but the overall OS back-end data consumption seems to be reduced with Android KitKat. However, Google has not bundled SMS and call counters with the OS yet. The apps that monitor SMS and call controls usually grab the user’s personal data. More apps users install on system management, more personal data is at risk. Even though device heating while charging is reduced, I did not see any improvement in terms of battery. Ever since installing Android 4.4 I have no games installed. Battery lasted about nine hours which did not include even four hours of actual usage, without vibration. I have provided the details of how battery gets consumed on a device that is completely controlled by Google. There are always claims about Android phones being superior but such claims should be backed up with screenshots as below. Quite a lot of times, 30% battery at night 11 did not last till morning even after switching off 3G cellular data! I checked out a Micromax device that one of my friend owns and he happened get the battery life of over six hours even with more than double the number of apps installed. I could not check the immersive reading mode which I would have liked to. I have Kindle and Aldikoreaders and none of them have taken advantage of this feature, as of writing this review. Screenshots continue to include soft buttons and I have no idea if I have to install a new app for that too! Google Now is not swipe from left on home screen if you are using Nexus 4, running Android 4.4. Almost all major apps do not retain the status and get refreshed each time when switched in between the open apps.

Final thoughts:

Good

  • Feels light and fast
  • Improved font, larger icons, better home screen, dock and paginated app drawer layout
  • Integrated app for SMS and chat, improved phone app
  • Better OS level cellular data handling
  • Wallpaper settings
  • Designed to run on lower hardware configuration

Bad

  • Cannot create a folder and re-arrange apps in app drawer
  • Cannot customise notification and controls
  • SMS hangouts group messaging is confusing, and no easy backup of text messages, app notification
  • App specific notifications are not customisable like iOS
  • Play Games looks like a lazy attempt

Ugly

  • OS updates are not manageable, they start automatically
  • Stock apps are no way intuitive to operate for most users
  • SMS and Hangouts both exist so also Google Currents, News and Weather as well as Play Newsstand
  • Google Experience Launcher APK installation is inevitable but not bundled
  • Home screen is buggy to add and manage, app shortcuts failed after reboot
  • No iOS like move to the top or reader mode option in chrome
  • Cannot disable notification centre gesture in full screen apps like Yahoo Weather
  • Cannot turn off phone vibration for swiping to attend the call (not sure if this is just a bug)
  • After entering the passcode still need to hit ‘enter’ on lock screen
  • Google emoji stickers are ugly and they overwrite app specific icons in notification center
  • Battery life did not improve
  • No universal search as against iOS spotlight search
  • Browsing in gallery from oldest to latest photos can annoyingly switch to camera itself
  • Google Now is not a capable voice assistant rather a voice search, unlike Siri or even Samsung’s S Voice

I had a discussion with one of my close mates regarding the simplicity of iMessge application on iPad. He said something marvellous ‘people use Android or Windows and they keep experimenting with it. They do not really make any productive use out of it, rather they are happy to explore the software crash and bugs. On the other hand, iOS or OS X devices do not allow too much user meddling and that itself is the reason why Android and Windows users do not find those interesting. Such users do not consider technology to be part of their life, and don’t bother getting better results in their routine. They simply want to meddle with some cheap devices and be proud of achieving something, without any productive usage’.