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Android 4.4 KitKat release date, phones, specs & features

David Ludlow
1 Nov 2013
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Google has officially unveiled Android 4.4 KitKat, and we find out when you can get it, which phones it will work on and all of its new features

Google surprised everyone by calling the next iteration of its mobile OS, Android 4.4 KitKat, named after the famous chocolate wafer. Names and tie-ins with confectionary aside, Android 4.4 is designed to be a big-step forwards for the operating system. Unveiled alongside the Nexus 5, we take a look at KitKat to find out what it will do and when you can get it for your smartphone.

KITKAT LOWER SPECIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

Android has always been an operating system designed for the masses, with a huge variety of phones available from budget models to high-end superstars. Recent Android updates haven't been supported on some older handsets, due to memory constraints. With KitKat, Google has re-engineered the OS, so it has a smaller memory footprint. It removed many unnecessary background tasks and reduced the memory consumption of features that are used all of the time.

Google applied similar engineering to its own apps, including Chrome and YouTube, reducing the amount of memory they require. The result is that the Android 4.4 KitKat will happily run on a phone with 512MB of RAM, making it available to a much wider audience. This has to be good news, as it should help close down the number of versions of Android out there, making it easier for app developers.

KITKAT FASTER MULTITASKING

Hand-in-hand with the lower memory requirement, KitKat has also improved multitasking and overall system performance. Google claims that the OS responds faster than before. Google has also tuned the touchscreen performance, which it says will make Android devices much more responsive.

KITKAT IMMERSIVE MODE

One of the criticisms of Android is that its status bar takes up quite a lot of screen space and can be distracting. With Android 4.4 KitKat's immersive mode that's no longer a problem. Now, apps can go full-screen, with the status bar and navigation buttons automatically hiding; just swipe from the side of the screen to bring them back.

KITKAT OK GOOGLE

KitKat wants to make voice control easier for everyone. With the Nexus 5 you can simply say 'OK Google' to activate voice commands, where you can use voice search, send a text, get directions or even play a song.

Android 4.4 KitKat OK Google

Just speak and your phone will do as it's told

On other handsets you first have to launch Google Now, but you can then activate voice by saying 'OK Google'. The discrepancy comes from the fact that the Nexus 5 has dedicated hardware to listen out for the voice wake-up command; implementing this feature on another phone would be a real power drain, as the CPU and microphone would always have to be on and listening.

KITKAT LOCK SCREEN ART AND CONTROLS

With KitKat when you're listening to music or projecting movies to Chromecast, you'll see the artwork and playback controls on your device's lock screen. This is similar to what iOS already offers, and means that you don't have to unlock your handset so often.

KITKAT CALLER ID

Google has overhauled the caller ID system, tying it in to search. Now, if you get a call from a number that's not in your phone book, Android will perform a Google Local search on Maps to see if it matches a business. The new phone apps also prioritises contacts that you talk to the most, so they're always at the top of the list.

Android 4.4 KitKat Caller ID

Google Local search tells you who's calling

KITKAT HANGOUTS

The new Hangouts app pulls together your SMS and MMS messages alongside Hangouts, giving you a single place for all of your instant messaging. One unified inbox makes a lot of sense and means there's just one place to go in order to get in touch with people.

KITKAT CLOUD STORAGE

Google is integrating cloud storage into the phone, allowing apps, such as QuickOffice, to save files directly into Google Drive. Intriguingly, KitKat can also let apps save straight into other cloud services, although there are currently no details of which ones are supported at the moment. We'd expect Dropbox to be pretty high up that list, though.

KITKAT AVAILABILITY

Android 4.4 KitKat is available now on the Nexus 5, but the company will also make it available for the Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Edition in the 'coming weeks'. The regular HTC One will get Android 4.4 KitKat within 90 days.

It's down to the manufacturers as to which of their handsets will get the upgrade and how long this will take, so check the site for more information as we have it.

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