As we all expected, the first Samsung Galaxy S4 to receive Android 4.4 KitKat was the Google Play edition handset, which is sold directly by Google from the Play Store. Promising timely updates we’ve received just that, less than two weeks after Google’s own Nexus devices received the same treat.
Of course Google quickly updated the Nexus 4,5, 7, and 10 to Android 4.4.1 and eventually 4.4.2 KitKat with a slew of small changes, tweaks, and improvements. There’s plenty of new things with Android 4.4, and the small incremental update to 4.4.2 doesn’t change a lot, but we figured some first impressions were in order. There’s a few things missing from KitKat on other Nexus phones, and we wanted to share our thoughts.
Almost everything is exactly the same with the Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play edition handsets as it is on the Nexus 4 or 5. However, the Nexus 5 is a little customized with the Google Experience launcher, and a few device-specific changes. One of the many improvements with Android 4.4.2 was around the camera, which sadly didn’t make it over to the Galaxy S4 GPe.
While the Galaxy S4 GPe is enjoying everything that was shown off and detailed above in the what’s new with KitKat, there’s plenty missing. We love the new white colors, not to mention full-screen apps using the notification bar is a nice addition. Aside from the improvements to Google Now my favorite feature is the new dialer application. Google’s integrated search into the dialer, meaning you can type “Best Buy” instead of a phone number and Google Search will find the nearest store to your location, and you can call with one tap. It’s awesome, and is beautifully implemented on the Galaxy S4.
The camera received a lot of attention on Android 4.4 and again with Android 4.4.2 KitKat for the Nexus 5, sadly these new features aren’t present on the Galaxy S4. The lockscreen now has a nice little camera icon hinting that a swipe from the right will instantly fire up the camera, even from the lockscreen. This was in KitKat, but didn’t make it on Samsung’s version. For whatever reason Samsung left this out, while the Nexus 5 is enjoying a quick camera launcher. The feature is still there, but the icon showing it however, isn’t.
Another big improvement for the Nexus 5 and 4.4.2 was to the camera UI, especially with HDR photos. HDR mode has been improved and tweaked, and there’s even a little indicator letting you know the camera is still capturing the HDR photo, and tells you to wait. The same indicator is present as it prepares the image in your gallery. This, also, didn’t make it over to the Galaxy S4 Google Play edition. I was excited to have an improved camera experience and UI, but it wasn’t included. It’s clear this is nearly stock Android, but Samsung is still in charge, and apparently left a few things out.
Above is a quick look at Android 4.4 KitKat on the Nexus 5, which was the original launch before the recent changes. However, almost everything remains exactly the same at first glance. You’ll notice the lockscreen camera, the improved camera UI, and more, all which we still don’t have on the Galaxy S4 Google edition.
Google has changed a few things with Android 4.4.2, but most are behind the scenes and things users won’t see or notice. There’s a SMS vulnerability that was fixed, and problems with Exchange email have also been solved, not to mention improved. According to AndroidPolice the music seeking feature on the lockscreen had a few glitches, and sometimes you couldn’t seek and fast forward through music. The bar simply wouldn’t move, but now that’s also been solved. Little bug fixes everywhere, as Android obviously isn’t perfect, nor is Google.
We’re also hearing the status bar indications in the notification pulldown shade have been tweaked as well. The WiFi, signal bars, and clock weren’t all perfectly aligned, and now they will be. That’s an odd one. Then another odd change which you saw in the image above is the settings button. Before it was just a gear-shaped icon, but now the gear has a little black circle inside of it. It’s a very minor and unnecessary change, but Google probably had its reasons.
Bluetooth LE previously could only have four simultaneous connections, but now Google’s upped this to 7. That means Google Glass, the Galaxy Gear, and any other bluetooth connections now don’t have to worry about sharing, Android can handle 7 at a time.
This is stock Android, nearly just as Google intended it to be. If you’re not a fan of custom user interfaces, changes from Samsung in TouchWiz, and all those others a Google Play edition smartphone is right for you. The Galaxy S4 is still busy getting 4.3 Jelly Bean to all device, while the Google edition has received Android 4.4, 4.4.1, and 4.4.2 all within the past month. If having the latest software is what you want, this is a great option.
So far Android 4.4.2 KitKat is extremely smooth and stable. I’ve been running KitKat since the day it was released, and just got 4.4.2 and so far I’ve noticed no major issues. Android is fast, buttery smooth, extremely stable, and as always, beautiful and user friendly. Google recently added the LG G Pad 8.3 and a huge 6.4-inch Sony Xperia smartphone to the list of always-updated Google Edition devices, and they’re worth checking out too.
Until Samsung gets 4.4 to the regular Galaxy S4 on carriers, we’ll be sticking with this, and will do a comparison once that update actually arrives.