The past few months have been exciting for Android fans with the release of Google’s flagship Nexus 5 smartphone running Android 4.4 KitKat, and as a result we have plenty of new features and tricks worth sharing.
The Nexus 5 is an extremely powerful device all for a great price, making it one of the most popular Nexus smartphones to date. With so many buyers enjoying the new smartphone you’re probably wondering if there’s some tips, tricks, or hidden features under that stock version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
With a new Google experience launcher and tons of little features hidden under settings menus, quick toggles, long press combinations and more you’ll be happy to know we’ve uncovered 25 hidden features you all should know about. Many may be obvious to some, but the vast majority of consumers could go months, if not a year using the device without unearthing some of these.
You won’t have to root (Android’s version of Jailbreak) your smartphone, flash custom software or ROMs, or even download apps. All these features and tricks are right on the device out of the box, and will make using the Nexus 5 and KitKat that much more enjoyable.
Read: Nexus 5 Review
Here are 25 features for the Nexus 5 the Gotta Be Mobile staff has enjoyed after a few months of using Google’s flagship smartphone. It took longer than expected, but read on to learn something new.
The lockscreen is as powerful as ever in Android 4.4 KitKat and as a result there’s tons of options for widgets, quick access to Google Now, quick launch for the camera, and even music controls all like never before. The first thing you see when you hit the power button is the lockscreen, so here’s a few things you can do without even unlocking your device.
For security reasons lockscreen widgets are disabled out of the box, because users can have Gmail info in widgets, calendar details, and other sensitive information. Go ahead and enable lockscreen widgets, then add clocks, Gmail notifications, calender widgets, SoundHound music search and more all to your lockscreen. Enabling tons of features without ever unlocking your device.
Settings > Security > Enable Widgets (second option) and that’s it. All set!
DashClock is an app on the Play Store full of extensions and features for the lockscreen widgets, and many app developers have updated their apps with support for lockscreen widgets. Tap the add (+) button and throw whatever you’d like on that screen, then long press and drag to rearrange or remove.
Lockscreen Camera & Music Controls
With previous versions of Android sliding from right to left on the lockscreen would quickly access the camera, which is one of my favorite features, but many users didn’t know about it. With KitKat and the Nexus 5 it’s still available, but there’s also a dedicated camera button on the bottom left of the lockscreen to remind you.
As you saw above, a simple swipe from anywhere on the right side will quick-launch the camera app, or you can drag the camera icon to the left and get right into shooting photos with the 8 megapixel camera.
Then, the lockscreen music controls have been enhanced. You’ll now get fullscreen album art as you see in the video above, but there’s a little hidden feature. Long press the Pause button and the forward and back controls disappear and become a slider, allowing users to seek through songs with speed and precision. The more you know!
Speaking of the camera, the Nexus 5 has an 8 megapixel shooter with optical image stabilization. Overall the camera is quite good, but only excels in an environment with good lighting. If you aren’t snapping photos of a moving object or an action-shot, enable HDR mode in settings for the best photo experience.
HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography with the Nexus 5 takes two photos. One with a high exposure and one with a lower, then combines the two giving you the shadows, and brights all in one better photo than you’d get with regular options. This is the only way I use my camera, unless I’m taking action shots.
Photos While Recording
Another neat feature that many don’t know about, that’s so simple we don’t need a video to explain, is taking photos while recording video. On the Nexus 5 and most stock Android 4.4 KitKat devices you can easily snap photos while recording a video.
While recording video simply tap the screen and it will automatically take a photo and add it to your gallery. It’s the same high resolution as most photos, and will likely be in perfect focus. This is a quick way to snap photos while also recording a special moment.
Lockscreen Google Now
Before we get away from the lockscreen we have to talk about Google Now. Google’s search app (Google Now) is the most powerful feature of Android, and does so many things that’s another story all-together. However, to quickly access Google Now right from your lockscreen to search for a nearby store, look up directions, ask Google a question, and anything else here’s how to do it quickly.
There’s a small arrow on the bottom middle of the lockscreen, something that replaced an odd circle in previous versions of Android. This little icon is a reminder that a quick slide up from the bottom edge will launch Google Now. It’s that easy. Now right from the lockscreen say “Ok Google” (which fires up voice controls) and search for whatever you’d like. Try saying, “Ok Google, Go to GottaBeMobile.com”
Turn Off Google Now
Google Now is a powerful tool that I’d never live without now that Google’s integrated it into Android. We’re not sure why anyone would ever want to disable Google Now, but if you’d like to, here’s how.
Open Google Now with the quick setting above, or swipe to the left and enter Google Now on the Nexus 5. Scroll to the bottom and tap the three dots on the bottom left (menu) > tap settings > and simply tap the On/Off switch at the top to disable Google Now.
Read: Best Nexus 5 Cases
Unlike some smartphones that require a secondary battery cover or unique case that’s expensive, the Nexus 5 has wireless QI charging built-in. This enables users to buy a wireless charging dock (like Google’s own Nexus Charger) and simply drop the phone on to charge without hassling with cables. It’s a drop and go system.
This can be yours for just $49 right from the Google Play Store.
Smart Dialer & Caller ID
With Android 4.4 KitKat Google changed the dialer and phone app completely. While I’m not a fan of the redesign and confusion with finding call history, everything else about the new dialer is awesome. Google Search and caller ID is essentially built-in with KitKat and the Nexus 5.
Instead of a number start typing a business name and Google Search finds it for you, nearest to your location, and you can call it within seconds. There’s no need for the yellow pages. Then, if possible it will even pull up location information, and an image from the web if available. Anything from the Post Office, Best Buy, to a nearby Restaurant and more. It’s the little things that make a difference, and this is one of them.
Hangouts & Default SMS App
With Android 4.4 KitKat Google Hangouts is now the new default text message app instead of Messenger. As a result all your online chats and texts and combined into one. Many love this new option, but with hundreds of customizable 3rd party SMS apps for Android you may want to disable it. I use Textra, but Chomp SMS, Evolve SMS, and Handcent are all popular alternatives.
In Settings > Wireless & Networks tap more, then the second option listed as “default SMS app” is where you’ll be able to quickly toggle from Hangouts, Handcent, GO SMS, or any other text message application of choice. Disable Hangouts as the stock SMS app, and use something else more customizable.
Supercharge the Keyboard
You can count this as one hidden feature or trick, but below is a video showing you five tips to type faster on Android using the stock Google Keyboard found on the Nexus 5. Things like gesture typing, next-word suggestions, and even text expansion support all can make you faster when it comes to typing on a smartphone.
There’s tons of little tricks and features hidden inside Google’s keyboard that will make you a faster typist on a keyboard. I disable next word prediction as it’s too intrusive, but the video above should give you plenty of ideas.
Disable Blocking Offense Words
Google disables swearing when you use Google voice-to-text features, and the stock keyboard won’t suggest curse words. As a result, here’s how to swear on Android. You’ll want to uncheck the “block offense words” in the Google keyboard settings from the video above or image below, and the same goes for Google Now voice controls.
Head into Google Now (if you didn’t disable it as shown above) and tap settings > voice > and also uncheck the block offense words feature here. This will allow swearing to go through with voice-to-text instead of getting a S*** or other stars in the way of letters.
Take A Screenshot
Sometimes you want to share what’s on your screen with others. Whether that be a hilarious text message you received, an auto-correct fail like we all see on Buzzfeed, or even sharing a small excerpt from an email. You can tap a few key commands and instantly capture a screenshot of exactly what’s on your display.
Simply long-press volume down and the power button at the exact same time. Slightly longer than a tap and then release, and it instantly captures the screen. Then the notification pulldown bar shows its been saved and you can instantly share it with Android’s built-in share feature.
Quick Settings Tricks & Toggles
When you pull down from the top of the screen you get what’s called the notification drawer. This shows the date and time, lets you clear notifications, and even access a quick settings menu. The grid-looking button on the top right is Quick Settings, but there’s a few other things you can do here.
Pulling down with one finger opens the notification tray, pulling down with two fingers instantly launches the quick settings menu. Here you can access your Google account, change settings and brightness on the fly, check battery stats, and even toggle WiFi on and off in a matter of seconds. The video above shows this, as well as how you can long press WiFi, Bluetooth, or Airplane mode to instantly turn it on/off, rather than heading into that particular setting with a single tap.
Enable Developer Options
Developer options is a hidden menu that Google’s completely removed so average users don’t mess with important system settings. However, there’s a few things many users need from this menu, including the setting to enable USB debugging for things like using the Nexus 5 as a hotspot, which we’ll explain further down, so here’s how to enable developer options.
Tap settings and scroll down to about phone, and at the very bottom you’ll see the Android build number. Tap the build number quickly seven (7) times. Weird we know. You’ll get a prompt after a few saying you’re close, and after seven taps the developer menu will appear back in the original settings menu, just above the “About phone” menu you were just in.
ART is a new feature that’s coming soon and still in the testing phases by Google in Android 4.4 that stands for Android Runtime. It’s the new runtime that will replace Dalvik, which is a bit technical for average users. Essentially dalvik runs the code and launches an app as it’s needed, each time, and ART does it ahead of time, which makes your phone faster and more smooth. This is a very vanilla explanation, but lets just say in the future it will make all Android devices much faster. Here’s how to enable this test feature (which could be unstable for some apps) if you’d like.
In the newly discovered developer options mentioned above the fourth option is “Select Runtime” which is where you can go from Dalvik to ART. Your phone will reboot, probably take 10-20 minutes to compile and prepare all your apps, and then restart. Performance should be better, as should battery life.
Improve Nexus 5 Battery Life
ART brings us to another topic, improving the Nexus 5 battery life. Everything from screen brightness and sleep times, WiFi and Bluetooth, Location services and GPS, and much more is all explained in the link above.
Changing the location and GPS services is a new feature in Android 4.4 KitKat that is hidden to most. Head into that through settings > location > and select battery saving as shown above. Or select high accuracy if you use Google Maps and navigation daily, but this may lower battery life.
Enable 3rd Party App Installs
While it’s recommended you download and install apps ONLY from the Google Play Store, there’s other safe areas users can get apps and games for Android. The Amazon AppStore is one, not to mention some users may get app APK install files from friends, while beta testing apps, or for 3rd party keyboards, and you’ll need to enable the phone to install apps from unknown sources. This is a security feature you can disable if you need to.
Again head to Settings > Security > and tap “Unknown sources” which will allow the phone to download apps that aren’t directly from the Google Play Store. Remember to use caution and be smart with what you install, and where you get it.
This is a simple one that’s right in every users face, but some people don’t use this extremely powerful tool. The Nexus 5 on-screen keys are back, home, and two squares that is multitasking! This shows you all the previously opened apps, and lets you switch back and forth with ease.
It saves your place, so if you leave an app and return nothing is lost. You’re right where you were, and I use this daily to improve my experience and be more efficient. This is absolutely nothing new to Android, but with an awesome Nexus 5 being only $349 many newcomers to Android have one, and will love the multitasking feature.
Add & Remove Home Screens
This is another one that should be self explanatory, but with the Nexus 5 running Google’s “experience launcher” adding new home screens is different than before. Out of the box there’s only Google Now to the left, and one screen to the right with some Google apps, Gmail, YouTube, and Google Music. You’ll want another screen to the side with more apps, widgets, and other things so here’s how to add and remove them.
Sadly there’s no easy way to remove an entire home screen. And you’ll have to seriously remove each app icon and widget until there’s none left, and then that screen will disappear. Google will likely address this in Android 4.4.3 KitKat, or 4.5, but for now this is the only way unless you use a custom launcher like Nova.
Use the Nexus 5 as a Hotspot
Many smartphone owners don’t know they can use their smartphone as a hotspot, essentially sharing the internet and data connection to a tablet or a laptop. Just like you sign into WiFi at Starbucks or a hotel, you can make your phone transmit its connection for nearby devices.
You’ll want to head into Settings > More (under wireless & networks) > Tethering & portable hotspot and hit enable. This will share the internet and data connection like a wireless network, but make sure you configure it first and secure the connection with a password, otherwise others at the park on on a bus ride can use it too. For a full rundown you’ll want to check out the How to guide below.
KitKat Easter Egg
Last but certainly not least is a little hidden trick, but not necessarily a feature. In every version of Android if you quick tap the Android version in the phone settings you’ll get a hidden graphic or treat from Google. KitKat has a spinning K that you can long press to see a huge red Android 4.4 KitKat splash screen, but we can take it one step further.
Tap that again and as you see in the video above Google’s hidden a mosaic of sorts showing an icon or graphic of every version of Android. There’s donuts, cupcake, eclair, honeycomb, jelly bean, and all the other fun dessert names of Android. Tap around to have some fun with it. There’s no added value, but it’s still fun to play around with.
We hope you enjoyed the many new tricks and features detailed here today, and check out our review after owning Google’s device for over a month below.