I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of KitKat on my Samsung Galaxy S4 (SGS4). Unless you have a pure Android Nexus device, or one of those Google Play Edition handsets, you’d typically have to wait for the respective device manufacturer to release a software update. Moving up Android versions is, for the most part, a non-trivial development effort for the manufacturer, so this often takes time.
KitKat, or Android 4.4, is Google’s latest version of Android. It was released last year, and first seen with the Nexus 5. There has been much speculation that Samsung will update the SGS4 as early as late January 2014. They were a little late, and here in Singapore, KitKat only arrived on 10 March 2014.
You might wonder, why the rush to get KitKat? Well, it’s the latest version of Android, and for many techies, that’s good enough reason.
For me, there’s something else. You see, my Nexus 7, which has KitKat, is really beautiful. The user interface is so fluid. Overall, the Nexus 7 is such a joy to use. The user interface is so smooth, it’s literally, finally, just like the iPhone or iPad. In fact, my 3rd gen (or 4th gen?) iPad, after upgrading to iOS 7, has definitely fallen behind in the smoothness of the user interface. Could it be that KitKat, as opposed to the hardware, that is making the Nexus 7 experience so great?
The SGS4 needed some new magic to be injected into it. It was originally launched with Android 4.2. It felt as good as how you’d expect Android to be in those days, which is simply not quite where iOS is. When Android 4.3 came around to the SGS4, it didn’t get any better. Some people think it got even worse. I hoped KitKat would turn things around.
So I’ve KitKat on my SGS4 now. It seems to feel better. Still not quite like my Nexus 7, or how you’d expect the latest gen iPhone or iPad to be. It’s probably an improvement overall, and I think that’s something good already, because you know, upgrades always have the chance of actually making things worse.
After using the Nexus 7, I’ve come to be reminded how nice a pure Android device can be. I say “reminded”, because, I did own a Nexus One once upon a time. The Nexus One actually had a smoother and more responsive user interface than, say, my HTC One X. The Nexus 7 is really impressive. I sort of told myself, my next smartphone has to be a Nexus device. I hope it won’t be such a pain to lay my hands on a suitable variant.
Coming back to the KitKat update on the SGS4, Samsung has amazingly made the phone look practically the same as it did before the update. The white icons on the status bar is a giveaway that you’ve got KitKat, at least for people familiar with this design decision that Google took. But otherwise, you could be hard pressed to tell if your SGS4 is on Android 4.4(.2) or the older 4.3. The KitKat update is new under the hood, but on the surface, Samsung has pretty much kept just about everything the same.
KitKat did not make the SGS4 new again. But the good thing, at least, is that it didn’t make the phone worse.