Android 4.4 KitKat is finally here! But as longtime Android users know all too well, its official rollout will be slow, gradual, and for many, non-existent. That’s why many people don’t wait around for official builds to pass through carriers and hardware manufacturers, instead opting to flash custom ROMs or download leaked APKs. Yes, it’s a tad impatient, but for us techie folk who like to live on the bleeding edge, it’s worth it.
Now, KitKat didn’t introduce that many ground-breaking features, and it didn’t reinvent the mobile landscape; it simply refined what has become a solid operating system. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have some cool features.
Thankfully, a few of those cool features are available now, either through official APKs or third-party apps.
Google Experience Launcher
The new stock launcher in KitKat is all about Google. Scroll all the way to the left, and you’re making a Google search. Tap on the persistent search bar at the top, and you’re making a Google search. Say, “OK Google” at any time, and you’re making a Google search. I think you get the idea.
But this newfangled launcher is actually a pretty sweet improvement over the stock Jelly Bean launcher. To get it requires installing three different APKs because for the launcher to work, it also needs Google Now to be updated and Play Services.
You can view some detailed instructions and get help over on the XDA-Developers forum for the topic, but the basic premise is simple: Download this ZIP file (mirror [No Longer Available]), unzip it, place the three APK files on your phone, and install them. When you press the home button, it should prompt you to select “Launcher” as your default launcher.
One day, Hangouts will be the amazing, all-encompassing communication app that the world needs, but that day is not today. However, that day is a little bit closer as Hangouts jumps from version 1.2 to 2.0 with the KitKat update, allowing for the app to handle SMS, MMS, animated gifs, and improved Emoji support.
Unfortunately, Android users don’t get the calling features and Google Voice integration that iOS users received recently (Why, Google? Why?), but they have promised to bring those features “soon.” Oh well. In the meantime, you can enjoy using Hangouts as your default SMS app, and don’t forget to snag some awesome animated GIFs to make use of the new feature.
To get started, download Hangouts 2.0 from one of the mirrors below, transfer the file to your Android device, and install like normal. If you have any major issues, you can always uninstall it and reinstall version 1.2 from the Play Store.
- Mirror #1 – Android Police
- Mirror #2 – Android Police [Broken Link Removed]
- Mirror #3 – Android Police
- Mirror #4 – XDA-Developers Senior Member l.m.prowse [Broken Link Removed]
(Big thanks to Android Police and I.m.prowse for the mirrors.)
KitKat supports native screen recording! Hooray for all those tutorial makers! But we’ve actually been able to do that for a while as long as you have root access. If you’re new to rooting, be sure to check out our extensive Android rooting guide.
There’s a number of apps that will let you do this, a quick search of the Play Store will show you that, but my favorite is SCR Screen Recorder. It’s simple to use: you just install it, tap record, grant it root permission, and you’re on your way. It also has a settings menu so you can adjust things to your liking if need be.
There is a free version as well as a $5.21 paid version that removes the watermark, notification icon, and allows you to record for longer than 3 minutes.
The new caller ID in the KitKat dialer looks awesome. It searches through Google’s databases for people or businesses registered to that number and shows you their name and photo even if they’re not in your contacts. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of luck getting the dialer to function properly on non-KitKat devices, so you’re stuck with third-party options.
There are some great choices out there, though! We’ve gone through four great caller ID apps that should tie you over until you can break yourself off a piece of that KitKat. Above are some screenshots from Thread, the best of the Caller ID apps that displays relevant information from whoever’s calling, including their picture, previous text messages, and social media updates.
Keeping up with Google’s continued efforts to improve Android’s photo capabilities, the new default Gallery has a quality photo editor built-in. Aside from that, it looks largely the same.
The editor has a few preset filters, preset border options, the ability to manually tweak many aspects of the filters, and options for cropping, rotating, mirroring, and straightening your photos.
There’s even a slide-out menu to the right that displays your edit history, allowing you to revert back to any point at any time. Plus, the photo editor is nondestructive, so any changes that are made are saved as a new photo, ensuring that your original photo is preserved.
You can download the Gallery apk from this XDA thread. To install it, though, you’ll have to use a file browser with root permission to place it under System > Apps and then restart your phone.
KitKat comes with a lot of new features, but most of them are pretty minor. Some of the smaller updates include the stock apps like Email, Clock, Camera, and several new fonts, wallpapers, sounds, and boot animations. All of these can (hopefully) work on your Jelly Bean device thanks to the amazing folks over at Android Police and XDA-Developers. Follow the links for installing/flashing instructions.
This is part of what makes the Android community so great. A new version comes out and suddenly everyone’s up in a flurry grabbing APKs, explaining how to get certain features now, modding, rooting, and flashing everything they can get their hands on. It’s fun, and it also makes for a great smartphone.
What’s your favorite new feature in 4.4 KitKat? Will you be flashing a new 4.4 ROM when it makes it to your device? Let us know in the comments.