If we could give the Nexus 5 a catch phrase or tagline, it would be "Android 4.4 KitKat, now with more Google."

When you fire up the device, the first thing you'll see is Google's colors and logo, with the little color bubbles swirling around and pulsating.

If you're familiar with Android, you'll feel right at home with KitKat. It's not unlike Jelly Bean, the previous version of Android, and where changes are made will seem familiar enough.

Nexus 5 review

The first thing you'll notice when you swipe around the home screens is that Google Now, by default, is available with a swipe to the left of the home screen.

You can still access Google Now by long pressing the home button, but we figure this is a way for Google to shove more Google in your face without much effort on your part.

Talk to me, but under these conditions...

Another neat feature is the ability to perform voice commands, similar to Motorola's Touchless Control on its Droid devices and the Moto X. However, rather than saying "OK Google Now," you simply say OK Google and the device will be ready for your commands.

Nexus 5 review

What makes it different from Motorola's implementation is that the Nexus 5 isn't listening to you, at least as far as we know or far as the NSA is willing to admit, when the phone is asleep. This means you can't ask your phone to do anything unless it is on and the home screen is active. That's right, your phone has to be unlocked, too.

You can perform Google searches, send messages, make phone calls, set your alarm and more with this new voice function. It's convenient, for sure, but still a little limited compared to what Motorola does.


It's worth noting that in Android 4.4 KitKat, your SMS messages are folded into the Hangouts app. Some may feel like this is Google forcing its services on you, and, well… it is.

If you're looking around for a text messaging icon, you won't find it. By default, the Hangouts app is right next to the phone icon, where you'd normally find your messaging app on other Android handsets.

When you open it up, it will look like Hangouts does, but sprinkled in are SMS threads. When you click on a conversation, you can press the contact's name and choose to switch between SMS and Hangouts

We certainly don't mind this implementation much, but your inbox or chat list can quickly become cluttered. If it bothers you, you can always download a third-party text messaging app from the Google Play Store.

Dialer and phone app

People who use their phones to make calls these days seem like a rare breed, but perhaps not so rare that Google took the time to revamp its dialer or phone app.

The layout is different and much cleaner than Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. You'll see your favorites, history and most contacted friends, family, loved ones, exes and so forth.

One nice new addition, however, is the search feature. If you open the phone app, at the top you'll see an option to search places or contacts. If you type, for example, "Guitar Center," it will show you a list of business that match that search nearby.

When you find what you're looking for, simply tap the listing and Google will call the number that it finds for that business - no need for you to dial a number. It's like having the Yellow Pages for your phone.


Multitasking works much like it does with the more recent version of Android. At the bottom of the screen, you'll see the back, home and multitasking buttons.

By pressing the multitasking button, you'll see a list of your previously used apps. This is supposed to make it easier when switching between apps. By swiping them away, you're also killing background processes and closing the apps down, sort of.

When you swipe away an app, its background process stops running, so when you reopen the app it starts fresh. However, this doesn't mean you're killing the app entirely, some features still need to work depending on the app.

If you swipe away Gmail, for example, it doesn't mean you'll stop getting mail. Perhaps Gmail was just misbehaving and you want to smack it around so it gets its act together - go into the multitasking feature and swipe it away.

One thing we dislike about Android, and this happened on previous versions, too, is that apps seem to stop unexpectedly for little or no reason. Of course, there is a reason, but it's random.

Because many apps aren't entirely optimized for Android 4.4 KitKat, we've seen some apps shut down with the message, "Unfortunately (insert app name here) has stopped." It's a minor nuisance, and doesn't happen all that often, but it does happen.

New Android, same as the old Android, sort of…

Like Peter Allen says, "Everything old is new again." You'll notice that Android 4.4 KitKat isn't a huge update over Jelly Bean. It retains the elements that worked in ICS, and adds a few additional goodies that makes the experience feel cleaner, somehow.

Your view of this may vary depending on what platform or version of Android you're coming from. It could also be psychological, like thinking your car performs better after a wash and an oil change.

Current Android users will feel right at home with Android 4.4 KitKat, while others shouldn't have too many difficulties adjusting to it. First time users might have a bit of a learning curve, but it's not all bad.

If you're moving on over from iOS or Windows Phone, you'll find that customization options are bountiful. There are dozens of widgets and home screen configurations that you can fool with. Of course, sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming, but it's nice to have them there.

All Google, all the time

There's no denying that Google is becoming more pervasive in Android, and why shouldn't it? If you're buying into the Android ecosystem, it's probably because you're already a heavy Google user. Many of us are.

If you use Google Apps, Gmail, Google Tasks, Google Calendar, Google this and Google that, you'll appreciate KitKat even more.

Google Now is very useful and gets its own home screen, along with the ability to access it via long pressing the home button as we mentioned before.

With the unifying of SMS messaging with Hangouts, there's a chance that many inactive Google users will be forced to migrate over. You may not chat with your Google contacts much, but now that it's in your face, it will take more effort to avoid it.

One thing Google does well is search, and so whether you're in the phone app or in Maps, your chances of finding what you want or need are around 99%. Maybe higher.

We aren't disappointed or overwhelmed with Android 4.4 KitKat, and we don't think you will be, either.