Android 4.4.3, which has gone out to Nexus and Google Play Edition devices and is in the process of rolling out to other newish Android phones and tablets, is mostly a bunch of under-the-hood bug fixes. It does bring with it one major change, though: a brand-new stock Android phone dialer app. And it’s vibrant and gorgeous.
A bright change from the old dialers
To be quite blunt, stock Android dialers have been pretty awful. Right up to 4.4.2, they’ve been grey and murky, and making calls with them has been a soulless, gloomy experience—even worse if you’ve been subjected to Motorola’s grating, impenetrable, teal-highlighted skins over the years, as I have.
KitKat 4.4.3’s dialer changes all that with a stirring brightness not seen before in stock Android. The big changes are lively and colorful tile-like cards with the initial letter of the contact most prominent, or an image, if you want to assign a mugshot.
A subtle white-on-light-grey search bar runs along the top, and a flourishing sky-blue action bar completes the frame at the bottom.
The cards remind you of Windows Phone’s tiles, all vivid colors and flatness. You can argue that the humming lightness is reminiscent of iOS’s predominantly white screens.
What’s with this change?
Why the radical look? Well, the 4.4.3 stock dialer appears to be an example of a new user interface design direction that Google is taking with all of its properties, not just Android.
The UI move is supposedly called Quantum Paper, and is relates to a rumored plan to give developers the tools and guidelines necessary to help them create a unified look and feel for their apps, not just across Android, but even into other mobile operating systems like iOS.
The interface is likely to be a significant element in the next major Android release, (4.5 or 5.0).
The new dialer isn’t the only Quantum Paper-eque app you can get your hands on right now if you’re hooked. Just scoot over to Google Play and perform a search for “Google I/O 2014” and you’ll see another example of the interface. The app can be downloaded installed on devices 4.0 and up, so you can download it to get a feel, even if you can’t get your paws on the 4.4.3 dialer.
What about Samsung and HTC?
Not everyone’s getting the new stock dialer. Samsung’s Android users are unfortunately lumbered with a Samsung-derived TouchWiz skin, so despite any 4.4.3 KitKat updates likely to be seen later this month on some Galaxy S5s, users are not going to see the rousing, pristine stock dialer.
Likewise with HTC owners who have the prettier-than-Samsung, and svelte, but now clearly dated Sense 6 skin. The dark-look Sense dialer feels smothered now after seeing 4.4.3’s dialer. Even LG’s black and blue feels oppressive.
If you’re on Sense or TouchWiz, it looks like you’re stuck with whatever they give you, at least until Google makes its stock Android dialer available in Google Play (a move it has taken to for some of its other apps).
Alternatives for philistines?
As they say: “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” And conveniently, don’t worry if you miss the hazy doom and gloom of earlier KitKat variants, because you can step backwards with kAmMa’s KitKat Dialer app. It faithfully replicates the grim experience.
Or, for those who’d rather have an Android iPhone, the exDialer app, along with its iOS 7- themed plugin, is available in the Play Store too.