What’s In A Version? Android 4.3

A few weeks ago, Google announced the 2013 Nexus 7 tablet, the Chromecast and Android 4.3, which was made almost immediately available for a number of Nexus devices including my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.

I received my update on the Nexus 4 just a few days after the announcement and for the Nexus 7, a couple of days later. Android 4.3 looks and feels very much like Android 4.2 but there are a number of important differences under the skin. A couple of these are relevant from a productivity perspective.

Nexus 4 dialer having tapped in 3, 2.

Nexus 4 dialer having tapped in 3, 2.

The first change is especially relevant to the Nexus 4, which is battery life. When I reviewed the ‘4 back in January, I loved the handset, praising the performance, smoothness but not liking the rather bare bones user interface and battery life. Of course, the barebones interface is part of the point of a Nexus device because you can add your own applications to make it how you want. Still, 4.3 adds filtered smartdial to the ‘phone, which is a useful feature. Here, I have tapped in 3 then 2 and the handset has searched through my contacts and is showing the three that I most frequently contact.

It’s the polish applied to battery life that’s especially welcome. Idle battery drain is now much lower and it’s made a comfortable difference to how frequently the Nexus 4 needs recharging. If I’m busy at work and I don’t use the Nexus 4 much, the battery drain is much smaller. Google and LG have optimised the modem as the difference in battery life is more obvious when you’re not using WiFi. I’ve noticed a smaller improvement in my Nexus 7.

Nexus 4's improved battery life running Android 4.3

Nexus 4’s improved battery life running Android 4.3

The second noteworthy improvement is what Google have done to Bluetooth on both of my Nexus devices: it works much better! I use Bluetooth a lot and noticed that on both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7, enabling and disabling the radio would sometimes cause it to stick off. This issue now appears to have been resolved with Android 4.3. Bluetooth is now more functional: I use both devices with a wireless headset and it now displays the music track playing. Google have also implemented the new ultra-low energy Bluetooth technology, Bluetooth Smart, but I do not yet have a use for this.

And the third change is perhaps the most subtle: Google have opened up the notification system to allow applications much greater control. On the face of it, this isn’t especially exciting, but it becomes more relevant if you use multiple Android devices with the same account. On older versions of Android, dismissing a notification on one device left it still sitting there on the others. Currently, this tends to mean a cell ‘phone and a tablet, but going forward it could include a smartwatch, Google Glass, a tablet and a cell ‘phone. And perhaps more.

There have been some important changes to the graphics side of Android with a bias towards graphics via OpenGL ES 3.0, which is great news for gamers. I don’t use my devices for gaming or high end graphical work so I’m not going to discuss this improvement here.

Wrapping it up, back in January 2013, I was reluctant to recommend the Nexus 4 for productivity purposes. This update addresses my main concern. It makes the Nexus 4 the device I always wanted and I can easily forgive Google for taking eight months for this update.

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