Android head talks Project Svelte and how Android 4.4 KitKat is the leanest Android version yet


Android 4.4 KitKat launcher

Back during Google IO 2012, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was officially unveiled unto the world. Major firmware versions always bring their share of new features, it was a little something Google called Project Butter that got us the most excited. Addressing Android less than consistent frame rates, Project Butter looked to finally make the Android UI as silky and smooth as iOS butter.

As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s safe to say we all know firsthand how consuming excessive amounts of butter can put on the pounds. I guess something similar began to happen in Android. In an interview with ReadWrite, Android’s head of engineering, Dave Burke — the man behind Project Butter — talked about his latest contribution to Google’s mobile OS: Project Svelte.

Project Svelte had one goal, to slim down and optimize Android so that it could run on both high and low-end devices. This would help reduce OEM’s dependence on Gingerbread for their low-end hardware. Burke talks about the painful process his team endured after testing KitKat to run on modified Nexus 4 using only 512MB of RAM, dual-cores (instead of 4), lower CPU clocks speed, and at 960×540 resolution — a common configuration in low-end hardware. Burke didn’t just talk about it, he and his team lived it. These crippled Nexus 4s were the team’s primary devices.

Project Svelte

  • Reduce the footprint of the system.
  • Reduce the footprint (memory usage) of the apps that run on a Google Experience (Nexus) device.
  • Fix how apps react and crash during bad memory situations.
  • Provide better measurement and instrumentation of how apps are running in Android so developers can see how memory-conscious their apps are.

Using a new developer tool called ProcStats, Google was able to monitor the RAM usage of their apps, finding out which were behaving, and which were eating system resources for breakfast. In the end, Google was able to tweak their apps, decoupling many of them from the operating system altogether. It’s this trimming of the fat that makes Android 4.4 KitKat the leanest and meanest Android release yet.

In our experience running Android 4.4 KitKat on the Nexus 5, we mentioned in our review how much quicker Google’s device is over even the LG G2, the Nexus 5’s sister device powered by the same processor and packing the same amount of RAM. While optimistic, we’ll have to reserve final judgement until the first low-end KitKat devices begin to hit the market sometime next year.

Anyone out there running KitKat on older Nexus hardware? Have you experienced a noticeable improvement in speed?

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. That’s because Google removed most of the heavy hogging components and put it in the Play Services. That’s why it’s leaner.

  2. I would be impressed if Google services and crap weren’t draining the heck out of people’s batteries. Not to mention a common thing with low end devices are small, low quality batteries. No, this is smoke and mirrors, Google doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “optimization”. Everything they do to improve their services, just takes something away from another area.

    1. Agreed. I disabled location reporting (and hence Google Now) on my N5, and my battery life literally doubled. I get home after 16hrs off the charger and perhaps 2hrs screen-time, and I now have over 60% of my battery left. Before I was lucky to make it through the day without charging.

      1. Funny, I make it through a full day with about 15% battery life left on an SGS3 after 4 hours of screen on time. I also have location and auto sync on all day. The only time I have to charge in the middle of the day is when we do something and I get crazy with my camera, but the camera is one of the biggest battery suckers on any smartphone.

        1. It depends how much you’re moving around throughout the day. If you’re going to the same location (work then home) the battery drain for google location won’t be that noticeable, however if you’re out and about the battery drain will be quite severe.

          I usually had the same experience with my S3 though I went to NYC one day recently with my wife and brought along my Nexus 7 to use for tunes on the train. My S3 died before I got home (about 12 hours later) and I hadn’t even used it. Location updates drained it something fierce.

    2. Thats crazy, since I’ve installed Kit Kat I get a full days worth of browsing, playing games, texting and talking on the phone and I still have close to 30% the next morning without ever charging up my phone. Before I could barely get a day out of this phone. So Kit Kat has def helped in the battery department. And Im using the GEL with nothing disabled and I travel frequently.

  3. My Nexus 10 is so much smoother!!!! Update definitely helped!!

  4. I have the first gen Nexus 7 and the new one. I didn’t think they new one could be any faster, but it is. I’ve dusted off the 1st gen and its usable again.

    1. It’s funny that’s what people said about 4.3 with added fstrim. Meanwhile the first gen Nexus 7 is just over a year old, it *should* run great with 4.4.

      1. still laggy…..but I blame nVidia

        1. yeah..it is smoother but still has hiccups. tried the 2013 at best buy..and man can I tell the difference.

          1. Yeah the 2012 nexus 7 was pretty laggy due to i/o problems. It was a pretty clumsy problem to make on Asus’s and Google’s part. The device was basically unuseable to me and I sold it.

          2. I still keep mine as:
            picture frame,alarm,internet radio, wireless keyboard for laptop…..

  5. KitKat seems like the perfect upgrade for my Optimus L9. Dual-core, 1GB RAM, and 540 x 960 resolution. Shame I’ll never get it.

    1. Manually do it?

      1. The instructions for unlocking a T-Mobile P769 are not very easy and the Cyanogen Installer only supports the P760 for example.

    2. you can get anything on your Android device… you just need to do some research..

    3. If you buy anything besides a nexus device (or moto x/g these days), you’re making a trade off that that phone’s feature outweigh getting updates directly from google. If you really want the updates, get a nexus or moto x/g. This is especially true for some devices like the galaxy s iv, which have pretty cool exclusive features that you won’t find on a nexus. Can’t have the best of both worlds.

  6. Now release the new update for older nexus device! Keep supporting your past devices that helped get Google to where its at now in the android community.

    1. Can’t keep supporting obsolete hardware, no matter how much the internet cries about it

      1. Lol, that works if the obsolescence cycle is greater than 6 months :)

        1. um google is going back 2-3 years on the updates….

      2. I agree..even Crapple’s iClone 3GS is is stuck on ios4.0…the fact Nexus devices are supported for as long as they do in comparison to other “ordinary” Devices is a testament to the Nexus Program…

        1. Hmm. The iPhone 3GS got up to iOS 6, actually.

          Of course, iOS 6 on the iPhone 3GS was in no way in feature parity with an iPhone 5 with iOS 6. That’s how Apple does it.

    2. Which one? Your original Nexus One?

      1. I was think more galaxy nexus.. But sure nexus one too low.

  7. Jelly Bean wasn’t actually that bad. That until you throw gapps on the device. Then you could just say good bye to relative smoothness of the Butter. I expect same will happen with KitKat on low-end devices. It’ll be smooth only till the moment you install Google Keyboard.

    1. Um, I love the Google Keyboard on 4.2.2

      1. C’mon people!!! Why do I have to explicitly explain the main idea between the lines? Don’t you read books and newspapers to train your brain a little?
        Google Keyboard was used as an expression, to not put “GAPPS” or “Google Services” in every sentence.
        My God, this generation is so screwed.

        1. Read: I’m too lazy to say what I mean, so I expect everyone to read my mind… Sorry bud, but I left my telepathy in my other pants. Also, You specifically called out an app, and it’s one I’ve never had any issues with

          1. My offer still stands:
            to read
            the lines.

            Without hyperbolas, metaphors, and sarcasm the speech and conversation turn into just effing boring exercise.

          2. Perhaps you simply don’t possess adequate communication skills to properly express your hyperbolas, metaphors, and sarcasm.

          3. Sounds like Low “T”. You should prolly get that checked.

    2. The google keyboard had a glitch where if you left spell check on, once you type over one sentence, it would serverely hamper the performance of the keyboard. I thought they fixed this. I don’t use the google keyboard because it’s gesture word predicition isn’t as good as swype. That said, swype is definitely a little laggy at time vs the current google keyboard.

      Other google apps like google currents which was really slow and lagged up the whole android system were improved, and more recently, it’s been completely revamped. I don’t think there’s any current google app that is slow.

      1. Agreed. They’re all butter on my SGS3.

  8. After recently seeing how decently CyanogenMod 10.1 runs on a Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S1) I look forward to seeing CM 11 run even better on it as well.

    1. Indeed. Rocking CM 10.2 on my ol’ Captivate and it’s like buttah. Use it mostly for reddit and controlling the ChromeCast though. I still remember running the dog slow Eclair Touchwiz on this thing… *shudder*

  9. I am running KK on my Nexus 4 and I cannot tell if it is running better or not. I had pretty good performance on 4.2.2 and 4.3, so I am not sure 4.4 is that much better. I would love to see 4.4 on my other phone though, LG Lucid 1.2 GHz dual-core 1 GB RAM with 960×540, but considering Verizon’s track record with discontinued devices. I will never see it.

    1. If I recall, that phone didn’t even get Android 4.1. No Project Butter. :(

      KitKat would definitely benefit it. Shame that it got left in the dust because the SoC it uses is more than powerful enough. ;)

  10. it is a shame that when it comes to performance, 4.4 changes nothing on the Nexus 4.

    1. But doesn’t the nexus 4 run pretty smooth to begin with?

      1. Meh, it hangs up quite a bit sometimes. Especially as it gets older. It sucks that a factory reset, like a good ole’ Windows machines benefit greatly from a full wipe! Android should get faster, not slower.

  11. In that case how abt 4.4 update for Nexus S.

    1. well that really pushing it….I believe it has a 1ghz hummingbird single core with 512mb..in today’s specs…that’s below low-end…

      1. couldn’t agree more but Android was getting very resource expensive so it is good to know that they are focusing in this direction. (Complain) OEMs can fine tune the displays so it does not suck all the juice out. We have to have sunglasses for some of these screen brightness…why? Just turn it down some :(

      2. Kind of like how my Captivate was running slim bean 4.3 without any issues, with less RAM than the nexus S I believe.

  12. I can’t wait to see how 4.4 runs on my Razr HD. The lag on 4.1 is ridiculous, and the RAM usage is really messed up. Hopefully Svelte can fix that.

  13. Nexus One Android 4.4 kitkat Thread | http://goo.gl/sVE5i1

  14. Ever since I updated my Nexus 7 to kitkat 4.4 the battery life drains super fast. It’ll be on the charger and still go down within only a couple of minutes. I’m not liking this update AT ALL >.>

    1. It works great on my Nexus 7 2013. Only compliant I have is that two features are missing.

      Adding/deleting/reorganizing screens
      Screenrecord does not create proper mp4 files.

      I can keep the unit going up to three days.

      Xia, look at your power usage and you will most likely identify the app that’s causing you headaches. On my end I don’t have issues, it actually improved.

      Chrome use is 30%
      OS use is 15%
      Screen use is 15%

      The rest use under 6%, so clearly i do use this puppy a lot!

  15. After updating my nexus 4 to android 4.4, i experience some changes with my phone. It is faster than before, touch responses are smooth and the battery stands for a day which i found difficult with android 4.3….

  16. On my Nexus 5, I turn off unwanted services like haptic feedback, location, gps, and brightness settings to a minimum (which is actually still brighter than my old phone on medium) and I have to say I see about 16 hours of battery time. I use a Bluetooth headset almost non-stop and when I do, I see around 8-10 hours. I don’t know what people are complaining about… Unless I am using data, I use 2G for phone calls and never use dynamic backgrounds, because they make me motion sick. I disable data for the most part, and just use my phone as a phone first. I listen to music all night at work about 9-12 hours, I am able to drive home which is about 2 hours on a blue tooth call to make sure all the stores got cleaned, come home, make more phone calls, answer texts before I have to plug it in. It usually has about 15% battery life by the time I am done with work crap. My old Android 4.1 phone, had twice the battery and less hardware (galaxy S3 with extended battery) and I was never able to do this. It would die about a half hour into the drive. I know there are car chargers, but I often leave them in the company vehicle and they get rotated and car chargers come up missing. I believe that if the hardware were less demanding I would see way more battery life too. Oh and even when using the camera to take pictures of damage and what have you, it sips the power like a hot cup of coffee. I love Android 4.4!

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