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If you've used Android 4.1 or later on a phone or tablet with 1GB of RAM, you know things can get a little tight in the memory department. That's what makes newer and slightly underpowered devices like the Lenovo Yoga a little disappointing. Google has decided to trim the fat with Android 4.4 in an initiative they've christened "Project Svelte." This isn't a single change, it's a wide range of additions to the Android API and optional hardware configurations designed to make KitKat run smoothly on devices with as little as 512MB of system memory. 

According to the new 4.4 developer page, Project Svelte starts with recommendations and options targeted at device manufacturers. Specifically:

  • Dalvik JIT code cache tuning
  • kernel samepage merging (KSM)
  • swap to zRAM
  • tune out-of-memory levels for processes
  • set graphics cache sizes
  • control memory reclaim

When it comes to pure software, core processes have been trimmed to use less memory and protect system memory from hungry apps. Android will also launch concurrent services in sequence instead of all at once to prevent slowdown. Imagine it as cleaning out the Startup folder in Windows, except that it's all happening behind the scenes. Developers also have access to the new ActivityManager.isLowRamDevice API, allowing memory-hogging features to be enabled and disabled as needed. Google will be integrating this feature into its own first-party apps, so even those with more powerful hardware should see at least some benefit.

Project Svelte isn't going to magically make older devices compatible with 4.4 - even Google's own Galaxy Nexus (with 1GB of RAM) isn't getting an official update, likely because of the aging OMAP SoC. But this will hopefully help devices like the original Nexus 7 and Nexus 4, not to mention upcoming low-end phones that will launch with 4.4, to better handle resources as apps become more hardware intensive.

Source: Developer.Android.Com, Android Developers Blog

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    Fine thumbnails you have there, sir.

  • CaptainCaleb

    ...and the flood of OG Droid ROMS begin.

    • mechapathy

      I'd flash it. Just sayin.

    • DemoManMLS

      Only if someone heavily mods it to work on the OG Droid as its only 256mb of RAM.

      • mikeym0p

        I ran it in an emulator and plain old AOSP with no additions was taking up 178mb for the system.

        • Luis Perez

          I have a few Droid OG A855 available to test the ROM. Is there one out there? Any suggestions on how I could make my own?

  • David Hart

    I'm very excited about this.

  • Fitzelgard Allan Gerard

    Inb4 Galaxy Nexus irony.

    • rskyline

      The Galaxy Nexus has a crappy GPU, maybe is because of that.

      • http://www.droidzone.ro/ Adi

        No, it's just out of the 18 month period in which it qualifies for updates...

      • Fitzelgard Allan Gerard

        If I have a disabled son doesn't mean I stop supporting him.

        • mechapathy

          I don't want to downvote this comment, but I also hate it.

        • rskyline

          It's officially up to date right now, what do you expect? Go and buy a N5... BTW, lame you compare a human being with an smartphone.

          • Fitzelgard Allan Gerard

            Lame? The ideology sticks it's called double standards. Unless you've forgotten what phones were initially for? Two words, technological waste. Unlike you, we have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and I can see you don't think twice as your grammar is atrocious, even with a smartphone. Guess you don't have to be smart to own a smartphone.

          • rskyline

            Thanks grammar Nazi. Still learning english on my own. Good for you that maybe in your country can teach good English (if isn't your main language) as mine. And i didn't say i can buy one right now, you complaint about Gnex? Go and buy a newer phone, that's how it works or maybe you're new here on this world?

          • The_Chlero

            Your consumerist approach makes me lost faith in humanity. Your are a part of they manipulated system and it seems that you are extremely happy being so.

          • rskyline

            Lol. Now OEMs are charity is new that they always make you to buy a new device if you want the latest features. Or please enlighten me and tell me which OEM will give support forever. And consumism? That make me lol'd even louder, in my country is not possible to get the n5 right now even if i have so much money. I just like to see complainers everywhere, every time.

          • The_Chlero

            Nobody said anything about charity. This is about a software update can be done without major issue in a perfectly capable phone. Google just said "NO!" to GNex, which is against the approach about this update which claims that will "lower fragmentation by bringing performance to devices with low specs and RAM as low as 512mb".

            GNex has Dual Core processor and 1 GB ram, which is what many mid-range phones ships today.

            I dont hate Apple, but I dislike their closed garden, but I give them the upper hand, because that walled garden allow them to update their 24 or 36 months old devices.

            Google disappointed me, because this is not a Big Updated like Gingebread 2.3 to ICS 4.0 which is a major improvement. This is just an incremental update, in the same vein that 4.0 to 4.1 which even benefits devices.

            In short I will be canceling my Nexus 5 preorder (which I have done already 2 hours ago), then I will think twice or thrice before buying smartphones, and who knows, maybe start eating some Apples, they are starting to look tasty.

          • rskyline

            Don't worry mate, you won't be missed by this side ;)

          • The_Chlero

            I dont know you so I will not even will remember this chat in a few hours, but I will not go away from this site because I like technology all around and not just stick with some vendor / manufacturer.

            In fact my GNex will be serving me as long as still turn on because is not that my phone suddenly stop working. But like I said, I will think very carefully before buying a new phone, which will not be a Windows Phone by the way.

          • ari_free

            OK please spare us your drama tears. If you want you can learn how to install a custom rom and actually do something about your situation instead of just complaining about it.

          • USMC

            Good bye!

          • ari_free

            We wouldn't have any phones or Android without this consumerist approach.

          • ari_free

            It costs money to support older phones. That's waste especially since fewer people will be using them. You can't just press a button and POOF! Kitkat magically appears on the GNexus.

        • http://www.flapane.com/ flapane

          A somewhat bold comparison, innit? They're not charitable organizations, they exist so they can earn money, Nexus has exhausted its support cycle.

          You may want to take a look at XDA: there are plenty of custom ROMs which help keeping our phones (almost) up to date.

          • Fitzelgard Allan Gerard

            Custom ROM's exist but there is only a certain limit as you can go. From a developers aspect there's alot missing, WiFi drivers, graphical issues and screen tearing. Here I had hoped that Google would have been the white knight to prove to competitors that their line of devices would never be forgotten in the long run, and that their low end phones would still support it. If a Raspberry Pi w/ 512MB RAM running on ARMv7 can run 3 solid OS, give 1080p flawless playback and still have updates to-date is no excuse for why they can't spend a few resources optimizing their OS for a device that brought about the "Nexus" name for Google.

            PS: your statement on charitable organization? Perhaps you should review that statement and consider how many "freebies" they have given when the could have charged. Or have you forgotten Android itself is free lol.

          • http://www.flapane.com/ flapane

            Yet they're not a charitable organization, nor a white knight. You cannot expect a free OS to always run in its newest version on an aging device, even if (in theory) it could. "Users, from now on please rely on third party devs". Fair enough.
            It's not a statement hard to understand. :)

          • Fitzelgard Allan Gerard

            My only concern is the irony of their statement contradicts everything they ever talked about for 4.4, it's not like they made it any easier by giving developers on XDA the updated binary trees required to carry on in their negligence. Besides they should have said it from the beginning that GNexus wasn't getting the update, instead they do this last minute heartbreak like some break up text message.

  • mgamerz

    I feel weird knowing what most of the terms mean...
    Must be my OS class

  • Simon Belmont

    Eh. The G'Nex might not be getting an official Android 4.4 update, but these refinements will still do wonders in CM11 (and other ROMs based on Android 4.4).

    I'm sad to see my G'Nex lose official support, but I'm excited of its potential with developers. The Galaxy Nexus will live on.

    • varun

      Heck, with 512MB as the target, the Nexus S (!) or Galaxy S becomes a viable phone again, CPU/GPU age not withstanding.

      Even though I understand this to basically capture the lower-end market from dumbphones and potential low-end Nokia WPs, I wish this optimization had happened earlier, when it was typical to ship even a flagship with 256/512MB/1GB of RAM.

      • Simon Belmont

        Totally agree. Heck, the 512MB of RAM in my B&N Nook Color runs Android 4.3 really well, so imagine how Android 4.4 will run.

        I'm saddened Google retired the G'Nex, but I'll get over it. My Nexus 5 just shipped this morning and my G'Nex will be kept fresh with CM11 (and other ROMs) to be used as a great backup phone.

        • KrisDiss

          While I understand the sentiment, I think they don't want to maintain too many code branches and hence the 2 year support for each device

      • mikeym0p

        When I saw the GNex had the same GPU as the Galaxy S I regretted my decision to buy the Dinc. If I had waited for the Fascinate I would've still been using it.

    • gargamel

      Yeah, the Gnex should have been upgraded. No problem with SoC or drivers, just BS.
      The only thing is that Google is becoming more arrogant. It's sad and it can hurt Android going fwd.
      Think about a 2-yr old PC not being updated to Win8 because it's older than 18 months, this is a joke.

      • wiz_kid

        Remember that TI exited the chip business. This means that it ispossible that OMAP chips aren't going to have any more code from TI And that's why it wasn't updated

  • enoch861

    I guess we'll have to wait and see how it compares to Windows Phone: the king of smooth low-end smartphones.

    • ari_free

      That's because the Windows Phone UI only has to display fewer colors than my old Commodore 64. Windows on desktop? hmm not very smooth!

  • Sebastian Paul

    Have been running 4.3 on an LG O2X with effectively 380 MB RAM. Worked quite well thanks to some excellent developers on XDA.

    • Pascal

      but multitasking is really bad, O2X is getting old :D

      • Sebastian Paul

        Yeah, switched to N4 once it became so incredibly cheap.

  • veRdiKt

    but will it work on the G1??

    • Brad

      Custom roms.

  • Simon Belmont

    Even Android 4.3 (CM10.2) runs really well on my 2010 B&N Nook Color (512MB of RAM). These further refinements will probably make it run even better. The B&N Nook Color has an OMAP 3 SoC. So, the G'Nex with its OMAP 4 SoC and twice the RAM should run great with custom Android 4.4 ROMs.

    Thank you ROM developers. Thank you, Google.

  • yihtang

    I am no developer, so I'm not sure how this is different from the implementation of zRAM and KSM which have been available on custom ROMs for quite a while.

    Is Google getting their optimisation ideas from custom ROMs and incorporate them into new Android versions? Good to see them doing it that way, although it's a little late than the developer's community.

    • zxo0oxz

      Yeah, I want to know too. Specifically if it's a legacy KSM implementation or a universal implementation like UKSM.

    • mikeym0p

      They're experimental, Google probably watched how it affected stability for power users. The community saw it worth it so Google and the community merged it.

  • Mastermind26

    I've been avoiding rooting the GNex. But officially losing support means I will have to do it sooner than later. I will ride out my contract and hopefully get something that WILL be supported (well) by Google.

    THAT was the only reason I went for a Nexus in the first place.

    • TheLastAngel

      Good, gooood, let the hate flow through you.

      • Mastermind26

        A SW reference by a dude with an ST avatar.

        So because they're putting us GNex owners out to pasture, they giving us 4.3 as a consolation prize.

        • Imparus

          We still get all the google core app updates, but yeah, I'm also a bit bumped out I wont get 4.4, but I planned on upgrading anyways :p

  • Mayoo

    DR : Except Galaxy Nexus

  • Kyle Riedemann

    This will also greatly help the Nexus 10, ~ 1 GB of its RAM is reserved for the GPU because of the large resolution. I'm hoping lighter system processes will help the device be a little more multitasking friendly, and the updated surfacefliger may also help as that process eventually took up all of the Nexus 10's RAM on 4.2.

    Of course on higher end devices this may just pave the way for Google to use more resources for Google Services, not that it would be a bad thing.

  • duse

    Don't keep peddling the "aging SoC" line regarding why the GNex isn't getting the update. Google made perfectly clear on the support FAQ that it's simply past the typical 18-month update window and that's why they're not doing it. If Google is really going to hold to a strict 18-month window for all Nexus devices regardless of capability, that's pretty lame.

  • shagrath

    Sounds like there's a new alternative runtime to Dalvik !

  • psychoace

    YES!!! MORE PHONES WITH 512MB OF RAM!!!! It's not like Kit Kat is going to be ported to old phones.

    • ari_free

      and watches

  • Dipish

    These features could be showcased on the slightly outdated Galaxy Nexus but it's not receiving Android 4.4...

  • The_Chlero

    Something funny comes from the time machine in The Verge site:


    “We have created the most powerful smartphone ever. It is running a quad-core Quallcomm processor, features a massive 32GB of flash memory, with 4GB of RAM, supports 1080p output and also playback on it’s Super LCD 1650×1050 screen with extreme pixel density. It will be released with Android 2.3, but it can’t run Android 2.4, because we say so.” I’m just waiting for that to happen!

    Posted on May 10, 2011 | 1:52 PM"

    Lol. This came true 2 years after. 2 cores phone with 1gb ram perfectly capable and powerful enough of running 4.4 not being updated.

  • Gaja
  • ltredbeard

    How do you pronounce svelte?

  • everrose

    I love to eat KitKat! can I have some please!

  • John Smith

    Why is it that running PowerAmp in the background (listening to MP3's on the SDcard) and using Chrome at the same time, causes PowerAmp to be closed down... on a Galaxy S4.

    I can't imagine what a phone does that only has 512KB RAM... sounds totally useless