Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

Jordan O'Brien
October 12, 2013

Ever wanted a Samsung Galaxy S4, but worried about damaging it? How about a water-proof and dust-proof version? That’s the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great phone but its flimsy plastic case may lead you to believe it won’t withstand day-to-day abuse. So the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is an S4 in a tough body.

[alert type=alert-blue]HARDWARE[/alert]

There are few similarities between the Active and the S4. Sure there’s a large touchscreen and three buttons below, but the capacitive touch buttons are hardware buttons — which is good if you hope to control the phone underwater.

Top and bottom are two rubber bumpers protecting the phone from shocks such as being dropped. It does look industrial strength with its metal bolts, but may not survive too many falls onto concrete.

The biggest difference between the Galaxy S4 Active and the Galaxy S4 is the Active’s generous use of rubber covering all the ports such as the micro USB. Remove the rubber cap from the micro USB port the phone will warn you thanks to some sensors inside the phone’s chasis, as this will affect its water resistance. The 3.5mm headphone jack remains exposed and has probably been water-proofed inside.

The Active’s innards are the same as the Galaxy S with the powerful 1.9Ghz quad-core processor. You can tell the Active is powerful as there is no lag on the screen and 3D gaming on games such as N.O.V.A 3 run at around 30 frames per second. With power comes compromise. The 2,600mAh battery just isn’t big enough to get a full day’s use out of the device. You are likely to run out of juice after around six hours of consistent playtime which is two hours less than Samsung’s quoted time of eight hours.

[alert type=alert-blue]DISPLAY[/alert]

If you’re used to bright beautiful displays on Samsung devices, you won’t be disappointed with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. The 5-inch display has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. This is full HD. So watching video is a feast for the eyes. The LCD TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen is not as bright as the AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) display on the S4.

TFT displays also lack rich blacks such as you’ll find on the Lumia 1020, with its ClearBlack technology. We can’t find too many complaints with the display. But it just didn’t feel as immersive as the Galaxy S4’s.

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The Galaxy S4 Active features a slightly lower resolution sensor capable of 8-megapixel images compared with the 13 megapixels of the Galaxy S4.

The megapixel race is not a deal-breaker. There are other variables to take into account such as lens quality and sensor size. The Galaxy S4 Active’s camera has these bases covered. The image quality is astounding, with colours looking true to life although the image was a little dark. It didn’t capture the same amount of detail as some beefier cameras, or the S4 brother, but it was still an acceptable camera.

Samsung intends the Active to also be used for underwater photos. You won’t be able to operate the touchscreen underwater and will need to switch to Aqua mode before you dive in which controls the cameras using the volume buttons.

[alert type=alert-blue]SOFTWARE[/alert]

If you’re used to Samsung’s TouchWiz skin over Android, the Active will hold no surprises. It’s still Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, and you still have features like Air Gesture which allows you to change pages by waving your hand in front of the screen.

There’s no eye-tracking, but these features are gimmicks anyway, and are not missed at all.

Samsung has packed in more features into its TouchWiz interface than Google puts into Android. Features like Smart Stay, which ensures that the screen remains on while you’re looking at it, don’t really add much value and play little part in anyone’s decision to buy this phone.

Storage is swallowed up due to the abundance of Touchwiz features, Only 9GB of the total 16GB of storage is actually available. Slotting in a micro SD card restores user space.

[alert type=alert-blue]CONCLUSION[/alert]

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active brings the power of the Galaxy S4 into a more ruggedised body, and it’s fantastic. We didn’t feel worried about going for a swim with the phone, although we have heard that it’s not covered under warranty for water damage ‘ so you’re going to want to ensure that the rubber port protectors are properly closed.

We dunked it into water for around 25 minutes and it was unscathed, although we did notice some screen flicker.
The Active is one of the most powerful phones we’ve used but it’s got its shortcomings, the design will be too industrial for some people, and its camera doesn’t perform as well as the Galaxy S4.

The full HD screen was a delight to see, but we missed the immersiveness of the Galaxy S4 screen. If you’re into extreme sports and are a rather power hungry user, then the Galaxy S4 Active is the ideal phone for you.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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