Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review

There havent really been any great water-resistant Android smartphones so far. Sure there’s been mid-range phones like 2010′s Motorola Defy, or the Defy 2 later, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active and Samsung Galaxy Xcover, but apart from being water resistant, none of them really had very decent specs, sporting mid-range hardware for a mid-range price tag. Atleast until the Sony Xperia Z came along earlier this year. The phone was lauded for it’s water resistant capabilities, complemented by it’s high end specs, which made it a proper rival for the HTC One and Galaxy S4 which followed it’s release.

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Enter the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, announced a few weeks ago. It’s an IP67 certified device which means it can get very wet, even dropped into a pool of water (down to a metre) for up to 30 minutes. But more importantly, it also boasts some very decent hardware specs, from the 1080p display, to Android 4.2 powered by a Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 2600 mAh battery. Which all makes it one of the best Android smartphones today, just based on that combination.

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As such, we couldnt wait to check this one out. Read on, for our Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review!

The Retail Box:-

The AT&T Galaxy S4 Active comes with the usual in-box contents.

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No headset, but there’s a microUSB-to-USB cable and charging adapter, along with the usual manual and warranty information.

More details over in our Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Unboxing.

The Design:-

Samsung is infamous for using the same design over and over and over again with their smartphones.

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Which is why it was a pleasant suprise to see how completely different the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active looked.

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Perhaps AT&T pushed Samsung to create this new design, or maybe it’s a sign of a new design scheme to come, but either way, it’s refreshing to see Samsung finally make something that doesnt look like a Galaxy S3.

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The S4 Active as a result, looks pretty adventurous, yet elegant, with a body that’s still made primarily of glossy plastic, tough there’s a print to make it look more carbon-fiber-ish, heh.

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That being said, I’d imagine that arguably, plastic is better suited for a phone that’s meant to be abused a bit. Glass might shatter, and metal might dent. The top and bottom feels rubbery though.

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At 5.5 x 2.81 x 0.36 inches (139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1 mm), and weighing 5.33 oz (151 grams), the phone is a bit of a challenge to use one-handed, though it is grippy enough that it wont slip very easily, unlike the regular Galaxy S4, though the Orange S4 Active has a textured matte material which makes it a lot easier to hold. There’s also a grey version, but I was happy that we got the gorgeous blue version for review.

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The size is larger and thicker than the regular Galaxy S4, much more than the HTC One, and thicker than it’s closest rival, the Sony Xperia Z.

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The reason for the large size though, is the huge 5 inch display at the front.

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Just like the regular Galaxy S4, it’s a 1080 by 1920 pixels screen with a pixel density of over 440 ppi, but unlike the Galaxy S4, the S4 Active uses a TFT LCD screen instead of a Super AMOLED panel.

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As a result, the S4 Active screen is easier to use on bright sunny days outdoors, and is slightly brighter than the AMOLED screen of the regular S4. Color reproduction is solid and accurate, viewing angles are good, and there’s a very high level of detail thanks to the high pixel count.

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If you think the color reproduction is too natural, you can even turn up the saturation, from the display settings. The only downside in comparison with the S4′s AMOLED screen, is that the S4 Active cant achieve the same level of deep blacks. Still a pretty solid screen though.

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The S4 Active also has the ability to be operated with gloves, thanks to it’s super sensitive touchscreen, similar to what Nokia does with the Lumia 920. That being said, you cant use the phone with wet fingers, which limits what you can do with it underwater. It’s unfortunate that Samsung chose not to implement such an important feature, while Sony’s had wet-finger-tracking on some of their phones for a while now.

Above the display, you’ll see the centrally located earpiece, with a proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, and a 2 Megapixel front facing camera.

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Below the screen, are three physical buttons for menu, home and back. They’re all raised buttons and are textured, which make it very easy to use, even if you’re wearing gloves. Unfortunately though, they are not backlit.

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Coming to the rest of the phone, at the top there is the standard 3.5 mm audio jack and a pinhole for the secondary noise cancellation microphone.

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At the bottom is the microUSB port for charging and data transfers, covered with a flap to keep it water-proof. There’s also a tiny pinhole here for the main microphone.

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On the left side, there’s the volume rocker button, which can also be used as a camera button underwater (since you cant use the screen underwater).

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At the right side, there’s the lone power/screenlock key.

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And at the back, you’ll notice the 8 Megapixel camera with a single LED flash underneath it, with Samsung branding underneath and a tiny grille for the loudspeaker towards the bottom. There’s even four large metal rivets at each corner of the back panel, presumably to hold the phone together, though I’m not sure if this is a cosmetic thing or actually for that function.

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The back panel is removable, as is usual with Samsung, which reveals the battery, microSIM card slot and microSD card slot, and also shows how the Galaxy S4 Active gets its water resistant properties.

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Around the sides, there’s a rubber band which prevents water from penetrating the housing, and hence protects the S4 Active’s internals against water or dust.

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That being said, when you’re putting the rear panel back on, you’re going to want to be very, very sure that you’ve closed it up properly.

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All in all, it’s a phone design that is quite nice, and the blue version really does attract a lot of attention, especially when you’re using it *in* the pool where people freak out over you having a water-proof phone, heh. Mind you, the S4 active is not shock-proof, so if you do drop it, it’s going to absorb the impact and get damaged just like any other phone today, and the display is still vulnerable.

The Hardware:-

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active features a 1.9GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of onboard memory (out of which about 11GB is available to users) and a microSD card slot. As a result, performance is smooth no matter what you throw at it, and everything from general navigation to 3D games runs flawlessly, with no lag. Even loading heavy web-pages didnt seem to stress out the GPU or CPU, which is no surprise considering it’s a Snapdragon SoC.

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That being said, for some strange reason, benchmark results werent as good as the regular Galaxy S4, which runs pretty much the same hardware.

 

  Quadrant Standard AnTuTu
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active 11732 17985
Samsung Galaxy S4 12166 24810

In terms of connectivity, the Galaxy S4 Active features Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS with GLONASS support, HSPA+ at 42Mbps, and LTE.

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No FM Radio though, but there is an IR blaster so that you can control your TV or home theatre system right from your phone.

The Software:-

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on top. It’s the latest version of Android, at the time of this post, and the TouchWiz UI brings along a whole bunch of functionality.

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It’s your usual Android with TouchWiz scene, with lockscreen shortcuts, lockscreen widgets, notification bars, toggle buttons, yada yada. There’s also the usual bit of Samsung extra features such as Smart Stay (which keeps the screen lit and awake as long as you’re looking at it), S-Voice (Samsung’s Version of Siri, though Google Now is much better), Multi-Window (which allows you to use two apps at the same time in side-by-side windows), Gesture Controls (allowing you to flip through photos in the gallery, or change songs, answer calls, just by waving your hand above the screen), and you can also set the volume up button to take a picture or record a video in the camera app, or just switch on the LED light to use it as a flashlight.

There’s also Group Play (which lets you share media between Samsung devices and use them as loudspeakers) which is my favourite feature if you know someone else with a supported Galaxy phone, S Translator (which can understand and translate foreign languages), S Health (to track your workout progress), S Travel (travel guide), etc.

We’ve covered all of this in our Samsung Galaxy S4 Review so do check that out for a more detailed idea.

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Coming to text input, since the Galaxy S4 Active has a huge display, the onscreen keyboard is very comfortable to type on. The auto complete is pretty good as well

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Easy enough to type in portrait, though things can get tough in landscape. It’s a 5 inch display after all.

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Coming to Web Browsing, that huge screen really comes in handy, and the powerful hardware ensures that the browser is quick, loading up heavy websites and smoothly able to zoom in or pan around.

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There’s support for multiple tabs, and Samsung has their gimmicks like smart scroll, where you can pan the webpage by tilting the phone, and there’s air gestures as well so you dont actually have to touch the display.

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Moving on to multimedia, the image gallery app is your usual Android arrangement of a grid of thumbnails. The S4 Active can playback 1080p videos with no hassle, and supports a whole bunch of codecs including MP4, DivX/XviD, WMV and H.264/H.263. It all looks great on the 1080p display, and there’s also support for subtitle files, Pop-Up Play (so you can keep playing the video in a tiny window while you’re going other things on the phone), and the power/screenlock key is automatically disabled when you’re watching a video so as to prevent accidental button presses.

The Music Play is pretty good as well, with support for MP3, eAAC+, WAV, AC3 and FLAC and sorts your music by artist, album name, song name, or you can just browse your audio according to the folders they’re stored in.

There’s also an equalizer and built-in presets, as well as an Adapt Sound feature which automatically adjusts the audio playback volume.

The Camera:-

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has an 8 Megapixel camera, with a single LED flash.

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The camera interface is exactly the same as the one as the regular Galaxy S4, with all the same features/modes from Drama shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, HDR, etc. There’s also a new ‘Aqua Mode’ which is meant to take clearer pictures and videos underwater (since y’know the S4 Active is somewhat waterproof and all).

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In terms of quality, the camera manages to get some pretty good looking results, with accurate colors that werent too saturated or dull. Dynamic range would have been better though, and details do suffer in low light scenarios.

Similarly, if there isnt a solid source of light indoors, the colors can be a bit inaccurate with quite a bit of digital noise coming in.

Here’s a couple camera samples from the Galaxy S4 Active, to give you a better idea:

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Front Facing Camera Underwater:

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Front Facing Camera:

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Coming to video, the S4 Active has the same UI, and you can even take a picture while recording a video. Video results are pretty good, with solid details and smooth framerates, though the focusing can be a little moody in low-light scenarios.

The Call Quality:-

Call quality was pretty good on the Galaxy S4 Active, and the earpiece was really, reaaally loud.

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Voices come in clear and natural on our end, though apparently the microphone isnt too great so folks on the other end of the call, thought my voice was a bit artificial.

The Battery Life:-

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is powered by a 2600 mAh removable battery that’s rated at up to 312 hours of stand-by time and 17 hours of talktime.

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It was very easily able to get through a moderate day of usage, even on AT&T’s 4G LTE and on light usage it might stretch to about a day and a half. But you’ll definitely need to charge it up every night.

The Conclusion:-

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a pretty kickass smartphone. I’d even say, it’s a much better phone overall, than the regular Galaxy S4. Though that being said, it’s camera isnt as good as the S4, and it’s benchmarks arnt as high (though it does not lag behind in terms of hardware at all).

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But it has huge advantages over the regular S4, in that it’s dust resistant and wont suffer water damage, even being a neat little underwater camera. Not to mention it looks waaaay better than the regular S4 as well. And as if that all wasnt enough, Samsung has thrown in a ton of functionality bought along with it’s TouchWiz UI.

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Infact the Galaxy S4 only has one competitor that comes close, and that is the Sony Xperia Z which is as water resistant, and the screen is usable when wet unlike the S4 Active. The camera is slightly better than the Active as well, but the S4 Active performs much better in terms of hardware, and has a lot more functionality to boot. Plus the volume key can be used as a dedicated camera button, which is not possible on the Xperia Z (atleast so far).

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At the end of the day, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a very impressive high-end phone that’s a great overall package.

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If you’re looking for a water resistant phone, it’s either this or the Sony Xperia Z. If you’re not bothered about water resistance, then I maintain that the HTC One is the best Android phone out there, but there’s also the regular Samsung Galaxy S4 that’s worth considering.

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About The Author

Clinton is currently based in New Delhi, India and is executive editor for UnleashThePhones. He is responsible for all editorial decisions, and covers all forms of Mobile and things-that-connect-to-mobile. Cj is addicted to Starbucks, Instagram, and technology. Almost a hipster but not quite. Always up for a good conversation, you can reach him through the contact form, on Google Plus , Instagram Instagram or Twitter: or on YouTube

Number of Entries : 11478
  • http://www.facebook.com/mohd.sarim Mohammad Sarim

    Samsung urgently needs to get some good designers. Seriously, how many identical phone models do they have? Those different are also such pathetic designs. :-/

    But yeah, water-proof phones – win!

  • Arup

    In water proof phone the IP58 certified SONY ZR is one of a kind with superb camera and design.