Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Android phone
The Galaxy S4 Active is more appealing than the regular Galaxy S4 in many ways
- Dust and water resistant
- Physical menu keys on front
- Good battery life
- Can't edit dock shortcuts on AU model
- Back is slippery to hold
- Not a truly rugged device
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active makes some small sacrifices in display resolution, camera, and weight, but its water resistance factor and a sturdier feeling build make it more appealing than the regular Galaxy S4 in many ways.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
How do you change one of the world's most popular smartphones in a bid to attract even more consumers? Make it water resistant. At least that's what Samsung has attempted with the Galaxy S4 Active smartphone, a variant of the Galaxy S4 that's water and dust-resistant. Although the Galaxy S4 Active makes some small sacrifices in display resolution, camera, and weight, the water resistance factor and a sturdier feeling build make it more appealing than the regular Galaxy S4 in many ways.
Active, but not really rugged
There's no extra protection to guard from drops.
Samsung will tell you that the Galaxy S4 Active is "rugged" but that's really not the case. Unlike many true rugged phones on the market, the company hasn't sought to provide any extra protection. The S4 Active does feel slightly sturdier than the regular S4 thanks to physical shortcut keys, and hard plastic pieces at the top and bottom of the rear, but there's no extra protection to guard from drops.
The removable battery cover, for example, is still plastic, and the four faux-screws in each corner give the phone an industrial look but don't add any functionality or serve a real purpose. The back also remains slippery to hold, even if the rubber feeling plastic is a nice touch.
Despite all this, we much prefer the design of the Galaxy S4 Active to the original S4. It's just over 20g heavier but the extra weight gives it a more solid feel than we're used to from Samsung smartphones. We also like the fact that the menu, home and back keys on the front are physical buttons rather than capacitive ones. They provide much better tactility than the latter, and the etched finish on the buttons is a nice touch.
The key feature of the Galaxy S4 Active is obviously its water and dust resistance. It's rated to IP67 standards, so it will survive being submerged in one metre of water for up to 30 minutes. We had no troubles throwing it into a full sink of water, running it under a kitchen tap, and throwing it into a swimming pool.
A nice touch is the water-resistant earphone jack on top.
You'll need to ensure that the plastic flap covering the bottom-mounted micro-USB port is closed firmly, and that the back cover is firmly sealed. The flap does feel a little flimsy but effectively keeps water out. A nice touch is the water-resistant earphone jack on top, which means you don't have to open an annoying flap when you want to listen to music through headphones. Should you manage to find a pair of waterproof headphones, you could even listen to music underwater. As you do.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has the same sized 5in screen as the regular Galaxy S4, but uses a TFT panel rather than super AMOLED. As the screen resolution remains at 1920x1080 (full HD), there is really little difference to speak of. The TFT panel doesn't produce the same extra vibrant colours, nor does it display the same deep blacks as the super AMOLED panel. However, unless you're comparing the two phones side-by-side, most average users won't notice any significant differences. The screen is bright, clear and has excellent viewing angles. It also works very well in direct sunlight.
A familiar TouchWIZ experience
The fixed dock icons are an absurd and inexplicable limitation.
Using the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a very similar experience to the Galaxy S4. Like that device, the S4 Active runs the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, but is skinned with Samsung's latest TouchWIZ UI overlay.
The basic interface remains unchanged from the Galaxy S4. There are up to seven home screen for widgets and app shortcuts, handy toggles for commonly used features in the notifications panel, including a brightness slider, and the ability to hide apps in the app drawer or choose to display them in a grid or list format. However, Australian models of the Galaxy S4 Active again don't allow users to edit the four home screen dock shortcuts, by default set to phone, contacts, messaging and Internet). It's an absurd and inexplicable limitation.
The Galaxy S4 Active comes with the multi-window feature, which allows you to run two apps on the screen simultaneously. It only works with a selected range of apps but the likes of Google Chrome, Facebook, Gmail and Twitter are compatible. We also like the torch-light feature, which allows you to hold the volume up button when the phone is locked to use the LED camera flash as a torch.
Most of Samsung's motion and gesture features are gimmicks.
The Galaxy S4 Active includes most of Samsung's motion and gesture features, though as with the regular S4, most of them are gimmicks you won't use very often. We like Air Gesture, which allows you to hover over the screen with your finger to display extra information, but it only works with a limited range of apps. We found other software features like Smart Rotation, Smart Pause and Smart Scroll don't add much to the overall user experience.
The Galaxy S4 Active includes a built-in infrared port at the top that allows it to act as a remote control for your TV and other home entertainment devices. There's also an S Translator app that can translate nine different languages using both text to speech and speech to text, and 'Group Play', which can send music photos and documents to multiple devices.
As you would expect, the Galaxy S4 Active is generally a fast and responsive smartphone. It runs even the most graphically intense games without so much as a stutter and most apps open almost instantly. However, some commonly used apps like the gallery, messaging and phone do exhibit some annoying lag which clearly hasn't been fixed from the original model. The GT-I9295 model of the Galaxy S4 Active sold in Australia comes with 16GB of internal memory and supports the 1800MHz 4G network band used by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
Underwater camera, decent battery life
Most users won't notice the difference between photos from the regular S4 and the S4 Active.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, downgraded from the regular S4's 13-megapixel snapper. While the spec sheet reads less, the end result isn't too much of a loss. The Galaxy S4 Active's camera produces good quality images with plenty of detail and accurate colour reproduction, though images do suffer from excessive noise when shooting in low light. With that being said, most users won't notice the difference between photos from the regular S4 and the S4 Active.
The downgrade in megapixels is offset by Samsung's "Aqua Mode", which allows users to capture underwater photos and videos. There are a few caveats: you'll need to choose whether you want to capture photos or videos before you take the camera underwater, as the on-screen keys won't work. There's also no autofocus available, so you'll often find that photos are blurry. The volume key is used as a camera shutter in aqua mode.
The camera app is almost identical to the one used on the Galaxy S4 and we particularly like the excellent scrolling carousel to change camera modes. The Galaxy S4 Active has 14 camera modes in total. These include panorama, the sound and shot mode that captures an image with up to nine seconds of sound, and best photo, which captures eight images in quick succession, allowing you to save the best one. There's also continuous shot and best face modes, but no drama shot, HDR, or dual camera modes.
Like the original Samsung Galaxy S4, the Galaxy S4 Active has excellent battery life for a 4G smartphone. During our testing, it lasted a full day in almost all instances. If you're an extremely heavy user and keep the screen on for lengthy periods of time you may experience slightly less than a full day, but the 2600mAh battery should serve most users well.
The Galaxy S4 Active is available exclusively through Vodafone in Australia. It's also sold outright through Samsung's Experience Stores in Sydney and Melbourne, and other selected retailers for $699. Australian models are available in "urban grey", though each device comes with an additional orange back cover.
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