Samsung Galaxy S4 Active in-depth review - The Galaxy S4 Active packs most of the original Galaxy S4’s features into a tough water-resistant frame

Look and feel

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active enjoys a much more abuse-worthy body than the original Galaxy S4, even able to take a dunk in water. It’s still got Samsung style though, despite an easily scuffed rear.

 

Ease of Use

That five-inch screen is a joy to use and the phone is comfortable to wield one-handed.

 

Features

Samsung has packed in plenty of features as usual. The Galaxy S4 Active’s camera may take a downsizing from the original but still boasts plenty of cool modes and produces detailed, realistic shots. 4G support and NFC top it off.

 

Performance

A powerful quad-core processor means the Galaxy S4 Active will be blazing through your apps and games for quite some time to come.

 

Battery life

You’ll get around a day of use providing you don’t abuse the Galaxy S4 Active. Expect around five hours of video playback too.

 Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review - The Galaxy S4 Active packs most of the original Galaxy S4’s features into a tough water-resistant frame
4.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,8/14/2013 9:49:55 AM

10

out of 10

Performance

9

out of 5

Look and feel

9

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

6

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Rugged waterproof design; Great performance; 4G and NFC support; Samsung’s great range of features; HD screen

Cons:

Camera scaled back; Easily scuffed rear; Average battery life

As much as we love Samsung’s feature-packed Galaxy S4 smartphone (awarded the full five stars back in April), the plastic build is far too precious for everyday life. We’ve seen far too many of these beautiful mobiles with cracked and smashed screens, or great big chunks missing from a corner. Which is why the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is so appealing, cramming most of the original features into a more robust waterproof frame. But is it as good as the original masterpiece?

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

 Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Rugged design

That durable design is the major difference between this Galaxy S4 Active and the ‘real’ Galaxy S4, and although it looks a bit more businessy than the sleek original, the added peace of mind from the Galaxy S4 Active’s rugged build is a major advantage. This mobile is rated IP67, which in human speak means it’s dust-proof and can survive for half an hour in a metre of water, thanks to its airtight construction and covered USB port. That’s great news if you can’t survive a trip to the beach or swimming pool without your precious mobile. The Galaxy S4 Active also feels tougher in general, with rubber bumpers at the top and bottom – although we weren’t quite confident enough to drop it to see if it would survive a tumble.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

So the Active is certainly tough enough, but how does it look? Well, the curved body and brushed metallic design of the front panel are unmistakably Samsung, even if the Galaxy S4’s light-up touch buttons are replaced here with physical push buttons for home, menu and back. Those buttons are a good size and comfortable to use, while the phone itself is also comfortable to wield one-handed. Perhaps we’re just used to enormous smartphones by now, but the Galaxy S4 Active didn’t feel like a five-incher. It’s reasonably slender, with a narrow bezel surrounding the screen, while the 153g weight is nothing compared to some smartphones (e.g. the near-200g Lumia 920).

 

Our main complaint with the new design is the rear plate, which scuffs up far too easily. Just a couple of days in our pocket had it covered in tiny marks which we couldn’t remove, even with a proper cleaning cloth and a healthy dose of spit.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: OS and features

Android Jelly Bean 4.2 looks as crisp and colourful as ever with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface covering it over. You get five desktops to fill with apps and a great range of widgets, and as usual Samsung has added a fair few features of its own.

 

After being ditched from the Galaxy S4 Zoom, S Health is back to track how active you are and give you general lifestyle tips. You can keep tabs on your weight and what you eat, and S Health can even measure how many steps you take (with reasonable accuracy) over the course of the day. You also get the full range of Samsung tools such as Smart Stay (tracks your eyes to tell if you’re looking at the screen, which then cancels screen hibernation), Air View (a funky feature that brings up preview information on emails, photos and more when you hover your finger over them) and Air Gesture (allows you to flip through webpages etc when you swipe your hand in front of the screen). It’s great to see that Samsung doesn’t reserve these features solely for its flagship phone, especially given the Galaxy S4 Active’s rather premium price.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

Other features we’d expect for this cost include 4G support and built-in NFC, and thankfully both are present and correct. With UK networks now rolling out their 4G plans it’s a good idea to grab yourself an LTE compatible phone, even if you’re not planning on swapping over just yet, given the average contract length is a solid two years. NFC support is also growing in the retail market, with many restaurants, stores and pubs now accepting NFC payment. Samsung also makes good use of NFC to help users share their media and other bits, via S Beam – just tap your Galaxy against another compatible smartphone and you can swap songs, websites and more. It’s quick and easy and great if you’ve got fellow Samsung users as mates.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Media

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active rocks a Full HD 1920 x 1080 five-inch screen, just like the original Galaxy S4.  It’s a movie-lover’s dream, producing pin-sharp images with brilliantly vibrant colours that leap out at you. On top brightness it can comfortably counter sunlight and other harsh glare while the wide viewing angles make it perfectly possible to cosy up with one or two other family members and watch something.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Camera

One area where Samsung has unfortunately downsized is the camera. Gone is the Galaxy S4’s uber-sharp 13-megapixel shooter, replaced with a more modest 8-megapixel lens. That’s not to say your photos won’t look great, because even when viewed back on a television our test shots came out well with a good level of detail. Scenes were realistically reproduced, from lighting conditions down to individual colours.

 

The camera packs in a few of the original Galaxy S4’s features, including Drama Shot which allows you to snap several frames of an action shot and combine them into one funky image, Eraser whuch removes unwanted strangers from your shots, and Sound & Shot which allows you to record a brief commentary clip over every photo you take. Only a couple of features such as Dual Shot are conspicuous by their absence. You also get a new ‘Aqua’ mode, which is supposed to enhance underwater photos – and certainly our snaps of the bottom of our bathtub came out very well indeed.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

 

As you’d expect you can film HD video and take photos simultaneously, and you also get a front-facing lens for video chats.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Performance and battery life

While the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy S4 Zoom were both downgraded from the original S4’s meaty quad-core processor to a still-respectable dual-core effort, the Galaxy S4 Active thankfully retains that quad-core power. The result is a nippy mobile that never shows any sign of slowing down. We can imagine this mobile playing the latest games with silky smooth frame rates, even a year or two down the line.

 

You’ll get roughly a day of battery life with reasonable use, about the same as the original Galaxy S4, although once you start hammering it with apps, games or videos it quickly drops off. We streamed movies for just over five on the Galaxy S4 Active before it gave in, a fairly average result overall.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: The verdict

 

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active costs almost as much as the five-star flagship phone it’s based on, but retains almost all of the excellent features and performance while adding a new rugged build. That added peace of mind is appreciated, and we’re glad that the HD screen, 4G and NFC support, and Samsung’s great range of features are still present and correct.