AT&T Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active Review

June 28, 2013
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Samsung originally announced the Galaxy S4 Active in early June. Since that point we have seen the handset shown off during the Samsung Premiere event which took place a few days earlier. We managed to spend a few minutes of hands-on time with the handset during that event, however that was just the start of our experience with the Active. We received an AT&T branded Galaxy S4 a short while back and as such we have been able to spend a bit more time playing around -- and yes, that includes testing the device in water.

Hardware

The Galaxy S4 Active is sporting a 5-inch Full HD display along with Corning Gorilla Glass protection. One important item to point out here, while the S4 Active is waterproof and dustproof -- it is not touted as being a fully rugged handset. Assuming that is ok with the person making the purchase, some of the other specs will include a quad-core 1.9GHz processor with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and a memory card slot with support for cards up to 64GB in size.

s4-active-water-13

The S4 Active measures in at 139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1mm and weighs in at 151 grams. AT&T has the handset available in Urban Gray and Dive Blue. As you can see from the images here, we had a blue model. Aside from the bit about the Active being waterproof and dustproof, the exterior look and color is the major difference when comparing the handset with the regular S4.

Anyway, given a big selling point for this handset is the bit about it being somewhat friendly with water, we spent some time dunking and playing. You can get a hands-on look at how the handset performed in water in the video sitting above. And then for those looking for a bit more water fun, there is a small gallery of water images sitting below.

Software

The Galaxy S4 Active is running Android 4.2.2 and as one would expect with a Samsung handset, there is also the TouchWiz user interface on top. The experience here is very similar to the regular Galaxy S4 and as this is an AT&T handset -- you can expect to see a wide variety of branded apps. We didn't count the total, but suffice to say there are plenty.

This is an annoyance, however there is the option to hide apps you know will not be used. You can hide apps by tapping the app drawer icon and then hitting the menu button. From here just choose the 'hide applications' option and get to hiding. Sure, this will not free up any storage space, but at least you will not have to scan through unwanted apps on a regular basis.

Otherwise, Samsung's S-Voice and Google Now are both available. There is also a wide variety of S-branded features from Samsung. Some of these include Smart Scroll and Smart Pause along with others such as S Beam, Air Gesture and Air View. And as a perk, most of the key items that you will want to turn off and/or on can be found from the drop down shade. This shade can be adjusted, however by default there are 20 options available which includes the basics such as Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS and Airplane Mode.

Perhaps key though, thanks to the Snapdragon 600 processor and the 2GB of RAM -- the Galaxy S4 Active ran smooth and fast. Of course, we were also happy to see the handset launch with Jelly Bean version 4.2.2. Bottom line on the software, while overall happy with the performance, the Galaxy S4 Active is what we expected to see given the mix of Samsung and AT&T.

Benchmarks

Given our results with the regular Galaxy S4 we sort of knew what we would find going in with benchmarks. In the case of the S4 Active we ran tests using Quadrant and AnTuTu which returned a 12300 and 16506 respectively. For those wondering, our Galaxy S4 testing showed results of 12593 and 17320 for Quadrant and AnTuTu respectively. You can get a look at where the Galaxy S4 Active stands in comparison to some other phones in the image sitting below. Also worth noting, the Galaxy S4 Active is sporing a quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB of RAM.

s4-active-benchmarks

Camera

Another notable difference as compared to the regular Galaxy S4 is the camera. Not so much in the ability to take a picture, but the Galaxy S4 Active has an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera as opposed to the 13 megapixel rear-facing camera on the regular model. You will also find a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. Having been fans of the camera on the Galaxy S III though, we moved in with high hopes.

In general we were pleased with what the S4 Active offers in terms of the camera. Auto mode is where we spent most of our time and while the images we captured wet really nice for a smartphone, as we often see, the quality is dependent on location, lighting and a number of other factors. Basically, the Galaxy S4 Active was capable of producing good images, but it is certainly not going to replace our regular camera.

Otherwise, in addition to the Auto mode, Samsung also has the others such as Best photo, Best Face, Continuous Shot, Sound and Shot, Eraser and of course, the Aqua mode. The Aqua mode is the key addition on the Galaxy S4 Active and allows the user to easily capture images while underwater. Basically, what the Aqua mode does is allow you to snap a picture using the volume rocker -- because the regular camera shutter button on the touchscreen will not register while in the water. A few sample images from the camera can be seen below.

Battery Life

The Galaxy S4 Active has a 2600 mAh battery, just like the regular non-waterpoof model. Battery life is not always easy to judge given use cases can vary widely from person to person. What we can say is that while this isn't the 3100 mAh battery of the Galaxy Note II, it has been enough to get us through the day with little worry. As usual, the screen was a major battery drain, but for us another item we saw moving towards the top of the offender list was always on chat apps -- in our case Hangouts. But again, we were able to get through the day with little worry.

s4-active-battery

Waterproof

As we mentioned, the Galaxy S4 Active is both waterproof and dustproof. The nice part here, while the handset is waterproof, it doesn't have the bulky look that is often associated with waterproof handsets. In fact, we surprised a few friends when we dunked the handset in water with little warning. More to the point here, the Galaxy S4 Active is just a tiny bit thicker as compared to the regular Galaxy S4. The weight is also slightly more, but just like the thickness, it is probably nothing that would be noticed by anyone that was simply holding both phones.

s4-active-water-09

While the handset doesn't have the regular waterproof looks, there are some items that come into play here. The most obvious on the outside is the cover over the USB port. This is one you will want to make sure is securely closed. The other item is not quite as obvious and in fact, you need to remove the back battery cover to see it. As you can see in the gallery below, there is a rubber seal under the battery cover. This should also go without saying, but you will want to make sure the battery cover is securely in place before submerging the handset.

Wrap-Up

What can we say here, we liked the regular Galaxy S4 and we have also enjoyed the time we spent with the Active. In our wrap up for the regular Galaxy S4 we mentioned how Samsung had a winner with the handset, and well, that seems to carry over just the same for the Active. The one drawback here is that unlike the widespread carrier availability with the regular Galaxy S4, the Active is only available in the US with AT&T.

That bit alone will likely cause some to completely ignore the handset, however we can say this -- if you are an AT&T user and happen to be looking for a phone that is not bothered by some water, the Galaxy S4 Active should be one to consider. But while the handset is capable of being submerged in water, we have to think that the real perk here comes for those times when you are not expecting water.

You have the age old prank of being pushed into a pool, but there is the more real-world experience of simply being caught out in a sudden downpour. This may not be as big of an issue for everyone, but this particular guy happens to be living in Florida and given it is summer -- we have frequent heavy rain to contend with. Otherwise, while this isn't as much of a concern for me personally, we cannot tell you how often we hear complaints of a smartphone ending up in the toilet.

Bottom line here, as someone who spends more than a fair amount of time outside, on foot or bike and often miles from home -- the Active is the Galaxy S4 model that I would choose if I were to be making a purchase. With that, we leave you with one more gallery of images sitting below.


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  • Veeeeector

    The leading photo with what looks to be a cracked screen doesn’t play we’ll for the “rugged” factor! Did the screen crack or is that just the image? As a Canadian, I was hoping this would become available on rogers or telus but seems less likely after hearing from some store reps…

    • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

      It is halfway dipped in water… dude.

      • Phone_Junkie

        Hey Cory send me this phone so I can provide an assessment, dude.

      • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

        I got you.. dude

      • Sam Gal

        me too plz :)

    • LoneGunmen

      That line down the middle of the screen isn’t a crack – that’s the water line, the phone is halfway submerged in water.
      I’m impressed, hopefully they branch out and start offering it through other carriers also. I like it, but not so much that I would be willing to switch carriers.

  • Stephen Austin

    Big downsides is that is has Gorilla Glass 2 instead of 3, has an ugly battery draining LCD screen with washed out colors and lastly downgraded camera!! If it had the same specs as Galaxy S4 I would get it but otherwise not worth it with all those cons vs regular model which I will be getting soon!!!

    • Andrew Black

      While Iagree with your other ppoints, why do you think gorilla glass 3 is a big downside? I remember reading a comparison video between the s4 (GG3) and the HTC one (GG2) and said that the differences are very minimal. I’m always willing to learn new things, so if you know the difference please let me know :)

  • BigSlim

    I actually totally submerged my regular S4 in water with the screen on & it still functioned fine. The only issue I had was it wouldn’t take a charge. A couple hours in dry rice & it’s back to normal. So the basic S4 can survive after being submerged. The pics below are the actual tub of water & my S4 inside it.

  • crateish

    Water resistant, not waterproof. According to the commercials.

  • crateish

    Water resistant, not waterproof. According to Samsung’s commercials.

  • Naia

    I definitely want this phone!! lol As an expecting mother, I want a phone that can withstand things well, especially water. I’m sure plenty of cups will be knocked over, the phone will be dropped in water or milk or whatever else by my darling son, or I may even drop it in water at the pool or river(as I’ve done three times with my current phone!).

  • Ryan Deaton

    Don’t worry people if you have the original s4 you can just get a life proof case for it… which is 100% waterPROOF not water RESISTANT. Don’t be too mad they came out with this shortly after original s4. They did the same thing with the RAZR and RAZR Maxx. Freaking $ but its ok people just get life proof case WAYYYYY better ne wayz. :)

  • Kathryn

    As a current owner of the S4 Active, I should point out that while marketed as a waterproof phone, you need to read the manual in full to use this function. When you choose to take underwater photos, the phone prompts you to cover the USB plug in, seemingly obvious. However, unless you pay attention to the stickers, ones that I’ve been inclined to just peel off immediately, you should also know that the back cover needs to be sealed, not just fully on. You press on the logo on the back side & it will seal the battery in. This step is the most important & yet the least obvious. The only warning you get for this is in the manual & on the back cover stick, both of which do not imply just how important it is to make sure that the phone is sealed (no ‘WARNING’, just simple photos). Needless to say, I’ve had issues & I’m disappointed by what I consider false advertising by Samsung, a company which I had grown to like & trust. Future buyers be warned.

  • David Joseph Musick Sr.

    Loving this phone