Pros: tough, robust handset, performs well, HD display, has 4G and NFC support, and comes with the best Samsung features.
Cons: less powerful camera, the back easily scuffs, battery life is average.
Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S4 Actives manages to give the best of both worlds. Most of the excellent features in the original S4, plus a sturdy, tough case. The only minus being a less powerful camera.
With the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active you get the majority of the features found in the Galaxy S4 in a case that can handle knocks and resist water.
We absolutely adored the Galaxy S4 smartphone, and even gave it a five star review last April. But one downside was the less than robust chassis. These gorgeous phones are prone to broken screens, and chipped casing particularly on the corners. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is instantly desirable since you get so many S4 features, but with a tough, water-resistant handset. Does it stack up to the original though?
Rugged good looks
The tougher design of the Galaxy S4 Active and the original S4 is the biggest difference between the two phones. This ruggedness has given the S4 Active a rather business style, compared to the svelte good looks of the S4. There’s an IP67 rating on this phone. For you and me that means it can withstand dust, and also immersion in water up to a metre in depth, for half an hour. The case is airtight, and the USB port has a cover. Excellent for taking your mobile to the beach or swimming pool with you. The handset just feels more sturdy when gripped as well. The top and bottom have rubberised edges, which might help it survive a drop but we weren’t about to test that.
The Active ticks all the right boxes when it comes to toughness. Looks-wise, there’s no mistaking its Samsung heritage in its curves, and brushed metal. The original S4 had light up, touch buttons. Here you get good-sized, easy to press, physical buttons for home, menu and back. This is a phone that is comfortable to use with one hand, despite being a smartphone with a 5inch display. Maybe this is down to its svelte design, aided by a narrow edge around the display, and the extremely light 153g weight. Compare that to the hefty nearly 200g on the Lumia 920.
The only real design flaw is with the rear. The plate here can get scuffy too quickly. After a couple of days it was covered in little, permanent marks. And we tried to remove these using the correct cleaning cloth, but there was no budging the marks.
Jelly Bean and other features
Looking sharp with vivid colours, Android Jelly Bean 4.2 has been overlaid with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. This has five desktops, where you can place apps and other items, and the usual additions from Samsung too.
One of the main complaints we had about the Galaxy S4 Zoom was the missing S Health. This is back on the S4 Active – it is an app that helps you track how active you are, provides lifestyle information, tracks your weight and your eating habits, and even how many steps you take each day. This last feature worked with reasonable accuracy when we tried it out over a day. There’s a good array of Samsung tools. Including Smart Stay, which stops the phone going into hibernation by keeping tabs on whether your eyes are looking at the screen or not. Then there’s Air View, for popping up a preview on emails, photos, and so forth by hovering your finger over them. And Air Gesture to flick you through webpages and similar, by swiping your hand across the screen. Samsung could reserve these extra special features for its flagship handset. But it doesn’t, and that’s good because you want a bit more when paying the sort of price the S4 Active commands.
At the pricepoint that Samsung is pitching the S4 Active 4G support, and integrated NFC are expected. And we weren’t disappointed. There are 4G plans in the pipeline this year from all UK networks so this is good future proofing for the phone. You might not be wanting or even thinking about moving from 3G yet, but you may want that option when your contract is up for renewal. It is also good to see NFC with increasing retail support for this, particularly in restaurants and pubs as well as stores. It is a very handy way of paying the bill. NFC is also used by Samsung for media sharing between users, amongst other uses, through S Beam. With this you tap your S4 Active against another smartphone that supports NFC, and songs, websites, files and so forth can be shared. It is really fast, easy to do, and seamless if you’re sharing with another Samsung user.
On the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active you get an excellent full HD 1920 x 1080 display that measures a spacious 5 inches. This matches the original S4, so no corners cut here. For watching movies, this display is hard to beat. Images are crispy, every detail visible, with vivid, rich colours. With brightness turned all the way up, it is easily visible in direct sunlight. You can share the viewing experience comfortably with a couple of friends thanks to the screen’s wide viewing angles.
We wish we could be as enthusiastic when it comes to the camera. This is where Samsung has cut back. The S4 Active has an 8-megapixel lens instead of the 12-megapixels you get on the S4 original. Photos still look really good though, and blown up on the bring screen of our TV it was clear the lens captures a lot of detail. Lighting and colours were realistic too.
Some of the best camera features found on the Galaxy S4 are also present here. Such as Drama Shot. With this, several frames are taken of an action shot, and then combined to make a rather unusual image. Got unwanted people in your photos? Use Eraser to take them right out. Photos can have their own commentary too using Sound & Shot. Some features are missing, the most notable being Dual Shot. But you do get an extra ‘Aqua’ mode, to enhance underwater shots. We tried this out in the bathtub and it works surprisingly well.
There’s an HD screen so no surprise this can take HD video. Still photos can be taken at the same time. Plus, there’s the front-facing lens, handy for video phone calls.
You don’t get the beast of a quad-core processor that powers the Galaxy S4 in the S4 Mini or the S4 Zoom. But there’s no such disappointment in store here as the S4 Active sports a powerful quad-core processor too. As a result you get a super fast handset that nips through the latest action games with the smoothest of frame rates, and will continue to handle anything thrown at it for a few years to come.
There’s 24 hours of life in the battery between charges with moderate use, which is good. The performance when it comes to playing movies, games, and running intensive apps drops. The S4 Active lasted five hours between charges when streaming movies continuously. A respectable performance but an average one for this price point.
At the same pricepoint as the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4, the Galaxy S4 Active also gives you nearly all the best features and performs as well as the S4. Including 4G, NFC, and HD display, and then in addition, you get a tough handset that will survive being knocked about.
Dimensions : 140 x 71 x 9.1mm
Weight: 155 g
Screen size: 5 inch
Screen Resolution: 1920 * 1080 pixels
Pixels Per Inch (PPI) : 443
Processor: 1.9 GHz Qualcomm Quad Core
Battery capacity : 2600 mAh
Onboard Memory: 16GB (microSD support)
Camera : 8 megapixel / 2 mega-pixel (front-facing)
Operating system: Android Jelly Bean (4.2)
Ultrafast / 3G / 4G LTE : Yes / Yes / Yes
Bluetooth / NFC : Yes / Yes
Colours : Black
Launch Date: Available Now
Price : £500 (TBC)
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