Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review
Water-resistant Android smartphones are anything but new. The Motorola DEFY – released back in 2010 – was one of the first notable members of the species, followed by handsets like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active and the Samsung Galaxy Xcover, to name a few. These, however, were mid-range handsets at the time of their release, and it took a while before someone managed to deliver a water-resistant Android smartphone that was actually good on a hardware level.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is one such smartphone. Being IP67 certified, it doesn't mind getting a little wet every once in a while. In fact, it should be able to survive a dive into water down to a meter for up to 30 minutes. The handset is dust-tight as well. At the same time, it has the hardware specs needed to rank among today's best Android smartphones: 1080p screen, Snapdragon 600 silicon, 2GB of RAM, 2600mAh battery, with Android 4.2 running the parade.
All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a remarkable Android smartphone – packed with features that we rarely get to see incorporated into a single device. Read on in case we've sparked your interest already!
Samsung is known for rehashing the same design over and over with each newly launched smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, however, doesn't look like your typical Galaxy handset. It has an elegant, yet adventurous appearance, and that's something we surely like.
We are reviewing the grey version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, with a body made of glossy plastic. The material is suitable for a smartphone meant to be tougher than the rest as it is more durable than glass or metal. Thankfully, the handset doesn't slip easily out of the user's hand, although its orange variant provides even better grip with its textured matte surface. Samsung has a blue Galaxy S4 Active version as well, in case grey or orange aren't among your favorite colors.
Compared to one of its rivals – the Sony Xperia Z – the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is noticeably thicker, but still well within the acceptable range. It is also very close to Sony's flagship in terms of size and weight. Single-handed use of the Galaxy S4 Active may be a challenge, depending on the size of the user's hands, although we were mostly comfortable with its proportions.
139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1 mm
5.33 oz (151 g)
136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm
4.59 oz (130 g)
139 x 71 x 7.9 mm
5.15 oz (146 g)
131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45 mm
5.11 oz (145 g)
back cover of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active reveals what gives it its water-resistant properties. There is a rubber band around the sides, preventing water from penetrating into the housing and damaging the phone's internals. However, we must note that while the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is protected against dust and water damage, it can't be regarded as shock-proof. There are no rubber elements on its sides to absorb the energy of shock and vibrations, not to mention that the 5-inch screen on its front is still vulnerable to cracks or scratching. Simply, one must avoid dropping it on hard surfaces.
physical buttons present on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. They are all textured and respond with an audible click when pressed. Since they are all raised well, one can operate them comfortably even while wearing mittens.
Power key (right)
Volume rocker (left)
3.5mm jack (top)
microUSB port (bottom)
The sides of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
Just like the Galaxy S4, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active comes with a 5-inch touchscreen. The resolution is also identical – 1080 by 1920 pixels, resulting in an outstanding pixel density of over 440 ppi. However, a TFT LCD screen has been used instead of a Super AMOLED panel – a solution that has both its positive and negative sides.
On one hand, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is easier to use outdoors as its screen is slightly brighter than the S4's Super AMOLED display. Under the right angle, we had no troubles reading email, browsing through our contacts, using the camera interface, and even checking out a web page or two on a bright, sunny day. Also, the level of detail is nothing short of excellent due to the screen's high pixel count. Color reproduction is accurate and neutral, which is how it is supposed to be, although one can boost the saturation up a notch from the display settings menu. But on the other hand, The S4 Active's screen can't quite achieve the deep blacks seen on Super AMOLED panels.
Being a smartphone made for adventurous folks, it comes as no surprise that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active can be operated even while wearing gloves. That is made possible by its super sensitive touchscreen. Oddly, using the phone with wet fingers is a no-go, which is shocking given the fact that Samsung is advertising the Galaxy S4 Active as capable of taking photos underwater.
Yet overall, we are more than content with the screen outfitted on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. It is big, bright, beautiful, and perfectly suitable for every task.
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1. Diego! (Posts: 392; Member since: 15 Jun 2009)
Nice review! I prefer the design of S4 Active over the regular S4.
I'm looking forward to reading Samsung Galaxy S4 Active vs Sony Xperia Z! :D
23. KINGJUAN27 (Posts: 155; Member since: 02 Jul 2012)
This GS4 is just a Sony Xperia Z wannabe! LOL. No doubt the SXZ is faaar more premium-looking and gorgeous than this one! :D
31. RiseAgainst94 (Posts: 271; Member since: 03 Mar 2012)
I would as well if the camera were the same. it's not horrible, but why not keep the old camera?! I guess they have to give people reason to buy the original.
45. Taters (Posts: 1768; Member since: 28 Jan 2013)
In theory, this camera should be better because less pixels on a tiny sensor should equal less noise. 4mp is too little and 13mp is too much. This should be the sweet spot. They might have attempted to make this better and failed or maybe 13mp is too noisy underwater. Or they could be just making sure this doesn't cost more to produce than the GS4.
41. Hassan420i (Posts: 14; Member since: 23 Jun 2013)
the only thing i prefer in Samsung Galaxy is their Super AMOLED displays, since this have TFT display I can say my luxury-looking phone (Xperia Z) is much better than the tough- or metal-looking phone maybe?!
2. chunk1x (Posts: 222; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)
Why is Phone Arena keeps complain that there are no rubber protection on S4 Active. I have some rubber in my wallet that I can share to you. :P
3. Diego! (Posts: 392; Member since: 15 Jun 2009)
LOL xD I think they need som jelly too! LOL once more! xD
4. whoyton2 (banned) (Posts: 142; Member since: 19 Jun 2013)
Lol the s4 active beats lumia 925.....poor poor Nokia.....
5. roldefol (Posts: 2855; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)
Just about every Android is beating the Lumia line these days. Except the 720 for whatever value reasons PA came up with. The 92x series is getting stale.
6. zuckerboy (Posts: 443; Member since: 22 Dec 2011)
you cant compare 720 with highend devices. 720 gets high score as a midranger.
8. roldefol (Posts: 2855; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)
True, but when is the last time a midrange Android got a 9+ here?
24. KINGJUAN27 (Posts: 155; Member since: 02 Jul 2012)
I agree! Most handsomely-specd midrange Androids only get an average of 8. The Sony Xperia SP only got an 8, the LG Optimus F7 an 8 too, the Optimus L9 a 7.5, the GS4 mini got an 8.5 and the Samsung Galaxy Grand an 8 too. It seems that WP doesn't need very huge processors, gpu and ram to run buttery smooth, and the cameras are also great. Windows Phones are indeed very well optimised!
38. moroninc (Posts: 141; Member since: 14 Jul 2012)
actually Android AOSP doesnt need much to be buttery smooth... even at 1 GHZ processor and 500MB ram you could still run Android 4.2.2 ... its only when the touchwiz and other skins on top that slow the system down along with all that bloatware they just love to spoon feed us.
9. samystic (Posts: 185; Member since: 25 Mar 2012)
'Screen does not work when wet'... yes it beats Nokia hands down... LOL... kids these days!
10. SleepingOz (Posts: 2015; Member since: 22 Oct 2011)
What did you expect? Better hardware, screen, CPU, battery etc.. and it runs on Android 4.2 on top! But cm'on, you don't say it out loud, dude.. You'll make the nokia fanboys even more butthurt than they were yesterday.
7. Jason2k13 (Posts: 427; Member since: 28 Mar 2013)
I prefer the front of the original S4, but the back of the active, i really dont like the looks of the physical buttons.
11. SleepingOz (Posts: 2015; Member since: 22 Oct 2011)
Same here, I like the Active's overall design but not its front buttons.
I also don't like TFT screens even if this one seems to be an excellent display, I still prefer amoled.
20. thelukewarm (Posts: 18; Member since: 18 Dec 2012)
I agree, the s4 wasn't actually designed to be waterproof........ I think that's why xperia z looks better than this device.
25. mottykels (Posts: 297; Member since: 15 May 2013)
Me too i dont like the design of the physical button
13. _Bone_ (Posts: 1750; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)
How is a stronger built, better looking S4 goes below 9.0? Feels a bit like PA didn't dare giving it the same score in the fear of the anti-Samsung scum predictably calling for bias.
I'm very much interested in this phone, more so than in the S4, which's glossy fingerprint plastic is not my thing. The only setback I see here is the lack of 13MP cam, but it still deserves a 9.0 if everything else is there AND water & dust resistance.
17. Nick_T (Posts: 122; Member since: 27 May 2011)
Had the camera been a bit better I would have gladly given it a 9.
18. roldefol (Posts: 2855; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)
The camera of the 928 was an improvement over the 920, but the 928 got an 8 and the 920 a 9. I thought time/competitiveness was a bigger factor than camera.
19. roldefol (Posts: 2855; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)
Wow dude. Way to stay on topic.
I did expect a higher score for the S4 Active. But like other devices like the Razr HD the camera pulled it down.
47. SleepingOz (Posts: 2015; Member since: 22 Oct 2011)
You forgot to switch account before posting this comment! LMAO!
30. Berzerk000 (Posts: 3278; Member since: 26 Jun 2011)
The 928 and 920 were way too similar to be scored the same when they were so far apart in release.
44. Taters (Posts: 1768; Member since: 28 Jan 2013)
Better looking is not true for everyone. I personally think that the active is too big and how compact and light the GS4 is, especially for a phone with a 5 inch 1080p screen, makes the GS4 desirable.
In fact, that is probably why Samsung is such a big success. They make sleek, thin, compact for their dimensions products and still manage to fit in huge batteries. Everybody sees this, it is just the Nokia, Apple, and HTC fans that can't see this.
The GS4 Active ignores those strengths and go after the light plastic haters, which are just jealous HTC and Nokia fans. I would rate the GS4 higher than this easily. I don't need water, dust proofing, and a heavier phone. Light and thin as long as it is durable and has a decent sized battery is the way to go.
15. viisign (Posts: 4; Member since: 19 Sep 2012)
I have the galaxy s3 and the galaxy rugby pro (waterproof cell).im really interested in this samsung galaxy s4 active. But I bet they will come out with a samsung galaxy s4 active pro...I would like to see some comparisons to see if I should upgrade either of my phone to this.be nice to see a red active.
21. lukasound (Posts: 148; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)
water resistance and being dust proof is so not important to me...
if you want underwater pictures you can get a cheap underwater bag or case on ebay.
what i expect from an "active" phone is to be shockproof! unbreakable screen is so simple to make but it's not profitable. plus rubber sides and this would be a perfect phone.
22. KINGJUAN27 (Posts: 155; Member since: 02 Jul 2012)
Nice back! Ugly front with all those retro physical buttons! Pfft.
26. alltopfive (Posts: 1; Member since: 20 Jun 2013)
Interesting phone and launched at an interesting time when S4 was gaining ground. The physical buttons are tacky and the phone would have done with capacitive buttons. Design wise don't think it can get better than the glass wrap of Sony.
27. shotunz (Posts: 2; Member since: 29 Jun 2012)
why use a screen when its wet? clean the damn water off with your shirt!!!
33. taikucing (Posts: 611; Member since: 18 Jan 2013)
this one is supposed to come out first, not the ugly looking cheap plastic version
34. glentomas123 (Posts: 66; Member since: 01 Jun 2011)
Good review. Two points:
- Would have purchased if camera was improved.
- Also, how does one use the features of the fancy underwater camera mode if the screen is non-responsive underwater?
Sticking with my S3 and still waiting for the Moto X before making my decision.
35. Saamic (Posts: 96; Member since: 20 Feb 2012)
If this phone had the same camera as the standard S4, I would have bought it.
36. Necromancer (Posts: 10; Member since: 27 Jan 2013)
Since there's no Exynos in this, it is also heat-proof and a little bug-resistant! :D
57. DrElena (Posts: 4; Member since: 24 Jun 2013)
not all of them ;( the first phone we got leaked around the two bottom bolts. The replacement is doing better, but we are very hesitant to use it more than a few min (up to 3) at a time.
42. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
A waterproof phone without wet finger tracking technology like you gotta be kidding me.
better wait Xperia ZR or even Honami
43. SleepingOz (Posts: 2015; Member since: 22 Oct 2011)
But it's definitely better than the XZ and XZL, which it's supposed to compete with. Better screen even if it's TFT, camera, CPU/GPU, battery etc..
46. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
better display and hardware yes, but im not agree with camera because Sony have fix the camera problem in the latest update.
for waterproof smartphone i think overall Xperia ZR is better option than S4 active. i just hope Xperia ZR use some high quality LCD like Xperia TX display
48. SleepingOz (Posts: 2015; Member since: 22 Oct 2011)
I haven't seen the new samples yet, any link?
Most probably but only time will tell, we'll wait and see.
49. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
you can check here:
and this for the orginal samples
in the past burst mode had better quality but with the update even normal mode look better than burst mode
the update also include system performance improvements as well as re-calibrated screen colors and white balance settings. There's also a new Mini Apps icon, new keyboard skin, new design for some widgets, notification light on/off toggle, the soft. Finally the navigation keys background color has been changed to black from grey.
51. DrElena (Posts: 4; Member since: 24 Jun 2013)
NOT SO WATERPROOF
and Samsung refuses to replace the leaking phone
Well, it could be a dream-come-true, as my husband was counting down days before the Galaxy S4 Active was released in stores. And it looked and felt just right and great, until we gave it a "dip test": in our community pool at depth ~10 inches we took two 1-min videos about 3 minutes apart.
The camera lenses got fogged, hardware buttons got disabled and the charger port stopped working. (yes, we did ensure the USB charger port was properly plugged at the time of submerging). The phone's camera was switched to "Aqua mode". Despite all the advised precautions, the phone had leaked water in.
The AT&T refused to exchange it claiming it was ***damaged by water*** (how unexpected for a phone advertised to take underwater pictures!!!).
Samsung customer and tech support first reaction was "WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU COULD PUT IT IN WATER?
The two reps we spoke to so far made it sound as it was our fault the phone got water.
After a number of times "checking with managers" they requested us to bring the damaged phone for evaluation to repair services (who were notified in the ticket that "we accidentally dropped it in water")
What is most striking is that Samsung is refusing to admit the phone had a factory-originated problem and their customer service is pushing us around, making us to accept the fact we have to stick with a $700 "waterproof" phone that leaked the day we bought it..
Is this supposed to be fare? what a dream was ruined...
61. snowgator (Posts: 3015; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)
That is an awful, crap-like story. If you do not mind, I would love for you to post here what resolution you got.
This phone is part of a dream for me as well. A top end, durable phone. Would depress me if this ends up a swing and a miss. Something like this would move over to Android from WP, bit only if they stand behind it.
52. 2020tsantini (Posts: 1; Member since: 26 Jun 2013)
galaxy s4 has a 13 mp camera i phone 5 only has 8 mp nuff said..... duhh.. no brainer...
53. true1984 (Posts: 193; Member since: 23 May 2012)
wait, if you cant touch the screen while it wet, then how the hell do you take pictures underwater?
55. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
but the screen still useless if you fingers wet
56. DrElena (Posts: 4; Member since: 24 Jun 2013)
in fact, no: the moment it comes to the surface, you can start using it with your wet fingers ;)
58. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
Oh yeah just show me the video if what you said is true,
because many reviewer has try it the screen is useless if wet
59. yudi.nemesis (Posts: 934; Member since: 14 Mar 2013)
just watch S4 Active video review from pocketnow the video will show you that the screen is useless when wet and if you check Xperia V video review from androidauthority you will see even when the display and fingers wet the reviewer is able to play fruit ninja
60. Patrik69 (Posts: 4; Member since: 14 Dec 2012)
Why no underwater photo or video tests? It seems like that would be the most important part of a review. Instead you review it like every other cell phone. Just stupid. STUPID!!!!!