Samsung Galaxy S4 Active; Is the Latest and Greatest Smart Phone from Samsung Indestructible?
Aug 9, 2013 (Updated Aug 9, 2013)
Review by Thomas Wikman
Rated a Very Helpful Review
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is the newer and more robust version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. It is the one that falls in the water in so many commercials. It has been available since June 2013 and that is when I got it as an upgrade from AT&T. My previous phone was a Samsung Galaxy S2. Overall the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active seems to be a better phone than the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is why I chose the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active over the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Recommend this product?
Instead of adding this review to the existing Samsung Galaxy S4 listing I asked for a separate entry because the differences between the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active are significant. One significant difference is that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is dust and water proof but the regular Samsung Galaxy S4 is not. There are other differences as well.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active an Overview
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a lot in common with the Samsung Galaxy S4. Both have a lot of new interesting features and in general the look and feel is the same. It has a lot of connectivity features in addition to 3G/4G, such as Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz), USB 2.0, NFC (near field connectivity), infrared, and it comes with a lot of sensors such as an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a compass, a light sensor, a proximity sensor, thermometer, barometer, and a humidity sensor. Naturally it also has a GPS antenna. It has a scratch resistant multi-touch screen, camera, picture caller ID, speaker phone, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, airline mode, voice recognition, voice mail, and a long list of innovate new features. One example is the multi window / multi tasking feature, which allows you use more than one app at a time. Other amazing features are smart scroll, smart stay and S Beam. In terms of features and capabilities the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is on the fore front.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active comes with the Android OS called Jelly Bean (4.2.2), and it comes with 16GB of memory. The product dimensions are 5.5 X 2.8 X 0.35 inch and it weighs 5.39 ounce. The SIM card is located above the battery (in the back) and the slot for the expansion memory is also above the battery. This makes it very easy to access them and it is an improvement over the Samsung Galaxy S2. In the back under the cover there is also a water damage indicator and the speakers. The cover is easier to take off and on than it was on the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a little wider but slimmer and lighter than my old Samsung Galaxy S2. I prefer it this way since that means that I can see what is on the screen clearer, but the phone still fits just fine in my pocket and it is not cumbersome to carry around. Overall this is a better designed phone than the old Samsung Galaxy S2.
The volume control is on the left, the power on/off button on the right, and there is front and back camera just like on the Samsung Galaxy S2. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S2/S4 it has a rubber lid for the USB jack. You need to remember to have this closed when you take underwater pictures.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active versus Samsung Galaxy S4
As mentioned one big difference between Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is water and dust proof and therefore much more robust. However, there are other differences. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a TFT LCD screen and the Galaxy S4 has an AMOLED screen. In practice that means that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is clearer and brighter than the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen but it will drain the battery quicker. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active only comes in a 16GB version whereas the Samsung Galaxy S4 comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4 smart phone the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active smart phone has physical "menu" and "back" buttons under the screen. You don’t need to guess where on the screen these buttons are after they disappear since they are large physical metal buttons. The physical “home”, "menu" and "back" buttons are also needed when you take underwater photographs since the touch screen will stop working under water. I can add that allegedly the sound is significantly better in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active compared to the Samsung Galaxy S4 but I don’t have enough experience to confirm that.
The dimensions are slightly different. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a tad wider, a tad thicker, and a tad heavier. The difference is so small that I did not care about it when I selected my phone. The exact differences in dimension and weight are 5.5 X 2.8 X 0.35 inches versus 5.38 X 2.75 X 0.31 inches and 5.4 ounces versus 4.59 ounces. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has 8MP camera and the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13MP camera. However, the Mega Pixels is a very overvalued featured. It is not particularly important in comparison to the lens and other camera features. I take better photos and videos with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active camera than I did with the Samsung Galaxy S2 8MP camera. However, to take really nice pictures you need a real camera, not a smart phone camera.
The indestructible Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, Water Resistance and Robustness
I took underwater photos of my feet in the bubble pool and posted one of them on Facebook. Some fellow epioneers who are among my Facebook friends commented on my toe. I resent that, but the one thing to note is that you can do that. I mean take pictures under water, not commenting on my toe.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is stated to being able to be submerged for up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water. It is important to note that this is not a guarantee and if your Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is water damaged the warranty will not cover it, despite that rating and despite all the commercials. Also make sure you close/seal the USB jack when you take underwater pictures.
A few hours after my underwater photography activity my phone started to misbehave. I took it to the AT&T store. I told them that the phone might have gotten wet. That is what you call an understatement. However, the water damage indicator did not come on and AT&T determined that my phone was not water damaged and I got a new one. Perhaps something else was wrong? Later I read that some Samsung Galaxy S4 Active may not be as water proof as you may think due to slight manufacturing errors. Even if that is the case the warranty does not cover it. Therefore I would not test this amazing feature too zealously.
In addition to being water proof the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is also dust proof. The screen glass is a Gorilla Glass 2 and resistant to scratches. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a so called IP67 rating. However, it is not shock resistant so you still cannot throw the phone at a wall. Perhaps Samsung has a Samsung Galaxy S4 Hyper-Active in the works for that.
Anyway, even though I am disappointed that the warranty does not cover water damage when it supposedly is a water proof phone I have to say that I am impressed by this feature, the scratch resistant screen, and the fact that it is dust proof. This makes the phone relatively robust and a better deal than the Samsung Galaxy S4 in my opinion. I should add that as of August 7 AT&T is waiving the water damage issue for Samsung Galaxy S4 Active phones recognizing that people who’ve damaged their phones taking underwater pictures have been misled. After all, many of these instances probably occur due to manufacturing errors that make the phone less than water proof.
Features & Applications
A few weeks ago I noticed that when I read pages on the internet the pages scrolled by themselves. My first thought was, oh no, my phone is broken again. My second thought was something like NSA can now read my mind too. Well, seriously it soon became obvious that the feature was intentional. The camera facing me followed my eyes and scrolled the pages accordingly. This is called “Smart Scroll”.
Another feature called “Smart Pause” will pause a video when you look away from the screen. “Smart Stay” will not let the screen dim if you are looking at it (was available in S3 too). With S Beam you can transfer contacts, photos or videos by holding two phones near each other and tapping on the display when “touch to beam” is displayed. I mentioned multi window, and other features are air view and air gesture. As mentioned above the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active comes with a whole range of sensors and connections including an infrared port. This makes it possible to use such apps as the WatchOn, which can turn your smart phone into a remote control for your TV. By golly with this phone and the right apps you could use this phone for almost anything.
You turn the various features on and off by using the quick menu or the menu settings. By dragging two fingers at the top of the screen you get the quick menu where you have a short list of the most useful features in the form of a square with 20 icons. You can also get a lot more settings by pressing the menu button (physical button), select “Settings” and then one of the four tabs displaying long lists of setting with sub menus, etc. In my opinion this is a very efficient way of organizing the settings for the hundreds of features for this phone.
I would like to add a word about the virtual keyboard. There is plenty of space between the keys, and the keyboard is very intuitively and intelligently organized. The dedicated number row allows you to enter numbers without switching modes. That feature was not on my old Samsung Galaxy S2.
I like the way messages are organized. The messages are organized in a list and when you open a message you have a nicely organized message history where your replies are in blue boxes and the other person’s replies are in yellow boxes. Typing a message is easy. You just tap the edit box and you get a keyboard featuring touch buttons that are fairly large. If you want to delete, translate, or forward a message you just hold your finger on it until you get a menu to select from. There are also several cool apps included with the phone and you can download a million more.
In other words, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a lot of cool features, nice apps, and it is all organized in an intuitive and easily accessible way. In general I like the Samsung Galaxy phones better than the iPhones (I use my wife and kids iPhones) but I believe this is the best Samsung smart phone so far.
Reception & Sound
This phone has built in speakers with noise cancellation. In my opinion the sound is very good and seems to be better than that of other similar smart phones. Allegedly the sound is better in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active than in the regular Samsung Galaxy S4 but I did not notice a significant difference at the store. The microphone also seems to be good. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has audio streaming compatible with dozens of music file types so it is certainly useful for listening to music. The headphone jack is on top of the phone.
While traveling in northern Scandinavia I was in some areas with exceptionally poor 4G & 3G connectivity. I noticed that this phone was not any better in that regard than other cheaper phones. I wouldn’t hold it against the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active phone but it is not something positive either. I also noticed that it had issues with GPS reception as well. However, I have pretty good WiFi connectivity when available.
Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and the Samsung Galaxy S4 smart phones have 5 inch screens with a 1920 x 1080 resolution (at 441ppi). As mentioned the Samsung Galaxy S4 smart phone has an AMOLED screen whilst the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active smart phone has a TFT LCD screen. The screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active seems to brighter, it has a wider view angle, and it has more realistic color but it does not have as good black and white contrast and it draws more battery. However, both phones have excellent displays that are much better than on the Samsung Galaxy S2 so this is a plus whether you prefer one or the other display types. I should say that I compared both these phones in the store before buying them and I talked to the sales person.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has two cameras an 8MP camera in the back and one 2MP camera in the front. The back camera of the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13MP resolution but I am not sure if it is better. The lens of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active supplies a wider angle and it has an Aqua mode making it possible to take underwater photos. In any case the cameras are clearly better than the cameras in the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The camera features 1080p video, it has a 4X digital optical zoom, LED flash, and it has a zero shutter lag. It features lots of features and modes including a Macro mode, face mode, night mode, aqua mode, auto mode, sports, panorama, continuous shot, and much more. It has anti-shake, face detection; GPS tag, various white balance settings, and you can edit photos and videos directly from the camera.
One thing that annoyed me is that when I need to switch device while viewing and scrolling through my pictures I have to switch device and then take a photo before the photo list is updated. Maybe there is another way and I am missing something but it is certainly not intuitive if you have to look it up.
Making Phone Calls
Making phone calls using the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is quite convenient. You press the green phone call icon on the home screen and what you’ll see is a screen with four tabs, the Keypad, Logs, Favorites, and Contacts. The Keypad is the one shown by default. The virtual Keypad is easy to use. The buttons are very large and the touch screen is responsive. One of the buttons (the blue one) is the button for listening to your voice mail. The content of the other tabs is intuitively organized. For example, it is obvious how you add and edit contacts.
It was basically the same way on the Samsung Galaxy S2. The Samsung Galaxy S smart phones are easy to use and pretty nice that way. However, smart phones in general are not as practical as the basic cell phones that have physical keypad buttons if all you want to do is type in a phone number. In my experience touch screen buttons can never beat the physical buttons on, for example, the Pantech phones.
As mentioned the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active phone has excellent sound, a good microphone, and decent reception in areas with a weak signal. Therefore I believe it is one of the best smart phones out there for making phone calls. On the other hand if all you want to do is to make phone calls then you probably should not get a smart phone of any kind. Basic cell phones are easier to use for that purpose and they typically have just as good sound.
The battery in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active certainly lasts a lot longer than the battery did in the Samsung Galaxy S2. It is rated for a standby time of twelve and a half day, a talk time of 17 hours, and an internet time of 9 hours (4G) and 10 hours (WiFi). I found this to be pretty accurate. If I used my Samsung Galaxy S2 and I frequently accessed internet and turned on the screen the battery would be dead before evening. With the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active I typically have a lot more battery left at the end of the day. I should mention that the phone seems to be drawing more battery when I am abroad. However, I bought an extra battery and a battery charger for my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active from Samsung. That is one of those accessories I find useful in case you don’t have access to a power outlet for a long time.
You never know, you could also be stranded on a deserted island if your plane crashes. Considering that this phone is water proof you are likely to still have a working phone but no power outlet.
I hate the customer service we get from Apple. It is rude and stingy. Whenever my wife or someone else has a problem with their iPhone’s it really sucks. You have to go to an Apple store, AT&T are not allowed to service your phone. In addition, the Apple store is always crowded, everything is always your fault, it takes a long time, and they will make you pay. Samsung allows AT&T to service your phone, and Samsung themselves are also much nicer to deal with. That is my experience with Samsung regarding my Samsung Galaxy S2 as well as my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and when I’ve bought accessories. It is also my experience with Samsung for other products.
In summary; Samsung customer service is great and Apple’s customer service sucks.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a lot of nice features and sensors, great connectivity, it is lightweight and slim, and it has great sound, a good 5 inch display, a good camera, and Samsung’s customer is good. Overall it is a much better phone than the Samsung Galaxy S2 and it is a better phone than all iPhone’s I’ve tried (have not tried iPhone 5). I also believe it is a better phone than the Samsung Galaxy S4 for reasons explained above. It is very robust.
However, this phone is touted as being water proof and you’ll see people dunking it in water in various commercials. This is misleading and dangerous advertising. Some Samsung Galaxy S4 Active phones may not be totally water proof due to minor manufacturing errors and the warranty does not cover water damage. So if your phone gets wet it is probably fine, but don’t test this feature. Despite the misleading advertisement I highly recommend this phone and I rate it five stars because I think it is a great phone.
Finally I would like to thank Stan (wsmunch) lead in Electronics for adding this item to the epinions data base.
Read all comments (8)
Amount Paid (US$): 99
Recommended for: Adventurous Technophiles - Tough and Durable
Share this product review with your friends