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Smooth sailing: Samsung’s water-resistant Galaxy S4 Active reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 11:10 am 28/08/2013

Everyone has heard a story about a piece of electronics taking a jump in the drink, only to have it emerge broken and useless, fried to death in the process. It happens with smartphones often enough for it to be a horror story, and Samsung seems intent on finding a solution, which the company has done in the form of a water-resistant model of its famed Galaxy S4.

Features

A new Galaxy S4 already? Surely not, since it was only late April that we played with Samsung’s latest flagship handset.

Yet here we are again, with a new model wearing the term “Active” alongside the S4 moniker, telling us that this variant is all about going out into the real world, with an element of ruggedisation applied to the first S4.

We’ll start with the specs, because much of what was in the first S4 is still present here, including the quad-core 1.9 GHz processor making an appearance alongside the same 2GB RAM and 16GB storage with a microSD slot. Android 4.2.2 “Jelly Bean” is the operating system of choice, just like the S4, with an Adreno 320 graphics chip taking care of multimedia and an infrared controller at the very top of the handset.

Connection options are similar again, with 4G LTE, Near-Field Communication, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA, GPS, and the microUSB port, the latter of which sits at the bottom and is covered by a removable port.

The cameras are a touch different, with a rear 8 megapixel shooter setup in the same design on the back, while the front is a 2 megapixel shooter like the S4, both capable of shooting 1080p Full HD video from either camera module.

Samsung’s choice of screen is also similar, though not the same, with a 5 inch display that relies on LCD and not the AMOLED technology seen on the regular S4. Both screens support Full HD’s 1920×1080 resolution, though, as well as the 441 pixels per inch pixel density, making it better than the Apple iPhone Retina-grade screens found on the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5.

Scratch-resistant glass is also included, but upgraded from the S4, now with the Gorilla Glass 3 which boasts even more resistance to scratches. That type of protection is also visible from the dust and water protection, which has been rated for up to one metre of water for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Several buttons are also included on the S4 Active, with a volume rocker on the left side, power button on the right, and three physical buttons replacing the two-soft-one-hard of the regular Galaxy range, including support for menu, home, and a back button.

Ports are limited, though, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a covered microUSB below.

Underneath, the back is removable, with the microSD and microSIM slots found underneath, while the battery remains unchanged from the S4’s 2600mAh piece.

Performance

Only a few months since Samsung first showed and quickly thereafter released the latest model in the Galaxy S smartphone line-up, the brand is changing it again, revisiting the high-end handset and redesigning it for people with a more active lifestyle.

Maybe that includes running, jumping in water, and playing in dusty environments, and maybe that means you need a handset capable of surviving the gamut of grandeur you hurtle yourself and your handset through.

This is precisely what the S4 Active is targeted at, with the result being a slightly redesigned version of the Galaxy S4 built to better take on the dramas of the outdoors, while still offering much of what made the original S4 excellent to begin with.

We’ll start with the design, because that’s where the most noticeable changes are.

Looking down at this handset, it features a similar screen, sized at 5 inches once again, but relying on just a regular LCD technology instead of the Super AMOLED we see used on the regular S4.

With the screen out of the way, it’s plastic all around in this affair, hardly surprising given Samsung uses it in pretty much every handset, but the S4 Active is a touch thicker, jumping from the miniscule 7.9mm in the S4 to 9.1mm in the Active. It’s also a touch wider and taller, while also being decked out at both the top and bottom with rubber sections, making the plastic body feel just that much stronger.

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Price (RRP)

$699

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Highly water resistant; Great battery life; While the body is plastic, it feels even stronger than the regular S4; Supports microSD memory upgrades;

Product Cons

Slightly slower performance than the S4 in real-world use; Touchscreen doesn't work under water; Bugs from the original S4 – locked shortcut dock and gallery issues – are still here, sadly;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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