Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, First Take: Dust-tight, water-resistant

The Galaxy S4 Active puts most of the original Galaxy S4's popular features into a ruggedised chassis.
Written by Sandra Vogel, Contributing Writer

One of Samsung's tricks is to take a successful handset and reproduce it in different forms. For example, the Galaxy S4, Samsung's current flagship smartphone, currently has four incarnations: the 5-inch-screen original; a smaller version, the 4.3-inch Galaxy S4 mini; the Galaxy S4 Zoom, a camera/handset hybrid; and the Galaxy S4 Active, which adds ruggedisation into the mix.

The S4 Active's chassis has been redesigned to meet an IP67 (Ingress Protection) rating.
Image: Samsung

The £480 Samsung Galaxy S4 Active doesn't look much like the original S4. The chassis has been changed to allow it to meet an IP67 (Ingress Protection) rating: the '6' denotes that it's 'dust tight', while the '7' signifies its ability to withstand being submerged in 1m of water for 30 minutes. Samsung has had to abandon its characteristic home button beneath the screen, opting instead for three physical buttons.

The Galaxy S4 Active is not a sealed unit, so there's a protective rubber strip on the inside of the backplate, under which you'll find the SIM and microSD slots. You'll still have to be careful around water, and make sure the backplate is firmly in place — sealed handsets such as Sony's rugged Xperia Z offer better protection against water.

The microUSB slot on the bottom of the chassis has a hinged rubber cover that protects against the elements, but the headset jack on the top of the handset does not look as though it's protected at all (it's sealed inside, though). The side buttons — volume on the left, power on the right — also appear pretty normal, although they too must be designed to meet the IP67 rating.

The S4 Active has a 5-inch TFT screen rather than the original S4's AMOLED display. The main rear camera is an 8-megapixel unit, whereas the S4 has a 13-megapixel camera.
Image: Samsung

Like the original, the Galaxy S4 Active has a 5-inch, 1,920-by-1,080-pixel screen, but the panel in this case is a TFT LCD rather than a Super AMOLED, resulting in a difference in vibrancy between the two displays.

The main rear camera is an 8-megapixel unit compared to the original S4's 13 megapixels. It is augmented by an 'aqua mode' that enhances colours when you're shooting under water, and the volume rocker doubles up as a shutter control. That's important if you plan any underwater photography as the screen's responsiveness, like all capacitive screens, is extremely poor when water is involved.

The S4 Active's engine-room is the same as the original S4's: Android 4.2, a 1.9GHz quad-core processor and 16GB of internal storage (with around 11GB free out of the box).

Extra-feature overload?

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All of Samsung's software enhancements for the Galaxy S4 are present on the S4 Active. So you can rest assured that videos will pause when you glance away from the screen, information about photos will appear if you hover a finger above the screen, various things will happen if you tilt the handset — and, if you can get the feature to work (I couldn't), you can even scroll web pages with a glance.

Samsung also adds a lot of apps to the standard Android complement, in many cases duplicating features provided with the operating system. This can be confusing at first.

In fact, Samsung could be accused of overkill with its myriad 'touchy-feely-looky' features and copious bespoke applications, but the current popularity of its smartphones means it must be doing something right. Fortunately, Samsung also lets you turn every extra feature on or off as required.

The Galaxy S4 Active isn't just a Galaxy S4 clone in a ruggedised chassis, as there are significant differences in specification. But most of the Galaxy S4's popular features are present, and if your work or home life involves regular exposure to challenging conditions, it may be the phone for you.

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