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Samsung released its latest Galaxy S Android smartphone earlier this year, the Samsung Galaxy S4, which since then has sold like hotcakes as it’s been released globally. One thing we didn’t expect was for there to be an additional version of the Galaxy S4 released shortly after its release that would allow the device to become extremely durable as it has been made to be water and dust-resistant and has a IP67 certification.

If you’re the kind of person who finds themselves in an environment that requires to outfit your smartphone with a special case in order to survive through the day, we’re sure you’ve been keeping an eye on the Galaxy S4 Active as other Android devices that offer water and dust resistance tend to not have the most earth-shattering specs. Samsung has already caught the attention of many with its Galaxy S4, so let’s see if making it resistant to water and dust makes it an even more valuable device.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Specs

Display: 1920 x 1080
Display Size: 5”
Display Type: TFT LCD
Processor: 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600
RAM: 2GB
Storage: 16GB
MicroSD: Yes > Up to 64GB
Battery Capacity: 2600mAh
Rear-Facing Camera: 8MP
Front-Facing Camera: 2MP
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 139.9 x 71.4 x 9.1mm

Context

I’m very familiar with the Galaxy S4 as I wrote Ubergizmo’s hands-on of the device when Samsung first introduced it to the world back in March 2013. Since then, I’ve used the Galaxy S4 on a somewhat regular basis as my wife has jumped onto the S4 bandwagon, which I’m sure my praising of the device had something to do with her decision to pick up the device.

I personally don’t need a device like the Galaxy S4 Active as I spend the majority of my time away from water or dust. But when I’m at the pool or beach, I certainly wish I could take my iPhone 5 with me no matter where I go. For this review, I’m going to take a look at the Galaxy S4 Active as a whole, while at the same time testing how well it performs when water and dust are present. Hopefully the results of this review will be something those who are interested in the Android device are looking for.

Industrial Design

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active looks nearly identical to the Galaxy S4 as many of its physical buttons, ports and overall layout has many similarities with the design of the original Android smartphone. There are some noticeable difference, such as the inclusion of a Home, Menu and Back physical buttons at the bottom of the screen as well as the S4 Active being slightly bulkier than the original S4.

The Galaxy S4 Active we were leased for review purposes came in Dive Blue, which can be found on the majority of the rear of the device as well as the area surrounding its display, which on the original S4 has thin piece of silver. The right side of the S4 Active is where you’ll find its wake / sleep power button, while the left side is where you can access the device’s volume rocker. Both buttons seem to be slightly thicker than the original S4’s.

The top and bottom of the rear of the Galaxy S4 Active has a smooth rubberized material along with four metal screws at each corner of the device. We assume Samsung included rubber in these areas in order to make the Galaxy S4 more durable, especially when dropped. The bottom of the Galaxy S4 Active is where you’ll find its microUSB port, which includes a flap that can cover the port when you decide to take your phone for a dip.

Samsung includes a sticker on the rear panel of the Galaxy S4 Active that displays a message to remind the user they need to firmly seal the battery and USB cover prior to using it in areas where it’s extremely humid or in water. Looking at the back panel, we noticed there’s an outline of rubber that securely seals the S4 Active’s battery, microSD card and SIM card. If there’s even the slightest breach in any part of the rear panel, that could become a serious problem, so be if you pick up the S4 Active, be sure you take the time to make absolute sure you have the rear panel secured.

Display (very good)

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is equipped with a Super AMOLED with a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 which we found to be excellent in our review of the device. The Galaxy S4 Active unfortunately didn’t inherit the original S4’s Super AMOLED display, and instead features a TFT LCD, which is a slightly improved LCD. The display looks really good, but when you put it side by side with the Galaxy S4’s Super AMOLED display, it just can’t keep up with its gorgeous visuals.

When it comes to reading articles, I actually preferred the S4 Active’s display as the text and page itself look a little bit more realistic than the original S4’s display. As for looking at images or videos, the original S4’s Super AMOLED display performs slightly better.

Since most people won’t have the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S4 Active to do a side-by-side comparison, you should know that the LCD display on the S4 Active will look really good, especially when you’re checking Facebook and responding to emails while you’re swimming around in a pool. That’s definitely something most Galaxy S4 owners will never experience with their device, that is, unless they have a special case or just don’t care if they damage their phone.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Custom Apps

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has all of the custom applications that can be found in the original Galaxy S4, which means you’ll be able to use such custom apps like S Voice, S Translator, S Memo and Samsung Link. You’ll also be able to use Air Gestures, Air View, Group Play, Smart Stay, Smart Pause, Smart Scroll and pretty much anything else Samsung announced it would include in the Galaxy S4.

If you’re interested to learn more about the custom applications included in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, be sure to check out our review of the Galaxy S4 as we go into detail as to what each feature offers and whether they’re helpful or not.

Killer Apps

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Virtual Keyboard (excellent)

When I first started using the keyboard on the Samsung Galaxy S4, I immediately took a liking to it as it’s extremely responsive along with the inclusion of a numerical row above the traditional QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard included on the S4 Active was first introduced on the Galaxy Note, and since then, has been one we extremely enjoy, especially since there’s a built-in swiping feature that allows you to input letters simply by moving your finger around on the screen.

Facebook (very good)

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Facebook performs just as you would expect it to on the Galaxy S4 Active. You’ll be able to browse your news feed, publish status updates, upload pictures, and perform pretty much every time-wasting activity you normally would on the social media platform. Sliding your way through your news feed is extremely quick and responding to comments and anything else that requires the input of text results in close to zero lag in the application.

Google Maps (excellent)

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Google Maps has been the premier mapping service for the past decade or so, and if you have an Android device, you can be sure you’ll most likely have the best version of the mobile mapping software available. As you’d expect, you can get turn-by-turn navigation, view public transportation routes, bike routes and get updated traffic information. The recently updated Google Maps allows you to also save your home and work addresses to your Google profile, which makes it a snap to pull up directions from an unknown location to your home. You can also save businesses you frequently go to for directions or basic information regarding the business. Although, if you frequently visit a saved business, we have a feeling you won’t need to pull up directions.

Entertainment (very good)

Video (very good)

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We’ve touched on the Galaxy S4 Active’s screen earlier in our review, and this category is one that shows just how great it can perform when viewing videos, even though it isn’t a Super AMOLED display. The colors, contrast and clarity that’s present in the S4 Active’s 5-inch display makes it a great experience, and, once again, one that becomes an even cooler experience once you throw water into the mix..

Gaming (excellent)

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For the purpose of our gaming test, we played two popular Android games in order to give us an idea of just how well the Galaxy S4 Active will perform while playing games. We played Candy Crush Saga and Eternity Warriors 2 for our test and found both games to perform exceptionally well, especially when running a game that is more demanding of the device.

The slight bulkiness of the S4 Active makes the device feel more secure when playing a game when compared to the original Galaxy S4. It feels like there’s more of a phone to hold, which helps keep your hands in just the right spots when playing. That’s not to say the S4 Active is a huge phone, it isn’t. It’s just slightly bulkier than the original S4. In other words, if you’re a gamer you won’t have any problems when playing your games on the S4 Active.

Speaker quality (very good)

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The Galaxy S4 has its speaker port located at the rear of the device towards the bottom left. At its loudest level, it provides a nice mix of sounds, although it suffers from the inability to really capture those low-level sounds that most smartphones tend to miss out on. The good news is that the S4 Active plays highs and mid-range sounds very well, and if you’re in the mood for some tunes and don’t have headphones or a bluetooth speaker around, can provide you with sounds that’ll keep your toes a-tappin’.

Digital Imaging (very good)

The Galaxy S4 Active features an 8 megapixel main camera, which is certainly a step down from the 13MP camera that’s featured on the Galaxy S4. Already from the get-go, we don’t expect the camera to perform as well as the S4, but we’re still going to give it a chance considering 8MP isn’t a bad resolution to be able to shoot at.

Camera Application (excellent)

Samsung threw in a lot of neat features in the Galaxy S4 camera, such as a number of different modes and ability to edit an image after it’s taken. Even though the Galaxy S4 Active’s camera may have received a downgrade in its megapixels, you’re still getting an extremely versatile camera experience out of the box.

There’s just one option the S4 Active has that the Galaxy S4 doesn’t, and that’s the Aqua setting. Aqua allows you to use your S4 Active to take underwater pictures. Since it isn’t possible to use the touchscreen while the device is underwater, the S4 Active has you choose either between the volume key or record key in order to activate its shutter. Since we’ve been banned for our local swimming hole, we tried the feature out in our kitchen sink and we’re really impressed by how easy it is to take a photo underwater. Once again, Samsung reminds you to make sure the back cover of the S4 Active is secure before attempting to take underwater images.

Photo and Video Quality (very good)

For the purpose of our review, we put the Galaxy S4 Active’s 8MP camera up against the Galaxy S4’s 13MP camera since we think it’d be best to compare the cameras on these two devices, considering how much comparing we’ve done with them anyways.

The sample image we took for our review was taken on a partly sunny day while indoors. As you can see from the image, the Galaxy S4 does offer a slightly better image than the Galaxy S4 Active, but it’s at such a slight increase that most people won’t notice the difference. When you consider there aren’t many people who will have both the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S4 Active to compare with, we think you’ll enjoy its performance, especially if you plan on taking a lot of underwater photos.

As for video quality, the S4 Active’s video offered the same image quality we found in when taking pictures with the device. The S4 Active also allows you to pause videos while you’re taking them, which helps in keeping all of your antics in a single video rather than having them in a bunch of smaller ones.

Performance (excellent)

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Even though the externals of the Galaxy S4 Active have a number of differences when compared to the Galaxy S4, one thing that potential customers should know is a number of its internals are very similar as both devices run on a 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor. For our performance tests, we ran two different benchmarks: Antutu and GLBenchmark.

Antutu 3.x is a benchmark that does a great job of judging a device by its overall system performance as it takes into account everything it has to offer, including its CPU, GPU and storage capabilities. The results of this test will show just how fast and reliable a system is.

antutu results

In our Antutu 3.x benchmark, we received a score that was lower than what we did with our original Galaxy S4 review. According to Antutu 3.x, the Galaxy S4 Active comes in at a slightly lower score of 22502. Just because the Galaxy S4 Active’s score is a little over 2000 points below the Galaxy S4’s, that doesn’t mean it’s a slow device as it’s a smartphone with the third-highest score we’ve seen in our reviews. Trust us when we say you’re still going to get a lot of performance out of the Galaxy S4 Active.

The second test we ran on the S4 Active was GLBenchmark, which is a test we typically run on our Android devices as it’s designed to stress its graphic processor, or GPU, but running a game-like demo that features a number of different environments that also use different lighting and and graphical tricks.

glbenchmark results

In our GLBenchmark 2.5 offscreen test, the results found the Galaxy S4 Active perform better than the Galaxy S4 by a smidge as it scored a 41 frames per second. The difference between the graphical capabilities between the Galaxy S4 Active and Galaxy S4 are so slight that a large majority of people won’t notice the difference.

Sink or Swim (water resistance test)

Those who are interested in the Galaxy S4 Active are most likely aware of its ability to be water and dust repellent. Even though I knew the device could survive water, the first time I took it for a quick dip, I was extremely cautious and hesitant to even attempt to submerge the device, especially since AT&T would only allow you to replace the device once if it suffers from water damage.

When I placed the S4 Active into the water, I immediately started to play around with it. As you would expect, the touchscreen is pretty much useless while the device is underwater. The device’s buttons still function as you would expect them to, just don’t expect to compose and email or watch any YouTube videos while you’re underwater.

Once I removed the S4 Active from its short dip in my sink, it still wasn’t possible to use the device while my fingertips were wet. As great as the S4 Active’s ability to be resistant to water and dust, don’t go thinking you can get away with using it while you’re bathing or swimming. Even though you won’t be able to use it until either it or your fingertips are dried off, it’s still pretty neat to know you can carry around the S4 Active without having to worry that it’ll become damaged from an unexpected push into a pool or surprise dust storm.

Battery (excellent)

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Moderate Usage (excellent)

For our moderate usage battery test, I performed a number of light tasks on the Galaxy S4 Active such as instant messaging, browsing social networks, and a number of other tasks off and one for approximately one hour. During my time of using the S4 Active, I noticed a 6% drop in its battery, which means you should expect the device to last for 16 hours under these conditions. Just remember that amount may change based on what you use your Galaxy S4 Active for, as things like gaming or watching streaming videos will shorten its battery life.

Intense Usage (excellent)

The intense usage battery test had the Galaxy S4 Active streaming a 1080p YouTube video for an hour while the device’s brightness was set to 50% without the automatic display adjustment option selected. Once we completed our test, we noticed a drop of 12% in its battery, which means you should expect a little over 8 hours of battery life under these conditions.

Charging Time (excellent)

As important as it is to know how long your Galaxy S4 Active will last throughout the day, it’s equally as important to know how long it’ll take to charge itself. After charging the S4 Active for an hour, we noticed an increase in the battery’s charge by 56%, which means you can easily charge your completely depleted battery in under 2 hours.

Conclusion (very good +)

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is being offered to a small niche of people who require their smartphones to be as rugged as they are. We know there are people out there who are literally being bombarded by water, mud, dust and everything in between on a regular basis, and something like the S4 Active should be right up their alley if they want their smartphone to survive their active lifestyle.

It may not offer as many bells and whistles as the Galaxy S4, but the Galaxy S4 Active is still a very good smartphone that will be able to offer the same overall Galaxy S4 experience in a durable case. In the world of durable handsets, we’re confident the Galaxy S4 Active is among one of the best that’s currently available.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews. Read more about Galaxy S4 Active and Samsung.

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