Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

Choose the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active for its sporty style, fast internals and underwater camera fun, but pass if you're an image snob or seek a truly rugged phone.

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Nic Healey can usually be found on a couch muttering about aspect ratios and 7.1 channel sound - which is helpful given that he's the home entertainment guy at CNET.

Quite a few smartphones these days can claim to be waterproof, but you have to hand it to Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active for turning that characteristic into a camera feature.

Specs-wise, that waterproof camera is the only element that justifies the creation of this brand new S4 phone.

The 8-megapixel shooter's underwater aqua mode absolutely works — so long as the seal holds — but it's a mistake to think of the S4 Active, which is also dust proof, as a rugged or durable phone. Internals are still vulnerable behind a flimsy back panel, and "tougher" design elements are largely cosmetic. You don't buy the Active to go SCUBA diving or mountaineering; you buy it because you like a flashy design and top-tier Android features. The surge of worry-free confidence you get on beach days, hikes and at the pool is all extra.

Beyond its design and hydrophilic camera, the Galaxy S4 Active rarely strays from the Galaxy S4 flagship phone in any meaningful way.

Those looking for a true rough 'n' tumble smartphone will find that the Active's name oversells its outdoorsy abilities. But if it's a fun, slightly sturdier S4 experience you want, you'll find it here.

Vodafone has the S4 Active as an exclusive for the next three months or so. You'll get it on a variety of plans, including the AU$60 per month plan, with AU$5 handset repayments. You'll also be able to pick it up outright from Samsung Experience stores and "a range of mobile retailers" for AU$699.

Just how "Active" is it?

As it turns out, the S4 Active isn't really a rugged phone.

Unlike your typical durable handset, there's very little extra reinforcement for protecting edges, and while it's slightly less glossy and slick, there's no real grip on the Active's backing. Yes, harder, more rubbery accent pieces frame the top and bottom edge on the phone's back, but they stop short of encasing the phone's front corners and edges. Decorative "screws" lend an edgy look, but appear to serve no function.

The elements-fighting magic takes shape in a flap that plugs into the micro-USB slot (the reinforced headset jack apparently needs no protection), and a rubbery gasket beneath the flimsy back cover seals in gaps to keep essential components from accumulating particles and droplets.

However, you'd better make darn sure that charging flap is secure, that the back cover is firmly in place, and that you've pressed down firmly on the back to complete the seal. Otherwise, you'll wind up with a waterlogged phone that even a bag of rice might not be able to fix.

Even after you successfully dunk the phone, keep in mind that the S4 Active's IP67 ratings clear it for dives of up to a metre under the surface and for up to 30 minutes. Any longer than that and it still may work, but you're starting to play with fire.

All that said, using the Active's aqua mode was a ton of fun, and we'd absolutely take it into the drink for a quick, casual snorkel and keep it handy at a pool party.

Design and build

We definitely liked the Galaxy S4 Active's physical navigation buttons and flashy colours — well, in Australia, there's just orange and "urban grey", but the orange is quite nice. It's arguably nicer than the Galaxy S4 flagship design any day. We just wish that Samsung had gone ahead and added a physical camera shutter button along the spine to match all those navigation keys.

The S4 Active on the left, with its older brother on the right.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Side by side, the Active is a hair taller than the original S4 and just a little heavier, as well.

You'll see more differences when you flip the phones over to see their backsides. In addition to its aforementioned rubber bumpers, the camera and flash modules are more squared than the S4's more rounded mounts. The power and volume buttons are also thicker and easier to press, and the headset jack is quietly waterproofed.

You'll find one more difference when you look at the 5-inch touchscreen, and that's use of an LCD panel on the S4 Active, rather than Samsung's usual AMOLED display. LCD colours tend to be less juicy and more natural, but the screen technology can also achieve greater brightness, a theoretical benefit for outdoorsy types. In practice, both screens will get you squinting and shading the screen in bright daylight.

OS and apps

As with the Galaxy S4, the Active runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean as its operating system, topped by Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz interface.

There are a few little omissions, like the dual-shot mode on the GS4's camera, for instance, and a setting to turn the LED flash into a flashlight you can turn on when the screen is off.

Aqua mode is the Active's real killer feature, but it comes with caveats. To get started, you select Aqua mode from the list of camera modes before taking a dip, and choose whether you're converting the volume button to a still shutter button or to video. Why? Because touchscreens don't work well when submerged.

Underwater image quality was hit or miss. There's no focus in Aqua mode, so you've got to adapt and adjust yourself around the fixed focus. That'll make you miss some shots for sure, but take enough and you're bound to get something you can work with.

Making matters more frustrating, the screen — and therefore your subject — is barely visible underwater, so there's a little guesswork concerning where to aim the Active and how long to keep clicking. Since the lens is all the way at the top of the phone (the far left or right as you hold it in landscape mode), that's a little more mental math to do until you get used to things.

Cameras and video

The big concern for most shutterbugs will be just how much you sacrifice in stepping down from the Galaxy S4's 13-megapixel camera to the Active's 8-megapixel assembly. The answer: not very much.

Before the S4 came out, an 8-megapixel shooter like this one pumped out sharp, colourful images taken outdoors in auto mode. You lose the original GS4's dual-shot capabilities that overlay the front-facing camera image on that of the rear, but that's a bit of a gimmick, anyhow. Even if you never use Aqua mode (it requires premeditation), the camera offering is still strong for photos, videos and self-shots.

(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

Performance: speed, processor, battery life and call quality

Thanks to Vodafone, we were able to test the Active on both the Australian 4G network and on roaming in New Zealand.

The local 4G is definitely the preferred network, but coverage can still be a little patchy. Around the Sydney CBD, we saw speeds of around 25Mbps for downloads, with that sharply sliding to as low as 1.4Mbps as we moved further into the inner west areas of Sydney. The top speed we noted was 36Mbps around the Redfern area.

Upload speeds were around 11Mbps to 15Mbps in the 4G coverage, and down to a bottom level of 593Kbps. As we noted in our initial look at Vodafone's 4G network, the long-term evolution (LTE) speed are excellent in covered areas, but the general network remains a little spotty in some areas.

Call quality was clear, with little fuzz or pop even in strong winds. The speakerphone was surprisingly clear as well, with good voice pick-up for both sides of the call.

In New Zealand, speeds were decent, but not at the level that 4G users have come to expect. We were very impressed with both the range of coverage (we had a strong signal even at the top of a mountain) and the call quality we experienced.

Speedtest and AnTuTu results.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

Like the original Galaxy S4, this Active runs on a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset, one of the fastest currently available for mobile phones.

We ran the AnTuTu benchmarking software on the Active, where it scored 25,501. Re-running the same benchmarks on the standard Australian version of the S4 gives 26,001, so the two are very much alike.

In terms of just general use, the Active felt almost identical to the S4 — it's a zippy phone that loads apps and web pages quickly. Everything we liked about the S4 is still here in terms of overall performance.

The S4 Active comes with 16GB of internal storage, which translates into about 11GB that's available to you. In addition, there's a microSD card slot that can take up to 64GB in external storage. You'll get 2GB of RAM.

Battery life is rated at 17 hours of talk time and about 13 days on standby time on the S4 Active's 2600mAh battery. Anecdotally, the battery lasted throughout the day with pretty regular use, benefiting from an overnight charge. We'll conduct deeper battery tests and update this with the results.

Who should buy it

If you're an S4 owner, there's nothing in the active that would make you want to change phones. But if you've been thinking of making a move to an S4, then it might be worth considering this rather than the plain old vanilla model.

The design is sharp, and the build feels a little more solid than the standard S4, but the internals offer the same power. While you do lose a few megapixels on the camera, it's still a good snapper that takes nice photos, if that's important.

Ultimately, the S4 Active is a nice, if not strictly necessary, addition to the other S4 variants floating around.


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gadget2us posted a comment   

replace back door to galaxy s4 with different pattern and colors. including army cloth pattern and leather, made by injection. makes the galaxy s4 battery cover durable and unique.

totally 10 colors is really cute parts to the phone device. gives S4 a new good looking, keep contact: gadget2us
Also ,it is designed to be a wireless Charging case.only cost USD3.9 each.hurry up.


SOLOMONISAAC posted a comment   

Hi, i have an S4 Active, and for some reason nothing is comming up on the display though the phone is turning on, neither m i able to pick any calls.

This happened when i was not getting whatsapp msgs and i tried to restart the phone.

Can some one help me locate a store where they repair S4 Active or what to do to get it back to normal

JoergG Facebook

"Decent phone that takes the worry away when it comes to water."

JoergG posted a review   

The Good:Will survive serious beach action.

The Bad:Could be more "rugged". Still needs a protective case to be a true outdoors phone.

One of the best phones I ever had. Don't believe the bullshit about display color or bad sound. Samsung uses the best components in the industry. It is in deed waterproof! Took me 5 minutes until I dared to put it under whater filming my kids in the pool the first time. Battery life could be a tad better, but that is always he case. It is waterproof, but not "rugged", so get a protective case, and be aware that normal S4 cases will NOT fit properly, it has to be for the S4 ACTIVE.. The Camera is excellent and has an underwater mode that takes excellent shots/vids. It works with 64 GB sd cards and can read USB sticks with the appropriate adapter. Bluetooth works with the newest stereo headset and delivers decent sound. The reception is above average, where my older phones dropped the ball this one still gives me a bar or two. All in all I like it very much.

AndrewP12 Facebook

"After sales service is abysmal"

AndrewP12 posted a review   

My S4 internal screen cracked this morning whilst sitting on my desk at work


WilliamsB posted a comment   

Samsung Galaxy S4, Black

KasraaS Facebook

"Jack of all arts, master of none"

KasraaS posted a review   

The Good:Water resistant, might survive if I drop it in toilet!

The Bad:extremely poor voice quality during phone calls, very poor battery life, dull colors, The new S4 features are practically useless, very poor quality speaker


Secondly the LCD quality is very poor with poor and dull colors.

Thirdly battery consumption is very high as the screen is an LCD compared to LED in other similar phones and keeps draining battery quickly. Your phone will never make it to the end of the day!

Fourthly as screen is LCD, the touch is stimulated by any object which practically means if the power button in your pocket is hit- and this is very easily and commonly can happen- then god knows what phone will do, you might notice later from your bill! I know that you can lock your screen, but this is an extra effort for every time you pick up your phone( I had this problem with my old windows based HTC before AMOLED technology developed and I hated it!)

Fifthly this is supposedly a water resistant phone, but unlike even regular phones the touch screen stops working properly with coming into contact with smallest drop of water! so forget the assumption that you can take it with yourself to shower, or use it under rain!

I actually did a fair bit of research before deciding to by this phone on many famous web based websites, none had come close to consider this phone from a practical user perspective, and although there has been some criticism none came even close how useless this phone can be.....!

EesK Facebook

EesK posted a review   

Maybe you should research spelling next time ROFL... 'by by' ;)

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User Reviews / Comments  Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

  • gadget2us


    "replace back door to galaxy s4 with different pattern and colors. including army cloth pattern and leather, made by injection. makes the galaxy s4 battery cover durable and unique.




    "Hi, i have an S4 Active, and for some reason nothing is comming up on the display though the phone is turning on, neither m i able to pick any calls.

    This happened when i was not getti..."

  • JoergG



    "One of the best phones I ever had. Don't believe the bullshit about display color or bad sound. Samsung uses the best components in the industry. It is in deed waterproof! Took me 5 minutes until ..."

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