Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review

S4Active
The Galaxy S4 Active is a phone you can get wet. Seriously wet. Is that all there is to this updated Galaxy S4?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: On the plus side

Hang on, wasn’t it just a few months ago that Samsung launched the Galaxy S4?

Yeah, it was. I shot this video at the Australian launch, and that was in late April

Samsung, though, loves having multiple devices in the marketplace, which is why you can now buy the S4 Mini and today’s topic, the S4 Active. It’s “Active”, because it’s both shock and waterproof, nicely getting around the kinds of issues that The Wumpus was complaining about a while back.

The end result is a phone that’s slightly thicker than the original Galaxy S4, and one that eschews touch buttons in favour of physical ones. The microUSB connector at the base has a rubber plug on it, and you’ve got to push back hard on the rear cover in order for it to be properly water tight.

That sounds like a hassle, but it actually isn’t, and I rather like having physical delineated buttons rather than virtual ones, simply because they’re very easy to tell apart at a glance, rather than having to remember which way round Samsung chooses to put its icons.

From a performance standpoint, the Galaxy S4’s 1.9GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM helped it to a Geekbench score of 3190. That’s just a shade beneath that of the S4 itself, which scored 3222. Artificial benchmarks aside, what this means is that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active should be a remarkably quick smartphone. Battery life is fine, with it making it through a day comfortably on moderate usage, and the use of a removable back — rare on a waterproof phone — means you could carry around a spare battery if that suited you.

Oh yeah — and you can get it wet. Quite wet.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: On the minus side

Getting the S4 Active quite so weatherproof has meant a few compromises have had to be made. The display screen is an LCD rather than an AMOLED, and if you do put the two side by side, it does show, although any day to day user of the S4 Active probably wouldn’t notice that. They might notice that the camera resolution has dipped from 14MP on the S4 to just 8MP on the S4 Active, although the tradeoff there is a specific Aqua camera mode that enables the volume buttons to be used as a shutter. It’s also marginally heavier at 153g than the Galaxy S4, although not so much as to be all that much of a day to day problem.

Samsung’s software offering for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is pretty much identical to that found in the Galaxy S4 itself, for better — you get a lot of apps for free — and worse, because many of them are either borderline non-functional, or useful in only limited circumstances. You get S-Translator, with its curious translation quirks. You get the same gallery bug that sometimes freezes up the phone. This being Android, you can always use alternative launchers and apps, but again this makes me wish for a stock Google version of the S4 Active with the additional apps as an opt-in proposition, rather than something that’s forced upon you.

One of the very first things I check on any Australian Samsung handset these days is whether it’s subject to the same utterly stupid bug that makes it impossible to shift the icons in the favourites dock unless you switch launchers.
Samsung remains mum on why this is so — when I asked Samsung’s Tyler McGee about it at the launch of the Galaxy Tab 3 devices, he wasn’t aware of it as an issue, which is at least a change up from its standard “no comment” policy — but it’s still a stupid bug and a specific limitation on Australian Samsung users.

Or in other words, why haven’t you fixed it yet, Samsung?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Pricing

Vodafone is the official launch partner for the S4 Active, offering it from a minimum of $50/month ($30 plan, $20 device cost) with $200 “worth” of calls and 200MB data and a minimum 24 month cost of $1200. Samsung also sells the handset outright for $699 through its Experience Stores in Sydney and Melbourne. That’s the same price you’d pay (at the time of writing) for a direct import model from Kogan, while Mobicity has it just a snip cheaper at $689.95.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Fat Duck Verdict

The S4 Active is an impressive handset, and one that I’d say is actually a bit better than the standard Galaxy S4 itself. Yes, it’s slightly heavier and the camera isn’t quite as nice. But you can drop it pretty much anywhere and it’ll survive the fall, even if that’s into water. The physical buttons are an upgrade in my estimation, and the added weight isn’t too much of a hindrance.

What remains a hindrance are Samsung’s software solutions. The ideal here would be a stock Google version of this particular phone, or at least one that dropped the annoying local favourites bug. I’ve still got to put the S4 Active just ever so slightly under my current favourite Android handset of 2013, the HTC One — but it’s an awfully close run thing.

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