What is your definition
of an “active” phone? Is it a beautiful phone that can finally get sporty? Or
is it a smartphone so rugged that beauty is barely a consideration?This is the question
you’ll have to answer if you’re considering the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
smartphone this summer. On the one hand, Samsung’s first entry into the growing
market of ruggedized, waterproof devices is easily the most elegant on the
market, the kind of phone you won’t mind pulling out at a Friday night party.
Overall, it’s actually a more appealing phone than the regular S4, although
it’s not available on AT&T and is not compatible with Samsung’s S 4
smartcovers.On the other hand?
Toughness isn’t this phone’s strong suit. It’s more day-at-the-swimming-pool
device than hiking trip companion, a device that touts its ability in the water
yet doesn’t have a warranty for water damage.Adjust your expectations
accordingly. This phone isn’t really the awesome go-everywhere companion it’s
billed to be; instead, it’s a sleek-looking smartphone that’s vastly more
durable than the majority of the devices on the market.
The idea of the
ruggedized, super-tough phone is one that more and more companies and users are
beginning to embrace. From the iPhone to Sony’s Xperia Z to the HTC One to
Samsung’s original S line, today’s smartphones lack true durability. They’re
not built for a hike, and they’re definitely not built for a dive in the lake.
That helped spawn Casio’s ultra-tough G’zOne line.Thing is, the average
ruggedized phone has an exterior that only a construction worker could love. So
here comes Samsung into the act, in time to make an impact on your 2013 summer,
bringing all that Samsung software goodness and a waterproof, dust-proof
chassis.If all sport smartphones
looked like this, then we’d all own a sport smartphone. The S4 Active is as
elegant as they come. The unit I reviewed came in an eye-catching electric
blue, and it felt slightly heavier and sturdier than a regular S4. Four screws
are bolted to the four back corners of the device; oddly, these are purely
cosmetic, giving the phone a more rugged look but not making it any more
durable.The other notable
differences between the S 4 and the S 4 Active lie just below the touchscreen.
Instead of touch-sensitive buttons, the S4 Active gets three physical buttons
(menu, home and back). And below those, instead of an open micro-USB charging
port, you get one with a rubber gasket cover sealing the port off from water.
When (or if) you plan to take the S4 Active for a swim, you’ll want to make
sure this port is sealed super-tight.Internally, this is largely the same phone as the regular S4. The
camera gets a downgrade, from 13 megapixels to eight, but it still takes
fantastic shots. Shooting with the S4 Active under water (a major selling
point) is fantastic. It’s hard to know exactly how “real” the underwater shots
are, but they definitely look good.The other “active” points of the phone, at least to me, dealt with
how it handled a real workout. Could I take the Active for a run and not worry
about it even the slightest bit? Could it handle the myriad bumps and drops
that come with a road hike or even a tumble from a pull-up bar in the gym?Here, the Active performed adequately. The device didn’t collect
any dings or dents despite my dropping it a few times. (Credit the slightly rubbery
corners, I guess, or maybe I just didn’t drop it from as high as I should
have.) This isn’t a super-tough phone by any means, but it takes more of a
pounding than a Nokia Lumia 920 or even my trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 2.Unfortunately, the device doesn’t have a nice rubbery, grippy
feel, so if you’re trying to take a picture from an odd angle from a hike, you
won’t necessarily hold it comfortably with one hand to take the shot.
That’s community pool territory, not daring trip to the Great
Lakes, and it’s a risk no matter what. The S4 Active warranty doesn’t cover
water damage, so as with most phones, if it doesn’t work after getting wet,
you’re pretty much out of luck. Use it at your own risk instead despite the
In the end, I definitely appreciated the extra durability from the
S4 Active, even if I’d hardly consider taking it on my next swim trip. The
little things certainly help; I didn’t give it a second thought talking in the
rain with the S4 Active, dropping it in a puddle (once intentionally, just for
kicks) or even having one of those cumbersome phone-braced-against-shoulder
conversations while doing dishes by the sink.
As smartphones go, that’s impressive durability and a nice little
Is it an “active” smartphone? Depends on how you define
The Active is solid under water as long as you know what you’re getting. Forget any dreams of diving with the sharks and chronicling it on your Active. The phone has an IP67 rating, so it’s cleared for use a meter deep and only for 30 minutes.