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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Smartphone

3:09 PM By Anita Ofori No comments

 


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.


RELATED: GALAXY S4 IS AN OPTIONS OVERLOAD VS. IPHONE 5The 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.
RELATED: SAMSUNG WORKING ON "SMART WATCH"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 massive investment.
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 comfort factor.
Is it an “active” smartphone? Depends on how you define “activity.”
 

RELATED: REVIEW: SAMSUNG GALAXY S 4

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.

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