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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active review

Andrew Williams



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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
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  • Galaxy S4 Active finish
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Our Score:



  • High-resolution screen
  • IP67 water/dust resistance
  • Powerful processor


  • Some minor camera issues
  • Water resistant, but not rugged

Key Features

  • Quad-core 1.9GHz Snapdragon 600 CPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • Android 4.2 with TouchWiz
  • 16GB internal memory
  • 4G
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £459.99

What is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active?

There are now several members of the Galaxy S4 family. In the goldilocks tradition, the Galaxy S4 is the daddy bear, the Galaxy S4 Zoom the mummy bear and the S4 Mini the baby bear. And the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active was out having a swim while the children's story was being written. It's a water-resistant Android phone with a large full HD screen and quad-core processor. If you care about the weatherproofing feature, it's a good alternative to the Galaxy S4.

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SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S4 VS S5 VS S6: Which is the right upgrade for you?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Design

The S4 Active has different design priorities to the original S4. Being thin and light are no longer of top importance as this phone cares more about surviving everyday life.

It’s a teeny bit thicker than the 7.9mm-thick S4 at 9.1mm thick and around 20g heavier at 153g. The Galaxy S4 Active feels more robust, as if it has been pounding a few protein shakes pre-release.

The construction is, perhaps surprisingly, not all that different from the S4, though. It has a removable plastic battery cover that’s pretty flimsy and light. There are rubberised ends to the S4 Active, though, which will help avoid light scratches, for a while at least.

Galaxy S4 Active finishThis is one of the few parts of the phone that is textured, though. While the rear cover has a metallic honeycomb-patterned finish that’s meant to make it look tougher than a construction worker with a 9am 5 o' clock shadow, it’s actually just smooth plastic.

While the Active’s name suggests it’ll survive knocks and bumps, in real terms it’s not much more rugged than any other top smartphone. In some respects it’s actually less tough than the S4, as it has a Gorilla Glass 2 screen layer instead of Gorilla Glass 3, which is significantly stronger. Make no mistake – the S4 Active won’t appreciate being dropped onto a hard surface, and while its top and bottom edges are rubberised, they are not actual rubber that would soak up an impact.

Perhaps the most significant hardware departure for the Galaxy S4 Active is that it uses raised, clicky soft keys rather than touch-sensitive ones. There’s an obvious reason why – this is a water-resistant phone and the capacitive sensors of touchscreen buttons go haywire underwater.

S4 Active

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Water Resistance

The Galaxy S4 Active is certified to IP67, a standard that denotes a certain level of water and dust resistance. What does it mean? The S4 Active can withstand being submerged in water, and won't let dust in.

There’s no magic involved here. Samsung uses two main rubber seals to provide both the water and dust resistance. The main one is on the battery cover, creating a sealed barrier between the outside world and vulnerable elements such as the SIM slot, battery and other electrical contact points. S4 Active 1

The second rubber seal is on the plastic flap on the S4 Active’s bottom edge, used to cover the microUSB slot.

S4 Active 3

If there’s one part of the Active’s waterproofing that does impress, it’s the headphone jack. It’s not sealed, but is waterproof, being completely blocked off from the insides of the phone. The water resistant Xperia Z uses flaps, including one for the headphone jack, making it less graceful in its execution.

You should grasp quite how ‘nuts and bolts’ the Galaxy S4 Active’s water resistance is before buying. If the phone is dropped, somehow damaging the seal, it’s game over for the phone’s water-resistance. However, it does seem sensible that the rubber itself is on the easily replaceable battery cover part.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Screen Quality

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has a 5-inch screen with a 1080p resolution, the same core specs seen in the ‘vanilla’ S4. However, the two are quite different.

The Galaxy S4 has a Super AMOLED display, the S4 Active an LCD panel. They work in quite different ways. Super AMOLED screens do not have a universal backlight like the Active’s LCD type, letting them provide excellent contrast and black levels.

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This becomes quite obvious when the S4 Active is taken into a darkened room – the universal backlight becomes quite visible when the screen is angled, making blacks look greyish. This effect is more marked than in the IPS-plus display of the HTC One.

However, typical of an LCD screen, top brightness is slightly higher than the Galaxy S4, and colours are cooler and less rich. There are a few different colour saturation modes (a feature shared with the other top-end Galaxies) and the display can look a shade blown-out at top brightness with a less vivid mode switched-on, but otherwise it's a good display.

Super AMOLED displays are generally more expensive to produce, explaining why the LCD type is used in the Active, but both screens are immaculately sharp, with pixel density of just over 440ppi. This level of sharpness is one of the calling cards of 2013’s top phones, and you won’t find it in any mid-range phones as yet.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut


June 21, 2013, 4:02 pm

Interesting how most sites I've seen have said "this is the best S4 variant" or, in the case of the Verge, "this is what the S4 should have been"


June 24, 2013, 4:24 am

Does it have a removable battery?


June 24, 2013, 11:56 am

yes, you can see that in some other reviews. removable battery, identical to the S4s. Makes a lot more sense than the sony xperia z which doesn't give that option, people wanting a rugged phone are probably ones that often find themselves away from a power source for some time


June 24, 2013, 11:57 am

I agree with that opinion! and I pre-ordered one :-)


July 21, 2013, 9:50 am

After 4 days the screen cracked in my pocket as i knelt down !!!!

ali manzoor

July 30, 2013, 1:06 pm

which oF s3 in best (MARBLE WHITE) oR ( PURPLE BLUE)......?.?.?


August 2, 2013, 11:22 pm

Pebble Blue is great! I own one and the lights at the bottom looks very good compared to the White one. :)


August 8, 2013, 6:14 pm

No pic no prove !


August 22, 2013, 1:28 am

This phone is great WHEN it works. I have already had 3 replacements due to black screen flashing headphone icons powering on and off .....and at this point i wouldn't recommend this phone to anyone!

Ravin Soerdjbalie

August 22, 2013, 7:48 pm

I am deaply disappointed that S3 and S4 display is worthless, already have been two such as a schreen pressed wil display a screen is brokem and the display is not yet availabe|


August 24, 2013, 6:26 pm

Wow... This really makes me reconsider my choice. What's the point of an "active" phone that you can't be active with? Thanks for the comment!


August 28, 2013, 7:17 pm

"Make no mistake – the S4 Active won’t appreciate being dropped onto a hard surface, and while its top and bottom edges are rubberised, they are not actual rubber that would soak up an impact".

Rarely have I heard truer words. The quality is very disappointing. See attached photos of the damage to the phone after beeing dropped from the enormous height of 50 cm.

If you want a solid phone, I recommend buying a different brand.


September 6, 2013, 12:53 pm

I just bought s4 on Sunday so 5 days ago and literally has been in the otterbox sense that day and some how has a crack right down the middle haven't stopped it or anything I've been babying it. My old iPhone 4 that is over 3 years ago is still in meant condition it's fine to Afghan with me oh and the otterbox on it was broken and ive dropped that phone so many times from pretty high areas


September 6, 2013, 6:45 pm

I have taken mine to the beach, kids played in the sand with it and it still works great. It's not a ruggedized phone, but is fairly tough. Mine has been dropped off the counter onto tile floor with no signs of wear/damage, been left in my pocket while swimming in the ocean and played with in the sand. Blow out the headphone jack and you're good to go. Not quite as impressed with the USB port. It's annoying to have to keep it our of the way while trying to plug in charger. Would have expected a nicer door to handle this duty.


September 8, 2013, 6:33 am

just can't figure out how to put image in my contacts..anybody knows?


September 10, 2013, 4:47 pm

I'm an iphone user and I recently switched to the s4 active and can honestly say that I could not be happier. A lot of people are saying that it cracks and is not as capable of withstanding impact; false. I've put this phone under water, in sand, dropped it and it still works like the first day I got it. Overall great quality and I would recommend it to any body. Like any phone out there, don't expect it to be indestructible

Johnny Hwang

September 13, 2013, 4:47 pm

I'm not sure how long is the average standby time and talk time but my S4 active only managed around 7-8 hours including a small amount of usage time. Can anybody share tgeir experience?

Paul L

September 22, 2013, 8:51 pm

Absolutely any phone will crack in these circumstances. It is a great force, like to put a phone on the edge of the table in such a way that one half is sticking out. Then push down on that and.....you have a cracked screen (same principle but even greater force when the phone in your pocket).

Carmen Leung

September 27, 2013, 3:01 am

i think i'm better off with an s4 active due to all the abuse my s3 goes though


October 15, 2013, 4:39 pm

you can only add pictures to your contacts when you save them on your phone or your gmail account, you probably have your contacts on your sim and that's why you can only add a name.


October 22, 2013, 1:22 am

piece of trash

kyle s

November 16, 2013, 4:59 am

S4 active i bought with otter box. Only thing i dont like is typing.. always hittinv keys twice. Used to have a blackberry for email so now its hard. Maybe gotta change a setting or something. Still love the phone though!

not waterproof

November 16, 2013, 3:31 pm

I switched from and iphone 4s to this phone and it was a huge improvement. unluckily though, I actually assumed that a waterproof phone would be waterproof. It was fine in the shower and even under a running sink. But just a week after buying it I assumed I could take it into a pool and take some pictures. Oh was I wrong. I didnt even leave the steps and it took not even ten miniutes for my phone to break. I made sure multipule times that I closed the usb port and tgat thr back was properly closed and still water got inside every part of it. it kept going into safemode afterwards and the screen and front camera both have pretty severe water damage and the charger would not work. but after putting it in rice overnight I had been able to get it to charge and can still use everything as before. I still recomend this phone because I honestly do like it, but do not use it in water. it is not waterproof.

Kelli Cusick

November 18, 2013, 10:44 pm

just go to the contacts and click on update then click on where the picture would go and it will let you upload pics.


November 21, 2013, 8:56 am

30% of them have faulty battery packs in them. Samsung is replacing the batteries free of charge. the phone should last a day at least with 3 hours intermittent use during the day. out the box!!

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