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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active - Camera, Battery Life and Verdict

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Video, Music and Internal Speaker

Like all the best Samsung phones, the S4 Active is a well above average little video player. It comes with a bespoke video player app that can handle more video types than your typical Android phone.

S4 Active

It played absolutely all of our test files, including HD MKVs, DivX files and Xvids. They all look fantastic on the S4 Active’s screen too. Like previous Galaxy phones, you're not restricted to the app either, as you can watch videos on your home screen as a little movable, resizable window.

The S4 Active is let down a little by the phone’s internal speaker. It goes fairly loud without sounding too strained and has a hint of body and finesse, but there’s just the one output point on the rear, rather than having properly-spaced stereo drivers like the HTC One.

When watching a film, this means you won’t get any stereo effect, as all the sound is coming out of a teeny port on the phone’s rear. S4 Active speaker

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a phone that loses out to its slimmer brother the Galaxy S4 in some respects, and the camera is one of them. Spec-wise at least, the S4 Active is near-identical to last year’s Galaxy S3.

S4 Active 2

It has a main 8-megapixel camera with an F/2.6 lens, where the S4 has a 13-megapixel and faster f/2.2 lens.

The more advanced lens and sensor let the Galaxy S4 produce more detailed photos in good lighting. However, theS4 Active is no slouch, and can roughly match the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 in this area.S4 Active 4

S4 Active 5

This shows the additional detail of a non-Active S4, but the drab look is partly down to the weather

Dynamic range is a little limited, leaving the foreground of our London scene looking quite glum, underexposed and with dull colouring in the city’s buildings.

The Galaxy S4 Active can get reasonably up-close with its subject before it’s unable to focus, although it did seem to mis-report a locked-on focus at times. Focusing reliability could be better.

S4 Active 2

It’s possible to make up for some of the camera’s deficiencies with the camera app’s additional modes. HDR mode will clean up dull-looking images on a cloudy day, and the Night mode does a lot more than just slow down the autofocus to help it cope in a dark environment.

S4 Active 3

S4 Active

It also appears to increase the exposure time, possibly to increase the brightness through processing, and hugely decreases noise, again through processing. This helps to close the gap between the Active and a phone that loudly prides itself on its low-light performance, such as the HTC One or Lumia 925. You do need to manually switch to Night mode, though, as - despite being 'automatic' - Auto mode doesn't improve low-light performance in the same way.

The Galaxy S4 Active’s flash is also strong, with powerful, pretty even coverage, and good use of the LED light to aid focusing too.

S4 Active 1

WIth even coverage and no sign of overexposure, flash shooting performance is good

The Galaxy S4 Active camera isn’t great compared with the S4’s, but use the software at your fingertips and it’s a pretty versatile camera. What’s sure to win more attention, though, are the Active’s more ‘fun’ modes.

There’s a bunch of burst modes that let you pick, the ‘best face’ of your subject meld exposures to remove objects or see the same object multiple times in one shot.

Panorama is another solid addition, letting you take a 360-degree photo, but it’s not shot at full resolution, unlike an iPhone 5 panorma shot.

The S4 Active also offers a bunch of post-processing fiddling, including airbrushing-styling facial manipulation. There's a lot of photographic fun to be had with this phone. And most of it is kept out of the way for those who want to have a no-fuss shooting experience.

You can also shoot video, at up to 1080p resolution. Quality is good, and with software stabilisation and re-focusing during shooting, it's versatile enough to capture a few holiday memories with. There's also a mode to let you use the Active for underwater shots - this lets you use a physical button to take snaps rather than the touchscreen as capacitive touchscreens don't function properly underwater.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Battery Life

Just like the Samsung Galaxy S4, the S4 Active has a 2,600mAh 9.88Wh battery. Although the different screen technologies of these phones alters the way they consume battery (OLEDs use more when displaying a brighter screen, less a dark one, while LCDs are more consistent), they offer comparable battery life.

When left playing video and not tasked with anything else, the Active S4’s battery lasts for around 10 hours – enough for a long flight. For more normal use, the Active will easily last a full day. We didn't quite manage a full two days of use out of it, though.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – Call Quality and Connectivity

Call quality and connectivity are things often forgotten when buying a phone, but the S4 Active aces both of them. It offers a good calling experience with a loud, clear earpiece speaker and - like most high-end phones - active noise cancellation.

It also offers just about every extra connection type you could ask for. 4G, NFC and an IR blaster that lets you control you TV with the phone are here alongside the standards of GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G. All you miss out on is an FM radio - we occasionally miss it, but few of you probably will.

S4 Active 4

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active?

It’s all too easy to misinterpret what the S4 Active really is. To call it ruggedised is to risk overstating its powers. A chunkier body and rubberised end caps make the Active feel more robust than the Galaxy S4, but as it is made of similar materials (and, rather comically, a weaker glass front panel) the Active won’t be less prone to a) smashing its front or b) cracking or warping its rear.

What it does have are rubber seals that stop water and dust from getting in. Bath time fun is A-ok.

Aside from this, it is a typical high-end Android phone of 2013. It has a large, super high-res screen, a powerful processor and feature-packed software. However, the camera is unavoidably worse than the Galaxy S4’s in good lighting conditions. Here’s the question – do you care more about water resistance or camera quality? And if neither is a top consideration, we’d also recommend considering the HTC One and taking a look our best Android phones round-up for more options.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a powerful, feature-heavy Android phone, and one that has most of the benefits of a Galaxy S4 with added waterproofing. However, calling it a true rugged phone is pushing it, and the camera isn’t a match for the S4’s.

Overall Score

8

Scores In Detail

  • Camera 8
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Screen Quality 8
  • Value 7
Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut

chaosdefinesorder

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"

rroburt

June 24, 2013, 4:24 am

Does it have a removable battery?

Jaded

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

Jaded

June 24, 2013, 11:57 am

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

trish

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)......?.?.?

parakis

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. :)

Peter

August 8, 2013, 6:14 pm

No pic no prove !

FRUSTRATED!

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|

Rissa

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!

Chris75

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.

Mike

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

MikeD

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.

KarmaGMA

September 8, 2013, 6:33 am

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

gg

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

Stan

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.

beatles

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.

Lawrence

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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