More durable and colorful than the
original, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a top choice for customers on
AT&T. With a sturdier design than the original S4, the Active is available
in gray, bright blue or
traffic-cone orange, and resists dust, drops and water. It also has an underwater camera mode for snapshots at the pool. "You've got most of the bells and whistles that are in the proper Galaxy S4, all in a more survivable package," says Phil Nickinson of Android Central. It differs only from the 13-megapixel S4 in its lower-resolution 8-megapixel camera and less saturated screen.
Good grip; great interface. Unlike the slick plastic backing of the GS4, the Active's thicker design is easier to grip and less slippery, while still maintaining its portability. With the same Android Jelly Bean operating system and nearly identical TouchWiz interface, the Active packs the same abundance of features as its predecessor.
No complaints. Excellent reception and call quality pair with an impressive speaker to make the Active as useful out of the water as in it. The battery holds up well, though like most smartphones it needs a charge after an average day's use. Experts report strong 4G LTE reception and impressively fast data speeds.
Works underwater, but not impervious to scrapes and scratches. The Active's underwater camera mode "absolutely works," says Jessica Dolcourt of CNET, "but it's a mistake to think of the S4 Active…as a rugged or durable phone." While it can withstand an unexpected dunk in the sink, experts say the more durable appearance is "largely cosmetic" and the screen is still as vulnerable to scratches as the original. The smartphone isn't for consumers looking for a dedicated underwater camera or who plan to consistently expose their phone to harsher elements, but it does offer consumers better protection against life's daily mishaps.
Colorful options set it apart. Unlike the standard black or white slab design of other Galaxy S smartphones, the GS4 Active comes in bright colors and interesting textures. The back features two rubberized grips, one on top and one on bottom, and comes in blue, orange or gray. Compared to the original, the Active "simply is more fun to use," says Nickinson, and other experts agree.
The 5-inch full HD (1920 by 1080 pixels) TFT LCD screen produces clear text and sharp colors, but lacks the saturated hues of the GS4. It can appear pale and washed out to users accustomed to Samsung's Super AMOLED displays.
Lower-res camera shoots underwater. All the bells and whistles of the GS4 are present on the Active, giving users the same speedy experience packed with an app for every situation. The major difference comes in the Active's camera. Down to 8 megapixels from 13, the camera includes an underwater Aqua mode not available on its hydrophobic predecessor.
The underwater mode is a fun concept, reviewers say, but not the best in quality or ease of use. The Active lacks a focus mode for underwater shots, which according to CNET's Jessica Dolcourt results in "hit or miss" image quality. Out of the water, the Active produces good images of well-lit scenes, but others look soft and sometimes "Vaseline-smeared," says Sascha Segan of PCMag.com.
After extensive hands-on testing, Phil Nickinson concludes the GS4 Active is simply more fun than its predecessor and performs just as well, with the added bonus of an underwater camera.
Review: Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active for AT&T, Phil Nickinson, July 8, 2013
Rating the GS4 Active at 4 out of 5 stars, Jessica Dolcourt finds in her tests that while the Active is durable and withstands submersion in water, it isn't truly a rugged smartphone.
Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review: Sporty, Splashy Fun, but Not Truly Rugged, Jessica Dolcourt, July 16, 2013
Awarding the GS4 Active a 4 out of 5, Sascha Segan concludes the smartphone takes the best of the successful GS4 and adds a waterproof coating, but at the expense of lower camera quality.
Review: Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active (AT&T), Sascha Segan, July 1, 2013
4. The Verge
Dan Seifert puts both the GS4 Active and the Sony Xperia Z through their paces in a head-to-head comparison and concludes both have their merits. Consumers can finally buy a rugged smartphone that can "take a beating and look good doing it," says Seifert.
Review: Battle of the Waterproof Phones: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active vs. Sony Xperia Z, Dan Seifert, July 10, 2013
In a hands-on video review, Terrence O'Brien submerges the Active and concludes the more rugged GS4 is worth the trade-offs for the extra protection and ability to snap underwater shots.
Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Hands-On, Terrence O'Brien, June 20, 2013