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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active tested: hard shell, high-end kernel

The Galaxy S4 Active from Samsung is the second high end smartphone this year after the Sony Xperia Z which is not only protected against water and dust, but also looks stylish and plays in the league of the big boys in terms of technical specifications. What you'll discover in my test report today is whether the Galaxy S4 Active really does live up to the high expectations set by a device in the S4 series.

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© AndroidPIT

Design and Craftsmanship

Samsung didn't sway far from the S4's design, only differentiating from the original flagship with a few extra robust and outdoor-suited accents. The body is slightly thicker and the top and bottom sides are rubberized with plastic. The micro USB port is hidden behind a covering, while the headphone jack remains open. Four thick rivets hold the whole thing tightly together.

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Rubberized plastic for the edges... / © AndroidPIT
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... and thick rivets give the S4 Active a robust, outdoorsy look. / © AndroidPIT

The removable battery cover is matted with a fine honeycomb-patterned, smooth plastic which in turn encircles the slightly squared camera lens. On the front side, the most noticeable accents are the three textured hardware buttons, found under the display, whose shiny chrome symbols are slightly embossed. Even the power button and volume buttons have textured surfaces.

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The hardware buttons under the display are textured...  / © AndroidPIT
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... and so are the speaker and power buttons. / © AndroidPIT

These external robust aspects consequently have an effect on the device's weight: at 151 grams it's significantly heavier than other smartphones of the same size. More importantly though, the craftsmanship is good and sturdy, free from wide gaps between parts and loose rattling pieces.

A word of caution regarding the fragile pieces within the device, which are only protected by rubber seals found on the inner-laying side of the battery cover: if you don't close this tightly, water could quickly enter the chassis.


With a measurement of 5-inches diagonally across the screen, the S4 Active also has a 1920x1080 pixel resolution which keeps it head-to-head with the Galaxy S4. Where it differs is in the display type: Samsung opted to provide the S4 Active with an IPS display and an LCD Panel, as opposed to the AMOLED display covering the S4. When comparing the two side-by-side, the robust version features a much brighter and clearer picture, as well as a clearer presentation of white colored areas.

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There is a clear difference between the displays on the S4 Active (left) and the S4 (right). / © AndroidPIT


When it comes down to software, the S4 Active is in no way inferior to the original flagship. Completed with Android 4.2.2, it evidently boasts the trademark TouchWiz user interface plus an astounding amount of gesture, movement, voice and face recognition controls (Smart Screen). Other devices from the S4 line, more specifically the S4 mini and Zoom, are missing these features, due to the lack of required sensors required.

The S4 Active received a few extra functions, like being able to change your switched off screen into a flashlight. On top of the extensive list of S4 features, it also packs the Pro version of the map software app, ape@map. Released one year ago, it offers offline navigation with GPS and shows hiking, biking and ski routes.

Processor and Performance

The S4 Active comes with the same processor as that ticking away in the S4, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core chipset running at 1.9 GHz, complemented by 2 GB RAM. This all means that it possesses the highest technical specifications of today and delivers better performance than most Android smartphones on the market. What was particularly fast were the controls: the micro-stutters, which I noticed when testing out the S4, didn't appear when using the S4 Active.


The camera on the S4 Active shoots at 8 MP, which causes it to be slightly inferior to its high-end competitors and the S4. What it lacks in megapixels, it retains in the numerous amount of pre-installed camera modes, topped with an extra water mode. Taking pictures under water is made possible with the transformation of the volume button into a trigger button, although you can only do so on the 2 MP camera.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to capture a good enough underwater picture, as the water in the fountain found near our office was murky and greenish. That being said, some cool looking shots are definitely possible from the front-facing camera.

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Half under water, water over water: the S4 Active right before submerging. / © AndroidPIT

The test photos, which were taken in good light during a bright sunny day, unfortunately didn't do much to impress. The popular 16:9 format only offers pics with 6 MP, meaning that all shots taken were left dull, fuzzy and lacking in detail.

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In bright daylight, the S4 Active takes alright pictures,which lack in detail and are slightly fuzzy. / © AndroidPIT

It’s particularly a pity that the camera is less than amazing because the underwater mode does indeed open up new fields of application. Overall the S4 Active's pictures were alright, but definitely didn't leave a lasting impression like the S4 could. So when wanting to take pics under water, you definitely want to opt for a camera which is made for this purpose.

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This HDR shot looks nice and natural. / © AndroidPIT
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... and macro mode is also pretty nice! / © AndroidPIT


Again in line with the S4, the Active is powered by a 2600 mAh battery, which keeps it up to par with other 5-inch high-end phones. In terms of durability, the S4 Active compares closely to the S4 and even with an average daily usage of mobile internet, text messaging, picture snapping and short telephone conversations, it will easily get you through the day. Its energy saving options also help to ensure the longest battery life possible. That being said, we weren’t able to extensively analyze the battery during the short period of our testing.

Technical specs and price

The S4 Active definitely offers a very attractive complete package. The 5-inch display with its full HD resolution is razor sharp, the processor is the fastest thing you can get your hands on, while the battery will keep you happy all day long. All of this, as you probably expected, comes at a pretty price. At $594.99 (AT&T), the S4 Active is no bargain, though it is slightly less expensive than the S4.

The S4 Active:  The most important tech specs
Processor 1.9 GHz, Quad-Core, Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
Memory 2 GB
Display 5 inches, LCD 1920 x 1080 pixels
Internal storage 16 GB, extendable with microSD slot
Camera 8 MP (back), 2 MP (front)
Operating System Android 4.2.2, TouchWiz UI
Dimensions 139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1 mm
Weight 151 g
Battery 2,600 mAh
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Water on the lens: the S4 Active doesn't even flinch! / © AndroidPIT

Bottom Line

I stay true to my first opinion on this matter: the S4 Active is better than the S4. If you go for the more sturdy, outdoor phone, you'll need to take its heavier weight and slightly larger dimensions into consideration. Feel like the S4 is a bit too big for your liking? Then it's better in this case to keep your fingers off the S4 Active. Though the removable battery covering could potentially put a damper on its water-tight aspect if not sealed properly, it makes perfect sense for those long treks in the great outdoors where you will be far, far away from any plug-in. Also, we can definitely shed some melancholic tears at the fact that the camera didn't do much to impress us during our test. Other than that, Samsung has come up with a super addition to its portfolio and has made a great, high-end alternative to the Xcover 2. This phone targets the lovers of the great outdoors, who enjoy rough and tough activities and don't mind getting a little dirty, but all with one stylish looking design.

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