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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Review: One of the Best Android Smartphones To Date

Seriously water-resistant
Seriously water-resistant

Galaxy S4 Active: Water Resistant, Powerful, and Elegant

When we first heard about the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active we kinda dismissed it because we thought that it would be bulky and heavy. However it turns out it’s our favorite Galaxy S4 variant. Not only is it water resistant, the Galaxy S4 Active is elegantly designed and it’s equipped with the same monstrous internals. The only major “downgrades” are the camera (8MP down from 13MP) and the display (TFT from Super AMOLED). Both of which we accept with open arms if just to get the better chassis and water resistance.

Before we get to the full review, let’s quickly go over the specifications again.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Spec Sheet

  • 1.9GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor
  • Adreno 320 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with expandable storage via MicroSD up to 64GB
  • 5-inch TFT HD display (1080 x 1920 pixels) at 441 ppi
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 8.0-megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash and Aqua Mode for underwater photography
  • 2.0-megapixel front-facing camera
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, WiFi hotspot, DNLA, Bluetooth, NFC, Infrared Port, LTE
  • 2,600 mAh battery
  • Android 4.2.2 Jellybean

By the way the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is not yet available locally officially. We got ours from online gadget shop Kimstore for Php28,700.

>>> SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S4 Unboxing and Hands-on

Handsome Smartphone that You Can Take to the Shower

Galaxy S4 Active relaxing sa bowl of water... pag may time
Galaxy S4 Active relaxing sa bowl of water… pag may time

Looking at it from the front, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active closely resembles the Samsung Galaxy S4. The biggest difference, like what we mentioned in the unboxing post, is that you have three physical buttons at the bottom instead of one. They probably did this because it helps with the “waterproof” thing. Also, if you turn it sideways and around you’ll notice several key changes. These alterations might be polarizing in the sense that not everyone will like them but we find it very appealing and tastefully done.

First you’ll notice that the glossy plastic back plate is no longer there. Instead we have a removable back plate that has some sort of brushed metal finish. It’s still plastic but it looks much better than what we saw with the original Galaxy S4. Also there are small visible screws on the four corners of the back. Those screws look awesome. It gives the device a more techie feel, haha! For the sides we still have the metallic band but they gave it a darker color which makes it meld seamlessly into the design of the device. Lastly, they also have rubber coating for the sides of the back.

What the back looks like
What the back looks like
Very elegantly designed
Very elegantly designed

If there’s one thing Samsung has perfected over the years with their smartphone designs it’s how to make them ergonomic. In our hands the Galaxy S4 Active felt very natural. The weight was just right, not too light, not too heavy. The curved sides and the rubberized corners of the back made it a joy to hold. It was a welcome feeling compared to the biting edges of other flagship smartphones.

The main selling point of the Active though is how it’s waterproof. Let’s get to that now.

Water-resistant, yes. Useable Under Water? No. Shockproof? No. Dustproof? Yes.

Gusto ko mag-swimming!
Gusto ko mag-swimming!

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is actually IP67 certified which means it should be water and dust resistant. Based on our testing and experience, the “waterproofness” of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is similar to the Sony Xperia Z. You can take it underwater and it can get splashed with water but you can’t really navigate the device using the touchscreen when it’s submerged. As of today the only device that can do that properly is still the Sony Xperia ZR.

We made a short video to demonstrate the water-resistance. Check it out below! :)

Oh please note that while it does have the “Active” name, don’t think that this is a shockproof handset. If you let this fall from a good distance chances are it will break, lol.

Display – TFT Panel instead of Super AMOLED

Display is not as good as the Galaxy S4 but still quite competitive
Display is not as good as the Galaxy S4 but still quite competitive

Samsung opted to use a TFT panel for the display versus the usual Super AMOLED that we’ve seen with their previous offerings. Super AMOLED is definitely better with brighter and vibrant colors. However this really isn’t a deal breaker since the TFT display is still considerably good and you probably won’t see any pixels still. If you don’t need the water resistance though and you prefer a brighter and more vivid screen you might want to opt for the GS4 instead.

Blazing Fast and Top-of-the-Line, High Level Performance

Not a bad score
Not a bad score

Usually you’d think waterproof phones are gimmicky. That’s not the case with the Galaxy S4 Active. This device has flagship level specifications. It scored over 25,000 on the Antutu Benchmark Test putting it on the same league as the original Galaxy S4. Translated into real world usage, the Galaxy S4 Active delivers a lag-free, buttery smooth, and blisteringly fast user experience that will smoke a lot of other handsets in the market today.

Everything runs well: Gaming, Social Networking, Videos, etc.

We threw everything at the Galaxy S4 Active and it handled them without any issues. For gaming we fired up Dead Trigger and put it on Ultra High graphics settings. It was the best Dead Trigger experience we’ve ever had (next only to the Galaxy S4). After that we tried the usual suspects: Candy Crush, Wild Blood, Despicable Me 2 Minion Rush, and several others. All of them played out very well.

Games? Check.
Games? Check.
Social networking? Check!
Social networking? Check!

If the Galaxy S4 Active can handle the memory and graphics intensive apps, then it is logical to assume that it can do everything else without any issues. In our tests we rarely got any lag spikes or delays even if we were searching for a specific contact in a list of more than 3,000 (which is usually the problem of a lot of other handsets).

Movies? Check. Btw make sure you watch Flashpoint Paradox. Really good.
Movies? Check. Btw make sure you watch Flashpoint Paradox. Really good.

For media, it also played full HD video with no stuttering. Jumping from different scenes was also fluid and smooth, which is a testament to the power of the processor, RAM, and graphics card.

Samsung Apps and Software Features

Look at all those controls!
Look at all those controls!

Samsung also gave the TouchWiz bonanza treatment to the Galaxy S4 Active. All the software enhancements and apps of the Galaxy S4 are also available here. There’s Group Play, Air View, Air Gestures, S Translate, S Health, and many more. To be honest you won’t really use most of them. In our time with the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S4 Active we’ve always turned most of them off with the exception of Smart Stay. All the others are usually turned off, lol. They’re nice to have but not necessarily game changing.

In short, the Galaxy S4 Active is a top-tier device that happens to be water-resistant. It’s not a gimmicky water-resistant device with dismal specifications.

LTE baby

Just like the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Mega 6.3, the Galaxy S4 Active has LTE connectivity. On our tests we were easily able to connect to Smart LTE. Downloads and speeds were fast and we had no problem streaming YouTube HD content as long as we had LTE signal. The device also turned out to be a good back-up internet connection as our PLDT DSL suddenly died the other day. The Galaxy S4 Active powered our internet requirements for a whole day without blinking.

>>> SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 Review

Camera: Competitive 8MP Shooter

8MP shooter
8MP shooter

The Galaxy S4 Active got a slight downgrade with their camera. The original Galaxy S4 had a 13MP shooter while the S4 Active has 8MP. The good news is that the 8-megapixel snapper is still quite competitive compared to other flagship smartphones. Colors are still captured very well and it still manages to produce respectable photos in low light conditions. The quality is very similar to the Galaxy Note II.

Here are sample shots:

Good morning Philippines! View from our bedroom window in our condo.
Good morning Philippines! View from our bedroom window in our condo.
Currently my favorite watch. TW Steel.
Currently my favorite watch. TW Steel.

Like what we mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S4 Active also has the camera UI of the Galaxy Camera. You can also use it underwater by turning on “Aqua” mode which lets you take photos under water. Once activated the shutter button changes from on-screen to the volume button. You can also use this to record video.

Battery Life: Outstanding

The Galaxy S4 Active packs a 2,600mAh battery and that’s more than enough to get you through the day. In our tests we were pleasantly surprised as we got over 9 hours battery life even with heavy usage. That’s with LTE and sync on for the entire duration. We even used it as a hotspot for several times during the day. Samsung is definitely making progress in making their devices more energy efficient.

Verdict: One of the Very Best Smartphones To Date

Two thumbs up!
Two thumbs up!

If you take everything into consideration, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is arguably one of the very best smartphones to date. It has an innovative design (not just plastic), monstrous specifications, water and dust resistance, and a competitive rear-facing camera. Sure the display can be improved but it’s already quite nice as it is. Add to that the stellar battery life, LTE connectivity, and all the crazy Samsung software and you have a winner.

We’re very happy with the Galaxy S4 Active and we highly recommend it to our readers. Two thumbs up Samsung!

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is not yet available in the Philippines officially but you can already get it from Kimstore for Php28,700.

Carlo Ople

Carlo is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Unbox.ph. During daytime he’s the Managing Director and Partner of a Digital Marketing Agency in the Philippines and by nighttime he’s living out his passion as a gadget enthusiast and story teller through Unbox.

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