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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active hands-on review

Features a better design than the original Samsung Galaxy S4
Fri Jun 21 2013, 13:02

KOREAN PHONE MAKER Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active smartphone is a stronger version of the original Samsung Galaxy S4, featuring IP67 certifcation and a reinforced design.

We managed to get some time with the S4 Active at Samsung's Galaxy and Ativ Premier event in London on Thursday, and it might have managed to impress us more than its original Galaxy S4 sibling.

Design
When it comes to design, we can't help but think that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is what the original Galaxy S4 should have been. Gone is the flimsy chassis, and while the Galaxy S4 Active is still built almost entirely from plastic, albeit spliced with metal, the casing feels much firmer and more expensive than the Galaxy S4.

Although it is a rugged smartphone, the Galaxy S4 Active isn't chunky, nor is it an unsightly device like the Cat B15. It's slightly larger at 140x71x9.1mm, but it doesn't feel like a typical rugged device when held in the hand. The textured back panel makes the Galaxy S4 Active more comfortable to hold than its predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active design

While it doesn't feel like a rugged device, it certainly performs like one. With IP67 certification, the Galaxy S4 Active can withstand drops and tumbles, scratches and water, being capable of withstanding up to 30 minutes underwater. We put this feature to the test, and the Galaxy S4 Active didn't disappoint, with its rear-facing camera even operating fully thanks to the physical keys on the side of the handset. However, we were slightly disapointed to find that unlike Sony's Xperia Z, the touchscreen can't be operated when wet.

Hardware
The specifications of the Galaxy S4 Active are pretty similar to those of the Galaxy S4. It features the same 5in 1080x1920 screen as Samsung's flagship smartphone, although the Galaxy S4 AMOLED technology has been replaced with an LCD display. On first impressions, we didn't notice too much of a different in quality between the two phones, although colours are unlikely to be quite as vibrant on the Galaxy S4 Active.

Samsung has coupled this screen with a handful of physical keys underneath rather than capacitive touchscreen keys, which we found much more responsive and actually preferred to the Galaxy S4's touchscreen controls.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active has a 5in 1080p HD screen

In terms of processing power the two handsets are pretty evenly matched, with the Galaxy S4 Active featuring a quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM. As you would expect, this means that swiping through screens and loading apps is impressively fast, and we'll be sure to put it through its full paces in our full Galaxy S4 Active review.

The camera has been slightly downgraded though, the Galaxy S4 Active featuring an 8MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash and HD 1080p video. As well as impressing us with its underwater capability, the Galaxy S4 Active managed to produce detailed images even in the gloomy lighting at Samsung's London event. There's a 2MP front-facing camera too, although we have yet to put that through its paces.

Other hardware specifications include 16GB of internal storage with 11.2GB available to the user, microSD memory expansion up to 64GB, integrated NFC and a 2,600mAh battery.

Software
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active features Google's Android 4.2.2 operating system, which comes skinned with Samsung's Touchwiz user interface.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

While we're pleased to see the latest version of Android onboard, we're still not big fans of Touchwiz, which clutters up the device with Samsung apps and widgets that most buyers won't give a second look. However Samsung's widgets, which are on almost every homescreen, can easily be removed, with the handset offering plenty of room for customisation.

Thanks to Samsung's onslaught of software features, such as Air Gesture and S Voice, it could take even the most savvy smartphone users a few days to learn their way around the Galaxy S4 Active.

First impressions
Samsung might have downgraded the specifications of the Galaxy S4 Active by designing the phone with an LCD screen and 8MP camera, but on first impressions it looks like the phone might be able to outperform Samsung's Android flagship.

The design is much improved and, call us old fashioned, but we preferred the physical keys on the front of the handset. While the handset is aimed at those with an outdoor lifestyle, we can see the Galaxy S4 Active appealing to almost everyone. µ

 

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