By Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - Samsung has already made a splash with its
feature-rich smartphone the Galaxy S4. Now it is hoping to generate
enthusiasm for a Galaxy S4 variant that can survive one, in most
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has
arrived just in time for summer. Samsung is marketing the phone as the
perfect handset for the beach, pool or to go camping.
your standard Galaxy S4, the Active version is certified to be
water-resistant and dust-resistant. While it is not billed as a
ruggedized phone per se, it does have a protective scratch-resistant
5-inch Gorilla Glass display, though that's not uncommon these days.
Suffice to say, this isn't one of those homely phones with lots of
visible extra padding.
In my tests over a few days, the phone
withstood whatever wet obstacles I threw at it - dunking it in a bowl of
water, pouring water over it, shooting it with a powerful water gun.
That is, until it didn't. My first test unit met its match - and demise -
in a swimming pool.
Active is but one of the new Galaxy products
that Samsung has been flooding the market with of late, and it's
perfectly understandable if you can't keep them all straight.
Monday, Samsung unveiled three new Galaxy Tab 3 tablets. On Wednesday,
Google starts selling the unlocked $649 Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play
Edition. Available in the Google Play store, it runs Google's own
version of Android.
That's not all. Samsung introduced a
stripped-down Galaxy phone called the S4 Mini - pricing and availability
still to be determined. The South Korean tech giant has also recently
unveiled the 16-megapixel Galaxy S4 Zoom with a 10X optical zoom. Think
of the S4 Zoom as the offspring between an actual camera and traditional
All of these developments follow the very introduction of
the flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone itself, which only began to hit
stores in April. The phone is now available from all the major U.S.
carriers and a few lesser-known operators, too.
It's hard to
argue with giving consumers a bevy of choices. The possible risk to
Samsung is in confusing potential buyers and having folks overdose on
the popular Galaxy brand name.
AT&T is Samsung's exclusive
U.S. partner for the Galaxy S4 Active that I've been testing. The phone
costs $199.99 with the customary two-year contract, same as AT&T
charges for the standard S4.
At that price, you might ask
yourself, "If I'm shopping for a Samsung Galaxy S4 anyway, why not go
for Active and enjoy some of the protections it provides?" You can
certainly go that route. After all, the Active and the regular Galaxy S4
have similar specs and similar, but not identical, designs.
have quad-core processors, 1920 x 1080 high-definition displays (Super
AMOLED in the case of the regular S4), and run the Jelly Bean version of
Android. And they both start you off with 16 gigabytes of memory,
expandable via microSD by up to 64 GB.
The promised battery life
(up to 17 hours of talk time, nearly a fortnight of standby time) is
similar. The phones can also tap into fast LTE networks, if available.
Active is a hair thicker and, at 5.29 ounces vs. 4.59 ounces, a bit
heavier than its sibling. It has three raised physical buttons below the
display on the front, compared with a single physical button on the
On the standard S4, the micro USB port is exposed.
Given Active's water-resistant properties, however, there's an attached
port cover over the micro USB on that handset.
Still, there are
tradeoffs: For starters, if AT&T is not your preferred wireless
carrier, you'll have to pass on the Active, at least for now. Judging by
side-by-side pictures, the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera on the
standard S4 is slightly better than its 8-megapixel counterpart on the
Active. Both have LED flashes and 4X digital zooms.
Active includes many of the gee-whiz-y tricks of the regular S4 -
including the ability to pause a movie by looking away from the screen,
sharing pictures with another device by tapping the two together or
answering a call with the wave of your hand - it doesn't have every last
feature. There is no dual-camera mode, for instance, which on the
standard S4 that lets you simultaneously shoot pictures with the front
and rear cameras, showing, say, an image of a beaming parent when Junior
scores a goal in soccer.
Active does include an Aqua mode camera
feature that is meant to let you take underwater pictures in the pool -
obviously, the S4 wouldn't have that mode. The phone is supposed to be
water-resistant to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. A warning
sticker on the back of the Active reminds you to firmly seal the battery
and USB covers before use and to press against the AT&T logo on the
back of the phone to make sure, something I thought I did.
touch-screen controls are disabled underwater, you can use the volume
keys to snap photos and videos, though in bright sun it was difficult to
actually see what I was trying to shoot. Shortly after I took the phone
for a dip (in not very deep water), the display went kaput - at least
for several hours. It lit up just long enough to indicate that I had
power, but I couldn't actually keep the display on and use it.
a day later, the screen came alive again, but the phone was still
exhibiting finicky behavior, presumably because of water damage. The
touch-screen was messed up and the device acted as if headphones were
plugged in when they weren't. If this were my actual phone, I'd return
to the store for a replacement.
The appeal of the Active is to
have a stylish, capable and popular phone that pushes the limits on how
and where you might use the device. Alas, when it came to meeting those
limits, Samsung's phone didn't quite go deep enough.
The bottom line
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active from AT&T
$199.99 with two-year contract
Pro. A Galaxy S4 that is water- and dust-resistant.
Con. Not every Galaxy S4 feature is present. Phone didn't survive swimming pool test.