A first look at Samsung's ruggedized, water-resistant Galaxy S4 Active

Traditionally, if you wanted a toughened, water-resistant, life-proof smartphone, there were compromises you just had to live with. Usually you'd pay over the odds, and be left with a bulky, ugly-looking device running old software, with sub-par internals. But that's starting to change, and we've already seen devices like the Sony Xperia Z that promise top-end hardware alongside the ability to survive a dunk in the bath.

Now Samsung's entering the rugged smartphone market in a big way with the Galaxy S4 Active -- a device that stays true to its Galaxy S4 branding with high-end internals matched against a rugged chassis. It's IP67-rated for water and dust resistance, meaning its internals are protected from harmful particulate matter, and it'll survive in up to 1 meter of water for at least 30 minutes.

On the inside you're dealing with much the same high-end parts you'll find in the regular S4 -- a 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, expandable via micro SD and a 1080p display. A few changes have been made though -- the Active's screen is an LCD, not SuperAMOLED, which may lead to improved daylight visibility (it's difficult to tell inside the darkened demo area). The camera's also taken a slight hit, going from 13 megapixels on the S4 to 8 on the active. Again, it was difficult to judge the camera's performance in the demo area at Earls Court today, but it seemed to work well enough. What's more, the camera app now boasts a dedicated underwater shooting mode.

On the outside, it's clear you're dealing with a more rugged device than the vanilla GS4. Gone is the shiny, flimsy back panel, and in its place lies a sturdier plastic battery door. At the top of the Active you've got a grippier area, fixed in place with plastic studs. The same textured plastic is used on the Active's power, volume, back, home and menu keys, making each of these easy to find and press.

And that leads us to one of the main changes around the front of the device. Samsung's switched to an all-clicky button setup, versus the half-physical, half-capacitive arrangement on most of its phones -- a move that's likely been made to aid ease of use when the phone's wet.

The software experience is almost identical to that of the Galaxy S4 -- you've got the full Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and TouchWiz UI, which gives you access to an overwhelming array of features we've already covered in depth in our Galaxy S4 review.

The Galaxy S4 Active lands on AT&T tomorrow, and will launch in Europe later this summer.


Reader comments

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active hands-on


Worthless then. I've dropped my phone a hellova lot more than I've cared about dust or spilled water on it.

Still waiting for a completely industrial phone with zero ports (openings) and drop proof.

I was going to make that joke too. I'm starting to hold Verizon in the same company I hold my local dollar store as far as a quality selection.


How are the USB and headphone ports sealed? Will it sit in an S4 dock, or is there a cover over the USB port that will prevent it (and be a PITA every time you connect a charger)?

USB port has a flap. Not to bad to deal with. Headphone jack has no cover but it is waterproof. I've tested mine

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Interested in the LCD display. GS4 is worthless in sunlight. My HTC One was great outdoors and sick of blue whites already...

I like the display better. On auto brightness it is definitely brighter than the S4 I have. Looks better to me

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That's pretty interesting.

Auto brightness on the S4 is just dim unfortunately. Under sunlight the S4 is legible with full brightness, but I just wish the auto brightness did it for you.

Eh, luckily the brightness is able to be controlled by the notification bar.

A decent display compared with the S4 which is terrible outside. As a chip manufacturer, why does Samsung stick with insufficient internal memory?

Would not purchase the overpriced S4. At least one can view this LCD in the sunlight until it force closes due to lack of internal storage.


... annoying as it is

lack of internal storage? How many apps & games do you have to use up the 8G+ avaliable in a 16GB GS4? All media files can go on a 64GB SD card.

GS4's LPDDR3-800 Ram is faster and more energy efficient than the LPDDR2-500/553 fond on any other phone.

i know Android lets you disable pre-installed apps if u can't delete them.
can you disable sum of the touchwiz gesture stuff as well to save resources??

Hopefully the brightness on this is better than the normal S4.

I've never picked on Samsung for having plastic construction phones, it doesn't bother me, but come on, even the bolts on the back are plastic?

And a 16GB model isn't good enough, even before the hoohah that came along about having 9.7GB left. This is 2013.

On the active I have 9.74 left after I've installed my apps. Seems like they've trimmed down the space touchwiz takes up somehow. And apps can be moved to sd card out of the box on the active. Makes it a little easier to bear

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Thanks! Good info to know! The one I saw today had over 10GB available but I did not know about the apps thing.

Ever noticed that metal has this uncanny way of corroding? Yeah.... and it's also subject to electrolysis in salt water; meaning it has this nasty habit of eating away metals and is why Zincs (a softer metal than steel or aluminum) are put on aluminum and steel hulled boats and ships, that get eaten away first!

It's why Fiber Glass became a safer option for things in brine or salt water on boats. Which is also made up of Chemically Engineered Polycarbonate and glass or carbon fiber strands. With the Carbon fiber strands the Polycarbonate becomes "Carbon Fiber". Now imagine that... Polycarbonate Plastic has Carbon in it for flexible strength and BULLET PROOFING! ;-P ....and that's not even why they use plastic rather than the cheap die cast aluminum Apple now uses.

Instead.... Samsung uses polycarbonate plastic so it retains flexibility, in order to be easily removed to remove or replace the battery, insert or remove the SD expansion card and so it's also cheaper to replace. That way they give you the choice of using your smartphone YOUR WAY... instead of having it dictated to you by HTC on the ONE or Apple's iBendOverEasy to Crack a smile iPhone 5!

I would have taken your comment seriously until you threw in that trolling nonsense at the end.

Is water resistance the same as bodily fluid resistance? A question for the porn enthusiast.

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Has AT&T announced pricing? Not sure I'd pay a premium when there are plenty of waterproof cases available. I like the dedicated underwater photo setting though, and a brighter display would definitely be a good thing.

AT&T has a 50% off promotion for any phone priced at $200 or less going on right now if u buy online. & i think its good on 1 year contracts also

Just like the original galaxy s4 the new Galaxy S4 active really is impressive. I only regret the fact that Smasung made the decision to produce the Zoom and the Active separately. Imagine if they launched a Phone gathering both smartphones features that could have been quite insane !!

I checked this out today. Quite nice! Hard to justify since I already have an S4 but I was impressed. It is water and dust resistant not rugged. They will still have cases etc for this. The model I saw had over 10GB or space available.