Samsung's mobile approach is simple: make a device in every conceivable size, for every conceivable price point, and for every conceivable demographic. So it shouldn't be too big of a surprise to see a new Galaxy aimed at the rugged, outdoorsy set. The Galaxy S4 Active is a niche device for sure, but, fortunately, it also has some promising features under the hood. Let's see how its specs (and other features) compare to the standard Galaxy S4.
The Galaxy S4 Active is only slightly taller and wider than the flagship GS4. The Active is quite a bit thicker though: by over 15 percent.
Despite its more rugged build, Samsung managed to keep the Active's weight from creeping up too ridiculously. It's about 16 percent heavier than the ultra-light Galaxy S4.
We haven't yet handled the GS4 Active, and Samsung hasn't officially listed its build materials. So we're taking a stab at aluminum. Considering its sealed, waterproof and dust-proof construction (rated IP67, in case you follow these things), we'd be surprised if it was made of plastic.
We've reached out to Samsung for clarification, and will update the post if we get some solid info on this front.
Both phones have huge 5-inch, 1080p screens. There are a few differences though. For starters, the GS4's screen is Super AMOLED, while the GS4 Active's is a TFT LCD.
Samsung also lists a slightly higher pixel density for the Active, despite identically-listed diagonal measurements and resolution. If Samsung's 443 pixels per inch (PPI) listing is correct, then we're actually looking at a 4.97-inch screen – rounded up to 5-inch – on the Active.
But we aren't here to blow microscopic spec differences out of proportion. Both screens are extremely sharp, and will deliver plenty of eye candy.
What's more interesting is the GS4 Active's "Glove Touch" technology. When you're out skiing or spelunking, this lets you control the GS4 Active's screen without pulling off your mitts.
But here's where it gets really interesting. Though Samsung never advertised it (to our knowledge), you can also use the Galaxy S4 with gloves on. I just tested it with a pretty thick pair of leather gloves, and it only took a little extra pressure to operate it as usual. So that could come in handy for both phones in cold-weather conditions.
The GS4 Active has some high-end features (like that 1080p screen), but you know Samsung doesn't consider a device to be 100 percent high-end when it doesn't list the make of its processor.
Though the mystery processor's cores and clock speed match the Qualcomm 600 US version of the GS4, that probably isn't what we're looking at here. Samsung almost certainly would have mentioned it if this puppy ran a Snapdragon.
Both phones pack an ample 2 GB of RAM, so nothing to worry about here.
Samsung is only selling the GS4 Active in a 16 GB model. The GS4 also comes in 32 GB and 64 GB models. Both phones support microSD cards.
But remember that those numbers aren't quite as they appear. The 16 GB Galaxy S4 that I've been using (T-Mobile, US) leaves me with about 9 GB of usable storage after system files are accounted for. Samsung lists a bit more for the Active (11.25 GB), but also adds the caveat that it could vary by region and carrier.
No unpleasant surprises here. The Active will give you speedy LTE downloads when you're trekking through the wilderness, hang gliding, or wrestling bears ... provided you can get coverage of course.
The Active forgoes the flagship Galaxy's 13 MP rear camera for an 8 MP shooter. We also don't know if the GS4 Active's camera uses cheaper components than its less-rugged sibling. So until we get some hands-on time with it, we'd consider its camera to be an unknown quantity.
Samsung does advertise many of the GS4's wacky software-based camera features for the Active. Things like Sound & Shot (record an audio clip with your shots), Drama Shot (create a time-lapse effect for moving subjects), and Beauty Face (give portraits a smoothed-out, Photoshopped look) all reappear here.
Unique to the Active is Aqua Mode. As you might guess, it (supposedly) enhances underwater photography, making pictures brighter and clearer than they otherwise would be.
Here's a promising sign for the GS4 Active's battery life: it has the same capacity as the standard GS4. In our time with it, we've been very happy with the Galaxy S4's uptimes.
Like the GS4, the GS4 Active also runs the latest version of Android (4.2.2 Jelly Bean), with Samsung's TouchWiz layered on top. It also gets most or all of the GS4's gimmicky bag of software goodies. So Active owners get in on the GS4's Smart Pause, Air View, and Air Gesture action (for better or worse).
The GS4 Active also has Samsung's WatchOn and a built-in IR Blaster, so you can use both phones as remote controls for your TV.
Wrap-upIf you're looking for a great, high-end smartphone, then the standard Galaxy S4 is one great choice ( among others). The Active version is targeted at a much more niche audience. You know: Grizzly Adams, Bear Grylls, the Turtle Man ... if you're named after a wild animal, this is the phone for you.
It's easy to joke, but the Galaxy S4 Active could come in handy if you work outdoors or around water. Just because you're up to your knees in Mother Nature doesn't mean you shouldn't also be able to check your email, post to Facebook, or fling the occasional Angry Bird.
Smartphones are nearly everywhere, and Samsung is determined to be the company waiting for you around those final corners of the Earth. Even if they're under three meters of water.
The GS4 Active will be available within the next few months, starting in Sweden and the US. It will ship in three colors: Urban Grey, Dive Blue, and Orange Flare. For more on the standard version, you can check out our review of the Galaxy S4.