Rugged waterproof phones have become a vogue item this year, with pretty much every mobile manufacturer working to make their handsets as tough as possible. This started with Sony at CES in Las Vegas in January, where the smartphone maker unveiled its top-end Xperia Z.
While life-proof smartphones are nothing new, the Z is a milestone as it was one of the first to feature top-end specs while still being scratch, dust and even waterproof. This marked a radical departure from previous rugged phones, like the Motorola Defy and Samsung Xcover series, which generally featured at best middling specs.
The combination proved a hit with smartphone users, with many research houses, including Kantar Worldpanel, reporting seeing a marked number of Samsung users choosing the Z over Samsung's cutting-edge Galaxy S4 when upgrading their handset. Unwilling to throw in the towel, Samsung has come out swinging, releasing a toughened up Active version of the Galaxy S4.
Design and build
Visually, while having the same pebble-like shape as the original S4, the Active has a significantly more industrial design, featuring bulky metallic screws across its back and a kevlar-like finish across its chassis. The phone is also slightly bigger and heavier than the original 137x70x7.9mm, 130g S4, measuring in at 140x71x9.1mm and weighing 153g. While we're sure the more bulky design may put off fans of Samsung's traditional lighter handsets, we like it.
In the past the build quality of Samsung smartphones has been a constant concern, with their polycarbonate detachable backs being prone to picking up marks and blemishes and making the phone feel significantly cheaper than other similarly priced smartphones. The Active's more bulky design by comparison feels outright indestructible, with its removable backplate having almost no give when attached and dark metallic sides leaving us suitably reassured that the phone earned its IP67 certification.
IP67 certification means the Active should be incredibly tough compared with other smartphones, being able to shrug off accidental drops and spillages that would destroy most normal handsets. We found the Active lived up to its title, coming out of a half hour attempt to drown it in the kitchen sink totally unscathed.
Next: Display, operating system and software