What is your biggest worry when using your phone outdoors? Read most smart phone warranties and they say VOID – signs of water damage. With normal mobiles this can happen even if your phone is in the same room when you have a shower. Imagine using your phone in the French Alps, dropping it into fresh soft snow. Well, worry no more…
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
The S4 Active by Samsung is the latest model in the hugely popular Galaxy range. Here at Snow Pursuits we have been partial to the S2 and S3 models in the past, so when we heard that Samsung had developed a special variant of their latest S4 model for outdoor use, we were intrigued. We have been extremely lucky to get our hands on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active smart phone, and over the coming weeks and months we will be testing it out in the kind of environments that skiers and snowboarders love (i.e. on the slopes).
This article is an introduction to the S4 Active and will cover its main features as well as putting it through some general tasks. When we use the phone in more extreme and snowy conditions we will update the site with new posts. So stay tuned.
Below are key speifications, but for a full range of specifications see the official Samsung product page here.
- Weight: 153g (with Battery).
- Dimensions (mm): 139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1 (H x W x D).
- Screen Size: 5″.
- Battery: 2600mAh Standard.
- Processor: Quad Core – 1.9GHz GHz CPU Speed.
- Operating System: Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean).
- Connectivity: HSPA+ with LTE 4G support.
- USB: USB v2.0.
- Storage: 16GB Memor with up to 64GB MicroSD.
- Display: Full HD (1080p) TFT Technology – 16M Colour Depth.
- Main Camera (rear): 8MP Megapixels.
- Front Camera: 2MP Megapixels.
The S4 Active is a more robust version of the standard Galaxy S4, and as such comes with added features that are essential when the phone is used outdoors. Probably the main feature for winter sports is the waterproofing that allows you to submerge the phone up to 1 metre for 30mins. Also, there are large physical buttons below the screen so that you can access key functions with wet hands or while wearing chunky gloves. There are an array of photo shooting options, including ‘Drama’ which creates those cool photos where a person or object is captured across a number of positions and overlayed onto one image in sequence. Another useful option is to convert the physical side volume button into a photo capture button that can be used to take photos under water or in situations where it is difficult to press the touch screen photo button (e.g. while skiing down a mountain). Finally, Samsung state that the touch screen works while you are wearing gloves, which is a real positive while enjoying yourself in the snow.
Here we will test both the waterproof capabilities and the ability to use the touch screen while wearing gloves. Carry on reading to see our findings.
The Water Test
Rather than take Samsung’s word for it, we wanted to test how waterproof the Galaxy S4 Active was. Our test was pretty simple, submerge the phone fully in water while playing a video to see if anything breaks. Then take the phone out of the water and see if it still works.
After the Water Test all visual aspects of the phone were fine, the touch screen worked nicely, there was no misting or non-responsive areas. The speaker also worked as it did before the Water Test, so on the whole the Samsung S4 Active was indeed waterproof. However, it was only when a phone call came through did we realise not all was well. The person on the other end of the line found it very difficult to hear what was being said, with all noise muffled. In the user guide that came in the box it does acknowledge that this may occur, and if you make sure the mic is dry and then allow the phone to air dry then everything should be fine. Without doing anything special such as putting the phone in the airing cupboard or above a radiator, the mic did sort itself out and now works fine again. This did however take close to 24hrs, which was not something we’d anticipated. This is probably something that should be addressed because for a phone to be truly waterproof and have special underwater photo options, you need to be able to use the phone call function. In emergency situations, or even ordering a pizza after a day on the slopes you want someone to understand you when you speak to them over the phone.
It should be noted that the phone was completely submerged in water, and is likely more extreme than what most people would do. Dropping it in the snow, or using it while raining would not get the mic as wet as in our test. However, the phone is designed for use underwater up to 1m for 30mins, so the mic should definitely be functional afterwards. Something that you may also be interested to know is that while the screen or your fingers are wet the touch screen does not function, or at least it does not function as it should. This is common with touch screens so it is not a Samsung issue, but it is something to keep in mind as you may expect it to work while wet since this is a waterproof phone. Samsung do not claim that the touch screen will work while wet, so maybe it was just our expectations getting carried away?
Check out the full video below of the Water Test. It’s only a minute long.
The Glove Test
Samsung also state that you can use this phone while wearing gloves. If this is true then this is a great feature because the last thing you want to do is keep taking your gloves off to do quick tasks, such as answering a phone call or changing songs while in cold and damp conditions. This feature negates the need to buy specialist gloves, such as the North Face Etip Ski Glove. Like our Water Test the Glove Test was pretty simple. While wearing gloves we attempted to carry out some general touch screen slides and app launches.
We assessed the touch screen with three different gloves of varying thickness and material. The thinnest glove was a standard everyday use glove that was 100% wool. Next was a special Karrimor sports glove that was made primarily of polyester and neoprene. The final glove was a ‘Heat Holders’ thermal glove and was very thick, and would definitely test the glove functionality of the phone. This glove had a woollen outside and had a fleece-like inner layer, and actually consists of 4 different layers and has a 2.3 tog rating. Watch the video below to see the results of this Glove Test.
RESULT: PASS – We are happy to report that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active can be used while wearing gloves. You must select the High Touch Sensitivity option from the settings (Settings/My device/Display/High touch sensitivity) to ramp up the sensitivity of the screen, otherwise none of the gloves in our test worked. However, once this option was checked all gloves worked fine and all touch screen tasks could be completed. With the thickest (thermal) glove in our Glove Test we did have to push down harder onto the screen in order to get it to work, so it was not exactly the same experience as with a bare finger, but it did operate the touch screen and we could do all tasks.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is a top of the range smart phone, and while having an issue with the mic after being submerged in water it is definitely waterproof. The mic does sort itself out but there was an immediate reduction in call quality after it was submerged in water. If you use this phone in the wet, or accidental drop it in water it will be fine, something that can’t be said for some other smart phones. Also, another selling point to winter sports enthusiasts is that you can use the phone while wearing gloves. This function works well so we definitely recommend it based on the glove types tested here. The S4 Active has a powerful and fast quad core processor, and because it uses the popular Android operating system you have access to great apps that will open and run quickly.
This phone is definitely more robust than most smart phones, so if you think you will get it wet, drop it in mud or snow, or you will want to use it while wearing gloves then you should definitely check it out.