The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active uses a 5" 1080p LCD screen, unlike the Super AMOLED on the regular S4. It has 441 pixels per inch and while it has more sub-pixels per inch (since Super AMOLED uses a PenTile matrix), the perceived sharpness is the same.
The LCD has more tangible advantages - it's brighter, for example. The contrast isn't as great though and the black levels are not very good. There's some slight contrast loss at an angle. It's a minor issue and the screen on the Galaxy S4 is among the better LCDs.
Also, the reflectivity is similar to that of the 5" Super AMOLED, meaning the sunlight legibility is slightly better.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2|
|Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini||0||166||∞||0||396||∞|
|Samsung I9295 Galaxy S4 Active||0.20||207||1053||0.57||594||1046|
|Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4||0||201||∞||0||404||∞|
|Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III||0||174||∞||0||330||∞|
|Sony Xperia Z||-||-||-||0.70||492||705|
|Oppo Find 5||0.17||176||1123||0.51||565||1107|
|Samsung N7100 Galaxy Note II||0||215||∞||0||402||∞|
|LG Optimus G Pro||-||-||-||0.41||611||1489|
|Nokia Lumia 920||-||-||-||0.48||513||1065|
|LG Optimus G||0.14||197||1445||0.33||417||1438|
|Apple iPhone 5||0.13||200||1490||0.48||640||1320|
You can find all about our display testing routines here.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has the exact same set of controls as the regular S4, with the only differences mandated by the water-proof design.
The three controls below the screen are hardware buttons which, as we already mentioned, are more reliable than capacitive when water is involved. They, along with the Power/Lock key and the volume rocker, have a fine texture, similar to the back pattern, to improve grip.
The key arrangement is still Menu, Home, Back, even though Android deprecated the Menu key and moved its functionality on-screen. Still, it's what you get from every Samsung, so we didn't expect anything to change here.
Above the screen are the standard proximity and light sensors, but also the exclusive IR motion detector, which is used for Air Gestures (waving your hand above the phone to scroll pages, change music tracks, accept a call and so on). While we're not big fans of this feature, we can see how it makes sense here - it lets you control the Galaxy S4 Active without touching it with mud-covered hands.
The RGB notification LED is also here, along with the front-facing camera.
The left and right sides of the phone feature the volume rocker and Power/Lock key respectively. The volume rocker can be set to work as a still or video shutter key, which is yet another thing that might come in handy in or around water. It cannot quite replace an actual shutter key, but it's the next best thing.
The microUSB / MHL 2.0 port is at the bottom of the phone and it is sealed with a plastic flap. Right next to it is the mic pinhole.
Up top, there's the 3.5mm audio jack which is left exposed. There's a "WATERPROOF" label etched into the plastic if you need extra reassurance. Most water-resistant phones put a flap on the audio jack too, meaning you have to open it every time you want to plug in your headphones (and then remember to close it).
The secondary mic and the IR emitter are also here, the emitter is used for remote control functionality in the comfort of your own home.
The back of the phone packs the 8MP camera lens and the LED flash. There's no extra protection offered for the camera, which protrudes slightly, so you should take care not to damage it.
The back cover is removable, giving you access to the 2,600mAh battery, microSIM and microSD card slots. The back cover doesn't feel particularly solid and has a hollow knock to it.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is like those city slicker four-by-fours - it can go off-road, but prefers paved streets. We don't think it will take hard knocks and walk away with it, but water shouldn't be a problem. Not that the Sony Xperia Z is much tougher - if nothing else the glass-covered rear means one more panel to scratch or crack.