Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active - First Impressions

Since updating my company iPhone 4 to iOS 7, the thing has basically become unusable. Since even the new iPhones sport a screen size that isn’t of much use to me, I finally decided to go for a 5” Android phone.
My first experiences with Android were - with the exception of the greatly underdimensioned Xperia Pro hardware - quite good, after all, so I wasn’t afraid of the switch.
After getting my contacts (that I had moved back to iCloud after switching back to the iPhone) moved to Gmail, I was good to go.
A colleague has a predecessor of the Note 3 and is very happy with it, so I was swaying in that direction, but when I saw that there was an “Active” version of the S4 with a slightly “smaller” screen, that seemed the ideal solution.
The Active has the same internals as the regular S4 but with an LCD screen instead of an AMOLED, as the latter is often too dim for use in bright sunlight. Also, the Active is rated IP67, which means you can actually take pictures under water (down to 3 feet). It also has a metal frame, which - I would hope - will make it a bit sturdier in case of a drop. On the negative side, the camera in the Active has a lower pixel count than on the regular S4.
Also, the Active is available in orange, which to me seemed a nice complement to the red case of the
Xperia Pro. Speedy as always, Amazon Prime delivered on the day after it was ordered.
My first day with the phone wasn’t, however, so positive.
See my separate review of Samsung Kies, the connectivity software available for the Active.

Burning through the Battery

The main problem I had with the phone on the first day was an android service called CloudAgent, which apparently is used for all cloud sync activities such as backup to the Samsung account as well as Dropbox. This ended up using a major portion of the battery’s juice:

2014-01-22 - CloudAgent 30p

Just before the phone gave out (which wasn’t much after this screenshot was taken; don’t be fooled by the “3h 53m on battery” - it was charged in-between), CloudAgent had kept the CPU active for over 2 hours! Needless to say, the phone could have been used as a pocket hand warmer the entire 3 1/2 hours it stayed on.

Luckily, I got that fixed relatively quickly: I turned off all dropbox syncing and the problem went away.

The second issue on the first day was that it wasn’t able to get a GPS fix - seemingly at all. One of the reasons for wanting a phone with a bigger screen was to replace my 2005 TomTom XL (shelling out 70€ for a new map for a device this old really bakes my cake!). My colleague had shown me a free-to-use navigation software that stored its maps on the device SD card, and this was one of the reasons for me to switch to Android.

However, the phone simply wouldn’t get the GPS fix. Okay, I was indoors, but right next to a very large window wall; the iPhone likely would have gotten the fix quite quickly.

On-Phone OS Update
One of the settings (About Device -> Software Update) showed that an update was available for installation. It turned out to be a 192 MByte download, quite a sizable package, considering I’ve read that Android 4.4 is “only” 56 MByte in size.

Comparison to iPhone 4

Besides the screen size (which is the reason I left the Apple universe in the first place), there are other, major differences to the iPhone 4 (and 5c, which I’ve used quite a bit).

For one thing, the phone is nicely and completely unexpectedly light in comparison. I’m not going to bother with gram figures; it’s the haptic experience I’m interested in. This thing weighs nothing in comparison to the iPhone 4!

The screen is great; one thing Android really does much better than iOS (even version 7) is to provide selectable font sizes that really work. Great for someone that needed his glasses on to use the iPhone - with the larger fonts and the larger display, I can read everything on the screen without glasses!

The display is, of course, much brighter and “prettier” than that of the iPhone 4, but that isn’t a fair comparison. But even comparing it to the 5c, it stands out.
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