Samsung has updated its flagship smartphone line to include a tough version designed to alleviate headaches common to most cellphone owners.
The new Galaxy S4 Active is a "ruggedized" version of the S4. Slightly bigger than the standard version, the Active sports a tough coating that minimizes scratches and makes the phone waterproof in up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The phone also is dust-resistant and more able to withstand falls.
Samsung advertises the phone as "lifeproof," meaning that -- unlike most smartphones -- it is built to withstand average daily abuses. No screen protectors or cases are necessary.
I borrowed an S4 Active from AT&T and tested it for 10 days.
The phone is designed to be more difficult to crack, but I was warned not to "throw it off the building or anything like that."
I followed my instructions, but I did intentionally drop the Active a few times onto a tile floor from about four feet up. It survived without a scratch.
I also carried the phone in my pocket next to my keys and without a case. After 10 days, there were no scratches -- it still looked brand new.
My wife and I have a 6-year-old, 8-year-old and a 17-year-old. We are tough on phones. We go through so many screens that I've learned how to replace them myself and always keep a spare or two of each brand in stock at the house.
We've also more than once sent a phone to an early death by dropping it in a sink, bathtub, toilet or swimming pool.
With the S4 Active, none of that is a problem, except for the toilet, which is still gross.
But at least we could have cleaned it off easily.
More than just accepting water, the S4 Active embraces it. The phone contains an underwater camera mode in which the volume buttons can be used to take photos or video.
The S4 Active includes features common to most smartphones, including an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash, 1080 video camera and LTE capability.
Jelly Bean system
It also features the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. I'm an iPhone user, and this was the first time I spent much time with Android.
While Android and Apple's iOS are similar, each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The features I found most fun were those that detect the user without having to touch the screen.
The Android system can be set to detect the user's eyes. While watching a YouTube video, for instance, look away and the video stops. Return your eyes to the screen, and playback resumes.
In another mode, the phone recognizes the user's eyes and determines whether it should switch to landscape mode when the phone is held horizontally. If you're sitting up and turn the phone sideways, it will turn to landscape mode.
If, however, you turn the phone sideways while you lie down, it detects your eye movement and keeps the phone in portrait mode.
Another Android feature not available on iOS lets the user change screens by swiping in front of -- but not on -- the screen.
The S4 Active is available for $199 with a two-year contract.
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