Tech Biz

Waterproof Smartphones: Sony Xperia Z vs. Galaxy S4 Active

Both phones offer one-meter waterproofing, but which boasts better specs?

By J. T. Quigley for

With early summer beginning to heat up and beach season in full swing, consumers looking for a new smartphone may be interested in more than raw processing power and the slickest high-definition touchscreen. Waterproofing seems to be one of the hottest trends in smartphones for 2013.

Whether snorkeling at a tropical resort or simply battling the rain on your morning commute, the peace of mind knowing that your expensive gadget will be safe is an attractive selling point. Sony already offers the waterproof Xperia Z, and Samsung is soon to be following suit with their Galaxy S4 Active. But which phone deserves your hard earned cash?

Last February, Sony launched the Xperia Z flagship, complete with a waterproof case that allows it to be submerged at a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes. It comes pre-loaded with Android 4.1.2 Jellybean (although a 4.2 update was leaked earlier today) and sports a five-inch screen with 1080 x 1920 high definition resolution at 440 pixels per inch.

On the inside, the Xperia Z is equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.5 GHz and a non-removable Li-Ion 2330mAh battery. The integrated camera has a 13MP Exmos RS sensor.

Cosmetically speaking, the Xperia Z opts for a very squared-off shape, measuring 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm. The front and back are covered in scratch-resistant and shatterproof Dragontail glass, opting to abandon a physical home button. There is however, a finely machined aluminum power button on the side of the device. Colors offered are black, white, and purple.

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Last week, Samsung teased a rugged variant of their flagship Galaxy S4 – the S4 Active. Exactly like the Xperia Z, the S4 Active will come with a waterproof case that allows it to be submerged for half an hour under one meter of water. But how does the South Korean newcomer stack up against the more mature Japanese rival?

The Galaxy S4 Active will come with the latest version of Android 4.2 Jellybean. Samsung’s competitor will have an almost identical five-inch screen with the same high resolution as the Xperia Z, but it will be covered in Gorilla Glass 3. Currently, the Xperia Z’s Dragontail glass is equivalent to the slightly older Gorilla Glass 2.

Internally, the S4 Active will have a more powerful Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz, as well as a larger 2600mAh battery. However, the S4 Active will have a weaker camera, with only 8MP against the Xperia Z’s 13. To make up for the decreased pixel count, the Active will feature an “Aqua Mode” for underwater photography, utilizing the volume rocker as a shutter button.

S4 Active follows the other Galaxy phones aesthetically, opting for the typical plastic casing that has become synonymous with Samsung smartphones. However, the Active will come with a metallic finish that is accentuated by four “bolts” on the back casing. The corners are much more rounded-off than the Xperia Z’s, but the S4 Active is slightly thicker, measuring 139.7 x 71.3 x 9.1 mm. The S4 active also retains its big brother’s physical power button and will be offered in gray, blue, and orange.

Samsung’s new arrival may have a less impressive camera, but the other specs put it slightly ahead of the Xperia Z. In a world where new Android handsets are dropped almost monthly, a phone released in February seems light years behind the S4 Active – which will launch this summer, most likely in early July.

That being said, the Active’s 8MP camera seems more suited to a 2011 smartphone than one that has yet to be released in 2013. Shutterbugs may want to go with the Sony. For those who are critical of a phone’s appearance, the Xperia Z’s glass design and thinner profile may look more premium than the Galaxy.

Finally, while both are running Jellybean, the Xperia Z comes with Sony’s Cosmic Flow interface, while the S4 Active uses Samsung’s TouchWiz. This boils down to personal preference and will probably be influenced by what brand you have the most loyalty towards.

As far as price, NewEgg offers the Xperia Z carrier unlocked without a contract for $569.99. No price for the S4 Active has been announced at this time, but U.S. carrier AT&T will offer it locked-down for $199 with a two-year contract.

Regardless of which waterproof smartphone you choose, you will be able to do something that most people with ordinary handsets cannot do – bring it along to the bathtub. That alone is something worth bragging about.