Would you have bought the Galaxy S4 Active instead?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: June 21, 2013

Getting a phone here in the United States has been about two things for as long as I can remember: a phone and a contract. We've come to expect such high price drops for these devices, thanks to that two-year commitment, that we've grown used to them. It doesn't matter about the "particulars," or even the truth about what we're paying each month. It just boils down to whether or not you want to pay $200 (maybe $300), or around $600 right out of the gate to get your hands on a shiny new phone.

The trouble with that contract, the only one we're going to talk about for the sake of this article anyway, is that it doesn't just tie you to the carrier and your chosen plan for two years, but also to the phone you just purchased. The carrier doesn't want you to do anything with that phone once you pass a 14-day return period. After that, you better hope you don't get bored quickly, because you'll be looking at it for several more months.

(As long as you don't find a way around that particular dilemma.)

If you're someone who doesn't care about which phone you have (and I'm sure you're not, since you're here), then you probably don't care that manufacturers release phones pretty quickly. Even if they have a flagship device, and even if you bought that flagship handset with your new contract, the chances that something better is coming down the line in a matter of months are pretty high. In fact, if you signed a two-year contract, you should fully expect your flagship phone to get refreshed and replaced before your contract is up.

That's the most annoying part of the whole thing to me. Phone manufacturers need to make new devices to keep raking in cash and customers, but isn't there a point where they look at who they're selling to, and the situations they are, for all intents and purposes, forced into, and react accordingly?

The easy argument there is that not everyone has the same contract expiration date. In fact, some manufacturers would probably suggest that their models of releasing phones so quickly benefits everyone, simply because there are so many people out there qualified for a new phone at any given moment.

Unfortunately, there are probably just as many people out there tying themselves to a phone, and then finding out just after their return window that another phone, maybe even a particularly better phone, is coming out from the same manufacturer.

Our own Anna Scantlin wrote about why she thinks the Galaxy S 4 and Galaxy S4 Active should have been one phone, and I tend to agree. Her argument is that most people could probably benefit from having a water-proof, or overall more "rugged" device. It is a strange exclusivity, I agree, and I agree with her sentiment simply because the Galaxy S4 Active isn't a bad phone. Actually, I like the display on the S4 Active more than I like the original Galaxy S 4's. So there's that.

The truth is, I think the Galaxy S4 Active is a phone that most customers would have liked to have the option to buy, at the same time that the Galaxy S 4 became available. Should they have been the same phone? Probably not, simply because choice isn't a bad thing, and Samsung likes to offer as many devices as possible to fill as many particular niches as it can. They want to speak to every customer looking for a new phone, and the only way to do that is to have as many phones as possible, all with a certain set of stand-out features.

That's fine. You can keep throwing devices at the market. However, when AT&T launches the Galaxy S 4 at the end of April, and less than two months later you've got the Active coming down the pipe for the same carrier, well, that just boils down to not being cool.

I realize that after that 14-day return window it doesn't matter when Samsung, or any other manufacturer, launches a new device because of that two-year contract. One month, three, or even six months down the line, it doesn't matter, because that new phone they're launching isn't necessarily for the person who bought the previously released handset. It's for the other folks who are gearing up to sign a new, two-year contract to get a new phone.

The easy fix here is that Samsung announces all of these Galaxy S 4 variants at the same time, even if they don't plan on making them available at the same time. You announce every variant at the same time, and then you talk about release windows. That way, people can know they're waiting, but waiting for something worth getting. Staggering these announcements and launch windows is frustrating.

So my question to you is whether or not the Galaxy S4 Active looks compelling to you. Did you buy a Galaxy S 4, along with a new, two-year contract, and are now upset because the Galaxy S4 Active is coming down the pipe? Or did you wait on pulling the trigger on the original Galaxy S 4 because you wanted to see what else was coming this year? Let me know!