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Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
What we like
What we don't like
Though the Samsung Galaxy Active line with their all-plastic builds isn’t new, it has never been as striking as it is in its current iteration. While the original Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge introduced glass and metal to revamp a gradually underwhelming design language, its Active counterpart goes back to a full plastic build,with rugged lines and obvious signs that point towards the durability of this device.
It is certainly beefier all around, with hard lines that highlight not only how thick the device is, but also how much more rugged it is. The camouflage print and a thick faux-bolted lining on the back are the device’s attempts to showcase some real strength. The thickness of the device really makes it stand out when compared to the sleek and elegant Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, though it can be argued that thickness makes for a more comfortable handling exprience. The plastic might suffer fromo typical problems from accidental drops and bumps though, and these scuffs will detract from the look of the device little by little.
Related: Best Galaxy S6 Active cases
All the buttons on the Galaxy S6 Active are tactile, including the recent apps and back buttons up front below the display that flank the physical home button, along with the addition of an active key that is found on the top left. Obvious issues do arise from this, with presses of the power, home, and active keys all being able to wake the phone, which can become a nuisance at times when the device is in your pocket. Thankfully, some useful improvements have been made when compared to previous versions of the Active, with their being no additional flap cover for the microUSB port and the headphone jack, without taking away from the durability of the device.
Speaking of durability, an IP68 rating and a military-grade durability certification means that you can throw practically anything at this phone and still have a working device, which has certainly held true in our testing. Despite some falls and numerous plunges in the water, the Galaxy S6 Active never missed a beat. That said, a drop on a jagged rock that hits the screen at just the right angle will make it crack, so a little care if of course required, but unfortunate bumps, spills, and light tossing around in daily life are what this phone can protect itself from.
Scuffs and scratches will gradually draw away from the looks of the Galaxy S6 Active, with its aesthetic already not the most positively received. Plenty of commenters have already sounded off on how much worse this phone looks when compared to its more elegant brethren, but aesthetics is obviously all a matter of opinion. The camouflage print on the lighter versions of the phone do look somewhat odd, but that isn’t an issue with the sleek-looking black edition. With no such print on the back, the black color helps mask some of the more drastic lines of the device, and even if scuffs might be more prominent, the black version is the way to go.
The Galaxy S6 Active makes it almost painfully obvious about why it looks the way it does, but these choices result in a device that allows for something that you will be hard-pressed to find with a lot of other high-end smartphones out there, a higher peace of mind. For the user that wants a phone that is as powerful as the Galaxy S6, but doesn’t want to worry about even light drops putting it out of commission, the Active iteration is a prime choice, and these users is probably aware of, and wouldn’t mind, the ruggedized looks of the Galaxy S6 Active either.
What makes the Active line so intriguing is that Samsung doesn’t skimp on the high quality essentials instead of focusing just on general resistance ratings. This starts with the display, with the Galaxy S6 Active featuring the same as the original, a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display with a Quad HD resolution, with its resulting pixel density of 576 ppi.
For everyday usage, the Galaxy S6 line in general proves to be really easy on the eyes, while allowing for a bit of a sensory overload. The display really punches out colors, and is really easy to see outdoors as well, especially when the light sensor notices the bright conditions and pumps up the display brightness automatically for even better viewing.
Water will still register touches on the screen, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t become completely dysfunctional when submerged. That being said, the screen can be made inoperable for underwater camera usage by using the Aqua mode in the camera app. Another great display by Samsung returns in the Active version of the Galaxy S6, and there is no sacrificing of viewing enjoyment for the sake of ruggedness here.
That story continues when it comes to performance as well, with the octa-core Exynos 7420 processor, clocked at 2.1 GHz, and backed by the Mali-T760 GPU and 3 GB of RAM, returning here. Performance is expectedly as smooth as ever, and moving between the various elements of the UI showed no signs of lag or stutter. Issues were rarely observed while gaming, and more importantly, the Active never seemed to get as warm as would happen with its flagship siblings, even when under heavy gaming load.
Multi-tasking is easy as well, with the recent apps key getting used a lot for my particular active lifestyle, allowing for quick and snappy switching between music apps, activity trackers, and Evernote. Ultimately, the same great performance from the original Galaxy S6 comes from not only the powerful in-house processor, but also the optimizations made to the software experience. Even in the case of my personal use Galaxy S6 Active on which I run the Google Now launcher and a custom lock screen, everything works fine with seldom any slow down to the point where I needed to close all applications.
The changes on the hardware side of things are obvious, with the main addition being the water, dust, and shock resistance that makes the Galaxy S6 Active one of the most resilient devices we’ve used this year. The various storage options available with the original doesnt make its way here though, with the device coming with 32 GB of storage, which can get used up pretty quickly, especially with no microSD expansion available.
Some compromises had to be made as well, including the move of the speaker from the bottom to the rear, which is a step back, apart from the fact that it also becomes almost inoperable until any water that has gotten in dries out. There is also the lack of a fingerprint reader in the home button, which fans of the better implementation on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge will miss. The heart rate monitor returns though, and actually makes a little more sense in the Active edition than it does on the rest of Samsung’s lineup.
The Galaxy S6 Active is available exclusively from AT&T, and 4G LTE connectivity is as good as is possible from the carrier, and there have been no issues as far as connectivity is concerned. Phone calls were loud and clear, and there were no call drops either.
A main aspect of the hardware of the Galaxy S6 Active is the active key, a new button found at the top left side, that can be used to launch two applications you can set, one by a tap and the other by a long press. It makes sense as a quick way to launch the Activity Center, which it does by default, and a fitness application when on the move. You can change what apps can be open though, depending on your needs, so for some users, it makes as much sense to put a Calendar app and Evernote on it for quick access and logging of important information. The one take away is that an extra customizable button like this can be incredibly useful for anyone, and will be a welcome addtion to any and all future Samsung smartphones.
Some compromises may have been made, but the one area that the Galaxy S6 Active shines in is when it comes to the battery. Packing a large 3,500 mAh battery with wireless and fast charging capabilities baked in, this battery proves one undeniable truth when it comes to battery life, and that is bigger is better. Full days of work were possible with relative, but consistent, ease, with there being at least 35% of battery life left at the end of most days, which would go down to around 20% on days with moderately heavy usage.
Power saving modes are available, but didn’t prove to be necessary on most days, and even if the battery did drain, fast charging capabilities allowed for a full recharge in close to 90 minutes. In recent times, fast charging has felt like a consolation prize to make up for average battery life, but the Galaxy S6 Active proves that combining it with an adequately sized battery is definitely the better way to go.
The camera of the Galaxy S6 Active is also the same as the Galaxy S6, with a 16 MP rear shooter with a f/1.9 aperture and a 5 MP front-facing camera with a wide angle lens and the same aperture. The experience is the same across the board with the Galaxy S6 line, with a pretty intuitive camera application that is capable of all typical modes, and Pro mode that allows for changes in certain key aspects like white balance, ISO, and manual focus. The only real addtion in the camera is the Aqua mode, which makes the screen inoperable to allow for good underwater photography. Taking pictures and videos is possible by using the active key and volume rocker respectively.
Image quality remains quite high, with details captured very well, and largely left alone due to a minimal amount of post processing. Low light shots do suffer from the typical noise caused by a lack of light, but manages to do a better job than the majority of the Android smartphone cameras in the market. In situations from selfies to foodie pictures, photos and video looks great on the Galaxy S6 Active as they did in the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge, which is really good news for the outdoorsy type who might want to record a scenic memory. For everyone else, the Galaxy S6 Active, like its flagship brethren, still provides one of the best camera experiences available in the world of Android today.
Finally, when it comes to the software side of things, the same streamlined TouchWiz experience keeps the Galaxy S6 Active snappy, smooth, and about as fast as we’ve ever seen on a Samsung device. The only significant addition is the Activity Zone, which basically limps together S Health, the media app called Milk, and some extra tools like a barometer and stopwatch together for easy access. By default, it is the app the opens when hitting the active key, but it is just as easy to put your own personal fitness application in place of it.
Speaking of personal customization, the theme engine has provided an option for users to change the general colors of core areas of TouchWiz, with replacement launchers and applications available for further changes. A great example of the changes possible is what I’ve done with my personal Galaxy S6 Active, but even then, the core of TouchWiz isn’t bogged down by the tweaks that have been made. The Activity Zone is not a huge improvement for the Galaxy S6 Active, but perhaps it’s better to look at this rugged phone as a powerful yet durable shell around whatever fitness ecosystem you might already use in Android.
|Display||5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display|
2.1 GHz octa-core Exynos 7420 processor
4G / LTE / HSPA+ 21/42 Mbps
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, A-GPS / Glonass, USB 2.0
Rear 16 MP with OIS.
Front 5 MP wide angle lens
Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
146.8 x 73.4 x 8.6 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
A total price of $695 puts the Galaxy S6 Active just a tad more expensive than the original Galaxy S6, and much cheaper than the Galaxy S6 Edge. The catch here is that the Galaxy S6 Active is available exclusively from AT&T, which will hopefully change, but is somewhat unlikely.
So there you have it for this closer look at the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active! There are quite a few rugged phones that we’ve seen, but this device might be the best of the bunch, largely because much of what made the original Galaxy S6 so good returns, and is further enhanced by everything a rugged phone can offer. Samsung can greatly benefit from making the Active available in more than just AT&T’s network, but more importantly, it has to notice how certain aspects of this fringe device can make future Samsung phones better, like the active key.