Samsung Galaxy S6 active Review: Swift, Rugged, & Better than the S6

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Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Service, Warranty & Support
    • 9
    • Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Design
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Value
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.80
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Flagship performance in a tough and rugged build
    • Great battery life
    • Real buttons a big plus
  • Cons

    • Carrier exclusive
    • Only available with 32GB capacity
    • Kind of ugly

Quick Take

The Samsung Galaxy S6 active takes everything that was great about the Galaxy S6 and puts it into a tougher design, making it a better smartphone. This is an exceptional device.

Call it rugged, call it sporty. Samsung calls it active. Specifically, Samsung dubbed its latest Android handset the Samsung Galaxy S6 active. It’s a tougher version of Samsung’s impressive flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S6 active

Samsung Galaxy S6 active

In terms of performance, the Samsung S6 active is virtually identical to the Samsung Galaxy S6, given that both have the similar inner hardware. So when we wrote the S6 had “a top-notch chipset” and “exceptionally fast performance,” the same applies for the S6 active. Ditto for the display quality. We called the S6 display “spectacular.” The S6 active display is spectacular as well.

The differences are in the hardware build, a few missing features, and a few additional features. And that’s where we focus this Galaxy S6 active review.

Build & Design

For a device built to take abuse, the S6 active isn’t big or bulky. It measures 5.78 x 2.89 x .34 inches and weighs .33 pounds, which makes it less than 10% bigger than the S6, and about 100% tougher.

Gone are the slick metal and glass of the S6, and in its place are hard, textured plastic and decorative rivets. Fortunately, the S6 active doesn’t feel like the greasy plastic of Galaxy handsets past, but instead feels very solid. This thing can take a punch.

Samsung Galaxy S6 active camo back panel

Samsung Galaxy S6 active camo back panel

There are no curves either, except the slightly rounded edges. It’s not a pretty smartphone, but its rugged aesthetic stops just shy of garish. Yes, the rivets, edge lining, and rear camouflage are a bit much, but it’s no worse than the Droid branding that’s been uglying up quality Android smartphones for the past five years.

Besides, the design has a lot going for it functionally speaking. The corners slightly protrude, adding an extra bit of drop protection, and the S6 active reverts the trio of Android softkeys typically found on the display to buttons underneath it.

The physical apps, home, and back buttons are a welcomed throwback to the early days of Android, and feel great to push. The S6 active even supports button shortcuts, like a double tap of the home button to launch the camera, and a long press to launch Google Now, among others.

The S6 active also features an “Active key” above the volume rocker on the left long side. It’s an app launcher, and users can set up to two apps to launch either via a quick press, or a press and hold. It’s so convenient that you’ll wonder why all other phones don’t have it.

Samsung Galaxy S6 active Active key

Samsung Galaxy S6 active Active key

Samsung Galaxy S6 power button

Samsung Galaxy S6 power button

So how tough is the S6 active? Here’s the official word:

Meets U.S. Mil-STD-810G for water-resistance and to withstand dust, shock, vibration, temperature extremes, humidity, and high altitude. Submersible up to 1.5 m of water for up to 30 minutes. Shock-resistant when dropped from less than or equal to 4 feet onto a flat surface.

 We can confirm it survived all of that during our time with it. Like the Galaxy Tab Active, it impressively manages water resistance without annoying port covers. It’s one of the few smartphones we’d carry without a case. Even the display should hold up from cracking, given that it features Gorilla Glass 4.

Compared against the S6, the S6 active lacks a fingerprint sensor. That means no fingerprint-enabled Samsung Pay. Samsung claims the active will support Samsung Pay when it launches, though it will be password-based.

That’s not a big loss, especially considering the tradeoff. The S6 isn’t water or dust resistant. We would think twice about whipping it out during a sprinkle storm. We’d happily use the S6 active in a hurricane, or while swimming in a pool.

Display

Samsung Galaxy S6 active display

Samsung Galaxy S6 active display

The S6 active has the same 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display as the S6, complete with 2560×1440 resolution and 576 pixel-per-inch count. Typical of Samsung smartphones, it’s one of the best displays as of this writing with accurate colors, deep contrast and excellent viewing angles. It’s even decent in the sun, as far as smartphones go. The display get just bright enough to make the S6 active viewable with major overhead glare. It’s not comfortable viewing by any stretch, but it works.

The only real difference between the S6 and this is the lack of softkeys. That gives the S6 active a tiny bit more display real estate, and a slightly smaller screen to body ratio.


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