Samsung Galaxy S6 Active Review – Function Over Form

2015 marked a new era for Samsung. They finally trashed the classic plastic build for their phones in exchange for metal and glass. The resulting device is the Galaxy S6, a true work of art that hardly anyone expected. However in order to make the S6 the phone that it is, Samsung gave up a lot of potential functionality. Was it worth it? Well, that’s your call. Personally, I don’t think so. I prefer a phone that gives me more functionality rather than simply a beautiful design. Now, move forward a few months and look at the Galaxy S6 Active. With the same basic specifications, but improvements in all the right areas, Samsung made a phone that fixes almost every problem I had with the original, but is it worth picking up?

Specs

  • 5.1” Inch 2560×1440 Super AMOLED Display 577ppi
  • Octa-Core Exynos 7420 Processor (2.1GHz + 1.5GHz)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32/64/128GB Internal Storage (non-expandable)
  • 16MP Rear Camera with OIS
  • 5MP Front Camera with Wide Angle Lens
  • WiFi a/b/g/n/ac
  • 3,550 mAh Battery (non-removable)
  • Qi & PMA Wireless Charging
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • IP68 Water Resistance

Hardware

The Galaxy S6 Active has a design that is at least somewhat reminiscent of the standard S6. However it uses plastic in exchange for metal. Build quality hasn’t changed though. This phone still feels rock solid and, at least in my opinion, feels better in the hand. It’s got far more grip and simply feels more durable. Samsung claims that the phone is shock-proof for a drop of up to 4 feet. While I didn’t test this out, the lip that extends above the screen and the inclusion of Gorilla Glass 4 should help in Samsung’s claims.

The rugged hardware on the S6 Active is actually pretty awesome.

The rugged hardware on the S6 Active is actually pretty awesome.

Now we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. The Galaxy S6 Active is also water resistant at a rating of IP68. What does that mean? You can take this phone just about anywhere wet. Whether that’s the rain or the pool. As long as you can stand up, the phone is safe in the water. Using this phone in the pool was great since the camera can be used underwater, but more on that later. One of the best parts of the water resistance was the fact that there are no port covers. So unlike water resistant phones of years past, the S6 Active doesn’t require you to make sure everything is sealed.

Software & Performance

Out of the box the S6 Active runs the same software as the standard Galaxy S6. Android 5.0.2 with TouchWiz over top. Just about everything is identical. Performance is the same, features are the same, and nothing looks any different. I do feel the need to mention however that I did have a few more issues with Google apps such as Hangouts and Chrome on the S6 Active then I did on the regular S6, but I’m sure that mainly has to do with updates. The only change is that the S6 Active includes an “active key” on the left side of the phone which can trigger an action on the device. This may include opening up an app or triggering the flashlight. You can customize the actions in the settings with ease as well.



Software on the Galaxy S6 Active is identical to the Galaxy S6.

Software on the Galaxy S6 Active is identical to the Galaxy S6.

Another small difference in performance on the S6 Active vs the standard S6 is the heat. Heat is something I’m getting really tired of hearing about in smartphones, but it’s very apparent in the Active. During general day to day use, this phone gets a lot warmer than the S6 even if it’s just sitting it your pocket. Why this is the case, I’m not sure. I feel like the change of hardware has something to do with it, but your guess is as good as mine here.

If you want to know a bit more about the software on the S6 Active, you can read about it in our original Galaxy S6 review or this in-depth review of the Galaxy S6 software.

Display

It’s 2015 so a display is not defined by its resolution. As you would expect, the Galaxy S6 Active packs a 2560×1440 SuperAMOLED display at a size of 5.1”. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the exact same panel as the S6. Luckily in this case, this is a rock solid display. It’s very bright, has great viewing angles, and just screams quality. There’s little to complain about with the display on the S6 Active. One note however is that the glass protecting that display does tend to attract fingerprints a bit more than standard smartphone displays.

Battery Life

One of the lowest points of the Galaxy S6 was battery life. With a smaller capacity and lower real life usage, the battery life users got on the S6 was pathetic. However on the Active, this isn’t the case. This time Samsung included a far larger 3,500 mAh battery which, while still sealed inside, provides easily enough power for a day of use, if not more. The battery life isn’t quite what I expect, but regardless this is still a phone with stellar battery life that will get even heavy users through a full day of use.

In addition to good battery life, the S6 Active also makes it easy to fill the battery back up. With fast charging and wireless charging included out of the box, it’s not at all hard to get charged back up on this phone. It’s simply up to you to choose either speed, or convenience.

The 16MP rear camera on the S6 Active is awesome.

The 16MP rear camera on the S6 Active is awesome.

Camera

The S6 Active provides the same 16MP sensor as the Galaxy S6, and surprise surprise, it’s just as good. I’ll keep things brief here, this is still one of the best cameras on the market today, and this time it’s only gotten better thanks to the fact you can use the phone underwater (I’ve included a demo of that below).

Click here for full size photo samples

Network Performance

Throughout my testing I used the S6 Active on AT&T’s network as this phone is an exlusive there. Call quality and data connectivity served me well on the Active with very few issues in dropped calls or losing data in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina.

Final Thoughts

The Galaxy S6 Active is a great phone. It’s that simple. If you’re looking to pick up the Galaxy S6, it would be wise to at least give the S6 Active a look. While the design may not be as sleek, the S6 Active brings so many extra pros that it outweighs the cons to a huge degree. Factor in that the S6 Active costs only $10 more than the standard model, it should be a no brainer to pick this device up. That said, the S6 Active is exclusive to AT&T, so that means you’ll need to be an AT&T customer to pick up this phone (although it will work on T-Mobile if unlocked).

TL;DR – If you’re going to get a Samsung Galaxy S6, you definitely need to at least consider the Galaxy S6 Active.

– This device was sent for review by AT&T