Samsung Galaxy S7 Active review

The best Android phone for your clumsy... 'friend'

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Our Verdict

There's no beating the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active if your phone routinely takes a beating. Its shatterproof screen and water- and dust-resistant design stand up to the elements, but get ready to pay and sign with AT&T.

For

  • Water and dust-resistant design
  • All of the S7 specs are here
  • Big, long-lasting battery

Against

  • Only works with AT&T
  • AT&T bloatware and restrictions
  • Considerably expensive

"What's the best nearly waterproof, dustproof and shatterproof phone you can buy? Asking for a friend." We hear this question all of the time, and it's now easier to answer with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active.

The S7 Active is a rugged Android phone that takes everything we loved about the Samsung Galaxy S7 and wraps it into a much tougher, water-resistant package that's easier to grip and harder to break, just like last year's Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.

Yes, there's extra heft to this AT&T-exclusive phone, and you won't find the bezel-free curved screen of the Galaxy S7 Edge to marvel at. But Samsung uses that increased thickness to its advantage in other ways.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

In addition to being reinforced in every way imaginable, the S7 Active battery life is much better than what you'll find within many of the best phones today. It's at 4,000mAh, well ahead of the typical 3,000mAh that we often test.

You may have heard about Galaxy S7 Active water damage reports. We didn't experience this problem in our testing, but leaks happened enough that Samsung responded, saying that it corrected the flaw for new phones being made hence forth.

More obvious and shared by everyone is the other big complaint: the fact that it's locked to AT&T, full of carrier-specific bloatware and app restrictions. This phone is for a very specific people type of person (good) on a very specific network (bad).

Price and release date

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active price and availability are our biggest complaints; it's expensive and extremely limited.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

It's locked to AT&T, and not only that, it's chock full of carrier-specific bloatware and app restrictions. There's no unlocked version whatsoever.

That means you won't find it outside of the US and if you're in a contract with Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile, you're going to have to switch networks in order to use this otherwise tempting phone.

Even if you're already signed up with AT&T, you're going to pay a lot. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active price is nearly $800 at full price. Your "friend's" clumsy tendencies sure are expensive.

Design

There's no need for you to buy a Galaxy S7 Active case because Samsung effectively suits up its new flagship Android phone in thick armor, replete with reassuring hard plastic and rubber corner bumpers.

Gone is the finely crafted glass-and-metal design of the Galaxy S7. It gives way to weatherproof casing that's MIL-STD-810G military certified against some of the harshest elements.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

It's supposed to handle almost anything you throw at it: salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock. We threw it in the sand at the beach without thinking twice.

The S7 Active is not officially a waterproof phone and doesn't claim to be, but it's the closest you'll get to one. It has an IP68 rating, so it can be submerged up to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for 30 minutes.

It didn't live up to that promise at first, according to other reviewers who dunked it in water. A few reported screen and speaker issues, but Samsung has since corrected the issue and ours has always been watertight.

To get to this point, the phone has to be thick. We said that last year's S6 Active was built like a tank, or at least a hard plastic humvee, and in 2016, the S7 Active is the type of tank that shops at the big and tall store (buying tank tops, of course).

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

Its colossal dimensions are 148.8 x 74.9 x 9.9mm, while the S6 Active was an already thick 8.6mm. It also weighs more than other phones we've reviewed at 185g (last year's weighed in at 170g). It's Android's heavyweight champ in the 5.1-inch display class.

New to this year's S7 Active is a home button on the front that also acts as a fingerprint sensor. It's fast and accurate, like its more delicate S7 counterparts. It's just another way in which this phone is secure.

Returning are physical and texturized recent and back buttons that flank the new fingerprint scanner. They're a little more spaced out this time around (before all three were bunched up near the center).

Samsung Galaxt S7 Active

We like their bumpy feel and deliberate clickiness compared to the hidden and easy-to-mistakenly-hit S7 buttons that sometimes drive us crazy and always cause kind strangers taking a photo of us to accidentally exit to the home screen. That's not an issue here.

Despite its considerable size, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active tries to blend in with Samsung's 2016 lineup, at least in some variants. It comes Sandy Gold, Green Camo and Titanium Gray.

No one is going to mistake this for the more elegant looking Samsung Galaxy S7, but its gold and gray color hues do a better job at staying subtle compared to the GI Joe-like Green Camo version.

Scree

The Samsung Galaxy S7 already has one of the best displays on a smartphone (tied with the S7 and S7 Edge. The larger Note 7 screen is slightly better). Making it shatter-resistant with the S7 Active only means it'll be around at the end of your AT&T contract.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

It can withstand falls of up to five feet (which neatly matches its water submersion depth), and that's great news for your trade-in value when you go to upgrade your phone in a year or two.

We were able to navigate the 5.1-inch touchscreen while outdoors (where this phone belongs) thanks to the high brightness Samsung is able to pull off on its Super AMOLED displays.

Its pixel-saturated Quad HD resolution pumps the 5.1-inch screen with more pixels than we actually need in a phone of this size, especially one that can't fit into the Samsung Gear VR.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

However, we can't deny that watching videos and reliving our daily 12MP snapshots taken on this display beats all others we've have tested - with the exception of S7, S7 Edge and Note 7, of course.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active takes one more cue from its more fragile brethren: it has an always-on display that shows the time, date and battery life percentage in a low-powered black-and-white mode.

"But I don't like to know what time it is," said no one ever (outside of a clockless casino). Whenever I switch away from phones with always-on screens, like the S7, S7 Edge or LG G5, we instantly this handy feature, and we're glad it's on the S7 Active.