Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

Samsung's best Android phone – only harder to break

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Our Verdict

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active's reinforced hard plastic is the humvee to the Galaxy S6's fragile, sports car-like frame. It's fun to use underwater and has a long battery life, but the camo colors are ugly and it's only on AT&T.

For

  • Water resistant and dustproof
  • Same camera as Galaxy S6
  • Nearly identical specs, too
  • Extra long battery life

Against

  • Camo colors are ugly
  • No microSD card slot
  • No fingerprint sensor
  • AT&T only

Don't drop the rather delicate Samsung Galaxy S6. Unless, of course, you're going to (figuratively) drop it in favor of the shock, water and dust-resistant Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.

This more rugged Android phone is actually worth considering, now that Samsung has switched its flagship device from a plastic build to a sleeker, but more vulnerable, glass and metal body.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, with its bright 5.1-inch display, outfits nearly all of the same killer specs in a hard plastic shell that's easy to grip without worry, even if it's not especially nice to look at.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Yes, it's waterproof - up to a point

It doesn't have all of the features we were hoping for from the Active phone. But adventurers and butterfingered phone owners will appreciate having the best phone in a more resilient skin.

Release date and price

The official Samsung Galaxy S6 Active release date was in June, though the phone's availability has been limited to the AT&T network in the US.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
This phone needs to be available on more than just one network

Samsung hasn't announced plans to bring its rugged phone to the UK or other US carriers, like Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. The Galaxy S4 Active was the last international Active phone.

Right now, the Galaxy S6 Active costs $199 with a two year contract, $695 if bought outright and $23.17 a month with AT&T Next. In the UK, that would likely put the price at £560. An unlocked S6 Active is not available.

Design

The Galaxy S6 Active armors up in hard plastic and rubber, trading in the glossy, but ultimately fragile, glass back and metal frame of the normal Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Rock solid, even in all of our stress tests

Built like a tank, or at least a hard plastic humvee, it's tougher than other devices due to these solid-feeling materials. Samsung loves to boast that the parts come together to help the phone pass "military specification testing" against 20 specific environmental conditions.

Within reason, it's impervious to extreme temperatures, dust and sand, shock and vibration and low pressure and high altitudes. It's also waterproof up to a certain depth. Its IP68 rating means it can be submerged up to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for 30 minutes, even with its capless USB port. That's something we tend to see from only Sony and its phones like the Xperia Z4.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
It doesn't exactly look elegant at a nice dinner

It's no longer a worry if you leave your phone in your sun-baked pickup truck – because that's what you drive if you own this phone – or accidentally submerge it while doing tricks on a jetski (because that's what you do for fun). This phone is designed for people who live life to the fullest as well as those sedentary folks who are equally accident prone in normal life.

The colors reflect that "YOLO" lifestyle, too, for better or worse. AT&T sells three schemes: Camo White (really, white and gray), Camo Blue (dark blue and black) and Gray (really, off-black). The gray is the... least unattractive. It's strictly about personality with the other two.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Dustproof, meaning it's fit for the beach

Aside from the gaudy Camo theme, I like everything about the Galaxy S6 Active design. Its faux metal frame is convincing, complete with metallic riveting in the corners, and the entire device is very grippy thanks to a textured back and buttons.

There are three large physical buttons on the front of the device instead of Samsung's usual software buttons with haptic feedback. They're textured, strong and very clicky.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Submerge it in shallow water. It still works when you take it out

There's also an additional shortcut button on the frame that stands out in a unique blue color. Pressing it leads to Samsung's Activity Zone app, and holding it down is a shortcut to the music app – but it can be mapped to other functions, like the camera.

All of this extra protection and large, physical button layout gives the Samsung Galaxy S6 some additional weight and girth. Its dimensions are 146.8 x 73.4 x 8.6mm (5.78 x 2.89 x 0.34 inches) and it weighs in at 150g (5.29 ounces). That's a bit thicker, wider and longer than the Samsung Galaxy S6 at 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm, and it's noticeably heavier at 138g (4.9 ounces).

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
It's not as thin as the S6, but it's about the same size as it with a case

That said, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active ensures you won't need to also buy a case for your new phone. It's built right on there.

Display

Outdoor-friendly and just the right size for one hand, the 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display is the reason the Galaxy S6 Active works so well for active lifestyles.

The sun is just no match for the screen brightness, which maxes out at over 1,000 lumens at the right settings. It's the same iPhone 6-beating screen technology we saw in the Galaxy S6.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

Less importantly, the resolution doubles the 1080p iPhone 6 Plus at 1,440 x 2,560 pixels – that's 577 pixels per inch. No one is beating Samsung's rich and vibrant AMOLEDs these days.

Its stunning 5.1-inch display is protected by Gorilla Glass 4. It's not indestructible, like many of the other parts of this phone, but the screen is well guarded without resorting to more serious measures, like the slightly curved LG G4 or dramatically curved LG G Flex 2.

I do miss the double-tap-to-wake method of turning on recently reviewed devices, like the LG G4, HTC One M9 and Asus Zenfone 2. Otherwise, the brightness, the resolution and the pixel count are all carried over from the Galaxy S6, and they really show the benefits of the company's QHD, Super AMOLED displays.