Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

Samsung's best Android phone – only harder to break

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review
Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

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Even though the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active repels water, the interface is still not immune to Samsung's garish "water droplet" unlock screen and its accompany sound effects. Somehow, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge escaped these maddening bloops and bleeps.

Luckily, everything beyond this annoying lockscreen is impressive, thanks to the improved Samsung TouchWiz 5.0 interface with Android 5.0.2 Lollipop behind it. Don't let these numbers fool you. The Active is actually behind the S6, which launched with Android 5.1 Lollipop – but beyond some bug fixes, the feature set is exactly the same.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

It's Samsung's TouchWiz interface, but a whole lot more useable this year

The Active and all modern Galaxy phones also have one of the most pressing additions ahead of this autumn's Android M update. They can all silence the phone by holding down the volume down key. Google's pure Android Lollipop UI rudely got rid of that, stopping short with "vibration only" as the lowest setting no matter how hard you hammer down the volume rocker.

Samsung still needs to enable silencing their devices from the lockscreen. Why does it have to be unlocked to change the volume or mute? When my phone is in my pocket, but out of sight during meetings and in movie theaters, that's when I want a no-look mute button the most. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have kept the all-important mute switch, much to my delight.

Default apps, messaging and call quality

Everyone wants a piece of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, and it has a lot of partner apps: in addition to Samsung's so-so default apps you can't erase and Google's Android apps that the company is required to offer, a few Microsoft apps and more than a few AT&T apps are here.

Samsung offers basics like Email, Messages, Memo, Clock, Contacts, Voice Recorder, Video, Music, Calculator and Calendar (not to be confused with Google's better Calendar app that isn't pre-installed). The phone has a robust Camera and the standard Gallery app, and more intricate programs for multimedia, fitness and productivity apps: Milk Music, Milk Video, S Health, S Voice and Microsoft Office rival, Hancom Office 2014. More meaningless apps await in the Galaxy Apps Store.

Activity Zone is unique to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. It features a grid of app shortcuts, like weather, barometer, compass, stopwatch and flashlight – all sorts of tools survivalist phone owners need.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active review

More popular and full-featured apps can be found stashed away in the the Google folder, including Gmail, Google Play Movies & TV, Drive, Google Photos and Hangouts. Microsoft's OneNote comes pre-installed, as does Skype, but OneDrive does not (despite being on the Galaxy S6) and also missing are Facebook's suite of apps: Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. They can all, of course, be downloaded in the Google Play Store.

AT&T is the worst offender, with 15 generic apps, like AT&T Live, AT&T Locker and AT&T Mail. If you're actually using AT&T Mail, congratulations, you're the one person using AT&T Mail.

And no one should use AT&T Navigator. It's a below-average navigation app that costs $9.99 a month. Who's paying for map applications these days, and why is this cluttering up my phone's app drawer?

Sponsored apps that land on the device include Uber, YellowPages, Peel Smart Remote, and WildTangent Games. (The latter of which obnoxiously adds a homescreen shortcut as soon as you boot it up for the first time from the app drawer.)

The only likeable app bundled with this AT&T phone is its Visual Voicemail app. Not every Android phone I have tested using other carriers has this feature, so it's noteworthy here.

The other good news is that call quality remains on par with the excellent Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. The TouchWiz dialer is good, but there's no native way to switch between calls, texts and video calls on this phone, something that Google's Nexus 6 phone gets partial credit for and Apple's phones and tablets gets full credit for.

Matt Swider