You might expect a rugged, outdoorsy version of a flagship smartphone to require compromises everywhere else. But Samsung's Galaxy S6 Active gives you almost everything from the standard Galaxy S6, along with amazing battery life and some protection that Bear Grylls would approve of.
When you look at the Galaxy S6 Active in pictures, it might look bigger and uglier than it really is. Sure, it loses the sexy glass and aluminum casing from the regular GS6, but its plastic build isn't ridiculously bulky – and it's also pleasantly light.
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The design is rugged, but not tacky or tank-like. There's a subtle camouflage pattern on the back, which may sound like the most stereotypical design choice Samsung could have made, but we think it manages to stay tasteful and appropriate. The phone also has ridges at various points around its edges that let you get a firm, solid grip.
If you routinely buy thin and sexy phones, only to hide them inside tank-like cases to protect your investment, then you can eliminate the middle-man – and actually shed some bulk – by going with the Galaxy S6 Active. It's better protected than a GS6 inside something like an Otterbox, but cheaper and more compact.
Most of the phone is the same as the outstanding Galaxy S6. The Active is 9 percent heavier and 27 percent thicker, but you still get the same stunning 5.1-inch Quad HD display, outstanding (and quick-launching) camera, wireless charging (as well as fast charging when using a cable) and lightning-fast performance.
You do lose the Galaxy S6's fingerprint sensor, along with its capacitive buttons, as the Active swaps those for three (non-biometric) physical navigation buttons. While we miss the fingerprint sensor, at least the Active's buttons have a satisfying, "chunky" click to them.
You also lose Gear VR compatibility, in case you were hoping to use your phone with Samsung's Oculus-powered virtual reality headset. Samsung never said the Active was compatible with the Gear VR, but we tried squeezing it in anyway just to make sure, and it doesn't physically fit into the section that plugs into the headset's microUSB port (and, even if you were willing to mangle your Gear to squeeze it in there, there's no guarantee the phone would download the necessary software).
What you get in return is IP68 water and dust resistance, meaning it can soak indefinitely in 3 m (9.8 ft) of water. You could take this bad boy into most swimming pools and, as long as you don't drop it into the deep end and leave it there, it should keep on ticking without a hitch.
Perhaps even more importantly, the GS6 Active has insane battery life. In our battery benchmark, where we stream video (over Wi-Fi) with brightness at 75 percent, its battery only dropped 5 percent per hour. That's twice as good as the standard Galaxy S6, which already has good uptimes.
If you wish smartphone-makers would worry less about thin and sexy, and focus more on long battery life, then you can stop complaining. The Galaxy S6 Active is the phone you've been asking for.
The S6 Active also adds an Activity Zone app (with its own dedicated button on the left side of the phone) that houses shortcuts for weather, barometer, compass, flashlight, stopwatch and more. If you're buying the phone for treks into the wilderness, having all that info in one easy-to-access place could be a big selling point.
Assuming you're looking for this kind of handset, the only potential negative we can see is that the GS6 Active is only available on one carrier in the US: AT&T.
If you're subscribed to Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint (or a smaller carrier), then you'll need to either go through the potential hassle of switching or miss out on the Active's rugged, water-proof, long-lasting fun.
The Galaxy S6 Active is one of the best phones you can buy, offering reasonable trade-offs over the standard GS6 (which, itself, is our pick for the best smartphone you can buy today). It's available now on AT&T for US$200 on-contract, $695 full retail, or an installment plan that adds up to that.
For more on the features we skimmed over, you can revisit Gizmag's standard Galaxy S6 review.
Product page: AT&TView gallery - 11 images