Mobile Technology

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active vs. Galaxy S6: Up close

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active vs. G...
Gizmag compares the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active (left) to the Galaxy S6: two outstanding phones that complement each other perfectly
Gizmag compares the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active (left) to the Galaxy S6: two outstanding phones that complement each other perfectly
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Galaxy S6 Active (left) with the standard Galaxy S6
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Galaxy S6 Active (left) with the standard Galaxy S6
The phones have the same stunning 5.1-inch, Quad HD display
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The phones have the same stunning 5.1-inch, Quad HD display
Gizmag compares the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active (left) to the Galaxy S6: two outstanding phones that complement each other perfectly
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Gizmag compares the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active (left) to the Galaxy S6: two outstanding phones that complement each other perfectly
The regular GS6 (top) has a fingerprint sensor home button and two capacitive keys; the Active has three physical buttons with no fingerprint sensor
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The regular GS6 (top) has a fingerprint sensor home button and two capacitive keys; the Active has three physical buttons with no fingerprint sensor
The Galaxy S6 is thin, with a beautiful glass and aluminum design
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The Galaxy S6 is thin, with a beautiful glass and aluminum design
The subtle camouflage pattern on the back of the Active might sound tacky, but we think it's tasteful and appropriate
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The subtle camouflage pattern on the back of the Active might sound tacky, but we think it's tasteful and appropriate
The 6.8 mm (0.27-inch) thick Galaxy S6
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The 6.8 mm (0.27-inch) thick Galaxy S6
The GS6 Active's Activity Zone, a quick-launch hub for some outdoorsy type of info and tools
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The GS6 Active's Activity Zone, a quick-launch hub for some outdoorsy type of info and tools
The Active's IP68 certification means it can soak indefinitely in 3 m (9.8 ft) of water
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The Active's IP68 certification means it can soak indefinitely in 3 m (9.8 ft) of water
The Galaxy S6's glass back is, even after three months, a pleasure to hold
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The Galaxy S6's glass back is, even after three months, a pleasure to hold

It's easy to see the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active as a niche device for outdoorsy, Bear Grylls types. But we see it as an ideal complement to the Galaxy S6 – offering a few compromises but also a few key advantages over the best flagship you can buy today. We go hands-on to compare the two Galaxy handsets.

The Galaxy S6 Active is indeed a rugged phone – with a thick, rubber and plastic body that makes it at least as sturdy as a "regular" phone wearing something like an Otterbox. And unlike most smartphone cases you buy, the GS6 Active is also water and dust resistant. It's significantly more water-resistant than last year's Galaxy S5, with the Active offering IP68 certification – meaning it can soak indefinitely in 3 m (9.8 ft) of water.

The standard Galaxy S6 has no certified water or dust resistance, and, with its glass back, isn't nearly as likely to survive a drop or other rough use without taking some damage.

The Galaxy S6's glass back is, even after three months, a pleasure to hold
The Galaxy S6's glass back is, even after three months, a pleasure to hold

In return, the regular GS6 gives you a slim and sexy body, with glass back and aluminum edges. After using it for three months, we still can't get enough of wrapping our fingers around this beauty. And if you want to crank the sex appeal up to 11, the otherwise identical Galaxy S6 edge is even more attractive (with a dual-curved screen) for an extra US$100.

Once you get past the vastly different bodies, you'll see that the two have a lot in common. Same stunning 5.1-inch, Quad HD display – which is still our pick for the best smartphone display we've seen (just edging out the LG G4). The same 64-bit, octa-core Exynos processor lives inside, along with 3 GB of RAM – delivering incredibly snappy performance. And they both have the same camera, which takes outstanding shots and launches faster than any other phone camera we've seen (jumping from sleeping phone to snapped pic in under two seconds).

Both are also wireless charging enabled, as well as fast-charging enabled – which can get an almost-dead battery back to a respectable state faster than on non-fast-charging phones.

The subtle camouflage pattern on the back of the Active might sound tacky, but we think it's tasteful and appropriate
The subtle camouflage pattern on the back of the Active might sound tacky, but we think it's tasteful and appropriate

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Galaxy S6 Active has, though, is its battery life. The standard model has good uptimes, but the Active supplies the kind of insane battery life that many people wonder why they can't get out of their slim and sexy flagships (even though common sense dictates that you can't push light/thin boundaries and battery life boundaries at the same time).

In our battery benchmark, streaming video over Wi-Fi with brightness at 75 percent, the Galaxy S6 dropped 11 percent per hour. That isn't a bad result at all (it's 21 percent better than the iPhone 6 scored in the same test). But the Active only dropped 5 percent per hour – the best result from any smartphone we've reviewed.

There are many reasons to consider the Galaxy S6 Active, but battery life is probably at the top of that list. It sets the two phones up as perfect complements. People who lean towards beauty and elegance have the GS6, and those who wonder why smartphone-makers don't give battery life more attention have the answer to their prayers in the Active.

The regular GS6 (top) has a fingerprint sensor home button and two capacitive keys; the Active has three physical buttons with no fingerprint sensor
The regular GS6 (top) has a fingerprint sensor home button and two capacitive keys; the Active has three physical buttons with no fingerprint sensor

Another trade-off in making the Active's rugged body is its navigation buttons. The regular S6 has a fingerprint sensor/home button flanked by two capacitive touch keys (back and recent apps). But the Active cuts the fingerprint sensor and makes all three buttons (home, back and recent apps) physical, plastic ones. They have a firm, "chunky" feel to them that's satisfying to press, but they do lose the elegance of the GS6's setup.

Software is identical, apart from perhaps carrier add-ons, as well as an Activity Zone app that lives on the Active (it even has its own launch button on the side of the phone). Activity Zone houses quick shortcuts for things like a compass, barometer, weather, flashlight, a stopwatch and fitness tracking.

If you're into the burgeoning virtual reality movement, then keep in mind that the standard GS6 works with the Oculus-powered Gear VR, our pick for the best VR headset you can buy today, while the Active doesn't.

Galaxy S6 Active (left) with the standard Galaxy S6
Galaxy S6 Active (left) with the standard Galaxy S6

If the Galaxy S6 Active were available on all carriers, we might put it right next to the standard GS6 as one of the first phones shoppers should look at. The yin to the GS6's yang, the Lennon to its McCartney, the Shaq to its Kobe.

Unfortunately, the Active is an AT&T exclusive in the US, so unless you're already on the nation's second-biggest carrier (or feel like switching), then it isn't even an option. That's too bad, because the Active could be much more than a niche variant of a popular flagship. Its amazing battery life and rugged without looking like a tank build could make it a great alternative for customers all around the world, and on all carriers. Maybe next year.

For more on these two, you can hit up Gizmag's full reviews of the regular Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Active.

5 comments
Christopher Deming
so the "tradeoffs" are its designed to actually be a funtional thing that you use?
Bryan Paschke
If it had a more powerful tranceiver like something that was really meant for use in back of the beyond, I would dump my iPhone plus lifeproof in a second.
Kevin E. James
...and when, if ever, will we be able to get this in Canada and who(m) might the carrier be?
411monk
The Active only comes with 32GB of storage. That's a big show stopper for me. Adding power is significantly easier than adding storage. So I'll take the battery deprived S6 over the storage deprived Active. Would it have been so difficult to put 64GB in the Active? Come on Samsung.
JudyOleson
can this only be used with AT&T still ?