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Review: Samsung Galaxy S6 Active for AT&T

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Jun 26, 2015, 8:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Samsung clad its flagship phone in hardier garb and called it the Galaxy S6 Active. This waterproof Android smartphone has several advantages over its more delicate siblings. Find out what they are in Phone Scoop's in-depth report.

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Is It Your Type

The Galaxy S6 Active is for people who want a flagship phone, but need something a bit tougher than today's glass handsets. The S6 Active offers protection from dust, water, and mild drops, but otherwise has most of the same features as the standard S6. You could also simply think of the Galaxy S6 Active as an S6 with a built-in case and a bigger battery.

Body

I've always been a fan of Samsung's Active line of smartphones. The idea is simple: dress down the latest S smartphone in thicker, less fancy garb to make it more resistant to damage. The result is a beefier handset that still looks good and offers a killer spec sheet.

There's no denying the S6 Active takes on a masculine vibe. It has a chunky aluminum frame that forms the outer edges and a camo-patterned back surface. It's not dainty or delicate by any stretch. I'd call the design utilitarian. I can see the S6 Active serving action heroes like Jack Bauer or James Bond as they race around trying to save the world.

The corners are flattened out a bit, giving the phone a unique shape. The lines and patterns in the aluminum frame are pleasing and the plastic rear cover feels tough as nails. Samsung still managed to adorn the Active with some chrome accents, such as the grille for the earpiece, and buttons along the side edges. The chrome contrasts nicely with the matte finish covering the aluminum.

The Active is bigger than the standard model in every dimension. It's also a bit heavier, but that's to be expected in a semi-rugged device with a larger battery. It's not for those with small hands. I am not able to reach the entire screen with my thumb without repositioning the phone in my hand. It'll fit into big pockets, but you'll always know it is there. If you're (still) wearing skinny jeans, the S6 Active isn't going to travel comfortably in your pants.

Body  

Samsung picked solid materials for the Active to keep it strong. As mentioned, the metal frame holding the phone together is dramatically thicker than that of the standard S6. The Gorilla Glass 4 panel protecting the display is fitted in tightly. The polycarbonate rear panel has a dimpled texture to it that I rather like. The phone is put together well.

The Active's face is fairly typical for a Samsung handset. It's mostly screen, but there is plenty of bezel above and below the display. Samsung was forced to use three physical buttons for interacting with the Android user interface, as capacitive keys don't work when wet. Moreover, the Active loses the S6's fingerprint reader. That's a bummer. The buttons (multitask, home, back) are raised slightly and have a pattern in the plastic to help set them apart. I was pleased with the travel and feedback of the buttons. They work well.

You'll notice two buttons on the left edge of the phone. The top button is shortcut button (that the standard S6 lacks), while the bottom one is the volume toggle. In addition to chrome accents, the buttons have a textured design that is easy to feel with your thumb. The profiles are quite sufficient in helping you locate the buttons. They don't offer a lot of travel, but produce a loud clicking sound when pressed. The same is true of the lock button on the right edge.

The SIM card slot is positioned on the right edge, as well. You can pry it out with your thumbnail. It has a little gasket to protect the phone's innards, so make sure you press it all the way in.

Samsung improved the Active's utility when it comes to waterproofing. On last year's model, users had to close hatches to protect the USB port and headphone jack. The S6 Active has waterproofed these two ports, so there's no need to worry about covering them up before your phone goes for a dip. The headphone jack is on top and the USB port is on the bottom.

How waterproof is the S6 Active? Officially, Samsung says it can sit in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. That's an increase in depth when compared to last year's model. If you drop it in the swimming pool this summer you won't have to buy a new phone. I tested the Active in a pool, under running water, in the shower, and I even dunked it in some coffee. It survived just fine. The Active lives up to its waterproof billing.

The design of the back surface is rather busy. The Active has the same camera and flash/sensor array as the standard S6 and it is placed in the same spot close to the top.

What's not to like about the S6 Active? Well, the battery is sealed in tight. You can't access it at all. This if offset at least a bit by the increase in size: it holds almost 40% (900 mAh) more juice than the regular S6 battery. The Active doesn't have a memory card slot.

The S6 Active is a hardier phone than its cousin and would be a good match for those who live an active — and possibly more fraught with danger — lifestyle.

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