This Galaxy S5 is ready to take a beating
If you've been holding on to that older Samsung Rugby Smart or even last year's Galaxy S4 Active, you'll be pleased with what you're about to read. With the Galaxy S5 Active, Samsung has once again taken their best selling device and sent it back to engineering to create a version that you can beat and abuse without ending up with something that no longer works. And they managed to keep everything we love intact while doing it.
If you want or need the features and specs from the Galaxy S5, but know that you'll be dragging it through the mud, the blood and the beer, then the Galaxy S5 Active was built for you.
The Galaxy S5 Active video walkthrough
Treat me rough
Simply put, this is the Samsung Galaxy S5 after it's been toughened up a bit. The looks are a good bit different — and camouflage is only one of the color options (along with gray and red), so don't worry — but the device acts just the same as its slightly more delicate sibling. The style isn't going to appeal to everyone. There is no getting around that. It's wide, flat, and thin, with an extra bit of armor consisting of a hard rubber band that encircles the frame. It looks like it should have the Snap-On logo on the back. Having said that, I think I like it better than the look and feel of the normal Galaxy S5. But this is all personal preference.
The difference, and focus of the phone is the Mil-Spec 810G and IP67 ratings. Together, these make the S5 Active resistant to salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport shock and thermal shock. This means that you can dunk the S5 Active into a meter of water for 30 minutes just like the "normal" Galaxy S5, but it's also going to fare better if left in the bright sun, or going in and out of extreme temperature conditions, or getting slammed on a metal table from 3 feet in the air. That was fun to test, but a bit loud.
You have the same buttons, controls, and ports that you're used to in the same places. You also have an additional Action Button that opens the exclusive Activity Zone app when pressed, or the camera when long-pressed by default. Things change a bit when you get to the bottom of the phone, where you'll find three mechanical buttons — one each for Home, Back, and Multitasking. With S-Voice assigned to the long-press home action, you could use the S5 Active with work gloves on or if you're covered in grease or mud. The touch screen is still pretty unusable with wet or dirty fingers, though. The Fingerprint scanner and it's association with the security keyring has been removed, so when your hands are clean you won't have that to use.
I love this screen
Like the internal specs, the display is the same excellent piece of tech we find on the Galaxy S5. It's a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED panel with a 1080p resolution that checks in at 432 ppi. It's bright. It's beautiful. It works well in bright sunlight. It's one of the best displays we've ever seen, and deserves the praise that it receives. Gone are the days when only a good LCD could be considered "the best" as this display rivals or exceeds the display used on the HTC One M8 or the Apple iPhone 5s. I'm itching to have a go with the new panel used on the LG G3, but until then I give the crown to the Galaxy S5 — and the Active variant.
A great camera
The cameras are the same as you'll find on the Galaxy S5, with the same features and shooting modes in the software. Overall, it's an excellent smartphone camera, but it struggles in low-light situations. Most smartphone cameras do the same, so I'm not going to fault it. Having the Active button serve as a shortcut and a shutter button is a nice touch. While you'll find plenty of samples in our Galaxy S5 review, I'm adding a few here just for fun.
The same TouchWiz flavoring
Like everything else, the software on the S5 Active is a mirror image of what you'll find on the standard Galaxy S5. It's completely TouchWiz'd out, and I'm not about to say that is a bad thing. Samsung has been enhancing and retooling their software, and each version gets a little better than the last. If you've not used TouchWiz in a while, you owe it another chance. It's not for everybody, and I'm not going to say I prefer it, but no longer should it be dismissed off-hand.
Inside the app drawer you're going to find everything but an AT&T Kitchen Sink included, as well as all the Google Applications required. You're not going to like them all, nor are you going to use them all. You can go into the settings and disable almost all of them, so jump in and do just that. We don't like all the extra garbage installed on our phones any more than you do, but there's not much you can do when a phone is an exclusive to a carrier. Disable the junk, and politely let AT&T know on their social media pages that you'd rather not have the bloat.
The software itself is fluid, and any stutters and jitters you remember from last year's Galaxy S4 models are gone. While the style may not be for everyone, the function is spot-on and Samsung has done a fine job tuning their operating system. We can stop the blind hate for TouchWiz now, and realize it's another option for folks who want it.
Having said that, I'd really love a Google Play edition of the S5 Active, but that's just me.
Some final thoughts
"Active" and "rugged" are buzzwords. The Galaxy S5 Active isn't built of unobtanium and kryptonite, and you can't randomly beat on it with heavy metal tools. For all the "ruggedness" built into the construction, it still has 5.1-inches of glass on the face. But when it comes normal everyday abuse, like bumping the phone against some scaffolding, or dropping it in the mud, or even walking in and out of a deep-freeze all day long, the S5 Active is going to last longer than it's counterpart.
You may work at a desk all day like I do, but there are folks out there who don't. People who put on a uniform every morning, or a hard hat, or till the soil. Also, many folks get out every weekend and play hard. Rocks, woods and waters can be hell on a smartphone. The Galaxy S5 Active is designed for all those people, who work or play hard and need a phone that's as tough as they are. And the great thing is that they need make no compromises. Everything you love about the Galaxy S5 — it's camera, it's screen, the features and the specs — are on board.
If you need a phone that is as tough as you are, you want to have a look at the S5 Active.