A familiar device with a serious change in looks and a big boost in battery.
Samsung and AT&T have partnered up again for yet another "active" Galaxy S, which like its predecessors builds on top of the flagship Galaxy of the year with lots of hard plastic, rubber and resistance from the elements. And just like previous models, the Galaxy S6 active also leaves the insides basically untouched, meaning you're getting the same solid GS6 experience, including that great camera, underneath a decidedly more rugged exterior.
You get waterproofing, dustproofing and plenty of extra grip, and depending on what color you choose you may also get some camouflage (whether you like it or not). Oh, and you get a dramatic jump in battery capacity — up to 3500 mAh from the 2550 in the original phone. Want to learn a little more? Check out our hands-on and impressions of the Galaxy S6 active.
Some serious hardware
The hardware situation is the big story with the Galaxy S6 active, as it looks dramatically different from the phone it is based on. Sure the basic shape is still there, and the screen size is even the same, but that's really where the similarities end. All three buttons under the screen are now physical (rather than two being capacitive), and look nearly identical to those of the Galaxy S5 Active. The bezels around the screen have increased, and there's now a pronounced lip around the edges that actually keeps the screen from touching a flat surface if you set it screen-down.
Think of the Galaxy S6, but wrapped up in gear getting ready for war.
That lip is a product of the heavy duty hard plastic that wraps around the sides of the device and onto the back, giving the GS6 active plenty of protection against drops. Rubberized inserts on all four sides give you plenty to grip onto, and the power and volume buttons are much larger and easier to push. Above the volume keys is a dedicated "Active key" button to launch the Activity Zone or any app of choice (more on this below).
Around the back there's a serious bit of metal surrounding the camera lens, and the texturized back makes the GS6 active even easier to hold in your hand. The headphone jack has moved up to the top of the phone while the USB port stays on the bottom, and unlike the GS5 Active there are no longer flaps over either port. The active is taller, wider and thicker than a standard Galaxy S6, but you probably could've guessed that just by looking at it — and you're clearly getting something for that bulk.
The phone is dustproof, water- and shock-resistant up to IP68 spec, in addition to just being built like a army personnel carrier. But it doesn't actually feel that large, honestly. I've had cases on my Galaxy S6 that as a full package feel much bigger than the Galaxy S6 active does, which is interesting considering how bulky the active looks in pictures. It's definitely a little harder to get your hand around compared to its more svelte brother, but I don't think I'd have any problem using it every day.
The internals are nearly identical, but you get over 35% more battery inside than the GS6.
The internals of the Galaxy S6 active thankfully haven't changed (save for a few small points) from the regular Galaxy S6, meaning you don't have to take a hit in performance to have a phone that can take a beating. You're getting the same screen size and quality, processor, RAM and storage. The few changes that have been made are in the battery, which is now a much larger 3500 mAh cell, the home button, where the fingerprint scanner has been removed, and wireless charging, where you'll now just have Qi and not Powermat under the back. You're also stuck with just 32GB of storage, as AT&T isn't offering a 64 or 128GB model like it is with the regular GS6.
The battery bump — a full 37 percent in size — is significant, and is looking to be enough to make the GS6 active a capable full-day phone, which is something you can't always say about the original. The phone is also just slightly heavier, with the move to plastic and rubber from metal and glass offsetting some of the extra battery weight. When it comes to the fingerprint scanner, that's really going to be a personal decision — I really like using it on the GS6, but chances are if you want or need a phone this tough you'll be able to live without it.
Software you're familiar with
As you'd expect, the software on the Galaxy S6 active is just what you'd see on any other model of the Galaxy S6. This is TouchWiz running with Android 5.0 under the hood, and loads of AT&T apps — my quick count was over 15 — filling the phone right out of the box. Nothing out of the ordinary for this carrier in particular, but that's something you'll have to deal with if you're coming to AT&T for the GS6 active from a phone that didn't have so much bloat.
Aside from a little AT&T bloat and a new app, this is the same TouchWiz you know.
AT&T has also made Samsung move over to a tabbed settings view, which you'll be familiar with from the Galaxy S5, that separates out the settings into groups that you flip between. There's no way to switch to a more standard list view (which is the only option on other GS6s), which is a tad annoying if you switch phones a lot but a complete non-issue if you'll only be using the GS6 active.
The one other change to the GS6 active's software is Activity Zone, which ties in with the new hardware key directly above the volume rocker on the left side of the phone. Activity Zone is an app that has a dashboard with the weather, barometer, S Health info, compass, flashlight and stopwatch, with each tile giving you access to an associated app. There's also a big workout quick-start item at the bottom, which is tied in with Milk Music on the phone.
By default you can launch Activity Zone with a press of the Active key, and a long press of the key will launch the music player. If you don't have any use for the Activity Zone (I wouldn't blame you), you can hop into the settings and change which app launches instead for both pressing and long pressing the key. Some other good options may be Google Now, your music player of choice, a voice recorder or maybe the phone dialer.
More to come
These are my first impressions of the Galaxy S6 active after having it for a little while, and I plan to use it for a while longer before working up a more comprehensive set of thoughts in a full review.
Keep an eye out for our full review of the Galaxy S6 active in the coming days!