The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 active are made for people with different design sensibilities. One is sleek, smooth, shiny and maybe even beautiful — the other is built to take a beating, and doesn't necessarily care that it's a little bigger than other phones.
We've talked about the subtle differences between the two phones, now let's look at the clear physical differences. Here's what the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 active look like side-by-side.
The Galaxy S6 definitely looks nicer, with the solid metal band surrounding the edges and flowing perfectly into smooth glass on both sides of the phone. The Galaxy S6 active is covered instead by hard plastic, rubber along the edges and some texture on the back that makes the phone easier to hold. In the end the Galaxy S6 active is taller, wider and thicker than the standard GS6, but it doesn't feel any larger when you hold it.
The Galaxy S6 is obviously more vulnerable to scratches, dings and cracks with glass on both sides and not much protecting it, though. While it may not win any industrial design awards, the Galaxy S6 active has a lip around the screen and bulging corners that should help it from being destroyed by a couple of drops. Add in the rating for water, dust and shock resistance, and the Galaxy S6 active should hold up against any usual wear and tear.
Even with all of the physical changes, you can tell that the core of these phones is shared. The volume and power buttons have the same layouts and simply have different key caps (with the addition of the "Active Button" on the active), while the camera pod, flash and heart rate sensor on the back are much the same. The USB port is on the bottom in just the same location, as is the SIM slot — the only two changes here are the headphone jack, which moved to the top of the phone, and the speaker, which moved to the back.
Looking around the edges shows some of the more subtle design differences between these phones, but also shows how much they share. These really are just two different models of the same phone, as the names (and prices) suggest. You get the same base Galaxy S6 experience no matter which you choose — the only decision to make is whether you need the extra layer of protection or want the slick looks that can turn heads.