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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review: Come for the ruggedness, stay for the battery

The quick take

Don't think of the Galaxy S8 Active as a legitimate improvement over the standard GS8 — because it isn't. Think of this as the best rugged phone choice for those who want something really tough but don't want to compromise on performance, display, camera or other features. Yes, it has a massive improvement in battery life, but in the name of sturdiness, it also loses all of the design that makes the Galaxy S8 so desirable in the first place.

The Good

  • Complete Galaxy S8 experience
  • Great battery life
  • Can take a beating
  • 'Shatter-resistant' screen
  • Flat screen can be preferable

The Bad

  • Too big and heavy for most people
  • No particular differentiation outside of casing
  • More expensive than standard GS8
  • Screen more susceptible to scratches
  • Exclusive to AT&T (for now)

See at AT&T

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

The internals

Tech Specs

CategorySpec
Operating systemAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Display5.8-inch Super AMOLED, 2560 x 1440 (506 ppi)
Gorilla Glass 5
Shatter-resistant
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 835
Storage64GB (UFS 2.1)
ExpandablemicroSD card
RAM4GB
Rear camera12MP Dual Pixel, 1.4-micron pixels, f/1.7, OIS
Front camera8MP, f/1.7, auto focus
Battery4000mAh
ChargingUSB-C
Fast charging
Fast wireless charging
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac MIMO
Bluetooth 5.1
NFC, GPS, Glonass, Galileo
Wi-Fi Calling, HD Voice, Video calling
LTEBands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 20, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66
Water resistanceIP68
SecurityFingerprint sensor
Iris scanning
Dimensions151.89 x 74.93 x 9.91 mm
208.09 g
ColorsMeteor Grey, Titanium Gold

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

Every bit a GS8

Galaxy S8 Active Things you'll love

The thing you'll love most about the Galaxy S8 Active is that it's simply a Galaxy S8 at its core. Every spec, every feature and every component is the same. That means you're getting great performance, a whole boatload of software features and a camera that's still in the conversation with the best in the industry. It's water- and dust-resistant, of course, but that doesn't come at the cost of any fewer ports — you still get a headphone jack and flap-less USB-C connector. You also get to look at a beautiful Super AMOLED display with great brightness, even outdoors, which I'd expect you'd want for a phone that's this rugged.

The GS8 Active even keeps components like wireless charging, which you sometimes expect to lose with such a thick outer casing. That package of specs and features is a far shout from what you expect to get in most "rugged" style phones.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

There is one spec change, though: the battery is now 4000mAh, a full 1000 larger than the Galaxy S8 and even 500 larger than the Galaxy S8+. As you'd expect, this offers excellent battery life. I ended most days with roughly 20-30% battery remaining, despite taking no measures throughout the day to limit usage or save precious capacity. That's awesome when you compare it to the standard Galaxy S8, which offers acceptable battery life but not a whole lot of runway for heavier days.

Samsung is also touting one other differentiator, which ties right into the "Active" name, and that's a "shatter-resistant" screen. You can, apparently, drop the phone from five feet onto a hard surface and have a guarantee that it won't shatter. That's pretty neat.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

Not for everyone

Galaxy S8 Active Things you'll hate

In terms of actually using the Galaxy S8 Active every day, there isn't a whole lot to dislike. The one real downside of the GS8 Active is its overall size. It's wider, taller, thicker and heavier than the standard version — and not subtly, but dramatically. It's over 10 grams heavier than the Galaxy Note 8, and its size kind of slots in between the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ — that's big, considering its screen size is the same as the GS8.

That size bump just makes the Galaxy S8 Active tougher to hold and use, even compared to the slippery Galaxy S8. It also isn't all that good looking when you set it alongside the sleek and smooth standard version.

But there's also one thing you can't see that you may find spoils your experience. That "shatter-resistant" screen rating is accomplished by putting a special film on top of the standard Gorilla Glass 5 screen covering. Similarly to what we saw on the Moto Z2 Force, this covering is extra susceptible to scratches in daily use — it's not scratching the glass, but instead the plastic on top. This is one of the trade-offs necessary when you have a screen that won't shatter when it's impacted.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

The other big downside of the Galaxy S8 Active is its initial exclusivity to AT&T. Not only does that limit its availability to one of four major carriers — to say nothing of international availability — but it also means you get the typical AT&T treatment on the phone. That means roughly 10 pre-installed bloatware apps that you don't want or need (thankfully you can disable or uninstall most of it), and some superfluous changes to the software for no apparent reason. Thankfully the GS8 Active isn't supposed to be exclusive to the carrier forever — but we don't know when that period will end.

Whether by AT&T's doing or not, the Galaxy S8 Active is also quite expensive. At $849, it's $100 more than a standard GS8 and the same price as the Galaxy S8+. If you choose to buy the GS8 or GS8+ unlocked, you'll save roughly $175 with the former and $50 with the latter. That's a big premium to pay for a phone that is very much the same in terms of overall experience and features.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active and Galaxy S8

Get it for rugged, not for battery

Galaxy S8 Active Should you buy it?

Power users who are always hunting for the biggest possible battery will undoubtedly be drawn to the idea of a high-end phone like the Galaxy S8 with an extra-large 4000mAh battery. And yes, the Galaxy S8 Active provides that — it is, in terms of features, software and performance, every bit the same as a standard Galaxy S8. But in order to get that 4000mAh battery, you have to give up quite a bit of what makes the standard Galaxy S8 so appealing — primarily, its entire hardware design.

The battery improvement is a big plus; but the design is an even bigger minus.

The Galaxy S8 Active is massively heavier and larger in every dimension than the Galaxy S8, and even loses its hallmark curved glass screen. That last part may also seem like a bonus — but the added width and thickness makes up for it in terms of poor ergonomics. With its super-thick and tough exterior, the Galaxy S8 Active doesn't look, or more importantly feel, like a Galaxy S8 anymore — and that is, after all, a big chunk of what you're paying for when you buy one.

No, I wouldn't recommend someone who wants a Galaxy S8 consider a Galaxy S8 Active just for the battery. The downsides of its size, shape, design and price just aren't worth it. But I would absolutely recommend this phone to someone who must have a "rugged" phone to survive the daily demands of their life or job, and doesn't want to compromise in terms of the software, features, camera or experience of the phone in the process.

See at AT&T

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

57 Comments
  • If only they made a Galaxy S8 without the edges so it wouldn't be so damn fragile. Not the S8 Active, just a vanilla, flat S8, like the old days.
  • Much as it hurts usability in some cases, the curved display is a big differentiator for Samsung and it has clearly seen big sales of its "edge" phones in the past. That's why it went all in on curves. I don't see Samsung doing flat flagship phones, aside from the "Active" phones that need to be flat as part of the casing design.
  • Well, still, such a shame. I'm among the few that's still not sold on the curved edge design, the V30 an exception since the curve is too subtle to be noticed.
  • Seriously? Too heavy? Its 10 grams. If anyone is complaining an extra 10 grams is too heavy they need to take a serious look at themselves.
  • 10 grams more than the 6.3" Note 8...
    54 grams more than the standard S8
    That is significant
  • It weighs over 200 grams (208). Gs8 152 grams. That's a hefty phone, why do I still want one!
  • What Joey fix said. As an owner of the galaxy note 8,i can say very assuredly that this is by far the heaviest phone I've owned. And it's not bothersome in everyday use, but I am in search for a new phone dock in my car as the one I previously owned cannot handle the weight of this phone. So weight can be an issue in some circumstances
  • Is it a crime to want a flagship with a battery this bi?
  • +1 Also I don't think it is bad at all to want the power and features of the S8 without the curved screen. I'm glad that the option is there. I dislike curved screens a lot personally.
  • +1 I would trade my S8+ for the S8 Active in a heartbeat. I hate the curved screen but, at the time, it was the only phone that came close to the features I had on my Lumia 950XL.
  • Hey it's the 21st century. If batteries want to be bi then I say let em.
  • By "bi" you mean "big", right? And no, it's not a crime. I want a battery that big.
  • If you're looking for a rugged phone that means your going to get a case so there's the weight/size difference. With this phone, you don't need the case. So there's really no difference. I'm about this over the Note 8 because I don't use my S pen enough to pay for the difference and I prefer a flat screen to a curved one. This has the two things I care most about...battery life and durability.
  • Exactly. This review seems to be focused on the LOOK of the phone, not the function. Many of us don't give a rat's behind about how thin it is or the curvy screen edges. I was entirely frustrated by those edges in the S6+. Weight? The author is grousing about the WEIGHT? As someone who started with a BAG PHONE, this is just hilarious. When 50+ GRAMS additional weight is an issue, try doing something other than 12 oz curls. I don't even notice the extra weight over the S7 in daily use. The only time 50 grams is noticeable is when the two S8 models are held side by side. This has become my favorite phone of all times BECAUSE it has done away with all the esthetics, and focused on function. The battery life is phenomenal. It takes a beating and keeps on ticking. It really is the answer to what so many have been asking for. We'll take a bit more thickness for durability and longer battery. I still want all the FUNCTIONAL features of a Flagship. And the S8 Active gives me all of that.
  • Ruggedize the Note8 and see the merriment ensue; I'd get one.
  • That would be awesome. Flat screen, bigger battery, more durable...I'd get that in a heartbeat!
  • Yes! For as much as I like my Note8 as it is presently constituted a 'Warrior' version of the '8' would be rather neat. Maybe as a mid-cycle experiment they'll unleash one.
  • That thing would be a beast.
  • This is what the S8 should've been.
  • Nope. No chance would I put a case on my s8. Same with the note8. If you're a case person then consider this phone but the traditional s8 is fine as it is.
  • Until it drops 3 feet on to concrete.
  • An OtterBox Defender case for an S8 weighs in at 119 ounces. If you intend to put practically any mid to heavy duty case on your phone then the extra 53 ounces the Active weighs is absolutely a non-issue.
  • 119 ounces means it weighs 7.4 lbs. You mean 11.9 ounces?
  • Maybe he's on about putting the phone inside an actual otter, in which case I'm calling PETA.
  • Hahahahahahaha oops! Meant grams. 4.16 oz which is 119 grams and the Active only weighs 53 grams more than the regular S8.
  • Now Should i buy one as my main shooter/phone for my honeymoon to hawaii in 3 weeks since the v30 is nowhere to be found? 🤔
  • Can't figure LG in this. Same as last year though they came through at the right moment after my 2nd Note7 was sent back. The V30's cameras are still, in my opinion, worth waiting for.
  • problem is i leave on the 30th... not much time to wait lol
  • Yes, based on last year's delivery of the V20 I would not expect to see the V30 prior to mid-October. All-in-all the S8 Active would assuage my concerns were I fortunate enough, not only to be going on vacation, to have a brand new smartphone to document the goings-on.
  • You could always buy an HTC U11 and use it for a bit - don't like it, return within 30 days and pay (or, maybe not) a restocking fee. Great camera - good phone. And, by the end of your 30 days, the V30 might be out.
  • You can't go wrong with the s8 (active or otherwise) camera
  • I'm another who hates the curved screens. I also hate the whole glass back trend. Almost nobody I know has a phone without a case added on. With the 8 Active, I skipped the case, and no, I don't think it's ugly. And those without a case usually have the $40 MetroPCS special, so not worth a $20 case at that point. Yes it weighs more, but a bigger battery and metal encasement will weigh more. That weight is part of what makes it what it is. A phone that will last, in both durability and battery life. Learn to appreciate what the weight means. I definitely do.
  • Too bad it's only an att phone.../sad face
  • Get this Model OFF of being 'AT&T Only,' and we'll talk.
  • I’d have it for the battery, flat display and even the additional heft.
  • As other folks have pointed out, add any decent case to an s8 and you are in the same weight class. Otherwise a good review, but I do feel the author oversold how heavy it is a bit. Go to a store and hold one it is not any different from a cased phone with a bigger battery. With Curved glass and glass backs phones like the plain s8 are getting MORE FRAGILE not less. Even with an otterbox, I've seen many reports of plain s8's shattering in a big spiderweb at the corners/sides and back. Why in the hell would you cover the back of something that costs over $800 with curved glass that makes it even more slippery and breakable?? Tired fo all the reviews drooling: Oooh it looks so cool! Curved glass and glass back is becoming an automatic no for me on a phone. Can't wait for this to become sold unlocked!!!
  • Supposedly the att exclusive ends after a while. Would like to run one on T-Mobile
  • Yes me too iv been wanting an active for years but i dont like at&t
  • This phone is a beast!! You get what you pay for! Only thing I hate is that it's a AT&T exclusive!!
  • It is a "Limited Time Exclusive" for AT&T, so it will soon be sold unlocked!! The unlocked version usable on other carries recently passed wifi certification, which is a major step right before a phone is ok to be released.
  • Pretty sure the S7 Active never made it unlocked. I'm not so sure I'd count on the 8 doing so...
  • have it unlocked on gsmzambia.
  • Galaxy S8 feels cheap and flimsy all for the sake of aesthetics as is the iPhone. The S8 active is rugged, solid and well built. Rugged sturdy and feels solid when using it. Id prefer a phone that feels substantial when I'm using it; not something that fells cheap and flimsy.
  • I have an S6 with a battery pack case in order to make it through the day. Even without the battery pack, the S6 is a slippery little thing that is so hard to hold I have to put a case on it anyway. So I'm not seeing this phone's hardware design as a hindrance to my buying it. Decent screen protector to stop scratches, no case needed and a killer battery without losing the flagship guts? I'm in ...
  • 10 grams heavier, oh boy, are people really that out of shape? If 10 grams, on top of a light phone makes you wince, then you need to see your MD. Lightweight, or bigger battery, I say bigger battery.
  • I'll bet the '4000 mah' battery doesn't last as long as a Moto Z Play with a -490 mah smaller battery does.. yeah, I know they're not comparable.. I have an S7 Edge that the 3600 mah battery is a big disappointment.. i don't know what people see in Samsung. Take Care
  • FWIW, truck/forklift driving, warehouse/ranch working small business owner...finally a rugged premium phone (with a big enough screen). This is a niche phone, just like the rugged notebooks are to the laptop world. I'm just grateful to have it. And, yes, it's a beast in the best possible way.
  • I want the hardware of this phone with the software of a Moto X. And who cares about the looks, if the screen is flat, if its thick, heavy and doesn't have a glass back! DAT BATTERY!!!
  • I prefer the regular device add a case and glass screen protector and perfect phone.
  • What is the name of the AOD display widget shown in the pictures?
  • All of the feedback I see here is folks that like a tough phone, huge battery, not fragile, not delicate, not jewelry, and with a headphone jack. And what do the manufactures do? They keep playing one up with Apple, which has always made fancy little toys that the best positive is that the econsystem is robust and update flow like water. But Apple, and now Samsung and all the others, are following the trends, eliminating bezels (don't they protect the screen?), and anything else that makes for a durable useful device. Look at the Ducati Mulitstrada 1200, which has speed, flash, power, agility, and some would say cache. Don't tell me we cannot have the same thing in the phone world. Look at the auto world, same thing, you can have fast, light and small, or you can have the Porsche Cayman or Cayanne. Alot of the fast folks are gravitating to the performance SUV. Give me the same thing in a phone.
  • I'm with you 100%. It's ridiculous how phones have become a status symbol and that they seem to get more delicate every year. We are forced to put a case on them right out of the box so we can set them down without worrying about scratches and also so they don't slip out of our hands. I'll take a Nexus 5X design with top internals any day over these asinine all glass or aluminum backed phones. It would be lighter, easier to hold, less expensive and look better than a phone covered up with an ugly case. I happen to have a Note 8 and I bought the thinnest case I could find just so I could hold on to it and be able to set it down and not have to worry about scratching the back. Would people buy a rubber or polycarbonate backed top tier phone? Probably not, because they are stupid enough to be allowed to be brainwashed by all of these so called reviewers.
  • Went to the ATT store to buy one today. Samsung took away the physical buttons. It takes multiple actions to do one thing. So now the phone is officially more toy than tool. I might still have bought it, but the sales guy loitered in the stock room when he went to get it, so I walked out. I should send him a thank you note for saving me some aggravation. Oh, and on the Multistrada, did you know they had to mold the bodywork in color? Paint won't stick to anything that ugly.
  • you can just as well get the locked version and have it unlocked on gsmzambia.
    there's a video about this on youtube from totaltech
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  • I have had a Galaxy Active since the S6 Active. I work in construction so this is the perfect rugged phone for me. This phone paired with Zagg Glass screen protector and an Otter Box Defender case has proven these phones to be virtually indestructible. And yes I know, I know, if you try hard enough anything can be destroyed. Trust me I have seen the idiots with their Youtube videos. Must be nice to have money to burn on a phone to destroy it on purpose. As for features, so long as I can make a phone call, send and receive emails and text messages I am good to go. I am on my phone constantly during the day at work and since getting the S8 active my battery has never dropped below about 65%. LOVING THE BIGGER BATTERY. As other commenters have stated, I am willing to sacrifice a little in extra weight for a phone that will survive a rugged atmosphere. You wouldn't believe all of the Iphones and other "pretty" phones that guys have on construction sites that look like they took a ride in a meat grinder. My case is beat up but the phone looks as good as the day it was unboxed when you take it out of the case. I will be a forever customer of these phones as long as Samsung keeps pumping them out. Besides, last I checked a phone was a tool not a piece of jewelry. Who cares what it looks like as long as it works. Just goes to show that as a society in General we seem to be stuck in the keeping up with the Joneses' mentality. Oh my what a pretty phone you have. Really?
  • I wish this phone was handled by all US carriers. I purchased the s8+, it's been a great phone for me. But if Verizon had this I would have bought in a heartbeat due to the 4000mamp battery & durability. Yikes, I hate exclusive's. Please Samsung stop doing this!