Smartphones are shockingly fragile and rarely well suited to the rigors of daily life. A spilled glass of water can wipe out the internals, a tumble onto the pavement can shatter the screen, and a breath of dust can disturb the ports. It’s pathetic. There are rugged phones like the ones from Panasonic and Caterpillar, but they are really only good for construction workers. Your average Joe wants a more refined look – even if that means he’ll need to buy a case, and those don’t always cut it, either.
Enter Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active. It may not be as sexy or svelte as the standard S7, but it is a lot tougher, and just as powerful. Samsung’s Active phones are known for a rugged aesthetic, but they typically share a lot in common with their flagship brothers. The S7 Active is intended for people who want a tough phone — one that can withstand drops and survive submersion underwater.
Related: Samsung Galaxy S7 review
However, inside the Active’s rugged shell is one hell of a powerful flagship phone that’s just as good as the original Galaxy S7.
Rugged good looks
The standard Galaxy S7 is uncommonly fragile and sexy with its metallic finish, sleek glass back, and all-metal frame. It positively sparkles in the light. In contrast, the S7 Active is rugged and tough. It may not be half as pretty as the original, but the Active doesn’t look terrible in comparison with Panasonic Toughpads and Caterpillar construction phones.
The gold color option more or less looks like a regular S7 with a chunky case on top. It’s the most attractive of the bunch, though we suspect a lot of people who buy rugged phones will be drawn to the camouflage version, instead.
Although those who are used to glass and metal smartphones may mock the plastic back on the S7 Active, they’d be wrong to say it isn’t premium. The texture adds good grip; the raised rubber bumpers around the edges and the corners add protection from falls; and the metal frame in between helps to maintain the phone’s integrity when it suffers a serious spill onto the pavement.
The result of all this protection is a thicker phone, which measures 9.9mm. It’s obviously a lot bulkier than the standard S7, and funnily enough, it’s thicker and heavier than the S6 Active. You don’t really notice the extra weight, but the added bulk is inescapable. However, if you’re just going to end up putting a rugged, thick case on your shiny S7 anyway, why not skip that part and buy the Active instead?
It’s one of the toughest flagships you can buy.
The front of the phone is smooth and looks just like the regular S7, except for the three tactile hardware buttons on the front. Since you may use the Active underwater or with wet hands, the multitasking and Back buttons are physical instead of being triggered by touch. The buttons have a nice texture to them, so you can differentiate them from the home button, which is equipped with a fingerprint sensor.
An extra hardware button on the left side brings up the Activity Zone, where you can see all your fitness stats, elevation, and a compass. A volume rocker is right below it, and the power button is on the right side with the MicroSD card slot.
The Galaxy S7 has a water-resistance rating of IP68, which is the same as the Galaxy S6 Active, and equates to the ability to survive under 5 feet of water for 30 minutes. It also boasts the same military-grade (MIL-STD-810G) rating as the Galaxy S6 Active. Although Samsung didn’t brag too much about it’s ability to withstand drops, the Galaxy S7 Active’s shatter resistant screen and shock absorbing corners should help it weather falls better than a standard S7.
It may not be the prettiest phone, but it’s one of the toughest flagships you can buy. We imagine outdoorsy types, hunters, fishermen, and frequent hikers will like the aesthetic and appreciate its sturdiness.
Samsung didn’t make any compromises with the Active. When you look at the spec sheet, the Galaxy S7 Active is more or less the same as the regular Galaxy S7. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, which is impressive and as powerful as any phone out there today. The Active is speedy and slick – we never noticed lag or had problems with efficiency.
In benchmark tests, the device performed exceptionally well, besting the regular S7’s scores and beating other flagship phones. It scored 2,573 on the 3DMark Slingshot test and 42,027 on the Quadrant benchmark. The regular S7 scored slightly lower on these tests, though the difference wasn’t too dramatic.
As for storage, Samsung starts off with 32GB of storage on the Active, which is expandable via a MicroSD card to 200GB. It’s very unlikely you’ll fill that all up with cat pics and music anytime soon.
Rounding out the specs is a 5.1-inch screen with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 pixels. It looks just as bright and luminous as any Samsung screen, which is great for watching videos when you’re holed up in your tent after dark, but may not be so ideal when you’re hiking up the mountain at high noon with the sun’s glare reflecting boldly back at you. An anti-reflective coating or semi-matte screen wouldn’t be out of place on a truly rugged phone, in our opinion.
A top-notch camera
The Galaxy S7 Active has the same great 12-megapixel camera with dual-pixel tech as the S7, which improves low-light photography. In our Galaxy S7 review, we were blown away by the high-quality images it produced. The Active version takes equally stellar photos, and it can even give the iPhone a run for its money.
Low-light shots weren’t as grainy or washed out as they are with most phones, and the S7 Active managed to capture a good amount of detail in a dimly lit room. In bright sunlight, the Active took gorgeous photos. Although Samsung phones tend to oversaturate images to give them more impact, it’s not too noticeable unless you compare it to a photo from an iPhone.
Like the S6 Active, the S7 Active has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies. Just like the regular S7, the Active’s sharp selfie cam will please social media mavens.
One helluva big battery
Samsung has never put this big of a battery in a smartphone. The Galaxy S7 Active boasts a massive 4,000mAh pack, up from the 3,500mAh battery found in last year’s S6 Active and the 3,000mAh battery in the regular S7. The result, is long-lasting battery life that easily bests the regular S7. The Active can handle a day and a half of use, and if you’re not constantly using it, it may stretch two full days.
It also boasts Quick Charging and wireless charging, just like the other S7s, so when you need to charge up, it’s not a problem. Although some will complain that it’s a chunkier phone, the benefits of having a bigger battery outweigh the added width and weight by a mile. We wish more phones packed bigger batteries like this one, even if that would mean regressing to fatter phones.
Software and updates
As far as software goes, the Galaxy S7 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box with TouchWiz on top. You’ll either love TouchWiz or you’ll hate it – there’s not much in between. Pure Android fans will find it annoying, but Samsung users will be right at home.
As far as updates are concerned, Samsung has promised to do better and keep its devices up to date against security threats with the latest version of Android. It remains to be seen just how well Samsung manages to keep its promise – especially given the fact that this phone is locked to AT&T as a carrier exclusive. Carriers are known to slow down update schedules, but we can only hope for the best.
The Galaxy S7 Active has a standard one-year limited warranty that covers the device and its battery, unless you do damage to it, and glass breaking is not covered. Samsung can choose to replace your device or repair it.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active isn’t for everyone, but if you want a rugged phone that’s tougher than your average flagship and you’re with AT&T, it’s a great choice. The Active boasts all the power of a flagship, but none of its fragility.
The DT Accessory Pack
The biggest downsides are the price and limited availability. AT&T is the exclusive carrier for the Galaxy S7 Active, so if you’re not with that carrier you’re out of luck. The 32GB Active also costs $795 full price, which is about $100 more than the regular S7 will cost you, and nearly $50 more than a 64GB iPhone 6S will run you (and we do not recommend a 16GB iPhone). The extra $50 is the price you pay for extra waterproofing and a rugged build.
If you need the extra waterproofing and shatter resistant screen, but don’t really want a truly rugged monster phone like Caterpillar’s $600 Cat S60, this is a good buy. You get the best of Samsung in a tougher package. However, if you’re not wed to Samsung and you’re with Verizon, the Droid Turbo 2 (AKA Moto X Force) is another option. It, too, has a shatterproof screen, waterproofing, a sleek look, and nearly flagship specs. It’ll cost you $624, which is about $200 less, and again, this phone isn’t on Verizon anyway.
Related: Samsung Galaxy S7 review
Overall, the Galaxy S7 Active is the best tough phone you can buy, though. It’s more powerful than the Droid Turbo 2 and the Cat S60. The addition of the fingerprint sensor and the newer processor make a big difference, and we can happily recommend the S7 Active to the outdoorsy type or anyone who is tired of cracked screens and waterlogged phones.