Samsung Galaxy S8 Active vs. Galaxy S7 Active: Rugged smartphone shootout

Samsung Galaxy s7 Active
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends
A good rugged phone is hard to find. A good rugged phone that doesn’t sacrifice performance, even harder. Fortunately, Samsung has been a leader in the segment with its Galaxy S Active series of phones. Last year’s Galaxy S7 Active retained everything we loved about the regular Galaxy S7 — the fantastic camera, lightning-fast processor, and gorgeous display — while beefing up the battery, drop protection, and water resistance.

Thankfully, Samsung appears to have taken the same approach with the Galaxy S8 Active. The result is a tried-and-true flagship that doesn’t skimp on anything to deliver the most durability in the segment. Read on to find out how the S8 Active stacks up against its predecessor.

Specs and performance

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

samsung galaxy s8 vs active final thumb

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

Galaxy S7 Active
Size 151.9 x 74.9 x 9.9mm (5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 in) 148.8 x 74.9 x 9.9 mm (5.86 x 2.95 x 0.39 in)
Weight 7.34 ounces (208 grams) 6.53 ounces (185 grams)
Screen 5.8-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED flat 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED
Resolution 2,960 x 1,440 2,560 x 1,440
OS Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat
Storage 64GB 32GB
SD Card Slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Connectivity 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera 12MP rear with OIS, 8MP front 12MP rear with OIS, 5MP front
Video 4K 4K
Bluetooth Yes, version 5 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Accelerometer, ambient light, compass, GPS, gyroscope, Hall, heart rate, iris scanner, proximity Accelerometer, ambient light, compass, GPS, gyroscope, heart rate, proximity
Water Resistant Yes, IP68 and MIL-STD-810G Yes, IP68 and MIL-STD-810G
Battery 4,000mAh 4,000mAh
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack
Charging Quick charging, Qi/PMA wireless charging Quick charging, Qi/PMA wireless charging
Color Meteor Gray, Titanium Gold Camo Green, Titanium Gray, Sandy Gold
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Price $850, or $28.34 per month for 30 months $695, or $23 per month for 17 months
Availability AT&T AT&T
DT Review N/A 4 out of 5 stars

The S7 Active was at the bleeding edge of mobile hardware last year, and the same is true of the S8 Active today. The S8 Active has a newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. It features the same 4GB of RAM as last year’s model, though the amount of internal storage has seen a sizable bump: 64GB, up from 32GB in the S7 Active. Both phones feature MicroSD slots for expansion up to an additional 256GB.

To tip the scales even further in the S8 Active’s favor, the new model features Bluetooth 5.0. The S7 Active made do with only version 4.2, which has half the data transfer speed, and cannot pair to more than one device at a time.

In terms of power and performance, there’s really no contest. The Galaxy S7 Active would still be plenty fast for just about anyone, but the S8 Active is simply a generation ahead.

Winner: Galaxy S8 Active


Where design is concerned, the S8 Active is the more attractive handset, at least head-on. Although the screen isn’t curved on the S8 Active, presumably for durability concerns, it covers significantly more surface area than the S7 Active’s did. The bezels are quite slim on every side for such a rugged device, but the S8 Active is only a bit taller than its predecessor. In terms of width and thickness, they’re exactly the same.

That larger 18.5:9 screen comes at a price — the S7 Active’s physical navigation buttons are nowhere to be found on the new model. Aesthetically, it’s a good look — but if you’re in a line of work where you’re interested in the S8 Active to begin with, the lack of a tactile, clickable interface may inhibit usability with gloves.

For that reason, it’s hard to recommend the S8 Active lock, stock, and barrel over its predecessor in the design department. In other respects, both have the typical hallmarks of a rugged phone: Textured surfaces, cushioned corners, unnecessary molding along the sides, and, in the S8 Active’s case, screws that serve no obvious purpose. They’re not as garish as they could be, but they make for a phone that is no match for the svelte, classic S8, or for that matter the HTC U11, LG G6, or iPhone 7.

Winner: Tie


Samsung Galaxy s7 Active
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends

While durability is probably the Active’ series foremost consideration, the S8 Active doesn’t seem to be any better at taking a beating than its predecessor. That’s not to say it’s not tough — simply that improvements haven’t really been made.

Both phones are rated IP68 water and dust resistant. If you drop either in the pool, they’ll survive for 30 minutes, at a depth of 5 feet. Both adhere to the MIL-STD-810G military equipment standard, meaning they can withstand a variety of environmental conditions and physical trauma that would demolish lesser devices. And both feature “shatter-resistant” displays, according to Samsung, as well as shock-absorbing corners to weather drops. No matter which Active you choose, you’ll be equally protected against the elements.

Winner: Tie


samsung galaxy s7 active news active10
Malarie Gokey / Digital Trends
Malarie Gokey / Digital Trends

The real difference between the displays in each of these phones is the size. Whereas the Galaxy S7 Active featured a 5.1-inch panel with a conventional 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2560 x 1440, the S8 Active’s is bigger and sharper. At 5.8 inches, it fills up far more real estate on the front, making the body feel surprisingly compact. The 18.5:9 aspect ratio leads to a taller screen when you’re holding it in portrait mode, and the resolution has been improved to 2960 x 1440 for those extra pixels at the top and bottom. Both devices utilize AMOLED technology, delivering rich blacks and vibrant colors. In a nod to the regular S8, the S8 Active’s panel features rounded corners — although it lacks the futuristic, sloping edges.

Winner: Galaxy S8 Active

Battery life and charging

Samsung Galaxy s7 Active
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends

Whereas the standard S7 had a 3,000mAh battery, Samsung bumped the capacity to 4,000mAh for the S7 Active. It has taken the exact same approach this time around. Both the S7 Active and S8 Active feature large 4,000mAh batteries, good for at least a day-and-a-half of use, with the potential to go beyond that.

Although the sizes are equal, the S8 Active’s 835 chipset is said to be 25 percent more efficient than the outgoing 820 found in the S7 Active. This would give a slight edge in battery life to the newer model. Fortunately, both devices support Samsung’s quick charging protocol as well as wireless charging, so topping up those big batteries shouldn’t take too long. However, the S8 Active features a USB Type-C connector, while the S7 Active makes do with Micro USB. The latter isn’t quite as fast, isn’t reversible, and can’t serve as many different purposes.

Winner: Galaxy S8 Active


samsung galaxy s7 active news active27
Malarie Gokey / Digital Trends
Malarie Gokey / Digital Trends

The photography experience is another area where there’s very little separating the S7 Active and S8 Active. Last year’s device basically carried over the regular S7’s 12-megapixel rear shooter, which we found to be excellent in testing. That camera was mostly unchanged moving to the S8, and it’s been preserved in the S8 Active. The only difference is the front-facing camera, which benefits from an 8-megapixel sensor, compared to five in the S7 range.

While extremely good, the cameras could always be improved. Samsung has received serious competition from Apple and Google in this space over the last year, so perhaps it’ll be time for a serious upgrade when the Galaxy S9 rolls around. Regardless, whichever Active device you choose, you’ll get a similar camera experience on par with the best flagships. Selfie fans will want the S8 Active.

Winner: Galaxy S8 Active


Samsung Galaxy s7 Active
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends
Jessica Star Lee/Digital Trends

The S8 Active includes Bixby, Samsung’s new virtual assistant. In theory, Bixby should be a huge part of Samsung’s TouchWiz Android experience, making every task a bit easier. In practice, however, it just isn’t that useful yet. Even with Bixby Voice finally releasing in English after months of delays, there’s very little reason right now you’d use it instead of, say, Google Assistant.

Bixby was supposed to be Samsung’s defining new feature. Without it, you’re looking at two very similar phones from a software perspective. Both Active devices feature a subsection of mini-apps called the Activity Zone, which acts as a portal to lots of outdoorsy tools and information, like the flashlight, stopwatch, compass, and barometer. If you’re interested in a rugged smartphone to begin with, you’ll probably find it somewhat useful — but it exists on both the S8 Active and S7 Active, so you’re not forced to choose.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

Both the S7 Active and S8 Active are unfortunately AT&T carrier exclusives, so if you’re on another network, you’re out of luck. The S8 Active runs $850 at launch, while the S7 Active has dropped down to $700 after a year on the market. The S8 Active costs $50 more than its predecessor did when it was new.

So the availability is equally poor for both phones, and the S8 Active demands a $150 premium for the latest tech. AT&T does have a couple of promotions going on to lessen the blow, like the ability to receive up to $200 for trading in an eligible device. If you can string them together, the S8 Active begins to make more sense — though on price alone, it loses this battle.

Winner: Galaxy S7 Active

Overall winner: Galaxy S8 Active

Great as the Galaxy S7 Active was, the newer model benefits from a next-gen, state-of-the-art processor and a nearly full-screen display. In terms of its ruggedness, the S8 Active doesn’t offer a significant upgrade — but if you want a phone that doesn’t cut back on power and performance to deliver best-in-class durability, look no further than Samsung’s latest.


Get up close and personal with this telephoto lens for your phone

Moment is replacing its aging 60mm telephoto lens with a new 58mm tele lens, redesigned from the ground up for the latest iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy phones. Mount it onto the phone via a case and get closer with 2x optical zoom.

Upcoming Galaxy S10 may support 8K video and have Neural Processing Unit

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.

Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and Huawei face off in an Android battle royale

The good news is that there are some great options in the Android smartphone market right now. The bad news is that too much choice makes it tough to decide. We compare the Pixel 3 XL, the Galaxy Note 9, the OnePlus 6T, and the Mate 20 Pro.
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.

Just how tough is your phone case? We break down IP ratings, military standards

Almost every manufacturer is packing IP ratings these days, but just what does that mean exactly? We break down the standards behind IP ratings and Military Standards to find out what they really mean.

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.

Android will finally get a faster sharing menu, but it might take a while

The Android sharing menu has gotten a whole lot better over the years, but it's also gotten slower. Thankfully, however, it seems as though Google is working on a better, faster sharing menu but, unfortunately, it may take a while.

The best iPhone XR cases to keep your phone shiny and new

Apple's new iPhone range is the toast of 2018, with beautiful style and more power than you can shake a stick at. But beauty can often be fragile -- keep the damage to a minimum with the best iPhone XR cases.

A dead pixel doesn't mean a dead display. Here's how to repair it

Dead pixel got you down? We don't blame you. Check out our guide on how to fix a dead pixel and save yourself that costly screen replacement, or an unwanted trip to your local repair shop.

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.

Lime’s first carsharing service motors into Seattle this week

Lime may be better known for its app-based bike and scooter rental services, but in Seattle, Washington this week it's launching its very first carsharing service, similar to Car2go and Zipcar.

Golf ball-sized Lume Cube Air is a pocketable LED for photos and video

Off-camera lighting for smartphones and GoPros just got even smaller. Meet the Lume Cube Air, a smaller portable LED light designed for photos and videos that weighs only about two ounces.

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.

Best Google Pixel 3 XL screen protectors

It's tough to find good screen protectors, but the 6.3-inch OLED screen in the Google Pixel 3 XL definitely demands to be protected from scratches and impact damage. We've picked out the best options and included insight into the downsides.