Samsung Galaxy S7 Active (ATT) Review
With the Galaxy S7 Active, Samsung adds a shatter-resistant build and a bigger battery to the already spectacular Galaxy S7, making it the best rugged phone ATT subscribers can get.
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- Rugged build.
- Fast performance.
- Long battery life.
- Excellent camera.
- Sharp, bright display.
- Customizable Active button.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active isn’t just Galaxy S7 in rugged clothing. Exclusive to ATT, the S7 Active (749.99; full retail price) does indeed have a more durable, shatter-resistant build than its predecessor. It also has a bigger battery and a customizable Active button, which makes it an even better smartphone for anyone into camping, hiking, or any other outdoor adventures. Aside from a bulkier build than the standard S7, the Active has the same beautiful display, sharp camera, and blazing performance that makes the S7 one of the best Android phones available (along with our Editors’ Choice, the Galaxy S7 Edge). Fittingly, that makes the S7 Active the best rugged Android phone on the market, and worthy of Editors’ Choice honors.
Design and FeaturesWhen it comes to rugged phones, you need to be prepared to make a bit of a compromise in the design department. The S7 Active is an attractive phone in its own right, but it’s no Galaxy S7. Gone is the glass-and-metal build that makes the S7 so attractive, replaced by a matte green reinforced metal frame, rubberized edges, and a textured camouflage back. You can also get the phone in gold or gray color options, but at the end of the day, aesthetics come second to functionality here.
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That said, the S7 Active is the rare rugged phone that’s not an absolute brick. Measuring 5.86 by 2.95 by 0.39 inches (HWD) and 6.53 ounces, it’s bigger and heavier than the standard S7 (5.61 by 2.74 by 0.31 inches; 5.36 ounces), but it’s not bulky compared with heavy-duty options like the Kyocera Duraforce (5.39 by 2.78 by 0.55 inches; 7.06 ounces) or the Sonim XP6 (5.39 by 2.54 by 0.81 inches; 9.52 ounces). One-handed use is easy, and despite the increased weight, the S7 Active won’t weigh down your
Sonim XP7 (Unlocked)
Kyocera DuraForce (ATT)
For that increase in size, you get the same level of durability as last year’s S6 Active (399.99 at Amazon) (Opens in a new window). That includes IP68 waterproofing, which means the phone is able to withstand submersion in up to five feet of water for 30 minutes. The standard Galaxy S7 also boasts this same level of water protection, but it doesn’t meet the MIL-STD-810G rating like the S7 Active does. That allows it to handle extreme temperature, shock, vibration, pressure, altitude, and a number of other potentially hazardoud conditions.
To test durability, we washed the phone in the sink, kept it immersed in a bowl of water, put it in the freezer, and repeatedly dropped it from a five-foot height onto the (hard) rubberized floor of the PCMag test lab, as well as concrete, tile, and wood surfaces. The S7 Active remained unharmed throughout our torture tests. Try doing that with a Galaxy S7 (actually, don’t).
Rugged qualities aside, the S7 Active is basically the same as the Galaxy S7 we know and love. The front of the phone has the same gorgeous 5.1-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, with great viewing angles and strong visibility in sunlight. Below the display are three physical buttons, including a smooth Home button with a built-in fingerprint sensor like the GS7. The S7 Active also includes textured Back and Options buttons, on either side of the Home button. They aren’t backlit, but they’re responsive and easy to distinguish under your thumb.
There’s a power button on the right side of the phone, along with a combined SIM and microSD card slot that worked with a 200GB SanDisk card (59.00 at Amazon) (Opens in a new window). The left side has a textured Active button, which can be programmed with several different functions (more on those later), and a volume rocker. There’s a micro USB charging port and speaker on the bottom, and a 3.5mm audio jack up top.
Left to right: Galaxy S7 Active, Galaxy S7
Network Performance and ConnectivityThe S7 Active supports a comprehensive set of ATT network bands: GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS (850/900/1900/2100MHz), and LTE (1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/20/29/30/38/39/40/41). Network performance during my testing in midtown Manhattan was average. The Active also supports dual-Band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and NFC.
Call quality is decent, but nothing to write home about. Transmissions are clear and free from garbling, but voices can sound harsh and robotic. On the plus side, earpiece volume is loud, and noise cancellation is excellent at blotting out loud background sounds.
Performance, Battery, and SoftwareThe S7 Active has the exact same internal hardware as the S7, including a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 12-megapixel rear camera, and a 5-megapixel front camera. You can see our review of the Galaxy S7 for a full performance rundown, but in short: It’s fantastic. The Galaxy S7 (and, in turn, the S7 Active) is one of the most powerful Android phones you can buy, with one of the best mobile cameras we’ve tested.
Battery life on the S7 Active is even better than it is on the original, thanks to a larger 4,000mAh battery. The phone lasted 10 hours and 30 minutes in our rundown test, in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum brightness. That’s significantly longer than the standard Galaxy S7 (9 hours), as well as rugged phones like the Kyocera Duraforce (6 hours, 6 minutes). In addition to the supersized battery, the S7 Active supports fast charging, allowing it to go from zero to fully charged in 90 minutes with the included adapter.
The phone runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin over it. You get the same home screen, apps, and general look as the regular S7, with one major addition: Activity Zone. Pressing the Active button launches the Activity Zone app, which shows a grid of tiles contating widgets for Weather, Barometer, S Health, Compass, Flashlight, and Stopwatch. A longer press of the Active button launches DirectTV, while a double press launches Emergency Zone, which allows you to quickly call 911 or emergency contacts. The Active key can also be programmed to launch any three apps of your choice, which is handy if you’re not interested in the default setup. I changed it to launch Gmail (one press), Calculator (long press), and S Health (double press), instead.
Comparisons and ConclusionsAt 750, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active costs 55 more than the standard Galaxy S7. If you’re the type of person who regularly needs to replace broken phones, that’s a small price to pay compared with extended warranties or getting a whole new device. Compared with other rugged ATT devices like the Kyocera Duraforce and the Sonim XP6, the S7 Active is significantly more expensive. But those phones feature seriously dated hardware and software, which is a big compromise to make in the name of durability.
Ultimately, the choice between the S7 and the S7 Active comes down to whether you’re willing to sacrifice the S7’s sleek design for the S7 Active’s rugged build and bigger battery. At the end of the day, the Galaxy S7 Active is every bit as good a phone as the standard S7, and in some respects, it’s even better. No matter which you choose, you can rest assured that it offers a top-notch experience.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active
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Samsung Galaxy S7 Active Review
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Samsung Galaxy S7 active | AT&T
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The Galaxy S7 Active crams the best features of Samsung’s excellent flagship into an incredibly durable design.
Tom’s Guide Verdict
The Galaxy S7 Active crams the best features of Samsung’s excellent flagship into an very durable design.
- Attractive rugged design
- Survives repeated drops
- Useful activity apps
- Stellar battery life
- Fantastic camera
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Editor’s Note: After originally posting this review, reports surfaced about the Galaxy S7 Active failing to work after prolonged exposure to water. We retested the phone and updated the review to reflect our new test results.
Thanks to the Galaxy S7 Active, “rugged” is no longer a dirty word. Sure, this sporty take on Samsung’s flagship is all about taking a beating, with a military-tested design that you can slam on the floor or dunk into a pool of water with no problem. But the S7 Active (795 via ATT) also manages to be a great smartphone in its own right, retaining the S7’s rich display and excellent camera within a revamped design that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to take out on the beach. Even more important, Samsung’s latest phone has one of the longest-lasting batteries we’ve ever tested. While it’s annoying that the phone is only available through a single carrier and it carries too much bloatware, the S7 Active is one of the best durable smartphones you can buy.
The MIL-STD-810G-tested Galaxy S7 Active is built to take a beating, with a shatterproof screen designed for surviving 5-foot drops and an IP68-rated body that can be submerged in up to 5 feet of water for 30 minutes. Naturally, our first instinct was to toss the phone all around our office building and throw it in a bowl of water.
The S7 Active’s soft, rubberized edges feel great, and its textured back panel makes it easy to grip. Unlike the standard S7, the Active has physical Back and Recent Apps buttons, which could prove useful for when you need to navigate while your phone is soaked. Also unique to this version is the Active key, which gives you instant access to the phone’s Activity Zone app for fitness and hiking. The phone packs a microSD card slot, allowing you to add up to 200GB of storage.
The S7 Active ships in three colors — Sandy Gold, Titanium Gray and Green Camo. While I enjoy the subtle, pixelated camo pattern on our green model, I also appreciate that Samsung offers gold and silver options for folks who want a rugged phone that doesn’t look like it was dug up on a battlefield.
Weighing 6.52 ounces and measuring 0.39 inches thick, the S7 Active is fairly beefy for a modern smartphone. The shatterproof Droid Turbo 2 has a slightly sleeker design (0.3-0.36 inches), but can’t be submerged like the Active can. Naturally, the Active isn’t nearly as thin as the standard Galaxy S7 (0.04 inches) or competitors such as the iPhone 6s or LG G5, but it looks slick for a device of its kind.
The S7 Active’s 5.1-inch, 2560 x 1440 display is now always-on, allowing you to quickly check things like the time, date and battery life without unlocking the device. Always-on mode is designed to drain just 1 percent of the battery per hour, so it doesn’t drain the Active’s already-epic battery life.
You can customize the always-on display to show various types of clocks or calendars, as well as toggle one of several color patterns to glow behind them. If you’re the minimalist type, you can instead opt to have a subtle image appear on the screen when it’s locked, such as a bed of stars or a doodle of some trees.
The Active’s screen is perfectly suited to binge-watching TV and movies; when I watched a trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, I noticed the finer details of everything from Magneto’s stubbly face to the complex patterns on the titular bad guy’s costume. But while Cyclops’ optic beams and Psylocke’s plasma sword were awesomely vibrant, colors generally looked a bit too saturated, especially compared with the more natural-looking tones I experienced on my iPhone 6s Plus.
The S7 Active’s display offers somewhat subpar brightness, registering 334 nits on our light meter. That’s better than the Droid Turbo 2 (300 nits), but less bright than the LG G5 (354), the iPhone 6s (452 nits) and the average smartphone (434). The S7 Active’s also disappointingly dimmer than its standard S7 counterpart, which notched 487 nits.
Fortunately, the S7 Active’s AMOLED display proved just as rich as its non-rugged counterpart, reproducing 180.6 percent of the sRGB color range. That tops the iPhone 6s and Droid Turbo 2 (both near 100 percent), as well as the LG G5’s 123.7 percent.
The Active’s screen wasn’t quite as accurate as it was colorful, with a Delta E rating of 3.59 (closer to 0 is better). The Turbo 2 (2.37) and LG G5 (2.68) performed a bit better, while the iPhone 6s proved nearly perfect (0.3).
Camera: Low-Light Standout
A rugged smartphone’s camera should be able to capture great outdoor and low-light shots, and for that purpose, the S7 Active’s is one of the best. Retaining the same 12-MP dual-pixel camera that makes the standard S7 our current favorite camera phone, the Active took rich, detailed photos, even under less-than-favorable weather conditions.
Despite it being a gloomy day, the Active did a great job highlighting everything I saw at a Union Square farmers market, from each little dent in a batch of orange potatoes to the bright reds and greens of a batch of apples.
The Active’s camera was just as adept at capturing foliage. A bush of big green leaves looked vibrant in my photos, and I could pick out every little raindrop that landed on each leaf. Likewise, the purple petals in a batch of peonies really popped.
Low-light performance is the Galaxy S7’s calling card, and the S7 Active is no different. When I took some evening shots from my balcony, I could clearly see the Manhattan skyline in the background as if it were late afternoon. A set of plants on my balcony looked somewhat dark and blurry at night, but once I turned flash on, the Active illuminated every little rock, leaf and clump of dirt in each pot.
A dimly lit bakery filled with chocolate-based delights was pretty dark in person, but you wouldn’t know by looking at my photos. The various jars and boxes I captured looked well lit, and I had no issues making out the small text on them. Finally, when I took some shots of a friend in a low-lit movie theater, I could still make out the details of his face and cartoony T-shirt pretty easily.
The Active’s front 5-MP camera takes impressive selfies, capturing individual stubs of hair on my beard while doing justice to my skin tone and plaid blue shirt. You can cake on some digital face powder using the phone’s Beauty Mode, as well as use the Slim Face and Large Eyes tools if you always wanted to look more like an alien.
Speaking of tools, the S7 Active packs Samsung’s usual roundup of special camera features, including panorama, live broadcast to YouTube and slow motion. You can use selective FOCUS to highlight either the foreground or background after you’ve taken a shot, as well as fire up dedicated modes for shooting food, marine life and sports.
Performance: Fast, But Not Flagship Fast
Packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the S7 Active was pleasantly speedy throughout my time with it. Apps opened near-instantly, and when I browsed the web while simultaneously watching YouTube in dual-window mode, I didn’t experience a hint of slowdown. The brutal, console-quality action of Mortal Kombat X played wonderfully on the S7 Active, allowing me to dismember my opponents without any nasty lag.
The S7 Active scored 5,004 on the Geekbench 3 performance test, performing better than the average smartphone (3,145), the Droid Turbo 2 and the iPhone 6s but trailing the LG G5’s 5,357.
Samsung’s phone took 4 minutes and 30 seconds to convert a 204MB from 1080p to 480p, which is much better than our average (7:52) but not quite as quick as the LG G5 (3:31).
On top of lasting all day, the S7 Active charges superquick (up to 50 percent in 30 minutes) if you’re using a fast-charging cable, such as the one included with the phone. Even better, you can charge the device cord-free using a wireless charging pad, such as the ones sold by Samsung or found at select Starbucks stores.
Custom Themes and Split-Screen
The S7 Active touts Samsung’s usual TouchWiz interface, which puts a glossy sheen over the phone’s Android M software. Navigating the phone is a breeze, largely thanks to a robust Quick-settings menu that lets you instantly toggle features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane Mode once you swipe it down from the top. Swiping from the left lets you catch up on the news via Flipboard.- something I appreciated as someone who uses that app daily.
If you’re not digging TouchWiz’s default look, there are a ton of cool free and paid skins available in the phone’s theme store. Whether you prefer sci-fi-esque patterns or a Snoopy-themed phone, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding something you like.
If you like your phones bloatware-free, the S7 Active might drive you a little nuts. There are dedicated folders chock-full of Google and Samsung apps, where you’ll find such typical fare as Hangouts, Chrome, S Health and S Voice. But the ATT folder is the real bloatware culprit here — aside from featuring roughly eight separate carrier apps, it also contains apps for Uber, Amazon, Kindle and Yellow Pages. That’s great if you use all that stuff, but it presents an annoying layer of junk if you don’t.
The S7 Active offers two options for mobile payments: Samsung Pay and Android Pay. Both services let you store your credit cards so that you can pay for goods with your phone, but while Android Pay only works at stores that support NFC payments, Samsung Pay can work at just about any register that takes credit cards by emulating a physical card swipe.
Pricing and Availability
Unfortunately, Samsung’s Active series continues to be locked down to ATT. You can get the phone on ATT’s Next plan for 26.50 per month, which allows you to upgrade after 24 payments. If you want to be able to upgrade after a year, you’ll have to pay 33.13 per month. Those looking to buy the phone upfront can do so for 794.99.
The standard Galaxy S7 retails for 694.99 from ATT, so you’re paying quite a bit extra for durability. Another durable phone we recently tested, the Cat S60, survived the same deep water test, and while it isn’t as stylish as the S7 Active, it’s less expensive at 599 and works on all GSM networks. The S7 Active costs the same as the 794.99 Galaxy S7 Edge, so you basically have to decide whether you want one of the sexiest smartphones on the market or one of the most rugged.
The Galaxy S7 Active is incredibly resilient, with a virtually unbreakable design (especially with Samsung fixing some early manufacturing woes) and an 11-hour battery that won’t drain out on your next adventure. It’d be easy to recommend the Active based on its shatterproof, waterproof design alone, but what really makes the phone special is the fact that it’s still a Galaxy S7 — which means a great display and a fantastic camera.
Motorola’s Droid Turbo 2 offers rugged-phone fans a sleeker design, but it can’t handle being underwater like the Active can. Samsung’s sporty handset is a bit expensive, especially compared to the durable Cat S60, and you can get Samsung’s excellent S7 Edge for the same amount of money. However, if serious durability in a good-looking phone is your priority, the S7 Active is hard to top.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active Review
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active is the fourth phone in Samsung’s Active line. It brings an extra layer of toughness to the Samsung Galaxy S7, but this year the difference between the two is smaller than ever. When the regular model is already waterproof, what more can the Active have to offer? Let’s find out.
S7 Active vs S7
This review will be focusing on the elements of the Galaxy S7 Active that differentiate it from the regular Galaxy S7. For information on the camera, performance, and software read our full in-depth review of the Galaxy S7. Also, read the Tips Tricks for the Galaxy S7 Active. There are only a few real differences between the two phones.
- “Shatter-resistant” display
- Shortcut button on the side
- Bigger 4,000 mAh battery
- 100 more and only on ATT
Read our full comparison, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for more information about the differences between these devices.
The Galaxy S7 Active doesn’t look anything like the Galaxy S7, but the basic foundation is the same. They both have the Snapdragon 820 processor, 5.1-inch 2K Super AMOLED display, 12MP camera, 4GB of RAM, and TouchWiz based on Android Marshmallow. You’re getting the same Galaxy S7 experience but in a more rugged shell. We’ll go over the hardware differences in more detail below.
The design is where the S7 Active becomes a much different device. Where the Galaxy S7 is elegant and refined, the Active is rough and industrial. It’s a completely different look for a completely different market. For that reason, it’s hard to say the Active is “uglier” than the Galaxy S7. The design serves a different purpose.
The Active is made from a combination of metal, plastic, and rubber. The sides retain the metal from the Galaxy S7, but the back and corners are covered in hard plastic and a grippy rubber. Some would say the materials are “not as premium,” but it feels great in the hand. On the Active, you don’t get that oily feeling (or fingerprints) from the glass on regular the Galaxy S7.
Samsung phones all pretty much have the same buttons in the same spots. The Active mostly follows with tradition. The Recent, Home, and Back buttons are in the same order, but all three are physical buttons. Power is on the right side, the volume is on the left, right below a special “Active Key.” The Active Key can be used to quickly launch apps. It’s mostly useful for launching the camera, but since double-tapping the Home button can do the same thing, it feels a bit redundant.
All in all, while not the most stylish phone, there’s a lot to like about Active’s design. And you won’t have to worry about putting it in a case. It’s already in one.
For starters, let’s talk about what the Active has in terms of rugged features. Just like the Galaxy S7, the Active is IP68 certified. That’s the highest rating you can have for water and dust resistance. It can be submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it just for fun. Spills and splashes will also be no problem.
The Active is also MIL-STD-810G certified. This is a pretty serious certification used by the United States Department of Defense. In short, the Active is protected against salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock. Most people aren’t going to be in those extreme situations.
Where the Active falls short is compared to other “tough” phones. Phones like the Kyocera Brigadier can withstand an insane amount of damage. I wouldn’t feel confident putting the Active through these same tests, but I did do some durability testing.
I ran the Active through a series of “real world” durability tests. I dropped the phone on gravel, dirt, and cement. Since it was dirty after those tests, I sprayed it off with a hose and put it under running water from a faucet. There were no scratches, cracks, or signs of wear after the tests, and everything continued to work fine.
We mentioned that the Galaxy S7 Active has the same 5.1-inch 2K Super AMOLED display as the Galaxy S7, and it looks every bit as beautiful. Colors are vivid, bright, and saturated. Blacks are super deep and great for nighttime viewing. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Samsung displays. However, the Active’s display has a special ability that you won’t find on the regular Galaxy S7: shatter resistance.
Samsung has been very clear about calling it shatter-resistant, not shatter-proof. This is not the same as the nearly invincible display on the Motorola DROID Turbo 2. The Active’s display can resist the “spider-webbing” that sometimes occurs, which basically ruins the entire display. Instead, the crack is isolated and prevented from spreading.
Shatter resistance is a nice feature, but when there are non-”active” phones out there with shatter-proof displays, it would have been nice to see Samsung go the extra mile. The display remains the weak point in durability, but it’s still an improvement over most flagship phones.
The last big different between the Galaxy S7 Active and Galaxy S7 is the battery The Active is packing a whopping 4,000 mAh battery. That’s a full 1,000 more than the Galaxy S7 and 400 more than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Combine that massive battery with the relatively small 5.1-inch display, and you’ve got exceptional battery life.
Battery life has been spectacular. I’ve been able to get close to two days when using mostly Wi-Fi. Most people will not be able to kill this phone in one day, even if they stream video and play games. It’s easy to stretch the battery to last three to four days if you’re careful. That’s a big deal if you’re using the phone for camping trips and other off-the-grid adventures.
When you do need to inevitably charge the phone, it supports Fast Charging, which works great. You can also use wireless charging. And Samsung hasn’t switched to USB Type-C yet, so all your old cables are still compatible.
The Galaxy S7 Active is a phone that tries to live in two worlds. Typical “rugged” phones are underpowered and offer poor user experiences. The Active tries to bridge the gap between rugged phones and flagship phones. It does a decent job of that. You’re not going to find another rugged phone with the same high-end specs.
A lot of rugged phones really do suck at being good phones. The Active is a great option if you want something that will survive your rugged life, but can still take great photos and won’t make you pull your hair out. It’s a rugged phone for people who still want a great phone.
Those people better like ATT because that is the only place you can buy the Active. It also costs 100 more than the regular Galaxy S7. The bigger battery alone is worth the extra 100, but it’s not worth switching to ATT over. The Active is a perfect example of a great device hampered by carrier exclusivity. But if you’re on ATT, and you need something tougher, there’s no reason to avoid the Galaxy S7 Active.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_50 ( 4.6 / 5 )
- Durable design build quality
- Shatter resistant display
- Excellent battery life
- Still a Galaxy S7
The Bottom Line
The Galaxy S7 Active is the closest thing you can get to a truly rugged phone with high-end flagship specs. At it’s worst, the Active is still just a Galaxy S7. But at it’s best, it’s something a little more.