For the past few years, Samsung has introduced a rugged version of their Galaxy S flagship a few months after the former launched so it came as no surprise to see the Galaxy S7 receive the same treatment. With the original Galaxy S7 already sporting water and dust resistance despite its glass finish, the need for an Active variant was diminished, yet Samsung clearly sees demand for a rugged flagship.
In past years, the Active range has always differentiated heavily from the Galaxy S flagship with diminished specs the compromise for a more durable offering. Yet this year, it shares many of the same specs as its flagship sibling meaning there’s very little to differentiate the two handsets.
Is the Galaxy S7 Active an after-thought or is it the final piece in the jigsaw of the perfect smartphone? Is brawn more important than beauty? Our Galaxy S7 review called the handset refined, polished and possibly the best smartphone ever but does this also apply to the Galaxy S7 Active? Find out in this, our Galaxy S7 Active review.
The biggest difference between the two handsets is in the design; the original Galaxy S7 features an all glass and metal design but the Galaxy S7 Active swaps this out for a more rubberized body. Like previous Active devices, the rubber build does result in quite a thick phone that is honestly a little bit bulky but this trade-off is certainly not new to the Galaxy S7 Active.
Most people who drop their phone find the handset can break (often beyond repair) when it lands on a corner or leading edge and to prevent against this, Samsung has reinforced the corners in a bid to ensure the Active doesn’t suffer the same fate as other less durable handsets. Naturally, you do lose the sleek curves and corners of the original Galaxy S7 but the compromise is certainly worth another look when you consider this phone is much more likely to survive a hefty drop.
The rugged exterior means the Galaxy S7 Active conforms to the MIL-STD-810G military standard for protection against extreme conditions. As a result, the phone is rated as being resistant to drops from heights under 5 feet and being able to survive harsh conditions including salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock. Like every rugged smartphone, the Galaxy S7 Active does have a limit and you will be able to break it if you try hard enough but it’ll survive a lot more knocks than most, if not all, other current flagships.
Build quality aside, the Galaxy S7 Active also trades the capacitive navigation keys of the Galaxy S7 Active for physical hardware buttons for the recent apps and back keys. Instead of the simulated vibration-based feedback provided by the original’s capacitive keys, the Galaxy S7 Active’s keys provide real tactile feedback and although they take getting used to, they are certainly very easy to press.
The home button is no different to other Samsung devices but unlike last year’s Galaxy S6 Active, you still get the home button which means the Active range now supports authentication-based features such as Samsung Pay.
The majority of other buttons and ports are in the same place as the Galaxy S7, with the exception of the headphone jack which is moved to the top of the phone. The Galaxy S7 Active does gain the ‘Active key’. The key is completely user definable and can be configured for three different actions – your standard short press, a long press and a double press – which can be used to open any application you choose, with a further option to allow the app to open when the phone is locked.
How does it feel to go from the sleek and slender Galaxy S7 to the larger and beefier Galaxy S7 Active? The simple way to explain it is that the Active very much feels like the Galaxy S7 inside of a case, which comes complete with the front lip to protect against any damage. Yes, it doesn’t have the sleek finish of the Galaxy S7 but the rugged features mean this smartphone can withstand more than most and if the fragileness of the Galaxy S7 is a concern for you, the Galaxy S7 Active certainly addresses these.
While the Galaxy S7 Active shares the same 5.1-inch QHD Super AMOLED display as the Galaxy S7 – which offers 2560 x 1440 pixels resolution – it does gain one very crucial feature: shatter resistance.
The display is shatterproof up to 5 feet meaning the handset should survive a drop from shoulder height for most people, or so Samsung claims. The display is protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass 4 panel – which we know is susceptible to shattering – with a plastic protector on top so shatter resistant, not shatterproof, is the more applicable word to describe the display.
A problem with screen protectors or devices that use a plastic panel on top of the display is that often it can detract from what could be a very good display. Luckily, with the Galaxy S7 Active, this is not an issue but the plastic panel does scratch easily, which may eventually detract away from the Active’s appeal.
The last major change between the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Active is the size of the non-removable battery. Last year’s Galaxy S6 sported quite a small battery (at 2560mAh) and this year, Samsung beefed it up by 18% to a more acceptable 3000mAh in a bid to provide improved battery life.
The Galaxy S7 Active raises the bar yet again, with a 4000mAh battery that is 33% larger than its sibling, and even bigger than the excellent 3600mAh unit inside the Galaxy S7 Edge. On occasion a larger capacity battery doesn’t always translate to exceptionally better battery life but Samsung clearly has the formula figured out, with the Galaxy S7 Active proving to excel in the battery department.
Despite heavy usage that included hours of gaming and YouTube streaming, the Galaxy S7 Active’s battery proved to be stubborn and very difficult to drain completely in one day. During our testing, screen on time often exceeded 7 hours despite resource-intensive tasks throughout the day and there’s no doubt that the Galaxy S7 Active offers the best battery life in the Galaxy S7 family.
Performance & Hardware
Aside from the key differences outlined above, the rest of the Galaxy S7 Active is very much the same as the Galaxy S7. Under the hood, this is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM and with the Active being exclusive to AT&T in the USA, it’s unlikely we’ll see an Exynos-powered version launched in the near future.
On paper, the thought of AT&T’s additions to the software would lead to the assumption that performance will be inferior to a device that doesn’t have this additional load but in actual performance, the Galaxy S7 Active shows no signs of having carrier apps added. In regular use, there’s no lag of note and generally performance is almost identical to the Galaxy S7.
Running the usual benchmarks also corroborates this theory, with the Galaxy S7 Active proving to be on-par with, if not better, than the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. In AnTuTu’s benchmark test, the S7 Active scores 140955, whereas the regular S7 scored 129375. Moving on to GeekBench 3, the S7 Active scores 2282 in the single-core test and 5201 in the multi-core test, which is almost identical to the 2269 and 5156 scored by the Galaxy S7. Our last benchmark result comes from 3DMark, where the Galaxy S7 Active scores 2535 while the regular Galaxy S7 scores 2528.
Overall, there’s no denying that the performance of the Galaxy S7 Active is certainly one of the best on the market and unlike previous years, keeping mostly similar internals to the regular Galaxy S7 family has meant the Galaxy S7 Active offers performance on par with, if not better, than the best flagships on the market.
The camera on the rear of the Galaxy S7 Active is the same 12MP sensor with f/1.7 aperture and lightning fast dual autofocus found in the regular Galaxy S7. The images produced are sharp, vibrant and contrasty and the camera excels in most lighting conditions.
Like the regular Galaxy S7, you can still double press the home button to quickly launch the camera and the camera software remains mostly the same, with features such as selective focus and live broadcast to YouTube also present.
One new feature that does set the handset apart is the Aqua mode which has been made specifically for the S7 Active and it lets you use the active key to take photos and the volume keys to record video when you’re using the S7 Active underwater.
Galaxy S7 Active Camera Samples:
With the Galaxy S7 offering an excellent camera experience and the Galaxy S7 Active sporting the exact same camera offering, it comes as no surprise that Samsung’s latest rugged flagship has an excellent camera. The addition of an aqua mode arguably makes the camera better than the Galaxy S7 but whatever the condition, you can certainly rely on the Galaxy S7 Active’s camera.
The Galaxy S7 Active is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface on top. Generally, the Galaxy S7 family sports a heavily refined user experience that has been optimised and streamlined to offer the best performance possible and, for the most part, the S7 Active certainly continues this trend.
Where the issue arises however is in the handset’s exclusivity with AT&T in the USA, which inevitably leads to the addition of carrier apps and bloatware to the software. From the Galaxy S5 to the Galaxy S7, Samsung worked hard to make its software bloat-free and as streamlined as possible while keeping the company’s targets in mind but the AT&T bloatware undoes a lot of Samsung’s positive move.
That being said, the benchmarks and real-world usage reveal that the carrier bloat doesn’t have a big effect on the performance, which is not typical of the normal effect carrier bloat has on a smartphone. Yes, none of the apps can be uninstalled and you’re unlikely to use some of the preloaded apps – which include AT&T’s own services, Lookout security, the Yellow Pages and Direct TV – but they don’t seem to have a marked effect of any kind on performance.
For some users however, non-removable carrier bloat can be a deal breaker and that’s really the biggest downside to the Galaxy S7 Active. For more on the overall software experience, check out our TouchWiz Feature Focus video below:
Here’s the key specs for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active:
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Active|
|Display||5.1-inch Super AMOLED display|
2560 x 1440 resolution
|Processor||Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820|
2x 2.15GHz, 2x 1.6GHz
|MicroSD||Yes, up to 256GB|
MIL-SD-810G certified (dust, salt, humidity, rain, vibration, solar, transport, thermal shock resistant)
|Cameras||12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture, 1.4-micron pixels, OIS|
5MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture
|Battery||Non-removable 4000mAh battery|
|Wireless charging||Qi and PMA|
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
There’s no denying that a rugged smartphone with the capabilities of the Galaxy S7 Active will appeal to a lot of users but AT&T’s exclusivity, coupled with the effect on software, does mean a lot of users won’t be able to acquire the Galaxy S7 Active even if they wanted to. In fact, a few years in with proven interest in the Active range, it remains surprising that Samsung hasn’t struck deals to bring the Active range to other carriers and markets.
If the Galaxy S7 were a sports car, the Galaxy S7 Active could only be considered a tank; both will get you to your final point but only one will handle whatever you throw at it.
The Galaxy S7 Active is certainly not the best looking phone but the more rugged design and better battery life are more than worth the compromise. In fact, considering the more fragile build of the Galaxy S7 and its susceptibility to damage, the S7 Active is arguably the better smartphone. If the Galaxy S7 were a sports car, the Galaxy S7 Active could only be considered a tank; both will get you to your final point but only one will handle anything you can throw at it.
The Galaxy S7 Active shows that sometimes, brawn really is more important than beauty.
With comparable performance and hardware, an excellent camera and much better battery life, the Galaxy S7 Active is arguably what the Galaxy S7 should have been. At first glance, the S7 Active may not seem like the smartphone for you but don’t be fooled: they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and the Galaxy S7 Active shows that sometimes, brawn really is more important than beauty.
What do you think of the Galaxy S7 Active and would you rather have the sleek Galaxy S7 or its rugged, more durable cousin? Let us know your views in the comments below!