Samsung Galaxy S7 Active review: The rugged flagship phone for clumsy fingers

Some phones are built like fragile little flowers. This one is built to withstand a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, though it's not entirely life-proof.

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Credit: Florence Ion
At a Glance
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Active

    Greenbot Rating
    $794.99 MSRP $795.00
    View
    on Best Buy

    The Galaxy S7 Active is for those who are looking for a strong smartphone with stellar performance.

Life can be perilous—resulting in smartphones with broken screens and dented chassis. But covering up your metal smartphone in a disaster-proof case can make the phone both harder to use and just plain ugly. Enter the Galaxy S7 Active, Samsung’s answer for people who want a stylish smartphone that can withstand almost anything.

The S7 Active may belong to a niche product category, but after three generations of rugged designs, it seems that Samsung has perfected its vision for what a stylish, durable smartphone should offer. The only bummer is that this particular phone is limited to AT&T.

For this review, I’m mostly going to focus on the rugged qualities of the Galaxy S7 Active. If you want the full skinny on the original Galaxy S7—which includes most of the same features—check out my review here.

A tough chassis

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Camo isn’t my thing, but I still think the S7 Active is pretty stylish.

Aside from battery capacity, the main differences between the regular S7 and the S7 Active can be found in their bodies and displays. Whereas the S7 has an aluminum and glass body, the S7 Active sports a rubberized chassis (making it two millimeters thicker, at 9.9 mm). And while both phones use Gorilla Glass 4 for their displays, the Active version has a “shatter resistant” screen. The upshot is that this phone is built for rude encounters with river rocks and concrete.

The S7 Active comes in three design themes: gold, gray, and green camouflage. I tested the camo version, and while it’s not really my style, I appreciate that it has a rough-and-tumble aesthetic that might appeal to folks who aren’t keen on the fragile, all-glass construction of the regular Galaxy S7. I also like that despite its thicker chassis, the Galaxy S7 Active is thin enough to resemble a non-rugged S7 with a case on it.

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The Galaxy S7 Active next to the regular Galaxy S7.

The Galaxy S7 Active’s rubber bumper is designed to withstand drops of all sorts, but while its 5.2-inch Super AMOLED screen is shatterproof, note that it’s not scratch-resistant. My review unit suffered a scratchy fate at the hands of a thick, thorny blackberry bush.

The S7 Active also features physical navigation buttons that accomodate anyone who has to wear gloves out in the field. Just know that you’ll need to take off your gloves to use the fingerprint scanner embedded in the Home button. 

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The Galaxy S7 Active can withstand up to five feet of water for 30 minutes.

Like its rugged predecessor, the S7 Active is IP68 certified, which means it’s both dust-proof and water-resistant for up to 30 minutes in five feet of water. It’s definitely the kind of phone that you can take to the pool with you, but it’s not technically submersible. So don’t plan on making extensive underwater videos with it.

As powerful as it is tough

The Galaxy S7 Active features most of the same components as the Galaxy S7, including a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. If you’re curious about how the silicon performs, we tested it extensively in our GS7 review. And if you’re aching to see the kind of photos it snaps, be sure to check out how the Galaxy S7 performs compared to the iPhone 6S.

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The Galaxy S7 Active’s 4,000mah battery pack can get you through 9 hours.

Thankfully, there are no gaping performance differences between the Galaxy S7 and its tougher counterpart, though the Galaxy S7 Active shines with regard to battery life. The device houses a much larger 4,000 mAh battery, compared to the Galaxy S7’s 3,000 mAh battery, and the Galaxy S7 Edge’s 3,600 mAh battery. The Active outlasted both of them, too: In our Geekbench battery rundown test, the Galaxy S7 Active lasted a whopping 9 hours and 22 minutes. The Active also lasted through two days of light use without needing a charge, and even at the end of the Geekbench battery test, it was still holding on with a few percent. It takes a lot to kill this thing.

Touchwiz: A reprise

The Galaxy S7 Active runs the same Touchwiz interface on top of Android 6.0.1 as its shinier counterparts. But because the phone is sold exclusively through AT&T, you’ll have to contend with all the awful bloatware and AT&T-branded apps that come with the device, including a DirectTV remote widget that lives in the notifications shade. You can’t remove these apps to reclaim space, but you can disable them so that they never bother you.

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An Active button you can program to your liking.

Like the S6 Active, the S7 Active employs an Active key. Pressing it launches the Activity Zone, which contains widgets for a weather report, a barometer, S Health, a compass, a stopwatch, and a quick-launch Flashlight button. You can customize what a short-press, long-press, and double-press of the button will do, and whether it’s available to use while the screen is locked.

It’s certainly helpful to have this kind of functionality available without having to turn on the screen, especially if you’re in an environment that requires a lot of protective gear. Also note that there’s an Emergency Zone that can quickly dial 911 or any of your preferred contacts if disaster strikes.

Should you buy it?

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A phone that can withstand all of the dirt and drama in your life.

If I packed up and moved north tomorrow—my backup plan is to live off the land if things go awry—I’d switch to the Galaxy S7 Active. It has all of what makes the Galaxy S7 wonderful, including stellar camera performance and long-lasting battery life, but it’s also a hedge against smartphone disasters. And it’s not ugly; I could see myself sporting the gold one if I were a committed camper.

The only caveat is that the phone is, like last year’s release, an AT&T exclusive. I’d love to have this kind of device available on Verizon Wireless, especially since it costs about the same as buying a regular Galaxy S7 outright. So, for now I’ll have to settle for an Otterbox ($42.46 on Amazon).

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating
    $794.99 MSRP $795.00
    View
    on Best Buy

    The Galaxy S7 Active is for those who are looking for a strong smartphone with stellar performance.

    Pros

    • Long battery life will get you through a day's worth of work or play
    • Features a shatterproof screen and IP68 water-resistance
    • All the same great components as the near-perfect Galaxy S7

    Cons

    • So much AT&T bloatware
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