The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active is the adventurous phone you wish you had the lifestyle for

This is a great phone for adventurous outdoor types, but if you're not, you're better off with a regular Galaxy S6.

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Florence Ion

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I went on vacation recently and it was great. I relaxed. I zoned out. I also spent a lot of time shooting photos and streaming music with the Galaxy S6 Active instead of my gold-colored Galaxy S6 Edge. The Galaxy S6 Active has its tough plastic casing, and I was in the midwest surrounded by lots of trees, dirt, and sand. It was the perfect phone for that particular location.

I also realized that unless you’re constantly surrounded by a lot of tiny little particles or a massive body of water, you might not find the Galaxy S6 Active worth it. It’s bigger than its counterparts and it kind of looks like a throwback to the practical, bulkier phones of yore. But it does have significantly longer battery life, and it can withstand so much more physical hurt than Samsung’s prim and proper little flagship. Here’s what it’s like to live with the Galaxy S6 Active for a week.

A bigger body with better battery life

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The Galaxy S6 Active is the Subaru Outback-driving version of smartphones.

The main difference between the Galaxy S6 Active and either of the Galaxy S6 variants is its much bulkier body and bigger battery pack. Its glass top and plastic body protect the Active's innards from water and dust. If you drop it, you'll probably be fine. If it tumbles down a mountain, it’ll probably get really banged up, but things like the camera could work okay as long as the lens wasn’t damaged beyond repair. I don’t typically test Samsung’s Active phones to that extent because I have to eventually send the phone back. I hope to someday be allowed to test how well one of the Active phones deals with a tumble down Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.

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The Galaxy S6 Active comes in three colors: blue, white, and grey. They all feature this cheesy camouflage motif on the back. 

As a person who relies on her phone for every damn thing in her life, I think the Galaxy S6 Active is too bulky for me, my purse, and my pockets for daily use. But when I was out hiking the Elysian Trail in Los Angeles and swimming in the Saint Croix River in Minnesota (I really miss vacation), the phone’s size didn’t matter at all.

I typically feel like I have to clutch the Galaxy S6 Edge close to me whenever I’m holding it, or else it’ll just slip out of my hand and on to the floor. Conversely, I had no fears with the Active because I knew that it's more rugged.

galaxy s6 active battery Jason Cross

The Galaxy S6 Active beat out all the latest flagships in our battery test.

The Galaxy S6 Active also houses a larger 3,500 mAh battery pack. As a result, the phone lasts much longer than the Galaxy S6 with its 2550 mAh battery. I went a few days of light use without having to charge it, which is great when you’re vacationing in a family cabin with only a few outlets. Of all the modern flagship smartphones, the Active has the longest battery life by about two and a half hours.

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I'm not too crazy about navigation buttons I have to actually press.

The Galaxy S6 Active also employs hard, physical navigation buttons rather than soft, light-up capacitive buttons. It felt odd and unfamiliar to press a button to go back or switch to the multitasking menu, when I normally tap to do so on every other Android phone I use. It also doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner embedded in the Home button.

Inside, it’s like its siblings

The camera sensor, display, and processor in the Galaxy S6 Active are the same as its fancier, more stylish counterparts. If you’re curious how it shoots photos, I did all the lab tests a few months ago against the iPhone 6 Plus, and then again against the LG G4. If you’re curious about how the Galaxy S6 Active actually performs, we also have the full rundown on the processor inside the Galaxy S6.

I won’t totally leave you hanging, though. I’m happy to report that there are no gaping differences in performance between devices. The Galaxy S6 Active performed on par with the Galaxy S6 in our benchmarks.

A cool button that does cool things

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I like you, button. Will you be my friend?

I’m really into this third button that Samsung packed on to the left side of the Galaxy S6 Active. By default, a quick press launches the Activity Zone and a long press activates the music app. The Activity Zone offers quick access to the weather, a barometer, a compass, a flashlight, a stopwatch, and Samsung’s S Health. Also, at the bottom are a few different Milk Music playlists readily available for whatever activity you have going on at the moment—I toggled on the yoga playlist a few times.

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I actually liked the Activity Monitor and all the information it offered at a glance.

If you really don’t care for the Activity Zone, you can program the button to launch anything else. I programmed it so that a long press launches Google Fit, for instance, since I use that instead of S Health.

Should you buy it?

I really like the Galaxy S6 Active, but my relatively inactive lifestyle is in no need of a phone like this. I’m okay with my Galaxy S6 Edge for now and I’ll keep it close to me and wrapped in bubble wrap so it doesn’t get nicked. But if you’re the kayaking, mountain biking, trail running adventurous type, you should have a phone that can keep up with you. And take awesome pictures along the way. This one can.

There are a few caveats, though. You can only get this phone in blue, white, or gray, each of which sport a cheesy camouflage pattern on the back. The Galaxy S6 Active doesn’t have an expansion slot, either, and it’s only sold with 32GB of storage—that sucks if you plan to travel with this phone, because it takes awesome, high resolution photographs and video that take up a lot of space. Also, this device is exclusive to AT&T, which limits you if you’re with any of the other three major carriers in the U.S. You could always pay full price, have AT&T unlock it, and go from there. That's a bit of hassle, unless you're really sure you need a phone that can do what the Galaxy S6 Active does, and not just a rugged case for your regular Galaxy S6.

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