The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active isn't just a Galaxy S7 in rugged clothing. Exclusive to AT&T, 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.
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Design and Features
When 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.
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 pocket.
For that increase in size, you get the same level of durability as last year's S6 Active. 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. 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.
Network Performance and Connectivity
The S7 Active supports a comprehensive set of AT&T 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 Software
The 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.
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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 Conclusions
At $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 AT&T 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.