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Grow Your Business Technology

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active Review: Is It Good for Business?

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active Review: Is It Good for Business?

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active's virtually indestructible design makes it a work phone you can count on, even if it looks like it was designed more for hikers than for executives. Samsung took the Galaxy S6 — our favorite overall business phone — and wrapped it in a tough shell that can withstand even the most brutal drops and dings. It even resists dust and water damage.

Sure, it's not half as pretty as the standard S6, and it loses the fingerprint reader that helps make that phone extra secure. But those might be small sacrifices for a smartphone this dependable.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

It's important to note up front that the S6 Active is available only through AT&T. If you're on a different network and can't switch, this phone won't be an option.  

The S6 Active isn't a bad-looking smartphone overall, but it does look a bit homely next to the ultrasleek, glass-and-metal design of the standard S6, which is arguably the prettiest smartphone on the market. The rubberized casing around all four edges of the S6 Active isn't nearly as bulky or garish as you might expect from a "rugged" smartphone, though. 

 

And what you lose in aesthetics, you gain back in sheer ruggedness. So, just how tough is this phone? Samsung said we could return our S6 active unit in pieces if we wanted, so we put it to the test.

 

When we dropped the phone down two flights of concrete steps, it survived without a scratch. Impressed, we tried smacking the phone against the bannister of the stairs again and again. It took about 10 hard smacks before the glass finally cracked. 

 

We also tested the phone's water resistance by submerging it in a 10-inch-deep tank of water for about a half-hour. When the test was done, the S6 Active worked just fine, even when it was still wet. Samsung says the device was tested to withstand submersion in up to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for roughly 30 minutes, and our tests bear out that claim.  This is the key feature that separates the S6 Active from the standard S6; you can put a plastic case around just about any phone to protect it from drops, but that won't make it waterproof.

Measuring 0.34 inches thick and weighing 5.29 ounces, the S6 Active is both thicker and heavier than the standard S6 (0.27 inches, 4.9 ounces), as well as the iPhone 6 (0.27 inches, 4.55 ounces). However, it's slightly thinner and lighter than the HTC One M9 (0.39 inches, 5.5 ounces).

The S6 Active's roomy display looks as good as the screen on the standard S6. The 5.1-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 AMOLED panel produces sharp, readable text and vibrant colors. It's also brighter than the average smartphone, topping out at 547 nits of brightness. That beats the standard S6 (521 nits), as well as the One M9 (427 nits) and LG G4 (396 nits), which makes it easier to see the screen outdoors.

Personally, I find the 5.1-inch screen size to be a good middle ground between compact phones and supersize phablets. There's plenty of space for screen-intensive tasks like editing a document on the go, but it's still small enough that I can reach the top of the touch screen without making any acrobatic hand movements. 

When I reviewed the standard the Galaxy S6 this spring, it was the fastest phone I'd ever tested. Now, it shares that title with the S6 Active, which includes the same internal hardware. The phone is powered by Samsung's speedy Exynos processor with 3GB of RAM, and it delivers equally fast performance in daily use. Apps open and close quickly, and multitasking feels incredibly smooth.

The S6 Active's thicker design allowed Samsung to cram a bigger battery into the device than it could fit in the standard S6 model. The phone ran for an impressive 9 hours and 58 minutes in our battery-life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. It lasted longer than the HTC One M9 (7:14), the G4 (7:38) and the iPhone 6 (7:40), as well as the standard Galaxy S6 (8:32). That's one more way the S6 Active is more dependable than the S6.

Here's a handy hardware feature you won't find on other smartphones: The S6 Active has a special button on its left edge, right above the volume rocker, that can be customized to launch apps. I set it to launch my email inbox with a short press, and my calendar with a long press, even when the phone is asleep. It's a really nice shortcut for accessing frequently used apps, and it's smartly positioned to be out of the way when you don't need it. 

Like other Galaxy smartphones, the S6 Active makes multitasking easy with Samsung's excellent multiwindow mode. Just hold down the Recent Apps button to initiate a split-screen view; then, tap two apps to view them side by side. The feature is not as useful on a smartphone as it is on Samsung's larger Galaxy tablets, but it still comes in handy from time to time. I liked using it to reference a Web page or using the calculator while drafting an email, for example. 

This feature is notable because most Android devices allow you to view only one app at a time. A few other manufacturers, including LG, have added multiwindow functionality to their phones, but Samsung's implementation is still the easiest to use.

The regular S6 comes with a fingerprint reader embedded in its home button, which is useful for quickly unlocking the device and securely accessing private work files. The Active model ditches this feature – the Home button is just a button – and I consider the biggest sacrifice you'll make by opting for the rugged model. You still get the standard selection of security options, including the ability to enter a password or draw a pattern to unlock your device.

The S6 Active runs on TouchWiz, the same modified version of Android you'll find on all Samsung phones. It's not as pretty as stock Android, in my opinion, but it does add some neat features.

For example, Direct Call lets you initiate a phone call with the contact whose call log, message or contact details you're currently viewing. And Smart Alert is a nice feature that makes your phone vibrate as soon as you pick it up, to alert you to missed calls or messages before you stick it in your pocket. 

The TouchWiz keyboard is still the best mobile keyboard for business users. It offers well-spaced keys, smart word prediction and a dedicated number row at the top of the standard QWERTY layout. That lets you punch in numerals without switching between layouts, which can save you a lot of taps in the long run.

Some useful productivity apps come preloaded on the S6 Active, including Microsoft apps like Skype, which is good for basic videoconferencing; and OneNote, an excellent note-taking app that can sync your notes wirelessly between your smartphone and your PC. You also get Hancom Office, a mobile office suite made by Samsung that's pretty good for editing documents and spreadsheets on the go.

The S6 Active is available for $199 with a two-year contract via AT&T. The carrier also offers installment-based payment plans for as little as $23.17 per month for 24 months. 

Let's face it: Most smartphones weren't designed to take much abuse, and that's a risk if you depend on your phone for work. That's why I think the S6 Active — ostensibly designed for outdoorsy types — also makes a lot of sense as a business phone. It builds on what made the standard Galaxy S6 so good for work, adding extra durability and longer battery life than the standard model. The lack of a fingerprint reader on this model, however, is unfortunate. Regardless, it's a good pick for business users who value durability over aesthetics, but only for those who are on AT&T's network or don't mind switching. If not, you'll have to make do with a good case for your standard S6.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

Brett Nuckles
Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.