A durable work phone is a dependable work phone. And they don't come much tougher than Samsung's Galaxy S7 Active, a bruiser of a smartphone that packs all the best productivity-boosting features of the standard Galaxy S7 into a much tougher shell. And while most "rugged" smartphones are bulky eyesores, this one doesn't look half bad. It's only available through AT&T, though, so it's not an option for everyone.
Design and durability
Durable devices aren't just for construction workers and outdoor enthusiasts. I think they're great for anybody who really depends on their smartphone, and can't afford to lose it to an accidental drop or spill. That's why even office workers should give the Galaxy S7 Active a serious look.
So just how tough is the S7 Active? Samsung says it comes with MIL-STD durability credentials, which means it can endure dings, drops, shocks, extreme temperatures and more. You're unlikely to crack the screen if you fumble the device, since the display is shatterproof. The phone is also waterproof, and can be submerged in up to 5 feet of water for a half hour with no damage done.
We didn't just take Samsung's word for it, though. We put the S7 Active through a real-world torture test, subjecting it to drops and water submersion. The phone was tossed down a 12-foot staircase and dropped facedown onto a concrete floor multiple times, and it survived with nothing more than a couple of barely noticeable nicks around the phone's bezel.
You're unlikely to drop the S7 Active in the first place, though, thanks to rubberized, ridged corners that make the device easy to hang onto. The back of the phone also has a nice texture that will help prevent the device from sliding off a slippery table.
If you're not thrilled by the camouflage pattern pictured on the back of the S7 Active here, don't worry – the S7 Active is also available in more modest silver and gold versions.
Tipping the scales at 6.52 ounces and measuring 0.4 inches thick, the S7 Active is a bit thicker and heftier than nonrugged rivals like the Droid Turbo 2, the iPhone 6s and the LG G5. But the S7 Active is pretty darn sleek for a device this tough.
The S7 Active gives you all the same security features you'll find on the standard Galaxy S7, starting with a fingerprint reader embedded in the phone's home button. The reader took about 30 seconds to set up when I first booted up the phone, then worked reliably after that, whisking me to my home screen each time I used it. It's a nice perk for workers who want to keep their phone locked down without fussing with a password screen every time the device is powered on.
You also get Samsung Knox security features, which include hardware-level encryption to keep your private work data secure. Knox is also useful for also managing smartphone deployment in an enterprise environment.
One feature that sets the S7 Active apart from most rivals is its always-on display. Even when the phone's screen is turned off, a variety of information continues to be displayed in white text on the phone's otherwise blank screen. That allows you to check information like the current time, date, and the phone's remaining battery life without powering on the entire display. The always-on screen drains a negligible amount of battery life, and will probably improve the phone's daily longevity since it keeps you from powering on the display just to check the time.
In regular use, the S7 Active's 2560 x 1440-pixel display is sharp and colorful, though a bit dimmer than the screens on its closest rivals. Measuring 5.1 inches, the display is just big enough for serious productivity. Screen-intensive tasks such as viewing large documents are a bit more comfortable on devices like the 5.4-inch Droid Turbo 2, though.
The S7 Active does include split-screen multitasking. Just press and hold the recent apps button — located to the left of the home button — then tap two apps to view them side-by-side. It's handy for a few niche tasks, like referencing an email while editing a document. But the S7 Active's screen just isn't big enough to make split-screen multitasking feel practical or useful in most situations.
The S7 Active is more than fast enough to handle any productivity task you throw at it. It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. That's a configuration that allowed the phone to speed along, without any noticeable slowdown while I switched between apps or panned around large documents.
The phone racked up a fine score of 5,004 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's well above the smartphone average (3,145), and slightly better than both the Droid Turbo 2 and the iPhone 6s.
The S7 Active lasts and lasts, making it an excellent option for frequent business travelers. The device ran for an epic 11 hours on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That blows away most of the competition, including the iPhone 6s (6:46), the Droid Turbo 2 (837) and the standard Galaxy S7 (8:43.) In fact, only Google's Nexus 6P lasts longer, running for an amazing 12 hours and 25 minutes on the same battery test.
Like other Galaxy smartphones, the S7 Active features quick-charging capabilities that let you charge up to 50 percent in a half hour when you're using the charging cable that comes with the phone. The feature is great for workers who want to top their battery off during a short layover at the airport.
When it comes to choosing a smartphone for work, durability can mean peace of mind. The Galaxy S7 Active is one of the toughest smartphones I've ever tested, which means an untimely tumble won't leave you without the device you need to do your job.
Add strong security, fast performance and epic battery life to the mix, and it's hard to find fault with the Galaxy S7 Active. Of course, it's not as slim and sleek as the iPhone 6S or the standard Galaxy S7. It's also only available to AT&T customers. If you don't mind those trade-offs, then the Galaxy S7 Active is one of the best business phones you can buy.