Samsung Galaxy S7 Active hands on

The world turned upside down last year with the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy S6, as the Korean company didn’t hold back from gracing the device with a brand spanking new design that people finally agreed was premium. As much as we were all delighted by this new direction, there was just one major thing that was shed in the process that the Galaxy S5 offered that its successor did not: a water-resistant construction. And that’s arguably what made the eventual Galaxy S6 Active unique from its sibling.

This year, however, they brought back water resistance to the Galaxy S7 – while also retaining the same premium design language that they’ve established. All of this will make anyone wonder what’s in tow for the forthcoming Galaxy S7 Active, that would differentiate it enough from Sammy’s prized flagship. Don’t worry, there’s more than meets the eye with this rugged one, so let’s quickly go over what this new phone in the Galaxy S7 family is all about.

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Design

The most distinguishable difference here is that the S7 Active features a design that’s substantially more rugged in nature. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, as it largely doesn’t deviate from the designs of previous Active devices. It’s not premium by the imagination – as the glass meets metal bezel design of the standard Galaxy S7 is replaced by one that’s mostly dominated by the same textured rear pattern we’ve seen before – accompanied by soft touch matte bumpers around the sides of the phone to absorb shock.

Speaking of shock, this phone doesn’t have the same fragileness of the Galaxy S7. Rather, the durable materials and tight construction employed here provides the Galaxy S7 Active with MIL-STG-810G specification. Not only is it able to withstand most drops, but the phone is built to withstand numerous environmental conditions – such as extreme temperatures, dust, low pressure/high altitude, and yes, full submersion under water. There’s really no need for a case for something like this, since you know, the phone itself acts like a protective case.

While it’s not the prettiest in Sammy’s stable, it’s all about the utility with its design – so with that, most people can understand the reasoning for its particular design. Yes, it’s technically bulkier and heavier, making it a bit tougher to manipulate with one hand, but all of this is necessary in giving it that indestructible nature. How indestructible you ask? Well, we managed to drop it a few times from a height of 4 feet onto the pavement without any major impact to its operation or performance. Still, every phone does have its own breaking point but the S7 Active will survive a lot more than your average smartphone.

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Display

The same display in the S7 is present here with the S7 Active, so that’s a 5.1-inch 1440 x 2560 Super AMOLED panel. As usual with AMOLED screens – especially the ones from Samsung – it’s detailed, sharp, produces some very iridescent colors, and offers exceptional wide angles. Everything about it seems to be on the same level as the Galaxy S7, including the new Always On display feature that keeps the time and some other relevant information on display at all times.

What’s different, though, is that the S7 Active benefits from being substantially more resilient to drops – meaning, it won’t crack if it’s dropped. The “shatter resistant screen” definitely holds up over most other screens, but we’re happy to notice that its visibility and clarity isn’t subdued or greatly impacted. Given that Samsung’s AMOLED screens have shown their superiority in terms of color accuracy and brightness potency, the resistance aspect of the display is merely icing on the cake.

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Hardware

Before getting down and gritty with the usual hardware specifications, let’s quickly take note about some of the notable hardware additions/changes. The first being the addition of a fingerprint sensor, which is a first for the Active line. It’s something that has become expected amongst high-end phones of late, so the addition of it here gives the phone that contemporary status – enabling it for Samsung Pay – as well as another layer of security. It’s flanked between two other, rather larger sized physical buttons: the back and quick menu keys.

The thicker chassis of the phone isn’t just attributed to the extra cushion it’s packing to give it that almost indestructible nature, but rather, the mammoth 4000 mAh battery that’s stuffed inside. That’s one of the largest (if not largest) capacities Samsung has been able to cram into its smartphones, so that should aid the Active in having more longevity than the regular Galaxy S7. Additionally, you’ll find wireless and rapid charging in tow with the phone.

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Now, this wouldn’t be an Active branded smartphone if it didn’t have the “Active” key, which is positioned above the volume controls along the left edge. Just as before, it brings up the “Activity Zone” to deliver on point information at a moment’s notice – they consist of the weather, temperature, barometer, compass, flashlight, stopwatch, and S Health. The button also doubles as a shutter key as well when the camera app is running, which is pretty handy when you’re trying to snap a photo under water.

Helping to power the phone is a quad-core 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC coupled with 4GB of RAM and the Adreno 530 GPU. Much like anything brand new, out of the box, the S7 Active performs as you’d expect – snappy and fast. And given that it’s almost unchanged from the Galaxy S7, the S7 Active should perform handsomely when it comes to graphics processing. Storage amounts to 32GB with our particular unit, but it can be supplemented with the available microSD card slot.

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Camera

In following tradition, the Galaxy S7 Active borrows the camera from the S7 – so that’s the same 1/2.6” 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture lens, phase detection auto-focus, OIS, and an LED flash. There’s also the quick launch function, too, that allows us to jump right into the camera app by just double pressing on the home button/fingerprint sensor.

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Most people are going to be inclined to believe that the camera’s performance will be close, if not the same, as the standard Galaxy S7. As an all-around device, you can absolutely believe that the S7 Active will take some stunning photos and videos. The only other thing worth mentioning here is how there are a few manual controls available now with video recording under “Pro” mode, which is something we haven’t seen before in a Galaxy. Adjusting parameters like shutter speed, white balance, and focus all on the fly are all now possible and it’s likely we’ll see this come to other Galaxy S7 phones in a future update, although it might take a while.

Software

Frankly speaking, there’s not a whole lot different with the TouchWiz experience here with the S7 Active, which is running on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The usual visuals are all there, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Some will like it, others will hate it, but there’s one thing we can agree about this most streamlined edition of TouchWiz to date – it’s incredibly powerful and comprehensive.

Power users will love it, especially with its true multi-tasking experience with multi window, one-handed mode for easier handling, and all the other assorted smart gestures with the experience. Even though TouchWiz remains to be an acquired taste, it’s one of the last remaining few custom Android experiences that offers more depth over the stock experience.

Conclusion so far

Knowing that water resistance and storage expansion has been brought back to the Galaxy S7, some wonder if the Galaxy S7 Active will have some meaningful value over its sibling. That’ll undoubtedly depend on what you want in a phone. Being more ruggedized and all, the S7 Active will remain in working condition for much longer than the standard S7, since it’s been constructed to withstand some serious punishment – whereas the S7 has the premium design, but with more fragileness. Another thing to note is the larger size battery stuffed inside of the phone, which should propel it to last far longer as well.

Sure, the look of the phone won’t appeal to anyone, but if you place utility high on your list over most things, the Galaxy S7 Active will fit the bill – albeit, its price is $100 more than the standard S7 over on AT&T. That means you’ll need to fork over close to $800 to buy it outright, versus $700 for the S7.

The S7 Active is launching on June 10 from AT&T and will be available on AT&T’s new Next plans: for those wanting it on the standard Next plan, it’ll cost you $26.50 per month for 30 months but on the shorter AT&T Next Every Year, it’ll cost $33.13 per month over 24 months. What do you think of the S7 Active and are you going to buy one? Let us know your views in the comments below!