Review: Outdoor Adventures with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active

Face it: life can be hard for our favorite gadgets. I love my gear, but admittedly, I’m not as gentle with it as I should be. The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active was made for people exactly like me. I lead an active life, and my electronics need to be up for the challenge. I ride my bike almost daily, kayak, and hike as often as I can – either along a mountain creek or along the beach. I need my phone (which these days is my camera, music player, and laptop too) to stand up to the rigors of dirt, water, rugged terrain, and less glamorously, sweat. I took the Galaxy S6 Active along this summer to see if it was as active as I needed it to be.

Phones are packed with more and more features. Their cameras rival many point-and-shoots. Their music playing features rival most stand-alone players; in fact, many outshine them. And the apps available these days for fitness training make it hard for fitness trackers to make a dent in the market. However, if you’re afraid to take a phone out for a jog, hike, ride or worse – paddle, what’s the point?

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active packs most of the same features of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge into a rugged, durable phone that’s dustproof and waterproof to 1.5 meters. Yup – you can use the S6 Active to take underwater photos, then post them directly to Facebook before you even return to dry land (rinse promptly if in contact with saltwater). For me, having a waterproof phone that I could easily slip into my jersey pocket on a long bike ride was priceless. Before I got the S6 Active, I had a phone in a water-resistant case (for unexpected rain showers and always expected sweat) that was so bulky it was difficult to get out while on the bike. I missed many great photo ops because I couldn’t get the camera out while cruising down a scenic stretch of pavement. The reinforced edges of the S6 Active protect it from a 4-foot drop, but they maintain a sleek profile.

The S6 Active is currently only available for AT&T in the US, with a price of $200 with a 2-year contract, or non-contract $675 which can be split up into monthly increments via the AT&T Next plan. It does not have an expandable memory (no SD slot) so it only comes with 32GB of built-in memory and it’s available in gray, blue, or white, all with a digitized-camo back. It’s a love/hate with the looks of the Active – compared to the drop-dead gorgeous Edge, this looks like a cheap wanna-be until you realize the plastic and reinforced edges are what make it durable, dustproof and waterproof.

The features are incredible. The S6 Active has a 3,500 mAh battery that’s 40% larger than the battery in the S6. It has an ultra power-saving mode that gives 24 hours of talk and text time when only 10% of power is remaining. It can charge wirelessly. The display is a 5.1” Quad HD super-AMOLED that automatically adapts to existing light. I had no problem viewing it in brilliant sunshine. The rear-facing camera is 16 MP and the front is 5 MP and it has a 120-degree wide-angle for more natural selfies. The camera has a plethora of features including voice-activation, virtual 360-degree photos, slow-motion, fast-motion, and a completely manual pro photographer mode. The phone has a multi-window mode so you can view multiple apps in a split-screen mode.

The phone has other great convenience features. My favorite is the Active Key. This is a dedicated programmable key on the side of the phone. You can select what program opens when it’s pressed quickly, and another program can open with a longer press. The default is Samsung’s Activity Zone with an array of fitness features. I was blown away to discover the built-in heart rate monitor. I programmed my short press to open the camera, and the longer press to open my music player. Switching what programs open with the Active Key is easy enough that I could switch it back to the Activity Zone’s cycling setting if I was heading out without my bike’s GPS. In fact, I just came in from one of those rides that wasn’t supposed to be rainy, and when I got caught in the rain, I had to stop and store my Garmin nav system in a Ziploc bag to keep it dry, while the S6 Active was oblivious to the deluge. The cycling app tracked my mileage, and I set it up so I had voice notifications every mile telling me my average speed and mileage – very helpful on a long climb. The S6 Active comes with Samsung’s Milk music system that’s integrated with the Activity Zone. Easily select music to suit your workout – from running, walking to yoga or weights. I selected the running feed for my bike ride and was motivated by the steady tempo on the uphill grind.

The music features were what ultimately sold me on the S6 Active. I had no problem playing 96k/24-bit WAV or FLAC files through the music player, unlike my iPod nano. Note – when I transferred the music from my laptop, I was prompted to down-convert them or I might have a problem playing them back. Good news – they played flawlessly in their original sampling rate. I am thrilled to have a high-resolution audio player that’s waterproof, dustproof, and drop-resistant. Take that, Pono. There are no excuses now to listen to crappy sound files, wherever you go. The S6 Active has a decent built-in speaker, but the waterproofing does seem to compromise its playback quality so use headphones for the best listening experience. Surprisingly for a waterproof device, the headphone jack and micro-USB port don’t have any extra coverings or seals.

As much as we use our phones, and typically don’t want to leave home without them regardless of the forecast or where your day is going, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active is a phenomenal phone with no compromises. It doesn’t sacrifice anything except perhaps streamline, elegant looks to bring you a phone that you’re not afraid to actually use. The forecast for my bike ride tomorrow is going to be hot (and sweaty) in the morning, with a chance of showers before I’ll be back home. No doubt the S6 Active is coming along for the ride.