Indeed, I’m most excited about the imaging capabilities here. The S7 shoots stunning photos, and the so-called Dual Pixel sensors make it easy to snap clear pictures on the fly. Instead of having the majority of the pixels on a sensor capture light information and the remaining work on focus, Samsung’s dual pixels take care of both light and focus and cover the entire sensor, resulting in speedy, accurate autofocus.
What’s different here are the ergonomics. On the standard S7, the phone’s slim frame and slippery edges make it hard to hold on to when framing an odd-angle shot. But the Active’s grippy body frees me to compose scenes at the weirdest angles without worrying about dropping the device.
The Active’s photos are just as clear and rich as the rest of the GS7 line too. As with other recent Samsung handsets, the Active’s selfie camera takes clear portraits that look even better with the phone’s automatic beautifying tool.
Those pictures all looked brilliant on the Active’s crisp 5.1-inch quad HD AMOLED display, which boasts vibrant colors and deep blacks. Whether I was streaming the latest episode of my current Netflix binge (Criminal Minds, if you must know) or serving hundreds of plates of food in theCooking Dash 2016 game, the Active’s bright screen made it easy to enjoy the visuals, even under direct sunlight.
As you’d expect, thanks to that larger battery the Active lasts longer than both the S7 and S7 Edge. On a full charge, the Active conked out after an impressive five days of light use (some photo taking, downloading apps and Web browsing throughout the day). This extra stamina means you could go out for a hike or mountain-climbing expedition (whatever people with active lifestyles supposedly do) without worrying about being lost without a means of communication.
Unfortunately, the Active, which ships with Android Marshmallow, has the same heavy-handed TouchWiz skin as the rest of the GS7 lineup. What’s more, the device is littered with bloatware, thanks to Samsung’s tie-up with AT&T. By default you get a page filled up with the DirecTV widget, myAT&T app and a folder full of the carrier’s applications, along with a second page with Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store and Milk Music. Go into “all apps,” and you’ll see a folder for each company’s titles. You can’t uninstall any of these, but you can at least deactivate them.
If you can look past the software and are already itching to get the S7 Active, hang on. There’s one final caveat: The phone is an AT&T exclusive. So if you’re not on that carrier and are happy with your provider, you won’t be able to get it.
For those who do qualify — and have an appropriately outdoorsy lifestyle — the S7 Active is a solid phone, and there’s nothing quite like it on the market. Other rugged phones, such as the Cat S40 ($400) or the Kyocera DuraForce ($399), are either super bulky or have lousy performance, poor displays, lackluster cameras and older versions of Android. Phones that come close to offering flagship-caliber performance in a strong body include the LG V10 ($672) and the Droid Turbo 2 ($624), but neither is likely to survive a fall to the extent that the Active can.
Heck, at nearly $800, the S7 Active is one of the priciest phones on the market, period. If you don’t need a device that’s ready for multiple drops, the S7 or S7 Edge will be good enough. But for those who are more careless than most, the S7 Active is worth the investment.