Last April, Samsung, king of the Android castle, released its two latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and the flashy, curvaceous Galaxy S6 edge. I spent nearly two months with each device, and then I wrote an enterprise-oriented review. To sum up that evaluation in a single sentence, I really like the GS6 phones, but they are, or were at the time, plagued by a "glaring Achilles heel."
Samsung released a ruggedized version of the device in June, called the Galaxy S6 active, that addresses that Achilles impediment and improves upon my most significant gripes with the GS6 and GS6 edge, making the active an even better smartphone for business users -- with a few notable exceptions.
Here's a list of four things enterprises will appreciate about the GS6 active, as well as four things they won't.
What enterprises will love about the Samsung Galaxy S6 active
1) Galaxy S6 active is rugged, waterproof and built to last
The GS6 active is basically a GS6 enclosed in a water- and dust-resistant case. The gadget has an International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) protection rating of IP68, which means it offers "protection from contact with harmful dust" and is "protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter," according to CNET. These ratings aren't exactly perfect, and there's room for interpretation, but I soaked and dunked my GS6 active multiple times, and it came out unscathed. The device can easily stand up to a light rain or the occasional spill, which is probably all an average business user needs.
[Related: 6 things Samsung Galaxy S6 does that iPhone 6 can't]
Enterprises and mobile administrators will appreciate the fact that the GS6 active can stand withstand some serious abuse, and organizations that deploy GS6 actives won't have to replace as many phones due to drops or liquid damage. Samsung's Philip Berne, a technical marketing manager, says GS6 active user don't need cases for protection, either, so companies don't need to shell out additional cash for accessories to protect corporate devices. In fact, Samsung doesn't even make any GS6 active cases, according to Berne, though it makes them for the vast majority, if not all, of its other mobile devices. (Check out the video below to see how well the GS6 active fared in my drop tests.)
The active weighs 0.5 oz. more than the standard GS6, making it roughly 10 percent heavier. If you put a case and a screen protector on the original GS6, the difference in weight is minor. So while the ruggedized features add some bulk, they don't make the phone feel like a brick.
2) Galaxy S6 active packs impressive tech specs
All of the same high-end technical specifications found in the Galaxy S6 and GS6 edge are present in the active -- with one big exception, which I'll get to soon. The GS6 active even outshines its slimmer, trimmer brethren in a couple ways -- more on that coming up as well.
I won't get into all the specifics (check out my full review GS6 edge review for those) but the active packs a top-of-the-line Gorilla Glass, quad HD Super AMOLED display; a 16 MP rear camera; an octa-core processor; and it impresses in just about every other hardware category. The GS6 active runs Android 5.0, and it offers all of Samsung's KNOX security features. I also appreciate its built-in support for both the Qi and PMA wireless charging standards, which means you can charge using Samsung's Wireless Charge Pad, as well as a ton of other compatible accessories.
3) Galaxy S6 active's huge battery makes it last longer
Remember that Achilles heel I mentioned? For the GS6 edge, it comes in the form of poor battery life.
The ruggedized version of Samsung's GS6 packs a fixed, 3,500mAh battery that can store 37 percent more power than the standard GS6's 2,600mAh battery. The GS6 active doesn't have any features that would cause it to drain battery life faster than the standard GS6, according to Samsung's Berne, so that bigger battery means significantly longer life for the active.
[Related: Galaxy S6 designer says GS6 phones are 'new face of Samsung']
The battery is not removable or user replaceable, and that is unfortunate. Samsung used removable batteries in its Galaxy S phones in the past, and replaceable batteries can be particularly helpful to frequent travelers. The massive battery is a welcome addition, though. Business users who are always on the go know just how important a long-lasting phone can be, and the Galaxy S6 active does not disappoint on that front.
4) Galaxy S6 active's customizable 'convenience key'
Not that long ago, many popular smartphones had "convenience keys" used to trigger any function or app. Frankly, I miss the trusty convenience key, so I was pleased to learn that the GS6 active has a customizable "Active button" on its side. The key is unique to the device; it's not on either of the other GS6s.
You can set the Active button to trigger two different functions. For example, by default a quick tap of the key brings up the "Activity Zone, which offers weather information, a barometer, compass and other outdoor related services. And if you hold the button down for a second or more, it launches Samsung's Music app. However, if you don't care about the Activity Zone or Music app and want quick access to your camera and Evernote notes, you can simply map the Active key to these specific apps in the device settings. It's a valuable feature that should be appreciated by business users and consumers.
What enterprises might hate about the Galaxy S6 active
1) No fingerprint reader for Galaxy S6 active
Both the standard GS6 and GS6 edge have fingerprint scanners built into their home buttons that can be used for user authentication. Unfortunately, the GS6 active lacks such a scanner.
In addition to unlocking your phone, you can use the GS6 finger scanner to access KNOX containers (which separate and protect work and personal data) and authenticate purchases in the PayPal app. Samsung plans to roll out its mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, "this summer," and GS6 users will be able to authorize purchases with their fingerprints. GS6 active owners will still be able to make purchases with Samsung Pay, according to Berne, but they'll have to enter a PIN code.
[Related: 4 things iPhone 6 does that Samsung Galaxy S6 can't]
The lack of a fingerprint reader is close to a deal-breaker for me, because I love using a long, strong passcode but hate having to manually enter it. The thought of typing a password every time I want access to my phone seems so ... 2012. And I'm sure I'm not the only business user who feels that way.
2) Galaxy S6 active is available only on AT&T
AT&T is the only wireless carrier in the world that currently offers the Galaxy S6 active, and Samsung's Berne says he doesn't know of any other carriers that plan to sell it. So if your company is on another carrier and you don't want to switch or purchase a set of devices at full price for your staff and unlock them, you're out of luck. The same is true if your company is located outside of the United States.
3) Galaxy S6 active won't win any beauty contests
The standard GS6 and GS6 edge are gorgeous. They have lots of curves, sweeping lines and they're made of glass, metal and other reflective materials. The Galaxy S6 is, well, kind of ... ugly. It's boxy and boring, and it's made mostly of plastic. Two extra "physical" buttons on the home screen, in place of the standard GS6's on-screen app-switch and return keys, make the active look a bit outdated. The extra bulk also makes the device feel significantly longer and wider than the other GS6s.
And that camouflage rear cover. (Oh, the camo, the camo.) The active is available in three colors: camo blue, camo white and plain ol' gray. If you're a fan of camouflage accessories, power to you. Unfortunately, the camo GS6 active just isn't very professional, and as such the blue and white options will probably seem out of place in the average boardroom.
All of that said, enterprises rarely prioritize form over function, and Samsung was at least wise enough to offer a boring gray option with no camo.
4) Galaxy S6 active has only 32GB of storage
If you or your staff needs more than 32GB of on-board storage, the Galaxy S6 active isn't an option -- it's available only in a 32GB version, and it doesn't have a memory card slot for expandable storage. The standard GS6 and GS6 edge are available with three storage configurations: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. Samsung's Berne didn't offer details on why the active only has 32GB of storage, but he did say wireless carriers often dictate the storage options available for the specific devices and models they sell. Regardless of it whether it was a Samsung or AT&T decision, business users who want or need more storage will not appreciate the GS6 active's lack of options.
Is the Samsung Galaxy S6 active right for you?
The rugged GS6 active is designed for a very specific type of user: The outdoors, active type who regularly puts more wear and tear on their mobile device than the average smartphone can take. The reality, though, is that everybody drops their phones on occasion, and the active is a great option for lots of people and organizations, including businesses that want to reduce costs associated with replacing busted phones.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.