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Galaxy S6 vs S6 Active: Is tougher better for Samsung?

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Galaxy S6 Active

We loved the Samsung Galaxy S6, but does adding an extra layer of toughness make the Galaxy S6 Active a better pick? Let's have a look.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 (and by extension the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge) is a beautiful phone packed to the gills with cutting-edge components. But in producing its best phone ever, Samsung has also made its most fragile and vulnerable.

What about those Samsung fans who liked the range for its robustness? Who derided Apple's iPhones for their delicate, scratch-prone, jewel-like nature?

What they need is a ruggedised version of the Galaxy S6, with much the same high-end specs in a more robust body. Which is just what they've received in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.

So how do these two S6 phones match up? Is tougher better, or are Samsung's newfound design smarts sorely missed?

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Design

Galaxy S6: Aluminium and Gorilla Glass 4, 6.8mm thick

Galaxy S6 Active: Drop-proof and shockproof plastic casing, IP68 and MIL-STD-810G certified

This is the key difference between these two phones. A different design is the whole point of the Galaxy S6 Active, and it dictates all of the phone's differences from the regular Galaxy S6.

Unfortunately, this means that the two phones find themselves at opposite ends of the desirability scale. The Galaxy S6 is one of the most attractive phones on the market, with its twin glass surfaces, sculpted aluminium alloy edges, and shimmering finish.

It's a first for Samsung, and we hope the company doesn't go back to its old ways.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S6 vs Galaxy S6 Edge

S6 close

But those old ways are kind of what the Galaxy S6 Active feels like at first. It's an ugly, bulky, plastic monstrosity of a phone, with a clunky physical control strip on the front and ugly screwed-together protective strips along the edges. It also has a really dodgy camo finish.

But there's method to Samsung's gaucheness, for where the Galaxy S6 is likely to pick up nicks and scrapes if you look at it funny, the Galaxy S6 Active is built to last.

It's IP68 certified, so it can survive 30 minutes submerged in 1.5m of water. It's also MIL-STD-810G certified, which means that it's resistant to salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock.

Another design addition is a handy extra shortcut button on the left edge of the S6 Active, which can be assigned to any commonly used tasks you like – one for a short press, another for a long press. Conversely, the Galaxy S6's excellent fingerprint sensor is nowhere to be seen.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S6 vs Note 4

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Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Screen

Galaxy S6: 5.1-inch, QHD '2K' Super AMOLED, 577ppi, 536 nits brightness

Galaxy S6 Active: 5.1-inch, QHD '2K' Super AMOLED, 577ppi, 536 nits brightness

The two screens are identical, and that's very good news indeed for the Galaxy S6 Active. Why? Because the Galaxy S6's 5.1-inch, 2560 x 1440-pixel QHD display is pretty much the best smartphone screen on the market.

It's sharp, yes, but the main advantage here is how bright the display is, and how accurate the colours are – and the latter isn't always a given with AMOLED technology.

There's absolutely no difference with the Galaxy S6 Active, which means that it too has arguably the best display of any smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Performance

Galaxy S6: Exynos 7420 64-bit octa-core, Mali T760 GPU, 3GB RAM

Galaxy S6 Active: Exynos 7420 64-bit octa-core, Mali T760 GPU, 3GB RAM

While we're talking about identical components, the Galaxy S6 Active has exactly the same custom Exynos 7420 CPU as its slick brother.

Like the display, this is a very good thing. Benchmarks show the Exynos 7420 to be pretty much the fastest smartphone chip on the market in many respects.

You also get 3GB of super-fast DDR4 RAM with both phones, which helps ensure smooth, fast operation when switching between apps.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S6 vs Galaxy S5

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Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Storage

Galaxy S6: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB, no microSD card support

Galaxy S6 Active: 32GB, no microSD card support

Here's a disappointment with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. We were hoping that it would correct the disappointment that some felt with the Galaxy S6 for not including a microSD slot. It hasn't.

What's worse, you only get the bare minimum of fixed storage here – 32GB. The Galaxy S6, meanwhile, offers a choice of three: 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB.

The Galaxy S6 Active isn't exactly lacking storage space, then, but it still feels a little restrictive, even next to its non-expandable sibling.

S6

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Software

Galaxy S6: Android Lollipop 5.0.2 with TouchWiz UI

Galaxy S6 Active: Android Lollipop 5.0.2 with TouchWiz UI

Here's another identical feature, and this one isn't a surprise at all. Both phones run on Android 5.0.1 with Samsung's custom TouchWiz UI layered on top.

We actually have much less of an issue with this latest version of TouchWiz. It's still not perfect, but it's got a lot less needless bloat to it, and it allows more of Google's sharp Android OS to seep through.

It could still stand to ease off on the custom tweaks, but the software on both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung galaxy S6 Active feels light and modern.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs iPhone 6

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Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Camera

Galaxy S6: 16-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front camera, single LED flash, optical image stabilisation

Galaxy S6 Active: 16-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front camera, single LED flash, optical image stabilisation

Alongside the display and processor, the camera is another welcome class-leading carry-over from the Samsung Galaxy S6.

This 16-megapixel snapper is one of the best around. It certainly gives the iPhone 6 Plus camera a run for its money.

With features such as OIS, auto HDR, a bright f/1.9 aperture lens, and Samsung's much improved camera UI, both of these phones take great pictures.

Talking of that UI, the new Pro mode here lets you tweak all of the key settings, granting full control over your snaps. However, even without this, the standard auto mode makes it simple to get great shots – even in low-light conditions.

S6 cam

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: Battery

Galaxy S6: 2550mAh non-removable battery, wireless charging

Galaxy S6 Active: 3500mAh non-removable battery

Besides its increased toughness, battery life is the biggest advantage the Galaxy S6 Active holds over the standard Galaxy S6.

At 3500mAh, the S6 Active's battery is almost 40% bigger than the S6's puny 2550mAh effort. This is a very good thing, as underwhelming stamina was one of the few major complaints of Samsung's current flagship phone.

How does this effect real-world usage? Samsung claims that the Galaxy S6 Active can manage 23 hours of 3G talk time, which is six hours more than the official Galaxy S6 figure. You also get 57 hours of music playback on the Active versus 49 on the Galaxy S6.

Quite a difference, then.

Early Verdict

We could have predicted that the Samsung Galaxy S6 would have been the more stylish phone before we saw the first pictures of the Galaxy S6 Active – after all, function over form is the name of the game with the Active range.

But we could scarcely have predicted such a massive difference. While the Galaxy S6 is the best-looking phone Samsung has even made – perhaps except for the Galaxy S6 Edge – the Galaxy S6 Active is arguably the ugliest.

Still, there's no denying its suitability for outdoor living. It's dust, water, and shock resistant in a way that the Galaxy S6 simply isn't.

Perhaps more impressively, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active has a vastly improved battery, so unlike its fancy brother it will last through a full day of intensive use.

Overall, we'd still go with the Galaxy S6 as the better phone for most people. It's simply nicer to use and easier to cart around on a day-to-day basis.

If your job or your leisure time is particularly physical, the Galaxy S6 makes surprisingly few compromises and is worthy of consideration.

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