I’ve made the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active on AT&T my daily driver for a month now to see how its durability and physical buttons handled the long term punishment without a case or trying to treat it nicely. Here are some observations.
AT&T’s Network: Let’s face it, AT&T’s network used to be a joke. I couldn’t even make a call or get email in New York City until 2010 or so. But in a few short years, they’ve managed to not only get their service working in the city but also to roll out LTE in more areas around New York City (in my experience) and elsewhere than even Verizon. Meanwhile Verizon, which used to be the gold standard, is now having issues keeping up with its customers and plans to implement data caps and restrictions. As for tethering on the S5 Active, I often forget I’m not on Fiber – it is that good. AT&T’s Android apps are still mostly a pass but so are the other carriers’.
Let’s Get Physical: The S5 Active is a Samsung phone, so it is plastic. Wait – before you hang up, this is a much more rugged and durable plastic than the regular S5 or any of its predecessors. It even has some “military-type” looks to it (below) with the camo back and the faux bolts. None of this will protect your phone or make it stronger, but it does somehow inspire some confidence, which thankfully, Samsung is able to back up.
The Active feels much more rigid than the regular S5. It is certainly thicker and has some more plastic around the edges. All of this helps out when the inevitable drops happen. Instead of cringing, like I normally do, it is more of just a pain to pick it up off the ground. Over the past month, I must have dropped the Active about 50 times. Cement, wood, street, sidewalk, and lots of times on my bathroom and kitchen tile. To date, I’ve got hardly a scratch on the device itself.
That’s not to say a faceplant on something hard wouldn’t shatter the display of the Active and a drop from a few flights up would likely crack the edges. But let’s face it, those scenarios are very “edge case”.
After a month, hardly a scratch
Also Physical: The Buttons. I’ve always wondered why more phones didn’t have physical navigation buttons. Not only can you navigate these buttons without looking, but you can also get a touch response when you’ve made a click. Haptic feedback hasn’t yet replaced the feedback from real buttons in my mind. The downside is that you can’t change the layout with software or include that space on the display. A worthy tradeoff in my opinion.
Water. Proof. How waterproof is the Active? I took the family to a waterslide park a few miles from the house and decided, against my own better judgement, to leave the Active in the pocket of my bathing suit for the day rather than stow it away in the locker or in the car as we normally do with our smartphones.
This was the breakthrough moment for me. All day I was able to use the phone as I would on a normal day.
Long line for the waterslide? Fire off a few emails and look at some dinner options for later.
Sitting in the wave pool waiting for my kids to get back from lunch? Check the temperature of my car and set it for later.
Rugged+ waterproof + industry leading specs change the game. Sure, you can dip a regular S5 or an Xperia Z in the water, but if it falls out of your pocket on the cement, you are screwed. You can put an iPhone in a huge Lifeproof case, but then it is in a huge case that you have to bring with you and put together based on the day.
I would have normally been without my phone all day, but it was a normal day of usage with the Active.
Still Samsung Touchwiz If you were expecting Samsung would improve their overlay for the rugged phone, you would be wrong. I won’t go into my dislike for Samsung’s overlay and how it ruins the experience, but if you can’t handle Samsung overlays, you are going to want to do some serious hacking into this one.
Wrap Up: This phone doesn’t have the best specs or the most features, though it does retain most of the industry-leader Samsung’s S5 platform. What it does do is take the fear out of having to protect your phone off your mind and spoils you for phones that can’t go with you everywhere, including the waterslide park.
I’m finding it hard to imagine moving from this phone to one that I can’t take anywhere or having to turn back on that part of the brain that worries about dropping the phone or getting it wet. Maybe I won’t.