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Here’s my Samsung Galaxy S5 Active review. Since I’ve already reviewing the GS5 and *spoiler alert* it’s basically the GS5 with more plastic on it. I’m not going to go as in-depth with the Active. It’s more a comparison of the Active with the regular GS5. Since the GS5 Active is the “Active”, does that make the regular GS5 the “Galaxy S5 Couch Potato”?.

What about the Samsung Galaxy S5?

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The Active is the ruggedized version of the GS5. Make sure you check out our GS5 review.

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If it were a car, you could think of it as an off-road version of an existing car.

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It’s been raised, has taller tires, 4 wheel drive and thicker, more rugged looking plastic on the body.

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While you can’t put taller tires and 4wd on a GS5 (not really anyways), the Active is clad with more plastic.

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The corners have been reinforced with extra padding plus their more rounded. This helps to dissipate energy when you drop it and it lands on a corner but it also makes it a little thicker and increases the GS5 Active’s footprint albeit only slightly.

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I like how there is a lip that extends around the screen which makes the screen slightly recessed. That should help protect the screen when you drop it accidentally.

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On the back, the battery cover has been reinforced with beefier latches which makes it harder to remove.

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It's also smaller and doesn’t extend to the edges. These changes make the cover less likely to fly off when you drop it.

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The cover on the charger has a deeper, gasket. It’s easier to pull off compared to the GS5’s because the part where you stick your fingernail in to pop it out is on the top and bottom instead of on the side.

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In front, the menu buttons are all actual physical buttons which you can press.

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You also get an extra button on the left side of the phone which you can map to your favorite application. It can differentiate between short and long presses. By default, short pressing it brings up Samsung’s Activity Zone app while a long press launches the push-to-talk app.

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I also noticed the finishes on the phone are hardier and aren’t glossy so that they’re more resistant to scratches.

When you squeeze and twist the Active you’ll find that it flexes less too so it appears to have a reinforced frame.

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The amount of padding and bracing seems to be a trade off between making the Active more durable without making it too heavy and bulky - it is unquestionably going to be more durable than a regular GS5 but it’s not as idiot proof as a Sonim XP7.

It probably won’t show as much damage like a GS5 would when you drop it but it will likely show some.

You gain a lot of ruggedness but do you have to give up anything?

Most noticeably, you give up the fingerprint reader. As a GS5 owner I can honestly say that the fingerprint reader is a great feature. While it’s not as convenient to use as Apple’s TouchID, it’s still easy enough to use.

You also lose the GS5’s USB 3.0 port but from my experience, this is actually a good thing. I’ve noticed that the GS5/Note 3’s USB 3.0 port isn’t really any faster than a good USB 2.0 port (like the HTC One M8 or Note 4) plus a USB 3.0 port is harder to plug in at night.

Other then that, I don’t see much difference between the 2 phones.

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The added padding doesn’t really change how you use the GS5 Active. In fact, I’d argue that the extra thickness and rougher surfaces makes it a little easier to hold and use since the regular GS5 is a bit thin for my taste.

Otherwise, the screen appears to be identical as is the camera, battery, processor, etc.

I suppose as the flagship device, the GS5 might receive firmware updates for a longer period of time but that is purely speculation. Consider this, 2.5 years ago Samsung brought out the Galaxy S III. At around the same time they also brought out the Galaxy Rugby LTE which was similar to the S III. The GSIII is currently running Android 4.4 while the Rugby LTE only has 4.0. Then again, compared to the Rugby LTE, the Active is not as rugged and I think of it as being more of a mainstream device so the chances of it receiving updates is greater.

As far as pricing goes, the Active is $250 on a 2 year contract on all 3 carriers. The off-contract pricing is $700 on Bell, $730 on Rogers and $750 on TELUS.

On contract, the regular GS5 is $200 and is sometimes discounted.

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In the US, both have been on the market for about the same amount of time and while on AT&T the Active costs $10 more than the regular, they both cost the same on contract.

What about the rest of the market?

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any devices which complete with the GS5 Active. While there are many Android flagships, most of them aren’t water resistant and ruggedized.

Sony’s Xperia Z2/Z3 sport comparable specs and are water resistant but they’re not rugged and probably won’t handle drops as well as the Active can.

Spec-wise, the Active’s performance is comparable to other flagships.

While the Note 4 has a newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, isn’t not much faster than the GS5.

You only get 2GB of RAM with the GS5 but really, right now 2GB is still plenty and I doubt many people will notice the difference between that and the 3GB you get with the Note 4, OnePlus One, and Xperia Z2/Z3.

The GS5’s display looks great but the one on the Note 4 and iPhone 6/6 Plus look better. The iPhone’s also are also much better outdoors.

As far as the camera goes the GS5’s is very good but like the display, it’s not as good as the Note 4 and iPhone’s.

While I think the GS5’s battery life is good enough to last most people the day, some power users may find that it can only make it from 9-5 and no more. Phones like the OnePlus One and iPhone 6 Plus have superior battery life.

Conclusion:

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Is the Active worth $50 more than the regular version? I think it is, but I also think that if you had to choose between the 2 of them there’s no wrong answer. Each has their their merits - the extra $50 buys you peace of mind because the Active is less likely to be damaged when you drop it. Then again, since the regular GS5 is also water resistant so you could add some padding just by buying a case. Of course, if you go that route, the case will probably make the GS5 bigger than a GS5 Active.

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In fact, if you’re looking to buy on contract, the Active’s toughness makes it an interesting alternative to the rest of the market.

However, if you’re trying to protect your wireless plan and thinking of paying full price for one of them, you should take a look at the OnePlus One. It costs around $480 after taxes and shipping. A GS5/GS5 Active is $700 + tax or $791 in Ontario.

While the OnePlus isn’t water resistant and more difficult to procure, doesn’t come with a removable battery and has no removable storage, has an inferior display and a worse camera, it does receive updates in a more timely manner plus, has 3GB of RAM, has superior battery life plus you can get it with 64GB of storage.

Pros:
  • tougher than regular GS5
  • off-contract pricing is identical to GS5
  • nice camera
  • nice display
  • tough
  • water resistant


Cons:
  • no fingerprint reader
  • only 16GB of storage