Model shares much with the baseline release, but loses fingerprint scanner in lieu of hardware buttons

Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) Galaxy S6 (GS6) was the most anticipated spring Android flagship phone launch and it remains the hottest smartphone as we head into the summer months.  Its strong sales are matched by a dramatic customer enthusiasm, a major turnaround from the rather tepid reception the Galaxy S5 received.

Now Samsung has marched out another tweaked design to go along with the baseline model and the curved "GS6 Edge" variant.  As with past Galaxy generations, the GS6 now has an "Active" branded variant.

The overall hardware is almost identical to the mainstream model.  The same Super AMOLED 5.1-inch quad high definition (QHD) (2,560 x 1,440 pixel, aka "2K") display is still onboard.  Likewise the brains of the device is also identical -- 14 nm Exynos 7420 octacore chip manufactured and designed in house using ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 64-bit (ARMv8A) intellectual property cores (IP cores).

The memory (3 GB of LPDDR4 DRAM), storage (32 GB NAND flash), cameras (rear: 16 megapixel (MP) w/ dual-LED flash; front: 5 MP), and cellular modem (LTE Cat. 6, HSPA+/3G fallback) also remain unchanged.  (Note, Samsung also makes all these components in-house, with the exception of certain chips in the cellular signalling chain.)  The phone still uses nanoSIM and features the same 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi support.  Also still onboard is support for GPS, Bluetooth v4.1, NFC, and various other common wireless protocols.

The differences begin with the body.  Samsung has swapped out the back glass face and slender metal sides, wrapping the entire back in what looks to be a very robust metal frame.  The frame is interesting in that metal rivets are visible affixing side flaps to the metal backface.  Hopefully someone (iFixit?) will do a teardown and try to assess whether this is merely an aesthetic decision or one that offers some mechanical improvements as well.
Samsung GS6 Active

Either way, this phone's body appears more robust than your average GS6 (which is no slouch itself compared to metal backed ultrathins, such as the Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPhone 6+, which are more prone to bending).  And while it's bulkier, it's also visually striking, continuing Samsung's recent turnaround on the design front.  Many felt that the GS5 Active was actually better looking than the baseline GS5, with a metal body.  Comparing the two generations, there's definite similarities, but the look has also evolved somewhat since the last Active edition.

Samsung GS6 Active

The body is available in at least three colors:
  • grey
  • camo white
  • camo blue 
The only bad news is that the fingerprint sensor -- which most reviewers agreed was sublime, better than even Apple's perhaps -- appears to be dropped, in favor of more robust mechanical buttons.

The good news is that the dust and water resitance rating has been upped to IP68, versus the GS5 Active's rating of IP67.  In the world of rugged smartphones, IP67 ratings are the norm, while an IP68 rating is something more unusual and interesting to see.  The key difference is that IP67 ensures the phone will survive up to 30 minutes in water 1 meter (~3 ft.) deep or less.  IP68, ensures that for the same period the phone will survive at up to 1.5 meter (~4.5 ft.).

While that may seem like a small difference it's technically challenging to pull off and does confer some real world advantages.  Namely, while the GS5 Active was suitable for use during heavy precipitation (during runs, bikes, etc.), swimming with it was a bit iffy, given the depth requirements.  When actively swimming the average person's won't be deep enough to hit the depth limit, but if you're taking breaks or playing water sports (say aerobics or water polo), the GS5 might hit the wall depth wise where the GS6 should be ready for action.
Samsung GS6 Active Trio
The phone also is rated at U.S. Mil-STD-810G [PDF], the same as the GS5.  That rating covers a grab-bag of salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock.  The phone is reportedly resistant to damage from drops of up to ~1.3 meters (4 ft.).

One final hardware perk is the battery, which grows from 9.81Wh (baseline)/10.01Wh (Edge) to 13.48Wh in the Active.  That's a 3500 mAh battery versus the standard 2550 mAh one onboard the GS6 (baseline) -- an increase of roughly a raw power storage increase of roughly one-third.

Rounding out the feature set is a somewhat tweaked software profile with a new "Activity Zone" app collection, which pulls together common sports apps such as the flashlight, stopwatch, compass, and more into one easy to access bin.

Aside from the exclusion of the fingerprint sensor, the only other potential downside is that the phone appears slated to be available exclusively from AT&T, Inc. (T) in the U.S. at launch.  AT&T was actually the one to unveil the device (Samsung's general mobile website has no announcement yet).  The rugged smartphone will be available this Friday (June 12).

For next subscribers the full retail cost will be $695 USD ($10 USD more than the GS6 baseline model), a price that's broken up into different payment sizes based on the upgrade cycle and credit score of the AT&T Next subscriber.  Contract pricing was not disclosed, but should be available shortly.

Samsung also announced in recent weeks a very limited edition "Iron Man" GS6 model, produced in conjuction with Marvel Comics parent, the Walt Disney Comp. (DIS).  So far there's not plans to release that attractive, but very expensive model, which is retailing at prices of well over $1,000 USD in South Korea and China.  By contrast, in spite of its AT&T exclusivity the GS6 Active is a mass market special edition available almost immediately to customers in the U.S.

Source: AT&T

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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