Interface and Functionality



Samsung’s come a long way with its UX since the days of TouchWiz. The Samsung Experience, as it’s now called, first debuted on the Galaxy S8 six months ago upon its release, and since then we’ve settled in with the creature comforts that this affords. We like the overall aesthetic, iconography, and smoothness in the UI; things look good, and they move well.

While we admit the UI looks good, and zips along nicely, we tend to appreciate one particular feature the most: an effective and intuitive settings search. We know, just reading those words gets us all jazzed up too. It may not be the sexiest feature, but it may well be the biggest improvement Samsung offers over its competition and its own previous UIs. Unlike most other Android flavors, The Samsung Experience’s settings search can actually find all the settings related to the query you’ve entered. A search for “screen” returns any setting, or description of a setting, with the word “screen” in it. Results include the Always On Display, lockscreen settings, general display settings, and even a section for related settings, which are often times quite useful to jump to when you’re on a particular subject. We know this sounds small, but it’s not.

Android has long struggled with offering myriad features and deep customization while still keeping these options organized and accessible. Samsung has improved, and evolved in both. Not only does the settings layout look better, but the capable and intuitive search will bring you what you desire in a matter of taps. Unfortunately, this is a level of functionality lost on most other Android platforms, and is immeasurably useful to those who know what they’d like to change, but don’t want to search through every menu and sub-menu to change it. Want to tweak the Always On Display but don’t know if it’s in “Display” settings or “Lockscreen and Security”? Just type “Always” in the search bar and get right to where you need to go. No more hunting or menu memorization required.

Bixby and Activity Zone


Bixby’s also made some strides since its debut, which was also on the Galaxy S8. We’re now finally able to speak to Bixby via the dedicated button, doing so in a walkie-talkie-esque hold-the-button fashion, as opposed to other assistants which only require a single long-press (but then again, no other assistant has its own dedicated button.) You can also call up Bixby with the hot phrase “Hi Bixby” and use it to manipulate most any aspect of your device. We’re glad to finally have a more complete Bixby on the S8 Active since we (and everyone else) missed it at launch for the S8.

All works pretty well with Samsung’s assistant – sorry, butler – at last providing us with useful and mostly accurate control over the phone, just using our voice, as Samsung promised. You can of course tell Bixby to set an alarm or reminder, turn off Wi-Fi or another setting, or ask general information questions. Such commands have become status quo with voice assistants. But this button-beckoned-butler uses its tailored integration to the fullest, endeavoring to make using your phone as close to a hands-free experience as possible. While not perfect – in need of a bit of maturation and fine-tuning, especially with word recognition – Bixby gets pretty darn close, ultimately besting Google Assistant and Siri in the level of engagement between the assistant and the device running it.

For instance, you can say “Hi Bixby, open the voice recorder and start recording” or “Take a slo-mo video” and your phone will do exactly those things. The same goes for a number of third-party applications, as well. “Hi Bixby, search Yelp for a Mexican restaurant” is a great example of a useful query which is completed so quickly that you may never type another Yelp search again. You can also pretty much navigate the entire phone by just telling Bixby what to do. If you start by saying “Hi Bixby, turn on Wi-Fi calling” the butler will fetch the setup screen for Wi-Fi calling, which in this instance produces a disclaimer from AT&T with a “Next” arrow at the bottom. You can then simply say to Bixby, “Next” and it will proceed as though you tapped the Next arrow. We found this to be the case even if “next” wasn’t an option, but there was a screen to progress to. Otherwise, Bixby is accurately reading all clickable options on the screen, and will recognize your selection by voice, even if many options exist – an impressively well-integrated feature which can have a number of use-cases.

The biggest issue you’ll face with Bixby is it’s hearing problems. Speech recognition is probably the most inconsistent we’ve seen among voice assistants, which is a shame considering the potential it has. Teaching Bixby when it gets something wrong is easy and well executed, but it doesn’t learn right way. Unfortunately, it seems to be sending these corrections off to the labs for further processing. Better on-board learning and speech recognition is a must here in order for Bixby to thrive.

Something we missed from our S8 Active was the ability to make complex quick commands like those we saw on the Note 8. Quick commands bring another level of automation to your experience by triggering multiple actions based on a phrase of your choice. We looked forward to telling Bixby “Good Night” and watching Do Not Disturb and the Blue Light Filter enable, as an alarm is set at our pre-specified time – all in matter of seconds, with no further input from us beyond our initial quick command phrase. But, inexplicably, we could only create quick commands for one action per phrase on our S8 Active. As far as we could tell all software was up to date on our unit, unfortunately leading us to believe that Bixby’s experience will vary by model, even aside from model-specific features, like the S-Pen’s Bixby translate feature, for instance.

As many voice assistants are, Bixby is constantly improving and gaining new functionality, so we expect voice recognition to improve and third-party app integration to expand, hopefully sooner than later.

Bixby on the S8 Active also adds a card named Activity Zone to the assistant’s dashboard. Here you can get instant readings from a barometer and compass, as well as quick toggles for the flashlight and stop watch. Tapping the card opens Activity Zone’s full screen, which adds weather and Samsung Health to the suite of activity-oriented apps. Though the flashlight is somewhat unnecessary, since a quick toggle for this already exists in the notification center, we found the compass to be a useful addition. In general, we suppose it’s not a bad idea to have all these apps accessible from a single Bixby card, especially since it would appear that Bixby has stolen the hardware shortcut for Activity Zone which existed on the S7 Active, known simply as the Activity Button. Though reports of an update to disable the Bixby button on certain devices have been circulating, there’s no indication on the S8 Active that this button can be re-mapped to bring back the beloved Activity Button.

Processor and Memory


Being an AT&T exclusive (for now) the Active runs solely off the Snapdragon 835, whereas global variants of the regular S8 use Samsung’s Exynos chips. There’s usually very little difference in performance of the two anyway, but especially with the SD 835, you’re quite unlikely to long for more power. Add four gigs of RAM to the equation and you’re in for a treat. Just like the regular S8, navigation is smooth and prompt. Apps launch quickly and without issue, no matter how many tasks are open. We only sometimes encountered stutters or force closes when setting up Bixby initially, but as the day wore on, Bixby began to conform to the rest of the phone's blazing performance norms. No surprises here, as the same hardware setup in the original S8 delivers just the same kind of fluid, swift performance we originally witnessed in March.

AnTuTu Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 142667
Samsung Galaxy S8 166646.66
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 139915
LG G6 157208
Vellamo Metal Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 3074
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 3583
LG G6 3632.33
Vellamo Browser Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 6759
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 5152
LG G6 4733.33
JetStream Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 59.234
Samsung Galaxy S8 55.503
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 44.077
LG G6 57.368
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 53
Samsung Galaxy S8 60
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 52
LG G6 50
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 15.3
Samsung Galaxy S8 41
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 28
LG G6 14
Basemark OS II Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 2945
Samsung Galaxy S8 3201.66
Samsung Galaxy S7 Active 2411
LG G6 2122
Geekbench 4 single-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 1836
Samsung Galaxy S8 2008.33
LG G6 1797
Geekbench 4 multi-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 Active 6192
Samsung Galaxy S8 6575
LG G6 4285

Connectivity


As mentioned, this is an AT&T exclusive as of the time of this writing, so don’t expect full compatibility on any other network, but you do have LTE-A Pro Cat 16, which means that S8 Active is properly equipped to utilize gigabit LTE in the coming years. Otherwise, the Active has all the same standards as the regular S8, including Bluetooth 5.1, NFC/MST for mobile payments, and wireless charging.

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62 Comments

3. black.inco unregistered

It's a heavier phone than the normal S8? I mean......

13. Carlitos

Posts: 670; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

Lmaoo right, is it not its purpose? It's suppose to be rugged so being heavier that the regular s8 is a given. What kind of petty con is that?

21. black.inco unregistered

That's my thought exactly. That gave me a little laugh because I feel like the reviewer is a little sissy.

34. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1354; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

PA's Review system is flaw I am glad I was not they only one to see that. "its a heavier phone.." Duh!!11 as you stated it's a rugged version it has to have heft. So now being heavy is a con for a rugged model? I cant comprehend PA's reviews at all. There is no objectivity they need to establish a grading system that treats and grades all features and non features the same then they could be honest fair reviews. I mean you cant call one thing a "con" for one vendor but a "pro" for another vendor and vise versa.

60. LiveFaith

Posts: 475; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Good point. The next review will say "This phone is heavier than it's predecessor giving it that solid and premium feel". LOL. I personally prefer phones lighter the better. But, it's hilarious to me how reviewers come up with these arbitrary "quality" factors. Especially "premium" materials like aluminum and glass. Crap, has anyone every thought about how ancient both of those materials are for use on modern technology? Jewelry, well that's different.

26. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

Lg v30 has waterproofing and military grade certification without being active. I wonder if people are still purchasing active series.

33. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1061; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Yes because Samsung > LG.

61. LiveFaith

Posts: 475; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Gosh, I couldn't bear to have to carry around all that "active" if I didn't have to? LOL! Are you saying that offering LESS choices for customers is a better thing?

4. haruken

Posts: 306; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

'and viola' It's voilà. Might want to stick to english next time.

5. PhoneInQuestion

Posts: 496; Member since: Aug 20, 2017

I got to play with the S8 Active at a Sprint store (walking distance #notmycarrier), boy is it light but oh so satisfying. This is how a premium smartphone should feel.

10. Landon

Posts: 1245; Member since: May 07, 2015

This is music to my ears. Hopefully it will be coming to Verizon.

6. sissy246

Posts: 7120; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

My son just got the new active, can't wait for his thoughts on it. He has had every active.

7. dnomadic

Posts: 416; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I think you all should come with a standard scoring system... Have your customers, we that view your site daily to comment on the standard then finalize it. Standards that aren't skewed towards a Manufacturer and apply across the board... Rate each section then average the scores... The scores are applied with no methodology other than what I feel. I know it doesn't matter, but it concerns me....

11. ahmadkun

Posts: 591; Member since: May 02, 2016

IPHONE 8 GOT 9.2 LOL .. THIS IS REALLY FUNNY JOKE

19. dmomintz

Posts: 68; Member since: Jan 21, 2016

A little disappointing to see the battery life go down since my Active S6, but that screen and camera are unmatched, not to mention I can't not take my phone in the shower now lol (spoiled), so I would never get anything less than IP68. The very fact that iphones still run basically the same iOS from 2008 with a focus on emoticons (seriously apple smh) means they should never get rated better than an 8 out of 10 in my opinion, regardless of the design or build quality. There is just zero innovation and they are overpriced children's toys compared to this beauty. The Active is a real man's product with top notch quality, and hopefully the AT&T exclusivity ends soon so more people can see for themselves.

20. sleepypandaeyes

Posts: 375; Member since: Apr 12, 2015

Shocked a non samsung flagship received such a high score

40. g2a5b0e unregistered

I don't see how you can say it's not a flagship. That's literally exactly what it is. Don't let the "active" moniker confuse you.

24. LiveFaith

Posts: 475; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Wish my Note 8 came ruggedized like this. Great phone.

50. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

Simply grab this Beyond Cell trishield case and you're set: https://sck.pm/rN

62. LiveFaith

Posts: 475; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Dayadgum, that's a beast.

28. sleepypandaeyes

Posts: 375; Member since: Apr 12, 2015

design wise it looks really good. Ideal for those that want a flat screen S8 with big battery life.

31. gamehead unregistered

If it gets android oreo and a price reduction like the regular s8 count me interested

36. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

Over 100, no?

42. killer7D

Posts: 551; Member since: Sep 18, 2014

The backdated S8 active is better than the Note 8 ????????

54. kakudiego

Posts: 123; Member since: May 21, 2014

If the S8 has a 9, S8 Active deserve a 9.5

56. Modest_Moze

Posts: 184; Member since: Mar 23, 2015

IT IS HEAVIER THAN THE S8, HEAVIER THAN S8, HEAVIER THAN S8... Come on... LIKE IT OR NOT this is not a very good CON and LIKE IT OR NOT it is heavier, because it is RUGGED, RUGGED!!!!!!! RUGGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

63. LiveFaith

Posts: 475; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Heavier is baaad. Heavier on an iPhone is premium! :-D

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Galaxy S8 Active
  • Display 5.8" 1440 x 2960 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2350 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 4000 mAh(32h talk time)

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