The Galaxy S6 Active (far right) is larger in size than the iPhone 5S (left) and iPhone 6. Photos by Rachel Coward

We all have those friends who manage to drop their new phone on pavement or in the toilet shortly after purchasing it. The standard solution: Get the phone fixed or replaced, and then purchase a bulky case to keep the expensive investment safe moving forward. These days, clumsy owners have the option to be proactive by purchasing a phone that is rugged enough for an active lifestyle from the get-go. Admittedly, I’m an Apple fanboy, but I still was excited at the opportunity to spend some time with two of those phones, both of which are available on an AT&T plan.


Front and back of Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active

As this phone booted, the 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display impressed me immediately. It’s bright, crisp, and looks great from all viewing angles. Additionally, the screen is adaptive, so it adjusts its brightness and contrast levels based on the environment. A 16 megapixel rear-facing camera and 5 megapixel front-facing camera complement the screen, and both cameras take excellent photos.

The Galaxy S6 Active sports a Xynos 7420 Octa-core 64-bit processor with 3GB of RAM, making it very responsive and snappy. The S6 Active ships with 32GB of internal storage, which unfortunately is not expandable. On the plus side, 32GB is often plenty to hold your apps, music, photos, and movies. The non-removable 3500 mAh battery charges from 0 to 50 percent in about 40 minutes.

The S6 Active ships with Android Lollipop operating system that utilizes Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. One unusual feature of the device is the “active key,” located on the right side of the phone near the top, just above the volume buttons. It is a customizable shortcut button that can take you to two different apps or actions based on the length of the press. By default, a quick press is set to take you to the “activity zone” app, which gives you information such as the weather, barometer, compass, and stopwatch. A long press takes you to the camera app.

One of the Active’s primary selling points is that it is both dustproof and water-resistant (4.9 feet for up to 30 minutes), so if you accidentally take it for a swim, you won’t need to panic and leave it in a bag of rice for a few days. The rugged, rubberized body also makes the phone resistant to damage from drops, meaning if you drop it from your Subaru’s roof while loading up your kayaks, it’s likely that it will fare much better than most other phones.


Front and back of Sonim XP5.

Sonim XP5

My wife’s first reaction when she saw the Sonim XP5: “Why are you reviewing a phone from 2005?” Nonetheless, I was cautiously optimistic that the past 10 years of smartphone technology would have spilled over a bit into the less-smart phones. After using the XP5 for a weekend, I can say that some of the inner workings of smartphones have spread into the guts of this phone, but largely, it still feels like my Nokia from 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean this phone doesn’t have its purpose. The XP5 is not intended to be for the Average Joe. It’s meant for those who use their phones in physically demanding occupations. It would be perfect for a construction contractor, for example, or public safety officials and mountain guides — those who need a phone to withstand drops, dirt, grime, dust, water, and everything in between. One of the key features of the XP5 is AT&T’s enhanced Push-to-Talk service, which allows easy one-to-one communication with the simple press of a large button on the left side of the phone. The PTT button is a lot easier than navigating a touch screen for those wearing bulky gloves on the job.

The XP5 is a purpose-built phone — it’s dustproof, waterproof in up to 6.5 feet of water for 30 minutes, and resistant to drops of up to 4 feet. It might look like it came out of a time machine, but the XP5 has a 2.4-inch display made with Corning Gorilla Glass, the same glass used on the iPhone 6, Galaxy S6 Active, and many other smartphones. On that note, the XP5 is equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM, specs comparable to those of some smartphones released in the last year. The XP5 also comes with 4GB of internal storage space, expandable to 64GB via microSD card. It has a 5MP camera with LED flash, Bluetooth, USB tethering, mobile hotspot, FM radio, HD video, and many other features that are standard to smartphones.

The XP5 is a pretty snappy phone. The feeling of a physical keypad is something I haven’t experienced in a long time, and bearing in mind the intended usage of this phone, it would be the perfect phone for the right person. It also would make a good object to play “hot potato” with. Just don’t get your hopes up about games — there’s no app store, and it doesn’t come with “Snake” (yes, I was disappointed, too). But the reality is that this phone isn’t for playing games or texting, it’s for efficiently communicating in rugged situations, and it serves that purpose well.