Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review

Ricky Villacrez, 18 November 2017.

Android Nougat with Samsung Experience UI

The S8 Active comes with the same UI as the standard model. The main difference with the Active model is the slightly different Bixby Interface, one which includes a view of the Active-exclusive Activity Zone app, we'll cover this further down the page. To be clear, the Galaxy S8 Active's UI could apply to any other Galaxy S8 model.

Samsung has done lots of refining and tidying up with its new Samsung Experience UI (as it's no longer called TouchWiz) starting with the look and feel of the home launcher. There's a large weather widget that takes up the launcher's home page. Swipe left to access Bixby Home and swipe up or down to access the app drawer, pretty straight forward.

The app drawer is well organized at first glance. AT&T's apps have their own folder, Google has one, and Samsung has the last one. This condensed appearance of apps is the cleanest and least overwhelming that we've seen on a Samsung device.

Home screen - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Bixby - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review App Drawer - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Drawer settings - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Finder search - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Home screen • Bixby • App Drawer • Drawer settings • Finder search

Tap-holding an empty area in the homescreen gives you access to themes, widgets, and Home screen settings. Here, you can change how many apps are arranged on the home screens and app drawer and you can bring the app drawer button back. You can also get rid of the app drawer altogether.

Launcher options - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Home screen settings - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Grid sizes - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Launcher options • Home screen settings • Grid sizes

Show drawer button - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Hide drawer button - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Show drawer - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Hide drawer - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Show drawer button • Hide drawer button • Show drawer • Hide drawer

Use the search bar within the app drawer to find apps, contacts, photos, documents, downloads, music, or notes. This search bar uses the "Finder" to find what you're looking for. For Google Searches, you can use the search bar widget in the home screen.

Samsung's offers plenty of themes, wallpapers, and icon packs. It even offers themes for its Always-On Display, which is enabled by default.

Wallpapers - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Themes - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Icons - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review AOD themes - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Wallpapers • Themes • Icons • AOD themes

The Always-On Display has plenty of options for you to play with to get it to your liking. There are a few styles to choose from and you can tweak each of their appearances to your liking.

AOD Settings - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Editing an AOD style - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Editing an AOD style - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Editing an AOD style - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
AOD Settings • Editing an AOD style

Samsung's AOD can be also be scheduled so it only shows while you're at work or so that it's not showing while you're asleep.

AOD Schedule - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
AOD Schedule

By the way, if you're wondering why the back button is to the right of the home button on any Samsung device, it's because it has had it that way back when the menu button was an integral part of Android's navigation keys, which was always to the left of the home button. The menu button was replaced with the recent-apps button as of the Galaxy S5.

Later, when Samsung switched to on-screen keys with the Galaxy S8, it kept the same layout that its customers have been used to for years. Samsung now offers the option to switch the position of the Back and Recent Apps keys so that they are in the order that Android has intended since Ice Cream Sandwich launched on the Galaxy Nexus.

Navigation bar - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Back and Recents Swapped - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Navigation bar • Back and Recents Swapped

If you're wondering what that dot is on the left-most side of the navigation bar, it's an optional feature that lets you show or hide the navigation bar so you can take advantage of the full length of the display. To access the navigation bar again, swipe up from the bottom of the display.

Nav Bar button enabled - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Pressing it hides the Nav Bar - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Nav Bar hidden - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Nav Bar button enabled • Pressing it hides the Nav Bar • Nav Bar hidden

The Recent Apps button offers a few functions. For starters, pressing it will show you your recent apps. There's a "CLOSE ALL" button that'll terminate all app instances.

Recent Apps - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Recent Apps settings - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Recent Apps • Recent Apps settings

You can also head to the Recent Apps settings to see what else you can do. Pop-out window puts supported apps in a floating window which you can use in front of other apps. Meanwhile, Multi-Window can be started by press-holding the Recent Apps key.

Pop-out window - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Multi-window - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Multi-window - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Multi-window - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Pop-out window • Multi-window

Bringing it back to the lock screen, a large time widget adorns the top with the remaining area reserved for incoming notifications. Opening notifications on a Samsung device is different from the standard Android rules: tap the notification first, then swipe up to unlock. We imagine the reason for this is to prevent pocket replies, particularly with those apps that force the screen to come on with every notification.

Lock screen & Lock screen notifications - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Lock screen & Lock screen notifications - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Lock screen & Lock screen notifications

There is a shortcut in each lower corner of the lock screen. Swipe up from the icon to easily access the app. Customize these to your liking, or you can disable them altogether. The default shortcuts are Phone from the left and Camera from the right. As a reminder, you can also double-press the power key to quickly launch the Camera.

Screen Lock - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Quick Launch - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Screen Lock • Quick Launch

The notification shade has six Quick Toggles at the top and the notifications trail underneath. Pull the notification shade again and you'll find more toggles. A brightness slider makes its appearance here but if you'd like to see it more often, you can enable the option to "Show control on top" which will move the brightness slider to appear right above your notification panel.

Notification shade - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Quick toggles - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Brightness settings - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Brightness above notifications - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Notification shade • Quick toggles • Brightness settings • Brightness above notifications

Reply to messages quickly from the lock screen or anywhere you can open the notification shade.

Quick Reply - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Quick Reply

There are several ways to secure the Galaxy S8 Active. There are the usual screen lock options like pattern, password, and PIN. However, there are three more unlock methods: Face, Fingerprints, and Iris. Note that you can't use Face and Iris at the same time, you can, however, combine either one with the fingerprint unlock method.

Iris scanner works as advertised, but the angle and distance that the phone needs to see your eyes is very specific. Situations with lots of sunlight may render the features unusable. Also, if you wear glasses, the phone may not pick up your irises with smudges on them. We were able to use Iris unlock well in lowly-lit environments.

Iris authentication setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Iris authentication setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Iris authentication setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Iris authentication setup

Face Unlock works differently. While it is quicker and works in more conditions, there are proven ways to fool it. This shouldn't be a problem if your sole purpose of having a screen lock is to keep strangers out in the event the phone is lost.

Face scanning setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Face scanning setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Face scanning setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Face scanning setup

Of course there's the old fingerprint scanner. Which immediately unlocks the phone, bypassing your lock screen. We don't like how close it is to the camera, but that debate has since been put to rest.

Fingerprint setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review Fingerprint setup - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Fingerprint setup

You can also enable gestures on the fingerprint scanner, though it's limited to pulling the notification shade and/or used as a shortcut to launch Samsung Pay.

Fingerprint sensor gestures - Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review
Fingerprint sensor gestures

Samsung's UI is filled with color and visually striking animations (some more subtle than others). Even though it doesn't look like it on the surface, Samsung has packed a lot of features into this version of the Samsung Experience UI. Between the multitude of unlock methods, extended theming options, and extensive menus and options to play with, it'll satisfy any tinkerer.

But Samsung's UI also keeps things fairly simple for those who don't like to get lost in the options menus.

Reader comments

I do think that Samsung stopped making Galaxy Active phones because of the XCover lineup.

  • E

I love this phone. I would be looking to upgrade, but they stopped making the active. It's the best phone they've ever made. I've dropped it down stairs and into rivers and it is still running strong. I will keep it until I can find a ...

  • Brad

Love this phone, had it 3 years work in construction and stands up to its reputation, its worth every penny thanks s8 Active