Shocking News! Or at least shock-proof…



The Galaxy S5 Active is now available. Not only dustproof and water-resistant like the standard S5, the Active is also shockproof, and can safely be dropped from 4 feet (120 cm) onto a flat surface!

I had written a series of blog posts earlier about smartphones becoming more rugged these days. I was focusing on the water-resistant aspect at first, as I thought (and still think) it likely to be the more ubiquitous aspect of ruggedness in the near term: it doesn’t seem to cost much, and the phones look the same as regular smartphones. I still expect to see more than half of all smartphones be water-resistant by Q4 2015, but the Samsung Active launch gives me a chance to look at the shock-proof angle too.

As you may remember from the first post in my series, there are two relevant ruggedness standards. IP67/68 cover dust and water-resistance, but there is a military standard called US Mil-STD-810G, which covers shock-proofing, and which Samsung says their new device complies. More specifically, I assume they are referring to Test Method 516.6, which is: “The floor of the drop zone is two inches of plywood over concrete, which was determined to be the most common surface a device was likely to land on. Testers drop the device from a height of 4 feet on each of its six faces, 12 edges and eight corners, for a total of 26 drops. They visually inspect for damage and determine whether it still works after each drop.”

Cool. Given the number of cracked screens I see out there, this sounds like a great feature for a phone. But it must have a cost, and the phone probably looks like a tank, right?

[Before I address those points, I should pre-empt the obvious question: there have been lots of other shock-proof phones – why am I talking about this one? I am not trying to promote or endorse Samsung, but the S4 was the 3rd best-selling smartphone worldwide in Feb 2014, and apparently the S5 is selling even better in the month following its launch than the S4 did. Plus, unlike many other rugged smartphones, the Active isn’t a unique device, but is a virtual duplicate of the normal S5, so I can compare and contrast the two phones more precisely. And the reason I am only talking about the AT&T offer is that they have an exclusive on the phone for the US. Also worth noting that the most significant hardware difference between the two phones is the Active does not have the fingerprint sensor that the standard S5 has.]

That’s gotta cost a lot!

As always in North America, you have to look at this as more than one number.

  1. If you buy the phone on contract, either the Galaxy S5 Active (S5A) or the regular S5 costs US$199.99. [All amounts that follow are in US$]
  2. If you buy it off contract, the Active is $714.99, and the S5 is $649.99, for a $65.00 premium.
  3. If you buy it with what is called AT&T NEXT 12 installment plan, the S5A is $35.75 per month for 20 months (zero down and you can upgrade after 12 months) while the S5 is $32.50 for 20 months. Still a $65 premium over the term of the installment.
  4. If you opt for the NEXT 18 installment plan, the S5A is $27.50 for 26 months versus $25 per month for the same 26 months for the Galaxy S5. Yet, again a $65 premium.

I have two observations. First, why is the on contract price identical for the both phones, but there is a consistent premium for the Active on the other plans? I don’t know the answer to that, and would be curious as to the rationale. Second, that $65 premium is almost certainly going to narrow over time for shock-proof phones. For now, I can see it: buying a case for the S5 that offers slightly better drop protection (6 feet instead of 4 feet) costs nearly $90. But over time, there’s no way there is an extra $30 of cost in making the phone shockproof, so I would expect to see some manufacturers start offering drop-resistant phones at price parity with the standard model.

But what happened to my slim elegant phone?

My original line about the S5 Active looking like a tank was only partly a joke: one of the colours available is camouflage!


[Yes, that was me rolling my eyes.] But aside from that option, these phones ARE bigger than the regular S5. How much bigger?

The S5A is about a tenth of an inch taller, and about a thirtieth of an inch wider and thicker. [3 mm taller and 1 and 0.7 mm wider and thicker.] Different people care differently about the feel of these devices, so those extra dimensions will matter to some, and probably be irrelevant to others. The total volume of the phone is about 13% bigger for the Active, which is exceeded by the weight gain: at 6 ounces, the Active weighs over 20% more than the standard S5, and more than 50% more than the iPhone 5S. Still…a couple of ounces really isn’t that much.

The size and weight issues will undoubtedly deter some potential buyers. Making your phone more rugged with an after-market case ends up with a device that is slightly bigger and heavier, but I guess some people probably would like the flexibility: use your smartphone “naked” in the office, but put on the case when you take it out hiking kind of thing.

It will be interesting to see how well the Active sells, both in the US and globally. Over time, will even 10% of all Galaxy S5 sales be the rugged version?


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