The Galaxy S8 Active costs more than the S8 for what is essentially a built-in case and screen protector, but not one of your own choosing. An S8-and-case combo would save you money and let you buy a case that works for you.
And then the S8 Active's truly all-day battery swoops in and saves the day. It lasted an average of 24 hours after five looping video drain tests, in airplane mode with the brightness set to 50 percent. In contrast, the Galaxy S8 lasted about 16 hours in our lab tests. In real life testing the phone gamely marched along, retaining power reserves after bedtime even after we'd streamed YouTube videos and navigated using Maps -- two of the most resource-taxing activities you can do on a phone.
The Active costs more than the regular S8 -- $100 more on US carrier AT&T -- so if you're willing to pony up extra cash to avoid topping off your phone's power quite as often as you would with the S8, then the S8 Active is a good choice. It's got all the Galaxy S8's top-notch features, and a sturdier screen and body, too.
If that battery delta isn't all that important to you, then who is the S8 Active really for? It does have a more rugged/sporty/outdoorsy aesthetic, and can appeal to people who don't want to worry about getting their phones messy or wet.
That said, Samsung has stripped the Galaxy S8 Active of a few past "Active" features, like those physical home buttons, that could make it feel like a truly different phone. And remember the Galaxy S8,and are all already water-resistant.
My advice: If you're fine charging the S8's battery more often, the S8 Active offers a lot less this year to make it stand out from the S8. A case from brands like Ballistic and OtterBox can protect the Galaxy S8 from most drops just as well. I know, because I tested both phones side by side; I used a Spigen Tough Armor case on the regular S8.
We'll cover my drop test results later. But first, here's how the S8 Active diverges from the Galaxy S8 and previous Active phones.
No more nav buttons or convenience key
The S8 Active has a thick metal-and-plastic body of past phones in the Active line, reinforced corners and a "shatterproof" screen similar to the Moto Z2 Force ($300 at Amazon). These traits inherently protect the S8 Active from drops and spills.
But this year's model loses the three physical navigation buttons below the screen, which came in handy when you're wearing gloves or your hands are wet and the screen won't respond to your taps. Samsung made the change to give the Active a full-face display like the S8; buttons take up valuable screen space. I like the screen real estate, but I miss the buttons; they were a major part of the Active's identity.