Sink or swim: Samsung's Galaxy S7 Active drowned when we put it in the pool

The phone catering to active lifestyles failed two of our four submersion tests.

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Watch this: The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active failed our pool test

UPDATE: Since this story originally posted, we tested a fresh Samsung Galaxy Active, S7 and S7 Edge that Samsung gave us after fixing a flaw that caused some of the water-resistant phones to drown in water. All three phones survived the pool, which puts Samsung's water-resistant claims back on the upswing.

What follows is our original story about the S7 Active dramatically failing an underwater pool test.

It's such a shame, really. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Active is by most measures a really terrific phone, with a shatter-resistant screen, great battery life and a convenience key that whips open apps. It just has one flaw, and it's a major one: The phone that's supposed to shrug off a 5-foot dunk in water for 30 minutes got so hydrophobic in half our tests that two of our units died.

Cause of death: Drowning.

Consumer Reports found that two units failed during its waterproofing tests, which ratcheted up the concern after our initial daily-use tests passed, so we conducted more. We ran a total of four tests at various water depths. The phone has a rating of IP68, which means that, in the words of this Samsung document describing the S7 and S7 Edge (which shares the same rating), they're "water resistant to a maximum depth of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) for up to 30 minutes, and are protected from dust, dirt and sand."

Test no. 1: Vase. No damage

In the course of testing for our original review, we dunked the S7 Active in water, put it under the shower, and ran it under the sink. Our first submersion test simulated a more gentle dunking, the kind you'd probably encounter in day-to-day life. It went into a vase filled with tap water for 20 minutes and emerged unscathed.

Test no. 2: Bucket. Water damage

This time we dropped the phone into a bucket of water at a depth of 8.5 inches (21 cm) for 28 minutes, in our New York office. The phone turned on, but we noticed damage right away. There is water stuck in the camera lens, battery life has worsened, and the power button is sometimes unresponsive.

This S7 Active initially turned on afterwards, but now it won't. It's bricked.

Samsung's Galaxy S7 Active takes a dunk in the pool...and then dies

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Test no. 3: Bucket. No damage

Another bucket test took place in San Francisco, also at a 0.7-feet depth for 28 minutes. We didn't witness any damage.

Test no. 4: Pool. Total water damage

Our final dunk tested the IP68 claim. We turned on the phone -- which had 99 percent battery left -- and placed it at the bottom of an unchlorinated pool at a depth just shy of 5 feet (1.5 meters). A rock buttressed the phone so it wouldn't slide deeper on the sloped pool floor, and a GoPro camera recorded what happened.

First, the screen went dark underwater. Then, a few minutes into its soaking, the phone rebooted -- we could clearly see the bootup screen when we checked in on the phone. After 28 minutes, we retrieved the device. Water is visible in both camera lenses, and the phone won't turn on. We rinsed the S7 Active and dried it, and it still won't turn on. We plugged in the charger and placed it on the wireless charging pad. Nothing.

Is this test really fair?

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The S7 Active didn't survive its nearly 30-minute dip in the pool, but I did.

James Martin/CNET

The last test ran right up to the phone's water-resistant limits, and no, we don't really think there's any real-world scenario where a phone would happen to sit below 5 feet of water for such a long time. It's much more likely that you forget the phone in your pocket when you jump in the pool, or want to take a photo of your friends in the hot tub without worrying if you're killing your device. Or maybe you're taking a short swim beneath a waterfall to get that really knockout shot.

Samsung doesn't intend for much long, watery exposure to happen either, and there's plenty of fine print that the company lays out online to help set your expectations. The language pasted below refers to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, but it also applies to the S7 Active, which is part of the S7 family and shares the other two phones' water-resistant rating:

  • Do not immerse the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge in water deeper than 1.5 meters and do not keep it submerged in water less than 1.5 meters deep for more than 30 minutes.
  • Do not expose the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge to water moving with force, such as water running from a tap, ocean waves or waterfalls.
  • If the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge is exposed to fresh water, dry it thoroughly with a clean, soft cloth. If the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge is exposed to any liquid other than fresh water, gently rinse the device with still, fresh water immediately and dry it thoroughly with a clean, soft cloth.
  • Failure to gently rinse the device in still, fresh water and dry it as instructed may cause the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge to suffer from operability or cosmetic issues.

Can you still trust this phone?

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You can make out water droplets in the camera lens.

James Martin/CNET

So the question then is, is the Active somehow less "active"? Can you trust a phone that might not do what it promises? We think yes -- and no. On the one hand, we have a high level of confidence in the S7 Active's ability to withstand daily splashes and short-term baths. On the other, the fact that we now have two dead phones makes us worry about repeated dunkings over time.

Samsung also says that repeated drops (which the phone is also certified against) could break the water-resistant promise. What if this time is the one that overwhelms the Active?

A day after this story originally posted, Samsung says it's found and fixed a manufacturing issue that caused the waterproofing failures. Samsung emailed CNET the following statement:

"We discovered an isolated issue to a production line that exclusively manufacturers the Galaxy S7 Active. The issue has been resolved. We have received very few customer inquiries and any owner with water damage will receive a replacement under our standard limited warranty."

If yours meets a watery death, returning a phone can be a hassle, especially because you may be without one while you're waiting for the new device to arrive, but there's some peace of mind knowing that Samsung is on the hook for replacements if something goes wrong with yours. Samsung offers a year-long warranty, which you could extend with Samsung, or through your carrier, if they offer it.

Even if Samsung's problems don't completely dry up, it's a good bet that any S7-family phone will probably roll with the ordinary waterworks of your daily life -- so long as you don't press your luck by falling asleep with it in the tub. That said, we had lowered the S7 Active's rating from 4.5 stars to 4, because the phone should measure up to Samsung's advertised endurance specs -- and in our testing, it didn't.

This story originally published on July 19 and updated July 20 at 4:13pm PT with Samsung's statement that it has resolved the problem. It most recently updated on August 10 at 11:15pm PT with the results of the retest.