Contributed by Mandi Gingerich
In June, Samsung released a new, AT&T exclusive version of its flagship Galaxy S7 smartphone, the Galaxy S7 active. This is the latest in a line of outdoors-y Galaxy S active devices, earning the title “toughest Galaxy device ever” and boasting a shatter-resistant screen, an IP68 water-resistance rating, and a larger battery, as well as the first ever fingerprint sensor on a Galaxy S active device. It also includes a couple of extra physical buttons and a rugged exterior, eliminating the fragile glass back and adding a few bumpers.
Despite this new rough-and-tumble, dust and waterproof outside, in most ways, this is indeed the same Galaxy S7 on the inside. The familiar 5.1” super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display (with an extra layer of shatter-resistant protection), Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 processor, and camera modules mean the active will perform much like its predecessor, with added action-ready durability.
Like the S7 edge, the active device uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset solution, replacing many of the Samsung-sourced parts of the S7 with Qualcomm ones. Chipworks has already compared these solutions, but we’ll dig a little deeper and see if we can’t uncover some additional changes.
From a performance perspective, the change most noticeable to end users likely comes from the increased battery size (now 4,000 mAh, up from 3,000 mAh in the S7). What Chipworks does best, however, is to discover and analyze that which can’t be observed from the outside, and inside, we find a couple more interesting and subtle changes.
Once the phone was torn down, inspecting the differences was a breeze with the comparison feature of Inside Technology. From form factors and process nodes to foundries and libraries, Inside Technology reveals why today's winning consumer products are using the hottest components. View images, schematics and reports; compare components; navigate the hierarchy of product/component/die relationships; and much more. See how it’s done.
To get the best picture of the evolution of these devices, we selected a 3-way comparison (Inside Technology is capable of comparing up to 6 devices!) between the S7, S7 edge, and S7 active. While many of the parts remain the same, we were able to quickly highlight the few changes (from the S7 edge), noted in the screenshot below:
STMicroelectronics touch screen controller
The most interesting change that emerges here is the touch screen controller (TSC). The S7 and S7 edge marked the first time a Samsung TSC appeared in one of its own phones, but not even a full generation later, it has been replaced by a new device from STMicroelectronics, the STMFT9CE.
Alongside the STMFT9CE, STMicroelectronics also recorded design wins for the gyro + accelerometer and the gyroscope sensor inside the Samsung Galaxy S7 active.
Inside the STMicroelectronics FT9CE, we find two die with the markings F162A and VB01A, both of which are also as yet unseen (we included images of the die and the die corners at the end of the blog). As we noted in our previous comparison, Samsung once again does not hesitate to use a better chip, even if they have one of their own.
The STMFT9CE device belongs to the fourth generation of “FingerTip” devices, low-power, small-size capacitive touchscreen controllers for mobile applications. STMicroelectronics describes the FingerTip controllers as having a low-noise capacitive analog front-end to provide enhanced noise suppression capabilities and some of its advanced features may be of particular use in the S7 active, possibly explaining the change from the Samsung part. These features include multi-mode sensing technology, which detects water on the top of the screen without false touch or line breaking, and multi-finger glove operation, which provides support for multi-finger touch with thick gloves or wet fingers. This may be our first time seeing this device, but with such an array of features, it is likely not the last.