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    Galaxy S23 FE review: Samsung’s most value-packed 2023 phone

    Review
    By 

    Last updated: November 22nd, 2023 at 15:54 UTC+01:00

    The Galaxy S23 series has done incredibly well, with sales surpassing those of the Galaxy S22 series by a sizable margin. And now, Samsung has added a Fan Edition model to the mix, giving customers the option to get the best Galaxy S23 features at a lower price.

    The Galaxy S23 FE starts at $599 in the USA and is priced similarly to the Galaxy S21 FE in some markets and is slightly costlier in others. Should you pick one up if you're looking to purchase a new smartphone? That's the question this review aims to answer, so let's get started.

    TL;DR

    Design

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE is a standard slab phone devoid of any party tricks. It has glass on the front and back (both are Gorilla Glass 5) and a slightly curved aluminum frame so it feels premium in the hands, though it's heavier than I had anticipated. The overall dimensions are very similar to those of the Galaxy S23+ – they're so similar that the S23 FE fits perfectly well in an S23+ case.

    The S23 FE has three individual cutouts for the rear cameras, similar to the other Galaxy S23 models. However, the FE's glass back gets a glossy finish, which looks good but will require regular cleaning if you don't like seeing fingerprints and smudges. As one would expect, the glass back makes the phone slippery, so you may want to use a case if you are clumsy and tend to drop things regularly.

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The only negative thing I can say about the S23 FE's design is that the bezels around the display are a little too big. The bezels are closer to what you get on mid-rangers like the Galaxy A54 than Samsung's flagships, which might ruin the look for some. I'm also not a fan of the reflective border around the front camera as it can be distracting during day-to-day use, but this is more of a nitpick and probably won't trouble everyone to the same degree.

    Display, sound

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE comes with a flat 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, and the viewing experience is as solid as you expect from a high-end Samsung smartphone. On paper, the S23 FE display's peak brightness is lower than that of the Galaxy S23 or S23+, but in the real world, you would be hard-pressed to find any faults with outdoor legibility even in harsh sunlight.

    The S23 FE has an optical fingerprint sensor sitting under the display. It's a tad slower than the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S23, S23+, and S23 Ultra, but it's accurate and works pretty well overall. Facial recognition is available, too, and it can sometimes be lightning quick while at other times it can take a couple of seconds.

    For audio, the Galaxy S23 FE is equipped with stereo speakers that are more than suitable for watching videos and listening to music around the house. There's no 3.5mm headphone port, which shouldn't come as a surprise, and you also don't get any earphones in the box so you will have to bring your own. If you don't have any, you can pick up the Galaxy Buds FE, Samsung's most affordable wireless earbuds yet (check our review here).

    Camera

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE comes with a 50MP primary rear camera, up from the 12MP camera on the previous FE phones, along with an 8MP camera for 3x optical zoom and a 12MP ultra-wide camera. The primary camera is the only upgrade at the back, and it does make a difference.

    A majority of my photography involves my two kids, from my son playing football to my daughter on the swing, and I haven't had issues snapping their pics, though I have to take advantage of the Single Take mode to make sure I get non-blurry pics when my kids aren't sitting completely still (a problem Samsung is apparently trying to fix).

    Daylight picture quality is excellent (even if not as good as it is on the Galaxy S23 or Galaxy Z Fold 5), with plenty of detail and high color accuracy. Photos are saved at 12 megapixels by default, but you can switch to 50MP for capturing more detail in landscape shots. HDR can be a bit hit and miss, though.

    Performance in low-light environments and at night is good, too. The camera is smart enough to turn on Night mode on its own when needed; however, Night mode can sometimes be too aggressive at noise reduction and can make everything too smooth as a result. If you find that to be an issue, you can turn off automatic Night mode by tapping the crescent moon icon above the zoom buttons.

    The 3x zoom camera does a decent job, both at regular pictures and portraits. The colors are pleasant and so is dynamic range, though the S23 FE's zoom pictures come out rather soft, whether you shoot at 3x or 30x. The one software update we got on our retail unit reduced the softness compared to how it was out of the box, but more optimization is needed.

    As for the ultra-wide camera, it is good for daylight pics and also does a sufficient job at night, at least when Night mode kicks in (you can also manually access the dedicated Night mode when you want).

    Check out some camera samples from the Galaxy S23 FE in the gallery below. The gallery includes some scenes shot at 1x with the main camera and a few shot at all zoom levels (ultra-wide, 1x, 3x, 10x, 20x, and 30x), followed by a few portrait pictures shot at both 1x and 3x magnification.

    In terms of video, the Galaxy S23 FE has a lot of features from the main Galaxy S23 lineup, including support for 8K video, which is enabled by the 50MP primary camera (8K resolution requires 33 megapixels). But video quality is similar to the Galaxy S22 from last year, perhaps because the same Exynos chip powers both devices.

    Video quality is fairly consistent across the three rear cameras, but the best results naturally come from the main camera, especially since it can shoot 4K videos at 60 frames per second. I did miss the option to shoot 4K portrait video, and super steady videos (shot using the ultra-wide camera) are limited to Full HD resolution, which are limitations that are likely a result of Samsung not wanting to add those features instead of anything to do with what the hardware is capable of.

    The Galaxy S23 FE's selfie camera has changed from a 32MP sensor to a 10MP sensor. Yes, the megapixel count is lower, but that's because the S23 FE has a higher-quality sensor similar to Samsung's flagship phones and not because this is a downgrade. And the results are plain to see and a step up from the S21 FE, especially in daylight. The front camera also takes good portraits, even if edge detection doesn't always work right.

    Performance

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE is powered by the Galaxy S22's Exynos 2200 chipset in most markets, and that has been a point of contention for many because of the less-than-stellar reputation of Exynos chips over the last few years and because the Exynos 2200 had some efficiency and heating issues on the Galaxy S22 series.

    But Samsung has fixed all that for the Galaxy S23 FE. Performance on this phone is fluid, and it can handle anything you throw at it. It also runs cool thanks to a larger vapor chamber and can sustain higher frame rates for longer when playing games. The S23 FE has the same Xclipse GPU as the Galaxy S22, the one based on AMD's RDNA 2 architecture that supports features like ray tracing. There aren't too many games on Android that have ray tracing, though the list of games that support it is continually growing.

    What the Galaxy S23 FE doesn't get is the new UFS 4.0 storage tech. It uses the older UFS 3.1 standard for both the 128GB and 256GB variants (there's no microSD slot). The Galaxy S23 series, on the other hand, uses UFS 4.0 for the variants with 256GB or more storage. However, while UFS 4.0 is faster on paper, it doesn't really make a notable difference in everyday use so it's an acceptable cost-cutting measure.

    Software

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    Despite going official on the same day Google released Android 14, the Galaxy S23 FE comes with Android 13 out of the box, buried under Samsung's One UI 5.1 overlay. It's got all the features you find on the non-FE models (including wired and wireless DeX), and it will be among the first Galaxy devices to get the Android 14 and One UI 6.0 update, which will bring a slew of new features that you can check out in the video below.

    Samsung is promising four major OS upgrades and five years of security updates, as is normal for many of its phones these days. It's not as impressive anymore, of course, as Google is now guaranteeing seven Android version updates for Pixel devices. And at the time this review was written, Samsung has given no indications that it will be extending its update policy to include more yearly Android and One UI upgrades (though it could start providing more security updates).

    Battery life

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE's 4,500 mAh battery won't set any battery life records, but it's good enough to last a full day with a mix of basic use (such as scrolling through social media and checking emails) and some moderately heavy tasks such as taking pictures and watching a few videos. Battery life on the Snapdragon model might be better, but it's not something we were able to test.

    The S23 FE supports wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and 25W wired charging. Naturally, wired charging is the fastest – the battery goes from 0 to 100% in a little under 80 minutes and from 0 to 50% in the first 30 minutes.

    Verdict

    Galaxy S23 FE review

    The Galaxy S23 FE's big bezels prevent the phone from making a good first impression, but once you look past that, you're getting a lot of value here. And while Samsung's decision to use 2022's Exynos 2200/Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips may also be off-putting, it doesn't ruin the actual user experience thanks to better optimization and cooling compared to the Galaxy S22 series.

    If you really must get the phone with the best processor, which is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, and are ready to bear the cost, the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23+ are still excellent options. But you probably wouldn't be reading this review if you had no problem shelling out the extra cash, and if that's the case, the Galaxy S23 FE is recommended.

    Samsung
    Galaxy S23 FE

    What we like

    • Beautiful flat 120Hz display
    • Premium water-resistant design
    • Runs fast and cool
    • Good battery life
    • Upgraded cameras bring better image quality
    • Eligible for four major OS upgrades
    • 5G, Wi-Fi 6E support

    What we don't

    • Big bezels give mid-range vibes
    • Zoom photos a little too soft
    • Doesn't have Android 14 out of the box
    Review Galaxy S23 FE Buy now!

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