Samsung’s Galaxy S23 FE balances affordability with some high-end features

A mix between value and compromise

Samsung’s FE (fan-edition) lineup is the South Korean tech giant’s series of devices with top-of-the-line features, normally found in its flagships, repackaged with a more affordable price tag.

With Samsung entirely skipping the Galaxy S22 FE, we weren’t sure if the company had decided to entirely end its S-series FE line. Though lo and behold, in October, Samsung revealed the S23 FE.

Priced at $649.99 for the 128GB/8GB version, the S23 FE positions itself as a cost-effective alternative to the S23, which starts at $879.99 for the same spec model.

The Fan Edition device aims to deliver the essentials of the S23 line in a more affordable package, and it does so in some aspects.

Display excellence and a storage dilemma

The S23 FE impresses with a superior display compared to its flagship counterpart. Featuring the same Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, the S23 FE’s 6.4-inch screen outshines (not literally) the S23’s 6.1-inch display.

The extra display real estate is great, making the device just slightly smaller than the S23+. Inversely, this makes the FE devices heavier than the S23, with the S23 FE’s bigger bezels, especially at and around the bottom, taking up a lot of space.

The Galaxy S23 is also brighter than the FE device. It has a peak brightness of 1,750 nits, while the FE is limited to 1,450 nits. This, however, does not make or break the S23 FE. In my experience using the device, indoors and outdoors, the screen has always remained bright and legible.

Crafted with Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back and an aluminum frame, the S23 FE looks and feels less like an affordable device and more like a premium flagship. The device won’t offer advanced scratch resistance like the S23’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2 does. However, for what it’s worth, in my time using the S23 FE without a case or tempered glass, I have failed to scratch it.

The absence of physical buttons on the left side contributes to its sleek appearance. However, the glossy back is a fingerprint magnet. On the right, you’ll find the volume rocker and the power button. There’s a single bottom-firing speaker at the bottom, alongside the USB-C charging port, and on the top sits the SIM tray.

Unfortunately, like the flagship S23 line, the device does not feature a Micro-SD slot, so you’re limited to the storage you opt for during purchase.

Considering that the FE is a more affordable line, where Samsung likely doesn’t have to care as much about the device’s weight, the inclusion of a MicroSD slot would have come in clutch.

Circling back to the display, the S23 FE doesn’t compromise on fluidity. It features a responsive adaptive 60Hz-120Hz display; however, unlike the S23, it can’t go as low as 1Hz, which would have improved battery life.

The screen also supports HDR10+ for enhanced contrast and details, and viewing content on the device offers a detailed and vibrant experience.

The only hindrance on the screen is the hole-punch selfie camera, but considering that the flagship S23 line does not have an under-display camera, I wasn’t expecting the S23 FE to either.

Maintaining IP68 water and dust resistance, the S23 FE matches the S23 line’s durability, surviving in freshwater up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 can still hold its ground

The S23 FE comes with an Exynos 2200 or Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset.

In Canada, the device runs on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, which was released in late 2021. This is a step down from the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 on the flagship S23 series, but also something that was entirely expected.

The choice of an older Snapdragon chip may impact efficiency, but it still delivers impressive speed and performance.

The S23 FE strikes a balance in providing an enjoyable gaming experience without compromising overall device performance with an Adreno 730 GPU. In my experience using the device, it rarely ever got hot during extended gaming sessions, and enthusiasts will be able to indulge in their favourite titles with smooth graphics and responsive controls with the device.

Benchmarking-wise, there's nothing too crazy. As expected, the device gets a lower score than new flagships, like the iPhone 15, the Pixel 8 Pro and Samsung's latest foldables. However, the device is a big upgrade over the last FE device, the S21 FE, and over other devices with comparable SOCs, like the S22, Moto Razr+, the Z Flip 4 and the Z Flip 5. When compared to Google's similarly-spec'd pocket-friendly Pixel 7A, on paper, the S23 FE leaves the Pixel in dust.

The S23 FE is available in two configurations: 128GB storage with 8GB RAM and 256GB with 8GB RAM. This is the same as the flagship S23’s RAM offering, though the S23 also comes with a higher 512GB storage option.

While the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE delivers commendable performance in many aspects of daily use, it does suffer from the occasional lag when tasked with managing multiple tabs or apps simultaneously. The dip in performance appears momentarily, and for users who mostly engage in standard, day-to-day activities, the S23 FE provides a satisfactory and fluid experience.

A good, but not excellent camera

The S23 FE's camera system impresses in daylight conditions. The 50-megapixel main camera, 12-megapixel ultrawide, and 8MP telephoto offer versatility, though low-light performance falls short of flagship standards.

The main camera uses a larger sensor with dual-pixel autofocus, and supports pixel-binning, which essentially combines four pixels into one to create a sharp and detailed high-definition image with accurate colours (this is great for taking all sorts of images). However, like most of Samsung's cameras, the Galaxy FE 23 tends to overexpose bright areas in images.

The ultra-wide, on the other hand, with its 123-degree field of view, is great for capturing landscapes and group shots, though these photos can sometimes be noisy, especially in inadequately lit scenes, with distortions around edges.

The telephoto does a good job of zooming in on distant objects without too much distortion with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilization. That said, it's a step down from the S23’s 10-megapixel telephoto.

The S23 FE also supports 8K video recording at 24fps, which is impressive for its price range.

The S23 FE’s overall camera performance is generally good in optimal lighting, and even at night time, the device’s Night Mode does a good enough job to improve the low-light performance of the cameras, though it is not as effective as the main flagship line. Essentially, the S23 FE is a good phone with good camera performance, but it is not an excellent phone with excellent camera performance. The device's camera setup is best suited for casual users who want a camera that can do it all but don't expect flagship-level quality.

The drain is real

The S23 FE boasts a bigger battery than the S23, coming in at 4,500mAh, compared to the 3,900mAh battery on the S23. The device can run for a full day on a 100 percent charge with regular use, but when you add intensive tasks like gaming or watching content for long durations to the mix, the battery does drain significantly quicker.

Pair that with the 60Hz-120Hz display, and even regular tasks like scrolling contribute to the drain. When using the phone as a daily driver, you’ll normally find yourself roughly at the 15-20 percent battery mark after a full day of use.

The FE device, just like the S23, does feature 45W fast charging, and I was regularly able to juice it up to the 100 percent battery mark in roughly an hour.

Wireless charging on the device is slow, but the fact that it is offered in a Fan Edition device with a starting price of $649 is more than I can ask for. Another surprising feature that the FE boasts for its price point is reverse wireless charging, which can be finicky at times and charges slow and steady. However, at the price point, it is a welcome feature to have.

The device offers a lot of value for its price, but it also compromises on some aspects. The S23 FE is a good choice for Samsung fans who want a flagship-like experience, but it may not be the best choice for enthusiasts who want the best quality and features.

The S23 FE’s expansive 6.4-inch display, vibrant HDR10+ support, and durable design underscore its commitment to delivering a premium user experience.

The device's backbone, whether powered by the Exynos 2200 or Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, gives it respectable performance speed, though the choice of an older processor compromises efficiency.

The 4,500mAh battery, coupled with 45W fast charging and the convenience of wireless and reverse wireless charging, makes the device a practical choice as a daily driver, though the decision to leave out expandable storage feels like a missed opportunity for the fan edition device.