The Galaxy S23 FE Tries, but Ultimately Fails, to Stand Out Among the Crowd

The Galaxy S23 FE Tries, but Ultimately Fails, to Stand Out Among the Crowd

Samsung’s FE lineup has always tried to cater to that sweet spot between the expensive, feature-filled flagships and the low-budget devices filled with compromises. But with so many other options duking it out in this midrange space, the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE has a tough battle ahead of it—a battle made even tougher by the stiff competition from the Pixel 7a. Unfortunately, in my view, it doesn’t do enough to pull ahead.

Increased competition

Part of what is supposed to make the Galaxy S23 FE so appealing is the features it borrows from its more expensive siblings in the main Galaxy flagship lineup. The FE, or Fan Edition, aims to offer a better camera setup than most midrange devices in its price range, while cutting out some of the other features that raise the price of the more expensive smartphones on the market.

In fact, I’ve often found it easiest to look at the FE series as Samsung’s version of the Pixel’s A-Series. While the Pixel 7a offers a lot of the same features of the more expensive flagship Pixels, it cuts out a lot of the “enthusiast” features to help drive down the price.

While the Galaxy S23 FE has a lot going for it (such as its dedicated telephoto lens) the Pixel 7a is much cheaper, and offers better photos on average, making the one big selling point of the S23 FE feel like a sideshow.

The specs

That isn’t to say the Galaxy S23 FE isn’t worth it. At $899, the phone is feature-filled, including a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2340 x 1080 and a max refresh rate of 120Hz. It also sports a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (or an Exynos 2200, depending on where you purchase it).

Samsung only puts 8GB of RAM in this phone, and the maximum storage capacity is just 256 GB, with no option to expand it. That said, there is a 4,500 mAh battery, which should mean long battery life. Here’s a complete list of the main specs:

  • Display: 6.4-inch AMOLED (2340 x 1080; 120Hz)
  • CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 / Exynos 2200
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB / Not expandable
  • Cameras: 50MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 8MP telephoto (f/2.4) with 3x optical zoom on rear, 10MP (f/2.4) on front
  • Charging speed: 25W
  • Battery size: 4,500 mAh
  • Size: 6.2 x 3 x 0.32 inches (158 x 76.5 x 8.2mm)
  • Weight: 7.37 ounces (209 grams)

There isn’t anything bad about these specs, especially on a $900 phone. And, when compared against other models in the same price range (or cheaper), the main standout is that telephoto lens. However, that strength is often undermined by the unstable picture quality, which can easily leave photos looking overexposed and over-saturated.

Camera issues aren’t isolated to just the 23 FE, either. Problems like over-saturation are apparent across Galaxy devices. It’s not the end of the world, but when compared to the more balanced photos taken by a Pixel 7a (and other Pixels for that matter) the differences are stark.

The lack of expandable memory also seems like a huge miss here. Samsung even offers an expandable SD card on its cheaper Galaxy A54 model, so why omit it on the more expensive S23 FE?

How does the S23 FE stack against the S23?

At $450 less expensive than the Galaxy S23, it might seem like a no-brainer to choose the larger display of the S23 FE. But basing your decision on price and display size alone could bite you in the end. The S23 FE is taller than the normal S23 to help accommodate for the extra screen real estate, and the FE also weighs in at slightly heavier than the base 23, weighing 7.37 ounces compared to the S23’s six ounces. That might not seem like much, but every difference here matters when you’re using the phone one-handed.

That extra bulk and size on the S23 FE means it isn’t as friendly to smaller hands as the Galaxy S23, either. And while we won’t do a full comparison here, there are a lot of features missing between the two. Throw in the fact you can often find deals for the Galaxy S23 that bring it close to the same price as the S23 FE, and there aren’t a ton of reasons to choose the FE here.

The S23 FE is still a solid phone

Ultimately, the Galaxy S23 FE is still a good phone. The main problem here isn’t that Samsung has gotten lazy, or that the device lineup isn’t good anymore, it’s that competition within this area has gotten fierce. Now, Samsung is even competing with itself by putting the cheaper Galaxy A54 and the S23 FE so close together.

The Galaxy S23 FE continues to be a smartphone that caters to those who want the more flagship-like camera setup of the Galaxy S23 series without having to pay for the more expensive flagship variant. As I said above, though, midrange phones like the S23 FE have gotten better all around, and that means a slightly better camera isn’t enough to make the device stand out above the rest of the options you can find in this price point.

If you love Samsung as a brand and can’t justify the extra $450 for the Galaxy S23, the S23 FE is a solid alternative, and will even give you access to Android 14 later this year, thanks to Samsung’s promised four years of support. But it’s hard not to look around and think, “Is there something else on the market better for the money?”

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