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Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: A curiously timed entry-level flagship

Our Rating :
£599.00 from
Price when reviewed : £599
inc VAT

Between the S23 getting a healthy price cut and the S24’s upcoming launch, the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is just too little, too late


  • Tweaked design
  • Great cameras


  • Regular Galaxy S23 is cheaper
  • Weaker battery life
  • Slower performance

Samsung has sneaked in one final smartphone launch for 2023, and it couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. The brand-new Galaxy S23 FE is a budget take on the full-fat Galaxy S23, but what is normally billed as a mid-generation refresh is here unceremoniously dropped just as the next round of flagships is gearing up for launch.

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Indeed, with the imminent Galaxy S24 expected to release in January, and the normal Galaxy S23 receiving a hefty price reduction since launch, this “Fan Edition” version isn’t the affordable re-skinned alternative it once was.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: What you need to know

After sitting out last year’s flagship cycle completely, the FE variant makes its return. Like the S21 FE before it, the Galaxy S23 FE utilises broadly similar specifications and design as the rest of Samsung’s 2023 flagships, albeit with a lower list price than the original model.

For that price, you’re still getting a 120Hz FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, and it’s even slightly bigger than the normal version, at 6.4in vs 6.1in. The S23 FE also shares the same 50MP (f/1.8) main and 12MP ultrawide cameras as the S23, though the 3x optical zoom sensor is a slight downgrade, dropping from 10MP to 8MP.

Front selfie camera of purple Samsung Galaxy S23 FE with red brick backgroundControversially, Samsung has switched back to its own Exynos chipset for the S23 FE, dusting off the same Exynos 2200 processor that powered the Galaxy S22. It comes with the same 8GB of RAM as the regular S23, at least, with a choice of 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Price and competition

These alterations have reduced the launch price down to £599. That’s a whole £250 less than what the original Samsung Galaxy S23 launched for back in January, so we’ve got an astonishing deal on our hands, right?

Except it isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. Since the Galaxy S23 has been doing the rounds for almost an entire year, you can currently pick one up for around the same price or less than the new FE version – although, admittedly, stock appears to be dwindling.

Add in the fact that the FE has more budget-priced flagship competition than ever before, and you’re looking at an especially tough sell this year. The Pixel 8 is the best of the bunch, offering a top-notch camera suite and clean Android installation for £699. The Nothing Phone (2) is another cracking alternative and costs even less than the S23 FE at £579.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Design and key features

It’s obvious that the core design language of Samsung’s recent flagships isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the S23 FE has at least switched things up a little. Not only do you get a fresh selection of colours to choose from – Mint, Graphite, Cream, Purple, Indigo and Tangerine – but the reflective metal trim has been replaced with a matte finish, and the rear cameras are particularly pronounced this time around.

Side profile of purple Samsung Galaxy S23 FE volume rocker and power button with red brick backgroundI can’t say whether this tweaked design is improved or not, but it’s certainly different. Something I can be more definitive about, however, is the size and weight of the handset. At 209g, the FE is a good deal heavier than the regular S23 (168g) and the increased screen size has necessitated a big bump in overall dimensions. It’s noticeably taller and wider than before, so you might want to give this one a miss if you have small hands.

That being said, I don’t have any problems with the rest of the FE’s physical features. It’s still IP68-certified against dust and water ingress, and the phone is sandwiched between protective layers of Gorilla Glass 5. One thing worth pointing out, however, is that the S23 FE lacks the pre-applied screen protector that adorns its older brother.

There’s no microSD card slot either, so you won’t be able to increase the phone’s internal storage – but it’s been years since Samsung supplied space for one of these anyway. Still, at least you get dual nano-SIM slots and wireless charging support to complement the 25W wired charging.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Display

On top of being slightly bigger, the S23 FE’s 120Hz FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display also has thicker bezels than the S23 on all four sides. Performance was also a bit more hit-and-miss in our tests.

With the phone’s ‘Natural’ display profile engaged, the S23 FE recorded an average Delta E of 2.02, with an sRGB coverage of 96.4% and a volume of 99%. This isn’t quite as accurate in terms of colour representation as the standard S23, which scored 1.58 on the same test. 

Bottom half of screen of purple Samsung Galaxy S23 FE with log backgroundThat said, this is hardly the sort of difference most people will notice, and besides, it’s a great screen in other areas. Contrast is perfect, and it gets plenty bright at 777cd/m2 in auto mode, peaking at 1,370cd/m2 when displaying HDR content – that’s a good deal brighter than the regular S23. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Performance and battery life

The display differences may be negligible, but it’s less easy to forgive Samsung’s decision to revert to the Exynos 2200 rather than using the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as the regular S23. Time and again, Samsung’s homebrew chipsets have proven weaker in both performance and stamina – and sadly, that trend continues with the S23 FE.

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In the Geekbench 6 single- and multi-core CPU processing tests, the non-FE model outperformed the S23 FE by around 30%. That’s not a good look for a phone which, at the moment at least, costs roughly the same. If your phone buying decisions were based purely on performance comparisons, there’s a clear winner here:

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE performance graphIt’s the same story with gaming speeds. The Galaxy S23 FE pushed out an average frame rate of 73fps in the on-screen portion of the GFXBench Car Chase test, which on the face of it might seem rather good, but the regular S23 was more than twice as fast in the same test. If you’re a mobile gamer with a penchant for Samsung, you should buy the previous model instead:

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE gaming performance graphScoring the own-goal hat trick, the S23 FE’s battery life isn’t quite as formidable, either. With a score of 19hrs 27mins in the Expert Reviews video playback test, the S23 FE is the weakest performer among its contemporaries, falling a full three hours short of the regular S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE battery life graph

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Cameras

Let’s hope the S23 FE can pull it back when it comes to photography. The triple camera setup on the rear is mostly the same as the standard S23, with the 50MP (f/1.8) and 12MP ultrawide sensors being direct carry-overs, but the 3x telephoto zoom is downgraded from 12MP to 8MP.

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It’s no surprise, then, that pictures taken on the main sensor are as remarkable as they were before. Detail is abundant in practically every shot, with minimal visual noise and a pleasing level of bright, punchy contrast. My only minor complaint here is that the FE’s ultra-vibrant colours aren’t to my taste, though your opinion may vary. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE camera sample 1x zoom tree in green parkPortrait images are phenomenal, too. In a side-by-side comparison with the regular S23, the FE model did a much better job of blurring the background while separating my subject and boosting facial details. Its predecessor looks rather washed out by comparison:

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE camera sample comparison with Galaxy S23. Portrait test with female subjectAgain, I wasn’t too impressed with the S23 FE’s ultrawide sensor, with images appearing muddy and lacking in detail. The same can be said about the telephoto sensor, with the lower megapixel count dropping details at higher zoom ranges.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE camera sample comparison with Galaxy S23. Ultrawide test of lake with swansOn the flip side, video is very good. Footage can be recorded at up to 8K resolution at 30fps, though I recommend dropping this down to 4K to enable 60fps recording with stabilisation. Quick pans were rock-steady and the focus was nice and snappy.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Verdict

As the final major smartphone launch of the year, the Galaxy S23 FE has ended 2023 on a damp note. It’s not all bad news – the refreshed design, bright AMOLED display and capable main camera all hit the mark – but this generation’s re-skin could and should have been much better.

Outside of cost-saving, Samsung’s decision to switch gears and swap out the far superior Qualcomm chip for its own silicon is frankly bonkers, as it results in a noticeable downgrade in both performance and stamina.

Add in the fact that the regular S23 costs about the same at the moment, not to mention the impending S24 launch, and you’re looking at a smartphone that fails to make a positive impact in an otherwise stellar year for Samsung.

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