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Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review

Amidst a year marked by rising costs, the $599 Galaxy S23 FE is a breath of fresh air. This price tag is notably lower than its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 FE, which debuted at $699 nearly two years ago, and that's a remarkable feat considering the impact of inflation.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review

The pricing predicament was a significant issue for the Galaxy S21 FE, intended as an "accessible" flagship for fans, given its "FE" stands for Fan Edition. However, it was uncomfortably close in price to the standard S21, and during that time, the Pixel 6 offered better value at $599. Samsung appears committed to addressing this misstep with the S23 FE. In terms of specifications, the S23 FE checks all the right boxes. It boasts a capable processor with a generous 8GB of RAM, a large display, a dedicated telephoto lens, complete IP68 water and dust resistance, wireless charging, and an impressive five-year software support policy. All of this makes it a competitive offering for its $600 price point. Nevertheless, the S23 FE finds itself in a somewhat uncertain position. While its performance is commendable, it doesn't significantly outpace the $500 Pixel 7A. It's reasonably priced, but it doesn't stand out as an exceptional deal compared to the $700 and $800 flagship alternatives. It would be easier to recommend if it had a distinctive feature, but as it stands, it feels like a device designed to utilize leftover previous-generation Qualcomm chips before they become outdated. The Galaxy S23 FE utilizes the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset from late 2021, not the 8 Plus Gen 1 released in mid-2022. The original 8 Gen 1 powered the S22 series flagships, which were known for running hot and having subpar battery life. In the S23 FE, it's coupled with 8GB of RAM, which suffices for most daily tasks. The 4,500mAh battery easily lasts a day with moderate use, but demanding tasks can deplete it faster. Adding an extra 30 minutes of gaming or extended time away from Wi-Fi might necessitate a mid-day charge. The S23 FE supports wireless charging, a welcome feature not always guaranteed on a $600 phone. The S23 FE's color options may be its most fan-oriented aspect. It's available in unmistakable purple, tangerine, and mint variants. However, the phone's design, with its curved, smooth edges, feels somewhat slippery and lacks the trend towards less rounded edges seen in other devices, including Samsung's own S23 Ultra. This phone is relatively heavy, weighing 209g, a bit more than the 196g Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus, even though they share similar dimensions. Its weight may require a grippy case to prevent accidental slips. The S23 FE's 6.4-inch screen is a standout feature. It's sufficiently large to provide a "big" screen experience, with a decent 1080p resolution that doesn't compromise quality. It boasts a 120Hz refresh rate, ensuring smooth scrolling. However, it might struggle with extreme outdoor brightness conditions. Samsung's One UI Android skin remains a personal challenge for the reviewer, requiring some adjustments to make the app drawer and keyboard more user-friendly. Additionally, the phone was missing a calendar and clock app upon setup, which was an unusual absence. One bright spot is Samsung's commendable software support policy, offering four years of OS updates and five years of security updates. While not the best in its class, it's still impressive. When it comes to the camera system, the S23 FE appears more like a repurposed midrange phone than a streamlined flagship. The 50-megapixel main camera performs well, but the telephoto camera lags due to its slow f/2.4 lens. In low light, the camera often switches to the main sensor, resulting in soft, digitally zoomed images. Portrait mode also exhibits sluggish performance, making it challenging to capture fast-moving subjects. In general, the Galaxy S23 FE performed adequately in various scenarios during testing. It handled tasks like scrolling through social media, listening to podcasts, and navigation capably. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this phone, it might not offer the level of excitement expected from a flagship. In the grand scheme of things, the S23 FE may seem like a case of "too little, too late." In 2021, a $600 phone with a telephoto lens, wireless charging, and a top-tier chipset would have been a compelling choice. However, the midrange category has evolved, and in 2023, the $500 Pixel 7A offers many similar features, including wireless charging and a top-tier chipset. While it lacks a telephoto lens, its 2x crop zoom and overall camera performance are satisfying alternatives to the S23 FE. In 2023, another $599 phone to consider is the Nothing Phone 2. It doesn't fully support Verizon, limiting its accessibility, but it offers a sizable 6.7-inch screen, an intuitive interface, and the newer Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor with improved battery efficiency. It feels purposefully designed rather than a device aimed at clearing out leftover components. Samsung's introduction of the S23 FE fills a niche between midrange and premium phones, providing an additional solid option in the $500 to $800 price range. However, for the "fans" this phone targets, waiting for the Galaxy S24 might be a better choice.

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