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A proper alternative to the Galaxy S23


[Updated April 1st, 2024: Jump to the Software Update section]

Samsung makes some of the most premium flagship devices on the market, but that’s to be expected with phones at or above $1,000. But, what about its less expensive offerings? Well, we were given the opportunity to review the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE, the latest premium mid-ranger from the Korean giant.

This phone sits in between the Galaxy A54 and the base Galaxy S23, which is a tight squeeze. With the Galaxy A54 taking so many design cues from the Galaxy S23 series, we were all wondering why Samsung would even bother to release an FE edition. What justifies this device’s existence?

That’s what we’re here to answer. Is there room for the Galaxy S23 FE among Samsung’s lineup, or is there just not enough room in the Galaxy? Let’s find out in this review.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Design

Starting off with the design of this phone, it will look rather familiar if you’ve seen Samsung’s latest design language. Gone, is the camera island that characterized Samsung’s phones over the past couple of years. Now, all of the camera lenses extend from the body of the phone separately.

This gives the handset that distinctive “Samsung” look. It’s not bad, but I think that the cameras extend from the phone quite a bit. It’s almost to the point where it looks odd. This also means that using it on a table is a chore. The phone rocks back and forth way too much, and it clanks loudly on the surface.

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The Galaxy S23 FE is a notably thick phone, much thicker than many of the others on the market. I’m wondering if there was a reason for the thickness because it seems unnecessarily thick for a modern premium mid-ranger. Some extra thickness isn’t a bad thing, as I like phones that feel more significant in the hand. However, this phone seems just a few millimeters over the top.

The glass is made from reflective glass that contrasts the sheen of the metal camera lenses to a nice effect. This goes the same for the frame.

All in all, when it comes to the design, I think that the Galaxy S23 FE is a dead ringer for the Galaxy S23 proper, and that’s what it’s meant to do. It’s meant to fool you and everyone else around you into thinking that you’re rocking the latest Galaxy S phone. It excels in that regard.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Build Quality

As stated in my Galaxy Buds FE review, the FE series of devices is designed to make you forget. Five minutes into using the device, you’ve forgotten that you’re using a less powerful version of Samsung’s best. Why is that important? Well, picking up the Galaxy S23 FE gave me a case of amnesia.

It’s obvious that Samsung had to cut some corners to make this phone more affordable; it didn’t cut any as far as the build quality is concerned. The moment I picked up this phone, I was blown away by how premium it felt. I’m met with the cool and heavy feeling of metal and glass. I wrapped my hand around it, and it felt like Samsung sent me a Galaxy S23 by mistake.

Everything about this phone’s design from the rear cameras, to the frame, to the buttons was professionally crafted to feel as premium as possible. Nothing on the phone creaks or makes any noise. Also, all of the buttons are super clicky.

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There’s a notable heft to the phone that gives it an unmistakably premium feeling that you don’t feel with most other phones in the price range. Nothing about the Galaxy S23 FE’s build quality makes me think that Samsung skimped on this device. It feels just as good as the Galaxy S23, and that’s really saying something.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Display

This is a Samsung device, so you know that the display is a focal point for this phone’s experience. It has an AMOLED screen, but that’s not saying much. Any company can fit their phones with an AMOLED screen and boast about it on a spec sheet.

It’s not about just having a screen with the saturated colors and deep blacks that come with the territory. It goes deeper than that. Let’s dive in to see how deep Samsung takes its display.

Colors

For this section of the review, I viewed the display in its Vivid color mode with a neutral color temperature.

Again, this technology allows for saturated colors, but that’s only half of the story. The Galaxy S23 FE’s display has colors that are responsibly juicy. The colors get a nice boost thanks to the technology along with Samsung’s calibration. However, I’m constantly getting that Samsung dulled down the colors just a tad.

I watched examples of hyper-colorful Dolby HDR videos. These are showcase videos that are meant to show just how nice your display is. Well, I felt that the colors were plenty saturated, but they stopped just short of what I’d see on a Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Galaxy S23 FE 3Galaxy S23 FE 3

Don’t get me wrong, the colors are beautiful. Everything on the screen just looks pleasant. All of the colors have a nice splash of life to them. That’s why I said that they’re responsibly juicy. Samsung showed restraint with the colors of this display, aiming for a balance between saturated and eye-singeing.

The colors are beautiful, punchy, well-balanced, and just a joy to look at.

Color temperature

When it comes to the color temperature, I found that it leaned on the warmer side out of the box. You’re able to adjust the color temperature, but on its neutral setting, the whites definitely looked a little sandy. I also found that there was a bit of a pinkish hue to it.

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This isn’t bad or distracting, however; I’m not talking about a software or hardware bug in the display. If you’re used to displays with a perfectly icy-white color temperature, then you’ll definitely notice the difference.

Contrast

The story of contrast should come as no surprise. The technology that Samsung uses for its display allows the pixels to go completely black. Because of this, the contrast is amazing. Along with the high contrast, this is an HDR display. This means that everything from the brightness to the colors to the contrast gets a notable boost.

This makes all of the content that you see on the screen look more crisp and clear. Movies and shows with a lot of dark areas will benefit from the superior contrast the most.

Brightness

We have all dealt with the issue of using our phones perfectly fine while indoors but having a terrible time outdoors. Smartphone screens, for the longest time, have been terrible when it came to outdoor visibility. Now, that issue has been solved with phones coming out with the power to outshine the sun.

The Galaxy S23 FE is one of those phones. Unfortunately, there’s no added bright mode that boosts the brightness when in a bright environment. However, that’s not an issue because the screen gets to a high brightness natively.

When I take this phone out in the shimmering afternoon sun, I can see everything perfectly fine on the screen. I’m talking about peak afternoon hours; the time of day when you used to have to cover your phone’s screen to see it. I was able to read social media, look at pictures, watch videos, and play games as comfortably as if I were sitting in a dim living room.

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Adjustments

If you don’t like how the display looks when you turn on your phone, don’t worry. You can make some subtle changes to the display so that it suits your tastes.

Starting off, you can change how saturated you want the colors. There are two color modes; they’re Vivid and Natural. The phone will be set to Vivid mode by default. If you want more muted colors, you can change the setting to Neutral.

Under those settings, you can adjust the color temperature as well. There’s a slider that will make the screen warmer or cooler. That’s not all that you can do with the colors. Under the Color Temperature slider, there’s an Advanced setting button.

You’ll see individual sliders for the red, green, and blue colors on the screen. You can slide to change how intense each of those colors is on the screen. Also, you’ll see your changes take place in real-time.

Most people will be happy with how the screen looks out of the box. However, it’s great that Samsung gives you the freedom to tweak the display to your liking.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Speakers

Samsung offers a robust suite of customizations that you can make to the audio quality that gives the speakers a completely different sound. I’m going to review the speakers on their out-of-the-box experience, however.

The Galaxy S23 FE has a set of dual speakers. This means that you’ll get a nice stereo experience while listening to them.

Clarity/loudness

Overall clarity is great. The sound comes out crisp and clear, so you know that Samsung fitted this phone with high-quality speakers. This clarity goes a long way in augmenting the other qualities of the audio.

In terms of loudness, these speakers get plenty loud to listen to across a room. I put this phone in my living room and was able to hear the audio clearly in the kitchen, which is a fair bit away.

Galaxy S23 FE 5Galaxy S23 FE 5

Low-end

There’s a decent amount of low-end that gives the audio some nice depth. It’s enough to add some nice warmth to the audio, and that’s a tough thing to do with phone speakers.

They’re not the bassiest phone speakers out there, but I can still hear the low hum of electric basses. Listening to very warm 90s R&B, I could hear the bass singing through pretty decently. This also goes for 70s music.

If 80s music is your jam, then I think that this is where the low-end performance of these speakers shines. Some of the basses we heard in the 80s were rather bright and crunchy in nature. A lot of the higher tones were actually accented in the sound rather than the lower tones.

Well, the speakers in the Galaxy 23 FE seem to hit that sweet spot that gives 80s electric basses a pleasant boost. So, don’t be afraid to crank up some Debbie Gibson or Tiffany. Their music will sound amazing.

High-end

Out of the box, I noticed a fair amount of high-end when listening to music. At higher volumes, I could hear the sound starting to approach the shrill area, but not crossing the threshold.

I think that the low-end and high-end are pretty balanced, but the sound leans more toward the high-end. So, when you’re listening to the music, you should hear some emphasis on the higher percussion. Listening to a few musical examples with percussion, I heard a special emphasis on the high hats.

I think that the high-end could have been toned down just a bit in order to create a more balanced sound, but again, this is the out-of-box experience. It’s good for what it is. Just know that when you start to crank the volume up a bit, you’ll start to get hit with some of those higher tones.

Vocals

The story of the vocals is a little odd. There’s some decent emphasis on the high end, but none of that emphasis seemed to make it to the vocals. In fact, I think that the vocal performance was pretty lacking. The voices just didn’t sound crisp or really stand out from the rest of the music.

It didn’t really matter what genre or time period of music I listened to, the voices just didn’t pop. It seems that the speakers emphasized higher tones, but not the ones where voices reside. I’d say that the speakers’ performance with pushing voices is rather mediocre.

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Adjustments

Here’s the fun part! If you don’t like the way the speakers sound, why not change it? Adjusting the sound of the speakers takes time, but the easiest thing that you can do is activate the Dolby Atmos audio. Turning this feature on will give the audio a wider stereo sound. There’s an immediate difference.

Under the Dolby Atmos settings, you can choose the sound profile that you want to use. Each sound profile is suited for specific kinds of audio. There’s one for movies, one for music, and one for voices. There’s also a mode that will adapt the audio automatically.

Also, there’s a nine-band EQ that lets you further customize your sound. You can either use the EQ presets above to instantly change it or dial in the values yourself.

Making changes to the audio settings gives the speakers a completely different sound.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Performance

This is an affordable phone, but it’s running some impressive hardware. Because of this, you’re going to get amazing performance. During my testing, I did everything I could to slow this phone down, but I just couldn’t. The phone glides through the software without skipping a beat. I used multiple apps in split-screen mode with apps popped out into windows, and it still powered through. I literally used four apps at the same time.

After using the phone for a bit and having it heat up a fair amount, I was able to get a little bit of a slowdown. There were some tasks that took a little longer than usual. Opening an app took a second rather than doing so instantly. Some other tasks caused the phone to stutter just a bit. There’s a noticeable drop in the performance, but it’s not enough to hinder the experience.

Heat performance

So, when I said that I had to heat up the phone a bit, that wasn’t tough to do. I had to game for about 5 to 10 minutes to get the phone hot. I’m not sure how Samsung handled the cooling system for this phone or if it had to ditch a cooling system altogether to keep the cost down. I don’t know; all I know is that this phone gets HOT!

Galaxy S23 FE 6Galaxy S23 FE 6

After just a few minutes of gaming, it started heating up. About 10 minutes into a gaming session, it’s already heated up to the point where it was getting uncomfortable to hold. This phone doesn’t only get hot, but it gets hotter faster than any other phone I’ve tested.

There’s no point in gaming on this phone if it feels like it’s going to burst into flames. I’m not sure if the heat management is something that could be addressed in a future update, but it’s a pretty big issue in my opinion.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Gaming

So, the phone heats up a lot while gaming, but how is the gaming performance itself? It’s great, actually. This phone is running some great hardware; hardware that was powering flagship phones not too long ago.

2D games

Starting off with 2D games, there are no complaints here whatsoever. Any of the simple and complex 2D games that I’d toss at this phone ran completely smoothly. None of them even came close to slowing this phone down. I played platformers, action games, and larger 2D titles like Stardew Valley. Nothing phased this phone.

Mid-range 3D games

Moving a step forward into the 3D gaming space, it was much of the same story. I used my usual arsenal of middle-of-the-road 3D games which includes Sky: Children of The Light, Asphalt 9, and DragonBall Legends.

The Galaxy S23 FE ran these games flawlessly. While these aren’t the most graphically intensive games by today’s standards, they’re still pretty games, and they have the potential to slow down weaker hardware. However, in my testing, none of these games gave me any issues with slowdown or stutters.

Graphically-intensive 3D games

Now, let’s kick things into high gear with some games that have been choking phones across the industry. These are some of the most graphically intensive games on the market right now. I’m talking about Honkai Star Rail and Genshin Impact.

Starting off with Star Rail, this game definitely gets up there in terms of its graphics, and the battle sequences are pretty intense. Regardless, it didn’t slow down the Galaxy S23 FE. I played the game on its highest settings, and I was able to get a pretty consistent 60fps. However, I did notice the occasional dropped frame during intense battle sequences. However, it is nowhere near what I’d call bad.

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Moving onto Genshin Impact, the story is much the same. I played this game on its highest graphical settings, and it ran smoothly with a pretty consistent 60fps. It had no trouble tackling this game, even during intense battles.

However, I have to say that this game heats up this phone the most. I couldn’t play it for more than 10 minutes without needing to set it down to cool. Also, when it got to those high temperatures, I noticed that the frame rate dropped a bit. It was still well above 30fps and nowhere near choppy. However, I noticed that it wasn’t at the fluid 60fps.

All in all

This outlines the importance of proper heat management. The gaming on this phone is perfectly smooth. I was getting consistent frame rates when playing these games. Genchin Impact is one of the prettiest games on the mobile market, and the Galaxy S23 FE conquered it without breaking a sweat.

However, the phone just heats up way too much when playing these games. You won’t be able to play them for too long before needing to take a break to let the phone cool off. That’s just something that you will need to keep in mind.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Camera

Samsung puts a ton of attention into the camera technology of its devices, and the Galaxy FE devices as well. This is true even for the company’s more affordable phones. The Galaxy S23 FE has three cameras on the back, so let’s see how they perform.

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Exposure

Taking these pictures on a bright afternoon day, I found that the Galaxy S23 FE did a good job at reining in the highlights. There were bright spots in the scene that could have been easily overexposed. However, the phone kept them from getting too hot.

In general, it seemed that the phone leaned toward taking brighter photos. Some of them looked almost like they were on the edge of being overexposed, but they stopped short.

So, I think that Samsung did a really good job of getting evenly exposed shots even in the bright sunlight. In high-contrast shots, you might expect to see some overblown highlights, but those are in extreme situations.

Details

I was impressed with the amount of details that this camera was able to capture. The phone has a hi-res mode that lets you use all 50 megapixels on the sensor. However, just using the standard mode, I was still able to capture some nicely detailed photos. I’m able to zoom into them quite a bit before I start to see pixels.

Colors

We know Samsung as the company whose cameras typically give you juicy colors compared to others. Over the years, the company has toned things down. Fast-forward to today, and the Galaxy S23 FE delivers results that are pretty balanced in the color department.

This balance really shows when taking pictures of red objects. Most people who use their phones as their main cameras should know the struggle of taking pictures of red items. The results usually come out so bright and oversaturated that they make your eyes water. However, in the example of the flower below, the phone was able to keep the color from going overboard. I commend the company for that.

The colors are nice and punchy, though just a tad muted in some instances. For example, the yellow flower was a bright and juicy yellow in real life, but the camera didn’t really capture that. However, the colors aren’t muted across the board. As you can see, the image of the pinkish leaves is rather punchy.

All in all, I think the colors are well-handled. They’re not too saturated and not too dull.

Low-light

Moving inside where the lights are low, I’m still getting a high degree of performance. In lower lighting conditions, the camera was able to deliver some solid results. There was still some nice detail in the images with limited noise.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Review: Battery

There’s no point in having a good phone if it dies on you. The Galaxy S23 FE has pretty good battery life. With moderate usage- with minimal gameplay, casual social media use, and a bit of video watching- I was able to get about 10 hours of screen-on-time. That’s not too bad, and it was about two more than the Galaxy A53 that I reviewed last year.

On heavier days, I was able to get just above eight hours. I played more games, watched more videos, and spent a fair amount of time taking photos. So, I think that you’re able to make it through the day with moderate use with some to spare for the next day. If you’re going to be using your personal game console and TV set, then you might need to reach for a charger before going to bed.

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Charging

One disappointing aspect of this phone is the charging. The Galaxy S23 FE doesn’t really charge all that fast. It takes more than an hour and a half to charge it. That is if you have access to a 25W charger. You’re definitely not getting one in the box. If you have to rush out of the door, just know that throwing your phone on the charger won’t help the battery life all that much.

Galaxy S23 FE Review: Software version

This phone uses the latest OneUI software from Samsung. It launched with Android 13 out of the box but, as of March 2024, it’s running One UI 6.1 running on top of Android 14. The build number is

  • Build Number: S7110U1UEU2CXCH / S711U1OYM2CXCH / S711U1UEU2CXCH.
  • Security Patch: March 2024

This is the biggest update to this phone since the move to Android 14. The main thing about this update is the introduction of Galaxy AI. Samsung unveiled Galaxy AI with the announcement of the Galaxy S24 phones. Now, this

With Galaxy AI, you gain access to Circle to Search. This is the ability to perform a lens search of what’s on your screen. It will also bring live translation for calls. You’ll be able to seamlessly translate the audio during a call.

Interpreter lets you have a face-to-face conversation with a person who speaks another language. It will translate what you say in real time.

Other AI features include summarizing web pages, translating text from pictures, AI in Samsung Notes, automatic voice message transcription, AI image editor, and an AI wallpaper generator.

Final verdict

There are top-tier premium phones and there are low-tier budget phones. However, there are those devices right in the middle that make it hard to place them. The Galaxy S23 FE isn’t any one of them. It sits in an area where it doesn’t seem to belong. This is an affordable offering, but nothing about it points to that.

The feeling doesn’t; the display doesn’t; the camera doesn’t. Just about everything with this phone makes you think that it’s a more expensive Galaxy S device. There were times when I needed to remind myself that I was using an affordable FE handset.

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When I’m blazing through Genshin Impact or watching movies on the incredible display, I forget that this phone is technically a mid-ranger. If you want a Galaxy S23 or a Galaxy S23+, and you can throw down the money for one of those devices, go for it. However, if you want a true-to-form premium experience with an amazing phone, I have no issue in recommending that you buy the Galaxy S23 FE. For only $599, you’re getting an experience that should cost hundreds more.



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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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