Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review

Wedged between powerful flagships and low-cost midrange models, the Galaxy S23 FE struggles to stand out

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE cameras
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S23 has a lot of things going for it, chiefly a dedicated telephoto lens that's often MIA on other phones in this price range. But with the lower-cost Pixel 7a taking better photos on average and the rest of the S23 lineup offering more premium features, the Galaxy S23 FE struggles to define itself.


  • +

    Telephoto lens on a sub-$600 phone

  • +

    6.4-inch display has 120Hz refresh rate

  • +

    Older Snapdragon chipset still performs well

  • +

    8K video recording


  • -

    Photo output can't match top budget camera phones

  • -

    Heavier phone than comparable rivals

  • -

    Fails to standout from cheaper midrange models

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The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE finds itself in an odd position that's unusual for most phones — it has to justify its own existence. Above it, you have the standard Galaxy S23, offering all the appeal of a Samsung flagship phone. Just beneath it is the Galaxy A54, one of the best cheap phones you can buy. So why grab the Galaxy S23 FE when those options are promising either more features or a lower price?

Samsung is betting that while there are some features that are must-haves for certain phone users, others can be easily shed if it means saving a few bucks off the price of a more capable smartphone. And that's the Galaxy S23 FE's pitch — it delivers some of the key capabilities associated with a Galaxy S phone in a more affordable package.

Are features like a dedicated telephoto lens in a $599 device alluring enough to make people forget about the more powerful processor and more refined design of Samsung's flagship phone? Or can it convince people to pay more than they would for the well-regarded Galaxy A54? That's what this Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review aims to find out.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Specs

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Starting price$599
Screen size6.4-inch AMOLED (2340 x 1080; 120Hz)
CPUSnapdragon 8 Gen 1 / Exynos 2200
Storage / Expandable128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras50MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 8MP telephoto (f/2.4) with 3x optical zoom
Front camera10MP (f/2.4)
Battery size4,500 mAh
Charging speed25W
Size6.2 x 3 x 0.32 inches (158 x 76.5 x 8.2mm)
Weight7.4 ounces (209 grams)
ColorsMint, cream, graphite, purple

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Price and availability

The Galaxy S23 FE goes on sale October 26 for $599. That's $200 less than what you'd pay for a standard Galaxy S23, though Samsung Galaxy S23 deals can help you save on the price of one of the best Samsung phones. The Galaxy S23 FE's price is $150 more than the $449 cost of the Galaxy A54.

For that $599 price, you get a phone with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage, matching the Galaxy S23's spec. There's a 256GB version of the FE for $60 extra, but there's no microSD slot for increasing storage as there is on the Galaxy A54.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Design

Person using Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

(Image credit: Future)

At first glance, you'd be hard pressed to spot any differences between the respective looks of the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 FE, which should be the goal. Picking up the FE, it's clear Samsung is using cheaper materials. There's no Gorilla Glass Victus 2 here as there is on the standard S23; instead, the Galaxy S23 FE makes do with Gorilla Glass 5. You do get IP68 water resistance, matching the S23 and a step ahead of the IP67 rating for the Galaxy A54.

The back of the Galaxy S23 FE more or less matches Samsung's flagships, too, with vertically stacked cameras that aren't set apart from the rest of phone with any sort of camera bump. It's a pleasingly spartan look that puts the focus on the phone's colors. Here, Samsung gives you an option of mint, purple, cream and graphite, which all look a little brighter than the S23's more subdued colors.

One difference with the S23 FE is that the camera lens stick out a little more prominently from the back of the phone — it's more like the design of the Galaxy A54 than the S23. For that reason, there's a little wobble when you use the Galaxy S23 FE as it's laying on its back.

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

At 6.2 x 3 x 0.32 inches, the Galaxy S23 FE is taller and wider than the standard S23. That's to accomodate the larger 6.4-inch display — the S23 keeps it compact at 6.1 inches — but it also means the S23 FE is harder to hold in smaller hands. It doesn't help that the phone has bulked up to 7.4 ounces, compared to less than 6 ounces for the Galaxy S23. Even the similarly sized Google Pixel 7a is lighter at 6.8 ounces.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Display

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S23 FE features a 6.4-inch display — specifically, a Dynamic AMOLED with 2340 x 1080 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. In adaptive mode, your screen scales up to 120Hz when there's lots of onscreen activity to smooth things out; otherwise, it sticks to a 60Hz rate. That's a bit of a change from the variable 48Hz to 120Hz rate of the Galaxy S23, but it's likely something that won't bother you if you opt for the FE.

Our lab is wrapping up testing on color reproduction and brightness, so we'll share those numbers once we have them. I wasn't terribly bothered by the brightness of the screen, which is rated for a peak of 1,450 nits. I could take photos outside on a relatively bright day without squinting to see either the controls or the viewfinder, though I did find it helpful to turn off adaptive brightness while gaming, so that the on-screen action wouldn't grow too dim.

I do feel that the Galaxy S23 FE isn't as punchy as the Samsung S23 when it comes to colors. Watching Haunted Mansion on Disney+, the spooky scenes in the dark seemed a touch murkier than they appeared on other recent phones I've reviewed such as the Motorola Razr (2023). Things looked better when streaming the Napoleon trailer on YouTube, though that's a more brightly lit video. 

More testing may paint a different picture, but I think it's safe to suggest that while the Galaxy S23's display is one of the best features about that particular phone, here on the Galaxy S23 FE, it's merely adequate.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Cameras

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

Typically, a sub-$600 phone that features three rear cameras usually dedicates one of those lenses to something like a medicated macro camera or depth sensor — anything to pump up the camera count. That's not the case with the Galaxy S23 FE, which offers a main camera, ultrawide shooter and telephoto lens, just like its fellow Galaxy S23 phones.

It's not exactly the same setup. While the 50MP main camera and 12MP ultrawide lens are the same, the Galaxy S23 FE's telephoto shooter is a 8MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture. That compares to a 10MP telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture on the regular Galaxy S23. Like the S23, the S23 FE's telephoto camera provides a 3x optical zoom.

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

Even if it may not have the megapixels of the Galaxy S23, the S23 FE's telephoto camera still stands out for a sub-$600 phone, as it's not something the Pixel 7a or Galaxy A54 can offer. The Galaxy S23 FE also stands out by being able to capture 8K video, another feature typically found on pricier phones.

To test the Galaxy S23 FE's camera setup, I arranged for a camera face-off with the Pixel 7a. Google's midrange phone may not have the extra telephoto lens found on the S23 FE, but it's the best camera phone available for less than $500. If the Galaxy S23 FE can hold its own against the Pixel 7a, it would truly be a discount phone to be reckoned with.

This photo of pumpkins at the local produce store shows that Galaxy S23 FE isn't immune from a problem that a lot of Samsung phones have — it pumps up the color to the point where overexposure is a real risk. That's the case with the crate of pumpkins over to the left of the photo, which lack any definition. The two orange pumpkins in the center of the S23 FE shot suffer the same fate.

The Pixel 7a keeps things darker and more balanced for a shot with better contrast overall. If I have a complaint, it's that the fruit and vegetables in the background are lost in shadow — an issue the S23 FE photo doesn't have. But the Pixel 7a clearly took the better shot here.

The Galaxy S23 FE's tendency to pump up colors serves it well in some circumstances, like this photo of a super famoso burrito the size of a small child. The pickled carrot and guacamole are brighter in the S23 FE shot, and I like how crispy the chimichangas look, even if they're less blurred in the Pixel 7a photo. The Pixel 7a image is just a little too dark and lacks the pop of the S23 FE effort.

The contrast of light and darkness continues with a photo of a window display featuring Legos at a local toy store. While the glare off the glass in the Galaxy S23 FE is more noticeable, the brighter coloring is much more eye-pleasing, allowing the different Lego models on display to really stand out. The Pixel's shot is simply too dark, especially on the left side. Models that stand out in the S23 FE version simply disappear into the background.

We start to see the power of good photo processing once we compare portrait photos. I like the Galaxy S23 FE effort here — once again, it's brighter than what the Pixel 7a has managed to produce. And colors like my daughter's red hair and blue eyes really stand out a little more in the S23 FE shot.

The problem is that Samsung has gotten a little too agressive with face-smoothing in the S23 FE portrait. Dark though the Pixel 7a photo may be, it's still possible to see the freckles on my daughter's face. I also think the Pixel 7a background blur is more effective, and that the contrast in the shot is more striking than what the S23 FE has to offer.

There's really no contest when trying out the Night mode on the respective phones. With little ambient light around, the Galaxy S23 FE struggles to separate the stuffed animals from the shadows. There are some glimpses of bright color, but only glimpse peeking out from the inky black. The Pixel 7a has a much more consistent photo where, even if some colors are a bit muted, all the stuffies are visible.

I kept the night mode off in this shot, as there was enough ambient lighting at dusk to capture a photo of a movie theater marquee. It's a matter of taste, but I like the cooler colors of the Galaxy S23 FE photo and the fact that the moon off in the distance looks like a moon, and not just a blip in the night sky. 

Some would argue that the Pixel 7a doesn't have as much over-exposure around the neon lights, and it's definitely true that there's less glare off the marquee listing the movies that are showing. But I think the brighter tone of the S23 FE works better for my eye.

Neither ultrawide shot from either phone of this city street really impresses. For starters, both have a noticeable fisheye effect around the edges. Colors are stronger in the Galaxy S23 FE shot for the most part, but that comes at the expense of some detail — the movie theater looks a little washed out and the sign doesn't appear as sharp as it does in the Pixel 7a shot.

I think I was most struck by the contrast in zoom shots, as I took the S23 FE's 3x optical zoom out for a spin. Keep in mind there's no dedicated zoom lens on the Pixel 7a, so I'm relying on the Super Res Zoom feature, which relies on computation photograph to tighten up the details of the shot and get rid of some of the fuzziness that can creep into shots using a digital zoom.

And I have to say, I think the digital zoom of the Pixel 7a gets the job done here better than the S23 FE and its telephoto lens. The colors are deeper in the Pixel shot, so elements like the facade of the theater seem richer and more detailed. The lettering on the theater sign looks crisp in the Pixel 7a photo, not overly glossy like the S23 renders it. I appreciate there will be some instances where a dedicated zoom lens will outperform a software aided digital zoom, but this isn't one of them.

The Galaxy S23 FE relies on a 10MP selfie cam to capture self-portraits, but it didn't impress in this shot of me in front of a brick wall. The shot is overly warm to the point where my skin has a yellowish cast. I look a lot healthier in the Pixel 7a photo, even if Google's phone loses some of the details in the wrinkles underneath my eyes. The red of the bricks is a richer cooler in the Pixel 7a shot also.

I can appreciate that Samsung tried not to skimp on the camera capabilities of the Galaxy S23 FE, even as it looked for ways to separate this phone from the regular Galaxy S23. Overall, I'd say the cameras are capable, but they're not any better than what a solid budget camera phone like the Pixel 7a can pull off.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Performance

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

One area where Samsung makes no bones about compromises is on the chipset its using for the Galaxy S23 FE. Because I'm in the U.S., my review unit features a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 system-on-chip instead of the more powerful Gen 2 silicon inside the rest of the S23 lineup. In other parts of the world, you're getting an Exynos 2200 chip. Hopefully, this isn't a sneak peek at how Samsung plans to handle silicon with next year's Galaxy S24.

You wouldn't expect a phone powered by an older system-on-chip to keep pace with newer silicon, even if the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 remains a capable chip. Still, our benchmark results show the Galaxy S23 FE lagging behind the Galaxy S23 in performance and graphics.

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PhoneChipsetGeekbench 6 (single core/multicore)3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (fps)Adobe Premiere Rush (Mins:Secs)
Samsung Galaxy S23 FESnapdragon 8 Gen 11714 / 406860.20:49
Samsung Galaxy S23Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy1881 / 497287.30:39
Google Pixel 7aTensor G21401 / 336841.10:56
Samsung Galaxy A54Exynos 1380950 / 273116.91:11

Still, when comparing the Galaxy S23 FE to phones that look like better values, you'll see the benefits of even an older Snapdragon 8 series chipset. On Geekbench 6, the S23 FE turned in better single- and multi-core scores than either the Pixel 7a and its Tensor G2 chip or the Galaxy A54 and its Exynos 1380 silicon. The same holds true in graphics testing with 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test.

A particularly telling result came in our real-world test in which we use Adobe Premiere Rush to transcode a video and time the results. It took the Galaxy S23 FE an average of 49 seconds to pull that off, and while that's slower than the Galaxy S23, the times were still within 10 seconds of each other. In contrast, the Pixel 7a needed 56 seconds while the Galaxy A54 took more than 1 minute. No, you're not going to get flagship-level performance from the Galaxy S23 FE, but it's going to beat out other midrange phones.

And certainly in everyday usage, the phone performs just fine. I never experienced any stutters or delays when playing PUBG Mobile, and I could switch between apps on the Galaxy S23 FE with relative ease.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Battery life and charging

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

If there's one area that concerns me about the Galaxy S23 FE and its Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, it involves the phone's battery life. While the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is quite efficient — just look at the number of phones running that chipset that landed on our best phone battery life list — the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 had a bit of a spotty track record when it came to power management. At least the Galaxy S23 FE boasts a hefty 4,500 mAh battery to help stay powered up.

We haven't finished running our custom battery test in which we have the S23 FE surf the web continuously over cellular until it runs out of power, so we can't tell you whether it tops the average smartphone by lasting longer than 10 hours. I do know that when running other tests on the phone, including both benchmarking and playing some graphically intensive games, the battery indicator dipped significantly, but that's not really a reflection of real-world use.

The Galaxy S23 FE charges at 25W, the same speed that the Galaxy S23 charges at. Given that's among the slower charging speeds, I wouldn't necessarily call that a cause for celebration, but at least you're not sacrificing faster charging by opting for a cheaper phone. The S23 FE supports wireless charging, too, something you won't find on the Galaxy A54.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Software

Samsung Galaxy s23 FE review

(Image credit: Future)

Anyone that’s used a recent Samsung Galaxy device will find the interface familiar with the Galaxy S23 FE. It’s running Samsung’s One UI on top of Android 13 and doesn’t have anything really new or different that I’ve tried with the other phones in the series.

As for updates to Android 14, that will come later this year, as the first of four Android OS updates Samsung offers phones like the Galaxy S23 FE. (It's the same update policy enjoyed by other Galaxy S flagship as well as select Galaxy A phones like the A54.) It's a generous update policy for an Android device, though Google stole some of its thunder when it extended support ot seven years with the Pixel 8 series.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Verdict

The ideal Galaxy S23 FE user is someone who takes a lot of photos and wants a camera setup much like the Galaxy S23 without having to pay full flagship prices. On that front, the Galaxy S23 FE delivers, as its cameras capture solid images, even in low light, though the Night mode in particular could use some fine tuning.

The trouble is, midrange camera phones have gotten better, and while they may not have the dedicated zoom lens of the Galaxy S23 FE, they can hold their own in most other areas. And in the case of the Pixel 7a, the software-aided Super Res Zoom feature can produce images that are comparable to the S23 FE's zooms.

If you like the Samsung brand but balk at high-priced hones, the Galaxy S23 FE is a good alternative, although I'd also argue that the Galaxy A54 has its own strengths, plus a lower starting price. And that gets to the heart of the problem with the Galaxy S23 FE, a phone I can recommend, though with not a lot of enthusiasm. It tries to thread the needle between higher-end flagship phones and lower priced midrange models without fully convincing you that you'd be better off opting for either of those instead.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

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