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Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Charming phone with flagship perks intact

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Charming phone with flagship perks intact

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE in its six colourways.

Not wanting to be left out of the peak product launch period for consumer tech brands this Q4 2023, Samsung squeezed in one last major push of personal devices with the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE leading the charge.

Since the brand skipped one generation of FE phones, we think it's worth a quick recap before we thoroughly review our experiences with the Galaxy S23 FE.

Fan Edition returns

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE in Mint.

The "FE" by Samsung stands for Fan Edition, a marketing name by Samsung that gives "what fans want" without the typical high-end prices for Samsung premium-grade devices (a.k.a. budget flagship-grade).

With the Galaxy S23 FE touting an astoundingly low starting price of S$888, even by FE standards, we're definitely curious if Samsung can still pull off a budget flagship handset that can measure up to its own premium-tier devices (for reference, its true flagshipGalaxy S23 starts at S$1,038, and the previous Galaxy S21 FE was S$978).

Samsung first debuted FE products with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (review here), which was well-received and spurred the brand to bring in its successor, Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (review here). The Koreans then skipped a generation of FE phones, saying they needed to cancel the Galaxy S22 FE to have enough hardware parts for the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

Fast forward to date, and now we have the Galaxy S23 FE to show what Samsung thinks its best users are truly willing to pay for.

Note: If you want this smartphone's features and hard specs, check out our launch coverage. In our hands-on, we're looking at how the phone feels in person.

Cheaper doesn't mean you have to look cheap

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

The Galaxy S23 FE phones pack Samsung's very own chipset,Exynos 2200, built on the 4nm manufacturing process. That's the same manufacturing process that birthed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, although Samsung's take on it comes with AMD's RNDA 2 architecture and the use of Xclipse GPU.

It confirms previous rumours about Samsung's chipset choice with this phone variant. Samsung claimed it's further enhanced with a vapour chamber that’s 3.9x larger in dimensionto give it better heat management and an overall 6-10% CPU performance increase over the preceding Exynos chipset.

So we know it's not a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. However, the budget flagship handset still offers a competent-looking chipset that'll satisfy phone users who don't need ultra-intense processing power for their daily driver activities. What, then, of the new phone's build quality if Samsung already saves costs by using in-house chipmaking expertise?

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE in Tangerine.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE's new construction and build defied our expectations. If you're familiar with the previous FE phones, you'd know they are primarily plastic sandwiches in hand, prioritising function over form.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE rear.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE, also the rear.

This time, the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE combines a metal finish with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 layers and Armor Aluminium sides to give it a cleaner, sleeker appearance. Our close-up here shows a glass-topped rear that keeps its pastel colourways looking fresh and vibrant.

Side profile of Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

Samsung has also decidedly used half-polish metal camera rings that match its rails to further accentuate its cloudy single-tone colours, giving the phone a youthful zest that feels welcoming.

We also liked how the Galaxy S23 FE's choice to retaina flat front and backworked out even better than its predecessors, as it adds to refined simplicity.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE, front.

The display also looks like it's no slouch, with a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel (2,340 x 1,080 pixels) packing an adaptive 60-120Hz refresh rate. It also has some core perks you'd want for better readability, like Eye Care Display, Vision Booster, and Eye Comfort Shield — which are ordinarily only found on high-end Samsung phones.

Topping it off is a massive increase to its maximum brightness of 1000 nits in High Brightness Mode, up from its old 800 nits.

We only wished Samsung reduced its display bezel and overall thickness further, which would've truly taken the Galaxy S23 FE above and beyond its initial budget flagship categorisation — appearance-wise. It's otherwise the best-designed FE phone by Samsung so far (not that they had many, with this being the third FE mobile).

Cameras and more

Shooting with the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

Also returning are triple-rear cameras, with Galaxy S23 FE touting a 50MP main (OIS, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AutoFocus), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 122° FOV), and an 8MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom (OIS, f/2.4, PDAF). To give its users maximum shooting flexibility, the phone offers Pro Mode (shutter speed, ISO, aperture controls) and Selfie Tone (for more accurate, true-to-life selfies).

Samsung's proprietaryNightography feature found in its top-tier devices like the Galaxy S23 Ultra'sis also present in the Galaxy S23 FE. The spokesperson said this was a deliberate choice in helping non-flagship phone chasers understand the perks of paying more for a phone.

USB-C port on the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

However, all other areas of the phone are just as good as flagship-grade Samsung devices. You get a 4,500mAh capacity battery with Samsung Super Fast Charging (25W wired), Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, and Wireless PowerShare for reverse-charging accessories. You also get IP68 water-and-dust resistance, a considerably non-negotiable protection for a phone to call itself a budget flagship contender.

Finally, you also get Samsung's guarantee of four years of software updates and five years of security updates like its high-end counterparts, so the Galaxy S23 FE is built for users beyond those who change phones out like changing underwear.

Unfortunately, our hands-on session was concise, with limited photo-taking and demo opportunities. You'll have to wait until our full review, where we get to put the phone through its paces.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE retails at S$888 (128GB variant) and S$988 (256GB) in Singapore. Online-only retail begins on 10 October 2023, with all retail channels opening from 20 October 2023 onwards. Read our launch coverage for the full pre-order and promotion details.

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