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Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: fan forgettable

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In a yr when most issues acquired costlier, the $599 Galaxy S23 FE is refreshing. That’s a lot lower than its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 FE, value when it debuted at $699 virtually two years in the past — particularly when you think about inflation. 

Value was one of many foremost issues with the Galaxy S21 FE. It was imagined to be an “accessible” flagship for the followers — the FE stands for Fan Version. However it was priced too near the usual S21 to make sense, and on the time, the Pixel 6 was a greater worth for $599. Samsung appears intent on righting this incorrect with the S23 FE. 

As for the whole lot else, the S23 FE checks the proper containers. There’s a succesful processor with a wholesome 8GB of RAM, a giant display, a devoted telephoto lens, full IP68 water and mud resistance, wi-fi charging, and an excellent five-year software program help coverage. That’s a aggressive bundle for $600.

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However the S23 FE nonetheless feels prefer it’s caught in no-man’s-land. Efficiency is nice, but it surely’s not leaps and bounds higher than the $500 Pixel 7A. It’s appropriately priced, but it surely additionally doesn’t really feel like a screaming deal in comparison with the $700 and $800 flagships. I’d discover it simpler to suggest if it stood out in any means in any respect, however as it’s, it feels prefer it was designed to make use of up a provide of previous-gen Qualcomm chips earlier than they go stale.

The Galaxy S23 FE makes use of a late 2021 classic Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset — and that’s not the 8 Plus Gen 1, which got here out midway by 2022. The unique 8 Gen 1 powered the S22 collection flagships, which had a bent to run sizzling and are available up brief on battery life. Within the S23 FE, it’s paired with 8GB of RAM, which is greater than sufficient for many day by day duties.

The 4,500mAh battery simply lasts a day of average use, however you’ll be able to drain it a lot quicker with some processing-intensive duties. Add an additional half-hour of gaming or prolonged time away from Wi-Fi, and also you’ll wish to cost up earlier than the day’s over. The S23 FE helps wi-fi charging, which is welcome right here and certainly not assured on a $600 cellphone. It’s a bit factor, however there’s nothing fairly like plopping your cellphone on a charger on the finish of the day quite than messing with a charging cable.

A giant, smooth-scrolling display is without doubt one of the S23 FE’s vivid spots.

This system’s greatest nod towards followers may be the colour choices Samsung sells it in. My evaluation unit is an unmistakable purple, and you will discover tangerine and mint choices, too. I’m not as keen on the curved, {smooth} edges employed by the S23 FE; they really feel too slippery in my hand, and lots of different system producers have moved to much less rounded sides for good purpose. Even Samsung moved to a flatter edge on the S23 Extremely.

This cellphone is not any light-weight, both — it weighs 209g, a bit greater than the 196g Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus, although they share comparable dimensions. I took further care every time I picked it up off a desk so it wouldn’t fly out of my fingers, and it’s an excellent candidate for a grippy case.

The S23 FE’s 6.4-inch display is a spotlight. It’s large enough to really feel like a “large” display, with simply sufficient decision at 1080p that it doesn’t look low-cost. Positive, the bezels are important, and also you’ll discover a barely thicker “chin” alongside the underside border in the event you search for it, however this stuff didn’t trouble me. It has a high refresh fee of 120Hz, so scrolling is tremendous {smooth}. I solely struggled with it on one event once I couldn’t fairly get it vivid sufficient exterior — it was a vivid however overcast day, and I believe the excessive brightness mode wasn’t partaking. In any other case, it was simply as good and responsive as any flagship cellphone display I’ve used previously yr.

The S23 FE feels extra like an upcycled midrange cellphone than a simplified flagship

Samsung’s One UI Android pores and skin stays one among my least favourite points of the cellphone. As at all times, it takes a bit effort to de-Samsung it to make sense of the app drawer and set up a keyboard that doesn’t make me wish to throw my cellphone within the sea. I acquired a push notification encouraging me to “Give the reward of Galaxy” with a holiday-themed advert for the S23 Extremely, a cellphone that prices twice as a lot because the one I used to be utilizing. 

The cellphone was additionally lacking a calendar and clock app once I set it up, which neither Samsung nor anybody else I requested might clarify — Samsung telephones normally ship with not less than two calendar apps. I’ll chalk that one as much as basic chaos, however nonetheless, Samsung software program is Samsung software program. The best possible information right here is that the corporate’s strongest software program help coverage applies right here — it comes with 4 years of OS updates and 5 years of safety updates. That’s now not the most effective coverage within the class, but it surely’s a darn good one.

The digital camera system is the place the S23 FE feels extra like an upcycled midrange cellphone than a simplified flagship. The 50-megapixel foremost digital camera is okay — nice even! It’s the telephoto digital camera that feels a contact behind. Its f/2.4 lens is gradual, so the digital camera fortunately switches to the principle sensor in low mild, with all of the telltale noise-reduction softness of a digitally zoomed picture. 

Portrait mode is simply gradual usually, too. It at all times felt a beat behind once I was taking photographs of my toddler, even once we had been exterior in first rate lighting. I want Samsung had lower its losses and skipped the telephoto lens right here in favor of an honest 2x crop zoom mode from the principle digital camera — as it’s, the 3x telephoto isn’t pulling its weight. 

Not dangerous, however nothing particular.

Outdoors of some missed portrait mode pictures, the Galaxy S23 FE didn’t let me down in any specific means throughout my testing. It saved up effectively on a protracted day exterior of the home as I scrolled by Instagram, listened to podcasts, and navigated bus routes throughout city. There’s nothing incorrect with this cellphone, and if the worth and have set communicate to you, then I don’t suppose it would disappoint. 

Usually talking, although, the S23 FE seems like too little, too late. In 2021, a $600 cellphone with a telephoto lens, wi-fi charging, and a top-tier chipset would have been critically tempting. However the midrange class hasn’t been standing nonetheless, and in 2023, the $500 Pixel 7A presents a number of the issues the S23 FE does, together with wi-fi charging and a top-tier chipset. It doesn’t have the telephoto lens, however I’d be completely happy with its digital camera’s 2x crop zoom and general photograph capabilities in comparison with the S23 FE.

In 2023, there’s one other $599 cellphone to think about: the Nothing Cellphone 2. It doesn’t absolutely work on Verizon, so it’s not an choice for everybody, but it surely comes with a giant 6.7-inch display, a sophisticated interface, and the newer Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, with all its enhancements in battery effectivity. Greater than that, it seems like a tool designed with objective — to not filter out a components bin.

Samsung discovered a approach to wedge the S23 FE in between the midrange and premium courses, and I don’t suppose it’s a nasty factor that we’ve got another good cellphone on supply between $500 and the $800 flagships. However as for the “followers” this cellphone is supposedly designed for? They’re higher off ready for the Galaxy S24.

Pictures by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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