Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review: Late to the party

The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is a mid-range version of the S23 with a larger screen, the same software, and lower powered internals – but there are better Android alternatives

What we love

  • Most of the S23 for hundreds less
  • Solid cameras
  • 120Hz refresh rate display
  • Five years of software support

What we don’t

  • Thick and sharp edged
  • Big bezels, big in general
  • Ageing processor

If you like the idea of a Galaxy S23 but don’t want to pay top dollar for one, the S23 FE could well be the Samsung phone for you. At £599 it takes all the best parts of the company’s hardware and Android software and distils it into a phone that costs hundreds less than other S23 branded handsets.

This means a larger screen with bigger bezels, and a phone that is chunkier and made of less premium materials. But aside from that it’s quite difficult to see the differences – the slightly inferior camera here won’t bother most casual phone buyers, and the inclusion of an optical telephoto lens at this price is rare. It does feel like an awkwardly big phone though, and is much less svelte than the S23 Ultra, which is dimensionally larger.

There’s Android 14 right out the box, with four updates promised to Android 18 and security updates till 2028, excellent longevity for a mid-range phone. We do question if the relatively underpowered Exynos 2200 chipset will be as sprightly then – it’s a real shame the UK is stuck with Samsung’s own silicon instead of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 most other regions get with the S23 FE.

But that’s nitpicking, and for most people with this amount to spend on an Android phone, the FE is a worthy contender that’s ultimately beaten out by the cheaper Google Pixel 7a. It would have made a lot more sense if it had gone on sale several months earlier.


  • Design
  • Display
  • Camera
  • Performance and battery life
  • Software
  • Price and where to buy
  • Verdict
  • Samsung Galaxy S23 FE review

    Samsung has settled into the habit of releasing a lower priced, FE-branded version of its flagship Galaxy S phone that costs hundreds less – you just have to wait several months for it to actually be available.

    The Galaxy S23 FE arrives in December 2023, a whole ten months after the other S23 phones launched back in February, and if rumours are to be believed, the Galaxy S24 is set to launch in January. That’s a lot of Galaxy phones to choose from, so should you go for the S23 FE?

    We’ve been putting the new mid-range Android phone through its paces over a couple of weeks to see if it’s worth splashing out £599 on, or if you’re better off with the Google Pixel 7a for a bit less or the Pixel 8 for a bit more – or if you should hang on a month and see what Samsung’s next new batch of phones has to offer.


    • Thick with sharp edges
    • Glass front and back
    • IP68 water and dust resistance

    ‘FE’ stands for ‘fan edition’, though strangely Samsung has said it no longer stands for anything. The idea is the company strips the expensive Galaxy S phone of the bits that push it into expensive territory in the first place, but leaves you with a mid-range phone that is a dead ringer for its pricier alternative. That’s a good idea, but we’re not sure true fans of Samsung would wait ten months for it.

    A cost-cutting approach means the S23 FE is thicker, larger, and heavier than the S23, with metal rails and a glass back with sharp edges, so this isn’t the nicest feeling phone to hold. Dare we say it even feels a little toy-like. You’ll probably stick it in a case to avoid the glossy glass getting mucky with fingerprints, though that’ll make it even chunkier.

    A cost-cutting approach means the S23 FE is thicker, larger, and heavier than the S23

    Otherwise this is quite a plain phone, especially in the black colour we were loaned – the mint and purple versions are more eye-catching. There’s a USB-C port but no headphone jack, though it’s good to see full IP68 water and dust resistance. You get three camera bumps on the back next to a flash, and a fairly responsive under-display fingerprint scanner to unlock or authenticate purchases or apps.


    • 6.4-inch OLED
    • 120Hz refresh rate
    • Flat panel with big bezels

    Along with build quality, the display is also a step down from the S23, but it’s pretty impressive still. At 6.4-inch, the FE’s screen sits between the 6.1-inch S23 and the 6.6-inch S23 Plus, with an OLED panel that has a 120Hz refresh rate to keep things scrolling smoothly.

    A clue to the cheaper price here are the larger bezels around the screen, but after a while we didn’t really notice them. As with many modern Android phones, there’s also a circular cut out at the top for the selfie camera.

    The screen gets nice and bright and looks great whether you run the phone’s software in light or dark mode, and coupled with its decent size meant we didn’t mind watching a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek on the go rather than booting up our tablet.


    • Great main 50Mp lens
    • Telephoto rare at this price
    • Saturated colours

    Our phones are our cameras now, and we’re pleased to report the S23 FE has an excellent main camera. Though Samsung hasn’t said if it’s the same one as the S23 but it doesn’t matter because it’s really very good. We expected a compromise here but we’ve been happy with the photos the S23 FE has captured with the main shooter.

    … we’ve been happy with the photos the S23 FE has captured with the main shooter

    It snaps sharp, detailed images in daylight and also in low light or at night thanks to Samsung’s Nightography smarts that make sure photos are clear and colours realistic. That said, as with all Samsung phones the FE boosts the saturation up so colours are generally more vibrant than in reality, but this does make them social-media ready, and they look great on the screen or when shared with family and friends on WhatsApp.

    Here are some images shot with the main camera:

    You also get an ultra-wide camera that can take in more of a scene, plus a telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom. That’s great to see at this price, but unfortunately the phone tries its best to make sure you don’t actually use it. When we tapped 3x in the camera app, or indeed punched in further, the phone mostly was just cropping from the main sensor, which results in noisy, digital zoom images. You can’t make the phone actually use the telephoto, which is annoying, and we can’t help but think Samsung could have made the phone even cheaper by taking the lens out completely.

    The annoyance is balanced out by the fact the phone lets you shoot in full 50MP resolution with the main camera, or in RAW format, meaning this is a decent phone camera to use on a budget if you want to start editing your shots using software like Lightroom.

    The selfie camera is perfectly functional but isn’t as good as on the regular S23 or Google’s sharp-shooting Pixel 8. In fact, the Pixel 8’s camera is considerably more accomplished than the FE’s.

    Performance and battery life

    • Exynos chipset (in the UK)
    • Solid performer
    • Wireless charging

    We won’t bore you with the whole back story, but basically, Samsung tends to use its own chipsets in its phones sold in the UK but other countries get the usually superior Qualcomm Snapdragon equivalent. The same applies to the S23 FE, which uses the Samsung Exynos 2200 in the UK but the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the US and other places.

    The 2200 can be found in UK models of the older Galaxy S22 series, phones that are now famous for their dodgy battery life – the same can be said here unfortunately, with the S23 FE lasting us no more than a day on a full charge. The phone sheds a lot of power when on standby too, so you’ll want to keep an eye on the battery percentage even if you’re a light user.

    … performance-wise it’s more than enough for most, with only a hint of lag

    Still, performance-wise it’s more than enough for most, with only a hint of lag sometimes when switching between apps. The phone has 8GB RAM, which is just about enough here, though this is not the best device out there for high-end mobile gaming. We struggled to get the top frame rates and smoothness of play required for games like Call of Duty: Mobile or even go-to racer Asphalt 9. And if you want to load the phone with apps and games, you might run out of storage as the phone only has 128GB storage, which is not expandable with a memory card.

    The 4,500mAh battery can be charged up to 50% in 30 minutes, though with only a cable in the box and no charger, you’ll need to fork out for the right one if you want these speeds (this 25W Samsung charger is the one you need).

    Wireless charging is also built into the S23 FE, so you can plonk it down on a charging pad and it’ll top up at a maximum of 15W with Samsung’s official one, but slower on third-party options.


    • One UI is fully featured
    • Four years of Android updates
    • Five years of security updates

    Samsung’s version of Android, One UI, is a little cluttered for our tastes but there’s no denying it’s fully featured. Google makes Android, but its smartphone-making partners can do what they want with it, and Samsung tends to stuff as many things as possible into its phones.

    That means we spent some time customising the phone to our liking when we set it up, something we don’t do for as long on Google Pixel phones. One thing we really recommend is to download Google’s Gboard keyboard app and immediately use it instead of Samsung’s default keyboard, which we find really annoying to use.

    The interface is very customisable though, so you can make the phone look very unique by changes wallpapers and fonts, as well as download new themes and icon packs to scratch that Android tinkerer’s itch that you simply can’t get with iOS on the iPhone. You also get smart things like security scans and anti-malware software all built in and free.

    Better yet is Samsung’s update promise: four years of Android updates to get the phone to Android 18, plus security updates till 2028 means the S23 FE won’t become an outdated brick as fast as other mid-range phones can.

    Price and where to buy

    The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is on sale now for £599. You can buy it direct from Samsung UK. 

    This makes it £250 less than the cheapest model of the regular Galaxy S23, which is a decent saving. But we recommend spending even less on the £449 Google Pixel 7a, which is an overall better phone for £150 less. You can also find the regular S23 and even the new, superior Pixel 8 on contract for roughly the same monthly cost as the S23 FE.


    The Galaxy S23 FE is a solid choice if your budget for a shiny new Android phone tops out at £600 and you prefer a Samsung handset. It has a very good main camera, solid design and build quality, but it is a bit of a chonk, and the sub-par telephoto camera is a waste of space (and cost).

    We also can’t shake the feeling that the phone feels a bit like a toy, with a plain look that is quite dated – this is a cheap version of a regular Galaxy S23, but it looks a little too cheap in some ways, with thick screen bezels and sharp edges where other mid-range phones manage to feel a lot sleeker.

    It’s hard to recommend the phone above the £449 Google Pixel 7a. The S23 FE has a slightly better display, but we prefer the camera, software, and design of the Pixel by a distance – the FE isn’t worth the extra £150.


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