It's been about a year and a half since Samsung released its last "Fan Edition" phone, as we haven't seen one since the Galaxy S21 FE after Samsung skipped the S22 FE, which had us questioning the future of the lineup. Fast forward to now, and that's all changing as the Galaxy S23 FE is coming soon, and we were able to spend a bit of time with it.
The timing is rather curious in some regards but makes perfect sense in others, given that Google is set to launch the Pixel 8 and the holiday season is rapidly approaching. But in a lot of ways, it definitely seems as though Samsung is making the right decision to launch a mid-cycle device with flagship-like performance.
What impressed me the most
We all know that Samsung makes great hardware, ranging from the top-of-the-line Galaxy S23 Ultra all the way down to the Galaxy A54 and even the $200 Galaxy A14 5G. But there is just something that stands out to me with the Galaxy S23 FE, and it's how comfortable the phone feels in the hand.
You won't find any curved glass on the front or back, which is honestly a trend that I'm excited to see in upcoming and future Android phones. Instead, the aluminum railing is curved, which helps the phone nestle right into the palm of your hand. I didn't have the same problem that I had with last year's iPhone 14 Pro with its flat railing that made using the phone uncomfortable.
I'm going to do my best to not just recite the specs, but it's worth noting that the S23 FE fits in right between the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus. At 6.4 inches, this might just be the "Goldilocks" phone if you thought the S23 was too small and the S23 was too large. I really can't stress enough how comfortable the phone was to hold and use during my hands-on session, making me rethink whether I need to stick with the Galaxy S23 Ultra or iPhone Pro Max in the future.
Something else that I came away impressed with is the different colors. There are four that you'll have to choose from, but Mint is clear and away my favorite of the bunch. It's just cool and refreshing to look at, and I'm really hoping that Samsung, Apple, and others decide to bring these fun colors to the "more Pro" phones in the future.
A surprising number of cases
While I might be in the minority that would much rather use a dbrand skin than put a case on my phones, that's not the case for everyone. Thankfully, Samsung has everyone covered with a wide array of case options, which include more basic ones, along with a "blast from the past."
One of the cases that I was able to use during my brief time with the phone was the S View case, which is a folio-style case that has a little window in the top right corner. This lets you glance down at your phone and see the time, date, and icons from the apps that you have missed notifications. I say "blast from the past" because I haven't actually used one of these cases in years and completely forgot that Samsung was still making them.
There's no such thing as having too many case options, and while we know third-party case makers will have some, it's nice also having cases directly from Samsung. The company is also releasing a bulkier, rugged case, along with a silicone case, all of which offer varying levels of protection.
Don't expect anything crazy
The goal of these Fan Edition devices isn't to try and push the envelope of development in one way or another. Instead, it's to try and take a lot of the best features from other devices, roll them into one, and then sell them at a reasonable price.
I'll have to reserve my final judgment for the final review, but it really feels like Samsung might have nailed it here. In order to keep the cost down, the Galaxy S23 FE is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which is the same chip powering last year's Galaxy S22 series. But it's also the under-clocked version of what you'll find in the Nothing Phone 2.
Basically, what this means is that while you won't get the latest and greatest chip from Qualcomm, performance is still going to be great for the next couple of years. Plus, you'll have the added benefit of an extra year of software support compared to those who have last year's Galaxy S22.
When it came to actually using the phone, I didn't have enough time to run benchmarks, but everything felt just as fluid as I've come to expect from a Samsung phone. I do have some concerns about battery life and thermals, but that's just something else I'll have to reserve until the final review.
What about the cameras?
If there's one thing that gives Samsung a leg up on Google and Apple heading into the holiday season, it's the cameras. Unlike the iPhone 15 and presumably the Pixel 8, the Galaxy S23 FE is equipped with three rear cameras.
Due to the nature of the hands-on event, I wasn't able to get any samples, but they'll likely perform as you would expect. It seems that the Galaxy S23 and S23 FE share the same main 50MP wide-angle lens and 12MP ultrawide sensor. However, Samsung is using an 8MP telephoto camera instead of the 10MP one found on the standard S23.
Would I recommend the Galaxy S23 FE?
To be quite honest, it's difficult to unequivocally answer that question right at this very moment. The Pixel 8 is about to be released, and at the time of this writing, we're still not 100% sure on what Google will price its phone at.
If both phones come in at $599, then it'll be quite interesting to see how Google is managing to improve the overall experience with its non-Pro Pixel while keeping the price intact. That being said, I expect the Galaxy S23 FE to sell like hotcakes, at least here in the States, with some of the holiday deals that we're likely to see.
As for recommending it, I would say "go for it" if you are looking for a new Samsung phone and don't want to spend the extra $200 for the regular S23. You'll get pretty much the same experience, provided that you don't care too much about the downgraded telephoto camera. But again, I want to hold my final decision for the full review after we've spent some quality time with Samsung's latest handset, so be on the lookout for that.
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Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.