Samsung Galaxy S23 FE hands-on: Moving beyond fan edition

Going forward, the FE tag will simply denote more affordable versions of flagship Galaxy devices.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

I never really understood Samsung’s fan edition branding, and after not making an FE version of the S22 last year, I thought that designation might have been killed off for good. But now in 2023, Samsung is bringing the FE tag back with a bit of a twist. Instead of standing for “fan edition,” the moniker will simply be used to denote devices that share some features and design traits with the company’s flagship devices but with lower prices. Additionally, on Tuesday Samsung expanded the line, announcing four new FE models including the Galaxy S23 FE, Galaxy Tab S9 FE, Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ and the Galaxy Buds FE.

The S23 FE may be the most straightforward of them all. It features an almost identical design to the regular model, but with a 120Hz 6.4-inch OLED display that fits between the standard S23 (6.1 inches) and the S23+ (6.6) in size. Around back, you still get three rear cameras including a 50-MP main sensor, a 12-MP ultra-wide and a slightly lower-res 8-MP telephoto with a 3x optical zoom. Notably, unlike Samsung’s A-series phones, the S23 FE still features a glass design with metal sides, the difference is that the FE uses Gorilla Glass 5 instead of Gorilla Glass Victus like on the standard S23. However, there is a refreshed range of colors including mint, purple, cream and graphite in addition to a couple of exclusive hues on

Inside, the other major difference is that the S23 features an older Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip (instead of a Gen 2 processor). So even though that silicon is still relatively speedy, you’re not getting full flagship performance. Battery capacity has also increased slightly to 4,500 mAh. But aside from that, the specs are pretty similar. You can choose from either 128GB or 256GB of storage, with the phone also offering features like an in-screen fingerprint reader and an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.

Next, we have the Galaxy Tab S9 FE and S9 FE+, which sport nearly identical specs aside from the latter having an extra camera, a larger battery and a bigger display (10.9 inches vs. 12.3 inches). The biggest departure from the regular Tab S9 is that the FE models feature LCD displays instead of OLED panels. At first, that was a bit of concern as Samsung’s OLED screens are some of the best in the business and have become a signature feature on its mobile devices. But after seeing them in person, even with a slightly lower max refresh rate (90Hz vs. 120Hz), I’m not that worried. The Tab S9 FE’s displays are bright, colorful and even support the company’s Vision Booster tech for increased viewability outdoors.

The Galaxy S23 FE will be available in four main colors: mint, purple, cream and graphite.
The Galaxy S23 FE will be available in four main colors: mint, purple, cream and graphite. (Photo by Sam Rutheford/Engadget)

Similar to the S23 FE, the Tab S9 features less powerful silicon (an Exynos 1380 chip) instead of a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. But even so, Samsung says the Tab S9 FE delivers 38 percent better CPU performance and 73 percent faster GPU performance when compared to the Tab S7 FE from 2021. Granted, comparing the new one to a two-year-old model may not be super convincing, but if you’ll recall, there was no Tab S8 FE. But the thing I really appreciate is that Samsung hasn’t messed with the tablet’s general design. It still features a super sleek aluminum chassis and a bundled S-Pen, just like you get on the normal model.

Finally, there’s the Galaxy Buds FE which are essentially a cheaper version of the standard Galaxy Buds 2 but without wireless charging. The case is identical right down to the USB-C port in back, the only change is on the sides of the buds themselves. Compared to their more expensive counterpart, the Galaxy Buds FE feature a flatter touch panel which Samsung says was altered due to customer feedback that a curvier design makes tap gestures harder to perform.

The buds still come with both active noise cancellation and support for passthrough ambient sound, though interestingly their expected battery is a touch longer at around six hours with ANC on or nine hours with it off. The two new additions are the ability to locate the buds using SmartThings Find and Easy Pair/Auto Switch which makes it faster and easier to control audio when connected to multiple devices.

Of course missing out on some performance or a few features might be worth it in order to get more affordable devices, which is sort of what the FE line is all about. For the type of people who don’t care about wireless charging, at $100 the Galaxy Buds FE could be a great alternative to the $150 Galaxy Buds 2. It’s a similar situation for the Tab S9 FE line which isn’t quite as fast but starts at $450 compared to $800 for the regular model. And then there’s the S23 FE, which $600 presents a $200 savings over the standard S23 despite featuring a larger display and battery. So if you’re OK with devices that aren’t quite as fancy, but come with a more palatable price, the new Galaxy FE family could be worthy alternatives.

The Galaxy Tab S9 FE/FE+ and Galaxy Buds FE will be available on October 10, followed by the Galaxy S23 FE on October 26.