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The excellent Galaxy S23 has me excited for the S23 FE

The Galaxy S23 FE could distill Samsung's 2023 winning formula in an even more affordable package.
By
March 8, 2023
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE left front profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Samsung abruptly ended a short tradition last year when it opted to skip the Fan Edition of the Galaxy S22. The company’s FE smartphones have traditionally offered nearly top-tier specs at a slightly lower price than the flagship Galaxy S lineup. However, supply chain delays meant that Samsung had to push back the Galaxy S21 FE’s release to the start of 2022. That placed it just weeks away from the S22 series’ launch — awkward timing, to say the least.

We didn’t get a second Fan Edition smartphone release in 2022, likely because Samsung didn’t want to cannibalize the S21 FE’s sales. But this year might be different, as rumors indicate that the Korean giant will release a Galaxy S23 FE after all.

Despite the S21 FE’s lackluster value proposition last year, I picked one up on sale and have used it as my daily driver ever since. While I don’t outright regret my purchase, the phone does suffer from a few flaws. Luckily, though, the Galaxy S23’s excellent showing this year makes me believe that the upcoming Fan Edition will be the smartphone to get in 2023 if you don’t want to go all out.

Galaxy S23 FE, Snapdragon, and TSMC: Middling performance begone!

galaxy s21 fe exynos throttling
Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

The Galaxy S23 got a big upgrade this year in the form of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, but I’m not talking about performance alone here.

For the past couple of generations, Android flagship smartphones have been plagued by throttling controversies. The problem first emerged a couple of years ago, but finally reached a tipping point with the Galaxy S22 series. To help with the latter, Samsung silently limited the performance of 10,000 apps and games. So what went wrong? You see, previous years’ flagship chips required a great deal of power to reach peak performance. That resulted in not just a warmer phone but also worse performance within a few seconds of heavy load.

The new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip found in the Galaxy S23 is a lot more efficient. We actually first saw an improvement with the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 late last year, and things got better with the 8 Gen 2. Both of these chips have one thing in common: Qualcomm sources them from Taiwanese company TSMC, which has a more efficient manufacturing node. The previous Snapdragon chips were manufactured by Samsung Foundry instead.

The S23 FE will likely get the same performance throttling fix as the Galaxy S23.

Now, a recent leak indicates that Samsung will bring the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 to the upcoming S23 FE. While that’s not the top-of-the-line chip anymore, it’s still more efficient than the S21 FE’s Snapdragon 888 and Samsung’s Exynos 2100.

Anecdotally, my Exynos-powered S21 FE exhibits throttling (pictured above) in medium-to-heavy workloads even before it can become noticeably warm. This results in unpredictable UI stutters and longer-than-usual camera processing.

Luckily, we also know that Samsung is planning to ship Snapdragon chips in flagship phones globally. We’re already seeing the effects of this with the Galaxy S23, which didn’t get an Exynos model. In other words, buyers in Europe have access to the same performance and efficiency as other markets.

Better 5G modem, better battery life

galaxy s21 fe exynos battery life
Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

The latest Qualcomm chipsets don’t just deliver more consistent performance. In the real world, improved chip efficiency has made even the diminutive Galaxy S23 an all-day smartphone. Despite its below-average capacity of 3,900 mAh, my colleagues have reported excellent battery life — certainly better than last year’s model.

On the other hand, last year’s Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t offer groundbreaking battery life. Adequate? Sure, but five to six hours of screen-on time from a 4,500mAh battery isn’t what I’d call top-tier. I’ve also noticed the battery drains faster with a 5G signal when I’m out and about. Dropping down to LTE somewhat mitigates this, so it might simply be another case of chipset inefficiency.

The S21 FE wasn't a battery champ, but that might change this year.

As 5G connectivity becomes more widespread, smartphone modem technology has also finally started to mature. The Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 SoC uses Qualcomm’s last-gen X65 modem, which billed better power efficiency as one of its headlining features. That aspect coupled with the general efficiency gains I mentioned earlier should help the Galaxy S23 FE reach better battery life figures this year.

Galaxy S23 FE upgrades: No more S20-era hardware

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera closeup from left
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 FE may have launched in early 2022 but a couple of its key specs are holdovers from the S20-era. The latter had turned two years old by the time the S21 FE hit the market.

Take the primary camera on the S21 FE, for example, which uses the same 12MP, 1/1.76″ sensor as its predecessor and the mainline Galaxy S20 series. Shortly after the S21 FE’s release, however, Samsung introduced a larger 50MP sensor alongside the Galaxy S22. This year’s flagship packs the same capable camera hardware too. In our Galaxy S23 review, we praised the sensor for its excellent all-around performance as it allowed the phone to deliver great results even when the sun goes down.

The Galaxy S23 FE is overdue for a major camera upgrade.

With that in mind, I’m hoping that Samsung will match the S23 FE’s primary camera with the mainline flagship series as it did with the first-ever Fan Edition smartphone. But even if Samsung keeps to a 12MP sensor, we’ll likely still get subtle improvements like the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s larger pixel size and improved computational photography.

Camera specs aside, the S21 FE’s base model included just 6GB of RAM last year. That’s not woefully inadequate, but I’ve definitely noticed larger apps getting kicked out of memory while multitasking. I don’t know why Samsung chose to skimp here, especially as most $700 smartphones offered at least 8GB of RAM in 2022. Luckily, the next Fan Edition smartphone should bump up the base model’s memory to 8GB and fix this problem once and for all.

Why not buy the Galaxy S23 today?

samsung galaxy s23 standing home screen
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

While all of these upgrades sound promising for the Galaxy S23 FE, why not just buy the regular Galaxy S23 today? The answer will depend on who you ask, but I much prefer the Fan Edition’s slightly larger display. While the jump from 6.1 to 6.4 inches might not sound like a lot, it’s actually a 10% increase in surface area. That places it closer to the Galaxy S23 Plus, which retails at a much higher $999.

The Fan Edition strikes the perfect balance of size and price for my needs.

It also helps that the Fan Edition line enjoys Galaxy S-exclusive features such as Samsung DeX support and reverse wireless charging. Moreover, the build quality compromises between the full-fledged flagship and FE models don’t really faze me as I use a case at all times. So considering the $300 difference in price between the Galaxy S23 Plus and previous FE models, it’s hard to justify the upsell.

That said, if you’re after a smaller phone, the Galaxy S23 ticks all of the right boxes and retails for just $100 more than prior Fan Edition phones. You get a great deal of value for that extra cash too in the form of better build quality, faster internals, and slightly newer display tech. Which phone would you rather buy in 2023?

Which phone would you rather buy, the Galaxy S23 or S23 FE?

545 votes
Samsung Galaxy S23Samsung Galaxy S23
AA Editors Choice
Samsung Galaxy S23
Compact size • Brighter screen • Larger battery
MSRP: $799.00
The compact option in Samsung's flagship Galaxy S series.
With a brighter screen, a larger battery, and Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 power, the Galaxy S23 is Samsung's best compact Galaxy S flagship yet.