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I was excited for the Galaxy S23 FE but I bought a Pixel 8 instead
After months of speculation, Samsung finally announced the Galaxy S23 FE last week. The announcement coincided perfectly with the Pixel 8 series’ launch, almost as if Samsung set out to steal Google’s thunder. It’s not hard to see why, at least on paper. Like the base Pixel 8, Samsung’s Fan Edition smartphone offers near-flagship grade specs at an affordable price tag. In fact, the S23 FE is even more attractive as it retails for $100 less than both its predecessor and the Pixel 8. But the devil’s in the details and as a long-term owner of the Galaxy S21 FE, I just don’t see the S23 FE as a viable upgrade path compared to the Pixel 8. Let me explain.
When Samsung launched its mainline Galaxy S23 series earlier this year, I wrote about my excitement for the then-rumored S23 Fan Edition. I appreciated what my last-gen S21 FE offered at the time, but lamented its middling performance, so-so battery life, and dated camera hardware. If Samsung had only fixed each of those problems while leaving the overall package largely unchanged, I’d have lined up to buy an S23 FE.
The new Galaxy S23 FE has a few downgrades compared to its predecessor.
Unfortunately, however, Samsung has made some odd choices with the Galaxy S23 FE. Even worse, it has outright downgraded some of my favorite aspects of the series. Take the display, for instance, which is slightly brighter this generation but has significantly thicker bezels than its predecessor.
I’m not usually complaining about large bezels or a thick chin, but there’s a big difference between my nearly two-year-old S21 FE and the new S23 FE. Not just that, Samsung has also downgraded the display protection from Gorilla Glass Victus to Gorilla Glass 5 on the new phone. Curiously, you’ll find similar bezels and the same display protection on the Galaxy A54 5G — a significantly cheaper phone that doesn’t pretend to be in flagship leagues.
Samsung also uses Gorilla Glass 5 on the back of the S23 FE. While that’s an upgrade on paper, the phone’s weight has also inflated to a whopping 209g! That’s 32 grams or 18% heavier than the last-gen S21 FE. You don’t get a larger battery or display on the S23 FE, so I can only imagine it’s the differing materials that contributed to this increased weight budget. The larger (but more expensive) Galaxy S23 Plus is 11g lighter.
The Galaxy S23 FE is a staggering 18% heavier than the phone it replaces.
Back in early 2022, the Galaxy S21 FE’s display and lightweight design won me over almost instantly. At the time, Google’s Pixel 6 had a similarly-sized display but its dual-glass design made for a 30g heavier package than the S21 FE. Fast forward to this year, however, and the Pixel 8 simultaneously offers a lighter design and a larger battery than the Galaxy S23 FE.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Samsung has also opted to revive Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip for the S23 FE. This is another upgrade on paper, but the same chip was responsible for the Galaxy S22 family’s thermal throttling controversies last year. I see it as wasted potential as the S23 FE could’ve included the much more efficient Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 SoC instead. That mid-year revision worked wonders for Samsung’s foldable smartphones, delivering much better battery life and cooler performance.
While it’s too early to call, reviews indicate that Google’s Tensor G3 SoC in the Pixel 8 certainly looks to be more performant and efficient than previous iterations. Could Samsung really afford to lose in one more critical area? We’ll have to look at thermals and battery life very closely in our full reviews, but I can’t help but feel that Samsung could’ve easily scored a win here.
I’m not sure why Samsung made so many odd changes with the S23 FE, but the lower $599 price tag is almost certainly a contributing factor. The thing is, though, Samsung’s new smartphone doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sure, Google has increased the Pixel 8’s price to $699 this year, but it’s also bundling the Pixel Buds Pro for free — valued $200 at retail — until October 16. Samsung, meanwhile, isn’t even bundling its budget $99 Galaxy Buds FE with the S23 FE.
Google offers better value with the Pixel 8, even with a $100 higher price tag.
All in all, I’m not convinced Samsung is offering a compelling value proposition with the Galaxy S23 FE. I haven’t even mentioned the Pixel 8’s several smaller advantages, like eSIM support, three additional years of Android software updates, software AI features, and a brighter and more durable display. Meanwhile, the S23 FE doesn’t have much to boast about except a lower price tag. Samsung did upgrade the primary camera to a 50MP shooter this year, though. And the S23 FE’s 3x telephoto camera is the one thing you won’t find on the Pixel 8, even if I wasn’t impressed by the 8MP sensor’s performance on the last-gen Galaxy S21 FE.
Which would you rather buy, the Pixel 8 or Galaxy S23 FE?
As much as I’ve enjoyed my time with the Galaxy S21 FE, I’ve decided to jump ship and buy Google’s affordable flagship instead. While I would’ve liked a larger device, the Pixel 8 makes up in nearly all other areas, from its lightweight 187g stance to the impressive 2,000 nits display. If you have a higher budget and can wait for a sale, we’ve also seen the Galaxy S23 Plus drop to $749 and $699 on occasion. And with that in mind, I struggle to recommend the S23 Fan Edition to anyone, and especially not to Samsung fans.