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Forget Google Pixel 8: Samsung's new $600 Galaxy phone may be all that you really need

The company is launching the year's FE series of devices, including the Galaxy S23 FE, a day before the Made by Google event.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Samsung Galaxy S23 FE All Colors
June Wan/ZDNET

Samsung today is launching three new devices, the Galaxy S23 FE, Galaxy Tab S9 FE, and Galaxy Buds FE, because there's clearly no limit to how much tech news our brains (and wallets) can consume.

Also: Everything we're expecting at Google's Pixel event tomorrow: Pixel 8 Pro, Pixel Watch 2, more

Much like Fan Edition products in the past, the new phone, tablet, and wireless earbuds offer flagship-like features at a more accessible price, with the Galaxy S23 FE starting at $599, the Galaxy Tab S9 FE starting at $449, and the earbuds at $99. Those prices are competitive, to say the least, especially when compared to Samsung's own S-series line of hardware -- most of which costs twice the amount.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE
June Wan/ZDNET

The Galaxy S23 FE can be thought of as a stripped-down version of the Galaxy S23 Plus, with a slightly smaller 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED display, a triple camera system at the rear, and a Qualcomm processor at the helm. I got to spend a good hour with the device ahead of launch and was pleasantly surprised by how well it operated, even with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor being a generation behind the flagship chipset that powers today's flagship Android phones.

Also: This Samsung phone is the one most people should buy (and it's not a flagship)

The bezels on the S23 FE are not as slim as the S-series device -- it looks and feels more similar to the Galaxy A54 -- but the pairing of glass and aluminum does give the phone a premium hand feel. That trend carries over to the Tab S9 FE, too, which I'll talk more about later.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE
June Wan/ZDNET

Under the hood, you're getting 8GB of RAM and the options of 128GB or 256GB of internal storage, with a 4,500mAh battery keeping the lights turned on. The rest of the specs are surprisingly adequate: 25W fast charging, wireless charging support, Wi-Fi 6E, IP68 water and dust resistance, and even Bluetooth 5.3 for a more reliable cross-device connection. The Galaxy S23 FE also falls under Samsung's five-year update policy, so expect to receive security patches until 2028 if you pick up a device.

The Galaxy S23 FE will be available in Mint, Cream, Graphite, Purple, and two Samsung.com exclusive colors, Indigo and Tangerine, with open sales starting October 26.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE and Tab S9 FE+

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE
June Wan/ZDNET

Alongside the Galaxy S23 FE is the Galaxy Tab S9 FE, available in standard (10.9-inch) and Plus (12.4-inch) sizes. The tablets are geared towards digital content creators, students, artists, and gamers, with an optional keyboard accessory to accommodate. Both devices sport 90Hz LCD panels, which are not as punchy and smooth-looking as the higher-end model's AMOLED screens, but they looked above average in the demo area. 

Also: The Lenovo Tab Extreme is the iPad Pro competitor we're not talking about enough

Powering the tablets is an in-house Exynos 1380 chipset, with 6GB/8GB and 8GB/12GB options available for the Tab S9 FE and Tab S9+ FE, respectively. You also get 128GB and 256GB storage tiers, but unlike the Galaxy S23 FE smartphone, both tablets support MicroSD card expansion up to 1TB.

The Galaxy Tab S9 FE series will be available in Mint, Silver, Gray, and Lavender finishes, with a starting price of $449.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
June Wan/ZDNET

Lastly, the Galaxy Buds FE feature active noise cancelation (ANC), ambient sound settings, and tap-based gestures similar to Samsung's more expensive Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Where the FE edition goes above and beyond is in battery life, with Samsung touting 8.5 hours of playback and up to 30 hours extra via the charging case. With ANC turned on, the company says you can expect up to 6 hours of playback, which is even longer than the aforementioned Buds 2 Pro's rating.

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds: Bose, Sony, and more compared

The Galaxy Buds FE are rated IPX2, which makes them just resistant enough to splashes of water, but nowhere as durable as more expensive wearables that are often certified with IPX7. You can snag a pair in either Graphite or White for $99.

Bottom line (for now)

The trio of products marks the return of the Galaxy FE series, which was nowhere to be found last year. Did Samsung recover from a supply chain crisis and regain access to parts? Is there a renewed focus on the mid-range market? Or is the company simply trying to win the hearts of fall-season upgraders who had tomorrow's Google Pixel 8 in consideration? It's probably a mix of the three. We'll know exactly where Samsung stands with these devices as the team begins to review them over the coming days and weeks.  

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