Why it matters to you
Samsung’s Bixby assistant was supposed to be one of the Galaxy S8’s biggest selling points. Bixby, Samsung’s take on smartphone assistants like Siri and the Google Assistant, uses artificial intelligence to anticipate your needs and serve up contextually reminders. It’ll edit photos, send messages, and compose emails on command. Eventually, it’ll control smart home appliances and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
But right now, Bixby is a bit of a disappointment. Much of its promised functionality is pegged for a late summer release, and third-party app integrations could take even longer. But it’s not dead on arrival. It may not be as capable as Google Assistant or Siri, but it has more than a few useful tricks up its sleeve.
Here’s how to set up Bixby, and how to get the most out of it.
Getting started with Bixby
Accessing Bixby couldn’t be easier. The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus feature a dedicated Bixby button on the right side, just below the volume rocker. Tapping on it brings up Bixby Home, the assistant’s hub and setup screen.
Alternatively, if you’re on the Galaxy S8’s home screen, you can access Bixby by swiping to the right.
When you call up Bixby for the first time, you’ll be asked to agree to the terms of service — and to grant it access your data. Hit Agree to all (after reading the terms), and then choose Allow when prompted to grant Bixby permissions.
To access the Settings screen, tap the gear icon in the upper-right-hand corner of Bixby Home, and then hit Settings from the drop-down menu. You’ll see options for Bixby Home cards, a list of supported apps, and more.
There’s more to Bixby than a single app or screen. Rather, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus ship with three incarnations of Samsung’s Assistant: Bixby Home, Bixby Vision, and Bixby Voice.
Samsung calls Bixby Home a “social stream for your device,” and that’s more or less accurate. It’s a unified card-like interface of reminders, contextually relevant information, and social media updates — sort of like a cross between Google Now and HTC’s BlinkFeed.
Bixby Home can be customized to a degree. You can dismiss, pin, or permanently hide cards by tapping the gear icon in the upper-right corner of an individual Bixby Home tab.
But the list of third-party services that support Bixby Home is growing, albeit slowly. A Spotify card provides one-tap access to your playlists and music. CNN and Flipboard show trending news stories from around the web. Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter show the latest updates from your social circles. And soon, Uber will show your recent rides.
Eventually, Samsung says Bixby Home will be able to learn from your routine and update to reflect how you use your phone throughout the day. A future iteration will serve up buttons that’ll control smart light bulbs and door locks, shortcuts to the apps you use most frequently, and more — all based on the time of day, your location, and other factors.
Bixby Vision taps machine learning (and Pinterest’s Lens Tool) to identify the objects around it. Much like Google Goggles or Amazon’s Flow, Bixby Vision tries to suss out whatever’s in front of the Galaxy S8’s camera, and serve up information depending on what it finds.
Right now, Bixby Vision recognizes four categories of objects: Place, Text, Image, and Shopping.
Bixby Vision is surprisingly capable, if a little finicky. It’ll identify landmarks like the Empire State building and suggest nearby places of interest, for example. If you point at a bag of Twizzlers, it’ll recommend similar candy from one of the supported online stores. If you point it at a bottle of wine, it’ll offer details on the label. It’ll automatically parse QR codes and barcodes, books, and logos, and you can use it to translate text.
It’ll only get better with time. Samsung says it’s working with partners including Amazon, Vivino, Pinterest, and others to improve the relevancy of Bixby Vision’s search results.
Bixby’s Reminders is a little more robust than the reminders you can create with Siri or the Google Assistant. It’s built into the Galaxy S8’s native apps, and lets you attach media like videos, websites, photos, messages.
You can set a specific time you’d like to see a reminder, or even a specific location. When the conditions are met, said reminder will appear in the form of a notification you can dismiss, snooze, or check off.
Bixby Voice, Bixby’s third pillar, is like Siri on steroids.
It’ll respond to basic questions about the weather, upcoming meetings, sports scores, and movie showtimes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Bixby Voice will work across apps like the Galaxy S8’s dialer, text messenger, settings menus, camera app, contacts list, and Gallery, and it’ll take on tasks you dictate to it.
Samsung says it’ll perform actions like rotating misaligned photos, playing videos and sending them to a nearby television screen, and composing emails.
“Instead of taking multiple steps to make a call — turning on and unblocking the phone, looking for the phone application, clicking on the contact bar to search for the person that you’re trying to call, and pressing the phone icon to start dialing — you will be able to do all of these steps with one push of the Bixby button,” Injong Rhee, Samsung’s executive vice president, told Digital Trends.
Bixby Voice is customizable, too. It’ll lower the volume when you hold the Galaxy S8 to your ear, and change the gender of the assistant on the fly.
Right now, though, Bixby Voice does none of those things. You’ll eventually be able to access it by pressing and holding the dedicated Bixby button, or from the Bixby Home screen, but Samsung has delayed the launch of Bixby Voice. When it does launch, it’ll only support a handful of languages, including U.S. English, Korean, and British English.
Eventually, Samsung expects Bixby to make its way into other platforms.
Samsung sees Bixby in television remote controls, smart refrigerators, and even washing machines. It plans to make the assistant compatible with future Samsung Connect smart home product lines, and it’s working on bringing Bixby to its Gear line of smartwatches.
It’ll probably be some time before Bixby escapes the confines of the Galaxy S8, but rest assured Samsung is hard at work on its expansion.