(Pocket-lint) - Samsung's high-end Android phones come with their own voice assistant called Bixby, in addition to supporting Google Assistant.

Bixby is Samsung's attempt to take on the likes of Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. And, while it hasn't had the success of any of those three assistants, it is still pre-installed on Samsung devices. 


What is Samsung Bixby?

Bixby is a virtual assistant. It made its debut on the Samsung Galaxy S8 but is designed to work across a range of Samsung products and is incorporated in numerous other devices like Samsung's Family Hub fridge and TVs.

You can use it to text, get tailored information (about the weather, reminders of meetings, news articles, and so on), learn more about what it sees with the camera (like where to buy a couch in the camera view), and complete actions (such as call your Mum for you). Bixby can learn individual voices, so it will personalise answers depending on who asks. Samsung said it "learns, evolves, and adapts" to you.

Bixby is also available on some third-party apps.  

Samsung also has a Galaxy Home Bixby speaker in the works although this still hasn't launched some 18 months after its original announcement. 

How Bixby works

Bixby is designed to let you carry out a full range of interactions, rather than launching an app, for example, or carrying out a single task. 

Bixby is contextually aware, meaning that it can recognise the state that the app is in and take the right actions based on your requests, also letting you mix voice or touch.

Bixby should also be able to understand natural language: this means that you don't need to use set phrases, but you can give incomplete information and Bixby can interpret and take action. Natural language recognition has been key to the rise of Alexa, for example, and is now a key element of modern AI.

The service essentially works in the same way as other AI solutions like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa in that it listens to your voice, interprets the information, and returns the resulting action.

The contextual awareness means you can get it to take actions without laboriously detailing exactly what to do with what - it already understands where you are so can take the logical next step.

Wake word

For those using the "Hi Bixby" wake word, you'll can talk to your device using natural language as you might do with Google Assistant. However, Bixby seems prone to launching accidentally, so using the button press method prevents false recognition. This only applies to the voice control side of Bixby. Otherwise, you'll find things like Bixby Vision integrated into the camera and ready to use.

What Bixby can do?

Bixby Voice

One of the main aims of Bixby is to deal with increasingly complicated devices. Here are some examples of what Bixby will do:

  • Say "show this on my TV" to see your phone screen mirrored to a Samsung TV.
  • Say "use this as my wallpaper" to saves the onscreen image as your phone wallpaper.
  • Say "take a selfie and share it will Facebook" to force your device to do exactly that.
  • Say "remind me to take medicine at 3pm" so that Bixby will save the reminder. 
  • Say "open Messages" to open the Messages app.
  • Say "turn on HDR" to turn on that feature in the Camera app.

You must hit the Bixby button or say the wake work to use these commands, which all make logical sense,  fitting with the outlined aims that Samsung originally set out for Bixby. It's easy to ask it to do things like changing the volume or increasing the brightness of the phone. Generally, when it comes to device control, Bixby is very good, as it is with composing messages for you, or reading incoming messages. etc.

Bixby Vision

Bixby Vision offers a range of functions that take advantage of the camera on the phone. Working in a similar way to Google Lens or the Amazon shopping app, you can either ask Bixby what something is or open the camera app and hit the Bixby Vision button.

This is a great feature, but one we've used plenty of times before in other apps. Bixby Vision will essentially identify whatever the camera is pointed at, with options presented depending on what it sees, offering to identify an image, place, text or go to shopping options. When the Bixby Vision thinks it can see wine, it offers a wine search function. These then lead into more information, once the device has been identified.

We've seen it:

  • Identify The Shard in London and suggest local restaurants.
  • Recognise a box of Lindt Lindor (strawberries and cream flavour) and suggest shopping options.
  • Spot a bottle of Casillero di Diablo and offer details on the wine.
  • Recognise text, making it easy to copy text from a poster.

The best bit about Bixby Vision is that it's not dependent on the full Bixby Voice service, with direct access through the camera, so even those who don't yet have language support for the full Bixby Voice service will get Bixby Vision.


Bixby Home

There's another side to Bixby. For those not diving into the voice service - or those who can't get it because it's not supported in their country - there's Bixby Home. This is part of your phone home screen, living off to the left of your homepage.

In the UK, this integrates the Upday news service (accessed via a left-swipe on the screen or a short press on the button) or Flipboard for those elsewhere and pulls in cards from supported apps. This is filled with cards, so it's like a personal feed or a vertically scrolling list of information that Bixby can interact with, whether that be weather, fitness activity, and buttons for controlling IoT gadgets.

Many apps and services can be integrated into Bixby Home, like Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, and your Gallery, so you can access highlights from all these things there. That means you'll have a card showing pictures you've recently taken, a card showing current Twitter trends or controls for your Spotify music. In reality, there's very little that Bixby Home does that's unique or useful.

Bixby Reminders

Bixby can create a reminder for you - but with specific tasks in text or checklist format. You can ask it to remind you of calls and text messages that you want to make later, and media content that you want to revisit later such as photos (up to eight photos in one reminder), video, and web content. You can set a reminder by voice or from Bixby Home (go here for more information about how).

Restaurant recommendations

Restaurant recommendation can be served up by Bixby based on places you’ve visited in the past. It also handles some of the booking process, like reservation time, your phone number, the number of guests, etc., which can all be auto-filled based upon your previous habits.

Uber rides

Bixby lets you book Uber rides with your voice. In an on-stage demo, Samsung told Bixby, “I need a ride to JFK,” without actually saying “I need an Uber…”. Bixby simply responded with a price and a request to confirm. This type of interaction also works with concerts or restaurants, so you don't need to say “…on Ticketmaster”. The best part is you don't need any of these apps installed either.

Writing by Chris Hall and Maggie Tillman.