Samsung's high-end Android phones come with their own voice assistant called Bixby, in addition to supporting Google Assistant.
To be clear, Bixby is Samsung's attempt to take on the likes of Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Alexa. It's a new AI agent exclusive to Samsung devices. It debuted on the Galaxy S8 series and is currently also available on the Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, and Galaxy Note 8. Soon, it'll also be available on the Galaxy S10 series and other devices. Here's our guide to Bixby and what it can do.
What is Samsung Bixby?
Bixby is an AI system that's designed to make device interaction easier, specifically to avoid the complexity of increasingly fully featured devices. It made its debut on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 devices, but is designed to work across a range of Samsung products.
At its core, 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 Mom 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.
In 2017, Samsung announced the second-generation version of Bixby. According to the company, Bixby 2.0 is a "fundamental leap forward for digital assistants" and a "bold reinvention of the platform". In a nutshell: Bixby 2.0 is designed to make Bixby available on "any and all devices". It's "open", too, allowing developers to integrate the voice assistant into their products and choose how you will interact with their apps.
Which devices support Bixby?
In terms of smartphones, Bixby is compatible with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, Galaxy S9 and S9+, and the Galaxy Note 8, but Samsung plans to support more products in the future. You’ll also find the digital assistant on the Galaxy Note FE and the South Korean version of the Galaxy A7 (2017). But those devices don’t have a dedicated Bixby button. Bixby on the Galaxy A7 is also lacks voice control.
Samsung's Family Hub 2.0 fridge also has Bixby support. The ideas is that you won't always need to use your hands if, say, they are covered in flour. You can have the latest news read out, or the weather or calendar, directly from your fridge. Samsung's 2018 TVs feature Bixby, too.
Lastly, Bixby is also available on some third-party apps.
Samsung plans to integrate its AI assistant in numerous products including TVs and kitchen appliances. Washing machines, for example, will soon come with Bixby. In January, for instance, Samsung's announced a new Bixby-enabled front-load washer, model WF6300R.
Samsung even has a Galaxy Home Bixby speaker in the works. We've long expected several other companies to announce Bixby-powered smart speakers, but similar to Microsoft's Cortana, that has yet to happen. Alexa and Google Assistant own the smart speaker space right now.
How Bixby works
Samsung has detailed that there are three pillars that help drive Bixby:
- Bixby is a complete solution: it 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. Samsung says that Bixby will be able to do just about everything you can do with an app using touch.
- Bixby is contextually aware: this is one of the buzzwords of AI, demonstrated by Google Assistant, for example. This will mean that Bixby 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 understands 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.
On the Samsung Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note 8 there is a Bixby button or "key" on the left-hand side of the phon under olumee. This is used to open the Bixby agent so that you can speak a command, or you can use the hotword "Hi Bixby", once you've set it up. To access Bixby Voice, you'll have to press and hold the button and talk. Once you release the button, Bixby interprets what it has heard.
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?
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 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 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.
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.
It's just another feed app and we question whether it is useful. Smartphone users are likely to head to the information they want, rather than scrolling through snippets of information scraped from elsewhere on the phone. You can, however, turn it off easily, so it doesn't appear on your home screen. However, it's always there and launches whenever you press and release the Bixby button.
Samsung is planning to expand the reach of Bixby with the launch of a Bixby speaker to compete with Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
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).
What's new in Bixby 2.0?
Samsung's latest Galaxy Note, the Galaxy Note 9, arrived with an updated version of Bixby, informally known as Bixby 2.0. As the second-generation edition of the company’s voice-controlled personal assistant, it brings a number of new features, including speedier response times, better conversational skills, and the ability to predict your needs in order to be more useful.
Samsung also said Bixby 2.0 features enhanced natural language capabilities, resulting in more natural commands and complex processing.
Here's a look at some of what's new:
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 autofilled based upon your previous habits.
Bixby lets you to 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.
Faster and more conversational
Bixby works more like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant in that you can, for instance, ask it for the weather this weekend, and then you can follow up with “what about next weekend?” without having to specify that you want to know what the weather is like next weekend.
Related to this, Samsung said Bixby is faster at responding to queries.