Bixby Is Nothing Like Siri, and That's Good

Samsung's new virtual assistant for the Galaxy S8 answers questions, sets reminders and does other stuff that Siri and Google Assistant do. But it's clear that Bixby is trying to be different.

Think of Bixby more as a smart stand-in for touch when using your voice would be faster and involve fewer taps. For example, you can say "Send this photo to my wife." Or if you're watching a video on your phone, you can say "Show this on TV," and — if you have a Samsung TV — that video will show up on the big screen.

Bixby Vision can let you do things like look up product prices or wine pairings

Bixby Vision can let you do things like look up product prices or wine pairings

As you can see from the above examples, Bixby is keenly aware of context. The idea is that you can seamlessly switch between talking and tapping without missing a beat.

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When previewing its new digital asisstant, Samsung said that Bixby would be capable of 15,000 tasks, which is a pretty good start. And, unlike Siri or even Alexa, you shouldn't hear "I can't help you with that." That's because Samsung focused on delivering cognitive tolerance, which means interacting with Bixby shouldn't just be success or failure. You should hear more helpful things like "Is this what you wanted?"

Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to have to wait to see what Bixby's fully capable of. A few weeks after unveiling the Galaxy S8, Samsung announced that the phone would ship without Bixby's voice control features. Those will come via a software update later this spring, with Samsung describing Bixby as "a service that will evolve over time."

There are multiple ways to interact with Bixby, including a Home screen that recommends situational dynamic cards, similar to Google Now. But Samsung's assistant goes beyond that with Bixby Vision. And unlike the voice control features, Bixby Vision will work when the Galaxy S8 ships April 21.

This app takes advantage of the Galaxy S8's camera to recognize objects and deliver information in close to real time. For instance, you can look up the price of a book by pointing the camera at it, or check the rating for a wine or even food pairings by aiming the camera at the bottle.

Amazon is just one of several Bixby partners.

Amazon is just one of several Bixby partners.

Samsung says it will add many more partners over time.

While you can wake up Bixby with your voice, Samsung purposely included a dedicated Bixby button on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ to make it easier to summon the assistant whenever you want.

In case you're wondering, Bixby does not include any of the AI Samsung acquired when it bought Viv Labs in October of 2016. Founded by the creators of Apple's Siri, Viv will allow Bixby to get a lot smarter and more easily integrate with third-party services.

Samsung told us the Viv team is already working with the Bixby team, so this assistant should really start to get more powerful over time.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.