Samsung's digital assistant, Bixby, was supposed to change the way you use your Galaxy S8 or S8+. But it hasn't quite worked out that way.
in the beginning, Samsung launched its flagship phone without enabling one of Bixby's marquee features: the ability to control parts of the phone with your voice. And then three months later, when Samsung finally made Bixby Voice available to all Galaxy S8 owners, Bixby still feels more like a beta product than a polished release.
But after using Bixby for almost a month, there are also times when Samsung's voice assistant defies your expectations and makes you feel like you're living in science fiction film. So here's the good and the bad of what Bixby offers today.
Users can talk to Bixby by holding down the physical Bixby Button on the side of the Galaxy S8 — finally, an actual reason to press it! — or by saying the phrase "Hey, Bixby" to get the assistant's attention. This is all fine and good, but it's when you get to asking questions or issuing commands that things start to fall apart.
I often found that Bixby simply couldn't understand my sentences. Even when it did, the assistant still often wasn't able to execute my command as desired. Take, for example, the dozen or so times I tried to use voice commands to get Bixby to make a tweet. Twitter isn't a first-party Samsung app, but it is one of the third-party Bixby Lab apps that should work with the assistant. Sometimes, Bixby would be able to open Twitter, but wouldn't write out my dictated tweet; other times, depending on my wording, Bixby would try to open up another app entirely.
It was even more frustrating when I used YouTube, which is also part of Bixby Labs, to save a video to my offline library. I tried pretty much every combination of words I could think of, but to no avail. Instead, all I got was a response from Bixby saying, "I can't do that yet." These are relatively straightforward commands in some of the most popular apps on the planet, but no matter what I did or how I asked, Bixby's execution was iffy at best.
But before we officially drop a dunce cap on Bixby, it's important to highlight how slick this upstart Skynet can be when it works. Bixby can process compound commands and contextual language, so you can say things like "Post my last photo to Instagram and caption it, 'Titled by Bixby,'" and it'll do everything except hit the share button. (You know, just so you have a chance to change anything, double check the caption, or add a hashtag or two.) That saves 10 taps and a sentence's worth of touch-screen keyboard typing with one single, swift voice command.
You can also ask Bixby to do things like "Show me emails from [my co-worker] Marshall." And once again, everything appears on the screen way faster than if you only used touch controls to perform the same task. When you use functions such as telling Bixby, "Remind me to buy eggs at Whole Foods," the assistant will not only let you pick which Whole Foods gets the bulk of your paycheck, but will also use GPS to track your location and automatically pop up a reminder the next time you walk through the store's doors.
Stuff like this gives you a sneak peak into Bixby's true potential, and that's before you realize that Bixby's real purpose isn't just to serve as an assistant on your phone, but to act as something that can talk and listen to you on any device with a microphone and Wi-Fi. And that's pretty much everything nowadays.
Imagine a world where you could ask Bixby on your Samsung phone to look inside your Samsung fridge (using the built-in camera) to see if you have eggs, milk and orange juice (using the Bixby Vision visual-recognition feature), and automatically order you more if it sees you are out. This isn't some Star Trek-level replicator tech — this is all stuff that you can do using devices we have today. It's just going to take a little extra fine-tuning.
Right now, though, Bixby is a mess, and Samsung knows it. That's why the company incentivizes you to use Bixby by offering rewards through Samsung Pay and encourages you to provide feedback when something goes wrong. To be fair, even the best digital assistants from Google and Amazon still struggle with basic commands on a regular basis. That may not be enough of a consolation to make current S8 owners feel better about waiting three months only to get an incomplete product, but it's not quite right to call Bixby a full-on failure yet either.
When the assistant's voice features work, it's magic, and the potential is there. Sadly, though, it seems our only choice is to be a little more patient with Bixby — and maybe try to help by hitting that little heart icon once or twice.
Photos: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide