We have early access to the Galaxy S8’s built-in Bixby Voice. Here’s another look at what’s coming to a Galaxy S8 near you.
We’ve already written plenty about the Galaxy S8’s Bixby functionality, but what we haven’t touched on is what to expect with Bixby Voice — ostensibly the main reason there’s an extra button on the flagship device in the first place.
Up until the latest preview, all we knew about the Bixby is that it enabled you to press a button to control the phone with your voice. Well, now that we’ve had some time with it, we can confirm that Bixby Voice really is all about talking to the Galaxy S8. It’s not the same as Google Assistant, though, as Bixby is more conversational and apologetic when it messes up. This is a voice-activated virtual assistant that aims to please.
Note: At present, you can only set up Bixby if you’re part of the Early Access Preview, which is currently limited to the United States. There’s no word yet on when Bixby will go live.
Setting it up
After you’ve updated all the apps in your Galaxy Apps queue, you can click over to the Hello Bixby panel to start the prompt for setting up Bixby Voice. At present, only American English and Korean are the available languages for the virtual assistant.
Bixby will walk you through a rather storied setup process. You’ll need to first agree to a long list of terms and then continue on to update any Bixby Voice-compatible apps, as well as any third-party apps that have access to experimental features from the Bixby Labs. The entire onboarding process is pretty straightforward, and it even starts you off gently by having Bixby dictate the sequence. In the English-speaking version, Bixby is a sprite young female, though you can choose from male or female for the Korean variant.
How to access the Bixby Voice settings menu.
Once Bixby Voice is raring to go, you should be able to press and hold the Bixby button to give it a command from any screen. If you start on the Home screen, you can ask Bixby to open an app and then perform an action. If you’re already in an app, however, you can press the button to instruct Bixby on what to do within that app. I tried it first with the Gallery app to crop a photo, and then in the browser to navigate to a web page; Bixby worked effortlessly in both situations.
Samsung’s Bixby works a bit differently than Google Assistant in that it’ll require you to be very specific with your commands. The result can be more effective, however, if you consider that you can do things like crop an image with just your voice.
About that extra button
Let’s talk about that extra button on the side of the Galaxy S8.
There’s good news for those of who you’ve managed to either successfully remap the Bixby button or just aren’t interested in the push-the-talk action of Bixby Voice. The app doesn’t actually require you use the added hardware to interact with your assistant. Rather, it’s there to help in times of need, like when the environment is too loud for the phone to pick up on your command. Bixby pops up an on-screen indicator to let you know it’s working hard, and there’s a quick toggle shortcut in the Hello Bixby app.
Admittedly, using the Galaxy S8’s built-in Bixby button feels a bit strange as it’s not something that I’m accustomed to. I’ve been long using Google Assistant — or Google Now, as it were — to do my bidding and that merely requires I utter “Okay, Google” or tap on an icon.
Regardless, the push-to-talk ability is a nice alternative when you’re in situations where it’ll come in handy, though it would be nice to be able to officially remap the Bixby button when the situation calls for it.
Bixby’s Home screen
The Bixby home screen is your landing page for when you just want some alone time with the virtual assistant.
Bixby’s home screen reminds me quite a bit of Apple’s Siri because of its black-to-purple ombre background, but besides the similarities of the female voice, it’s really quite different. For one, you can type in your command to Bixby if talking to it isn’t a possibility (that’s coming soon to iOS 11 for Siri users), or you can cycle through some of your past commands. There’s even an easy screenshot toggle if proving your friend right requires photo evidence, and you can individually adjust the sound of Bixby Voice.
Bixby Voice’s home screen.
If you’re inside an app and you conjure up the Bixby home screen, the app will offer up a bevy of suggestions for commands you can use specifically within that app. It’s helpful to have this resource to learn what it is you can control with just your voice, though you might find that it’s simply easier to go by trial and error. After all, the best way to learn something is to practice it (as my math tutor told me all those years) and with Bixby, you’ll have to learn how to be really specific without being long-winded.
Bixby points system
Bixby requires quite a bit of validation to ensure it’s properly operating. But the upside is that each positive interaction earns you “points” towards leveling up your Bixby experience.
Bixby will improve itself over time, though it relies quite a bit on feedback to steer itself in the right direction. Each time you command Bixby, you’ll rack up points towards your overall Bixby Level. If your interaction is less than stellar, however, you can let Bixby know that it needs improvement over a particular subset of commands, and the virtual assistant will do its best to accommodate you during the next round.
Take a gander at what Bixby’s point system looks like.
If you’re curious to see where you’re at on the points scale, tap on “My Bixby” in the main Hello Bixby overflow menu. This will reveal all of your growth stats. There’s also a counter that keeps privy to how many conversations you’ve had with Bixby, and you’ll see how many times you’ve given it props and when you’ve told it that it could have done a better job.
Frankly, Bixby’s “level up” screen looks akin to the dashboard you’d find in a roleplaying game — all it’s missing is a counter for the hit points. But that’s sort of the point of this page existing in the first place. The “experience points” you can procure to effectively level up Bixby were clearly added in an effort to encourage users to play on by gamifying the experiences with the virtual assistant. I’m curious to see what I’ll unlock the more I interact with it; I’m close to unlocking more background colors, for example, and I wonder what other little treats are hidden in the interface.
What you can change
Bixby Voice’s settings panel seems limited in its beta state.
The Bixby Voice settings aren’t as customizable as Google Assistant, but there are some extra features you can enable to make the virtual assistant more robust. In addition to the ability to enable constantly, always-on voice command capabilities, you can also choose Bixby’s feedback style. If you prefer quick, terse answers, you can choose to keep Bixby’s responses short. Or if you’re really aching to connect with it, you can opt to have the assistant talk to you in full sentences.
Bixby also offers a helpful dictation featurette, which I found to be just as useful as the ability in Google Keyboard. This ability doesn’t require that you tap on a microphone icon when the keyboard app is up, however; rather, you’ll want to toggle on the Dictation on keyboard capability to enable the ability to start the dictation mode by pressing and holding the Bixby key while the Samsung Keyboard is open. This means you’ll have to actively use the Samsung Keyboard, but the dictation ability appears to work just as accurately as Google when it comes to forming sentences.
It’s still just a preview
There is still plenty to discover about Samsung’s Bixby Voice.
Bear in mind that all that we’ve experienced with Bixby thus far has been entirely a preview. The kinks have yet to be worked out, not to mention the fact that there are very few people using the service at present. Bixby’s overall purpose in the industry has yet to materialize, too, and we won’t know where it fits into the virtual assistant space until the software is ready to go live to everyone with a Galaxy S8 in their hands. It’s not meant as a replacement assistant for Google, either, so I’ll be curious to see what it’s like using the two assistant suites in tandem in my day-to-day.
We’ll be updating this page once Bixby is ready for primetime. If you have any questions until it’s ready for the stage, however, leave us a comment and we’ll investigate for you in the interim.
And if you’re in the preview, how is Bixby treating you? What command do you like to use with it? Are you finding it’s a better way of interacting with your Galaxy S8 or S8+ than, say, simply tapping around?