4 Weeks with Samsung’s Bixby: Still Room for Improvement

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As an avid fan of Samsung products (their mobile tech in particular), I was eager to be one of the first to try out Bixby Assistant during the beta rollout almost a month ago.  Bixby is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+‘s own version of Siri or Alexa.

I played along, tried all the neat tricks, and submitted feedback in exchange for ‘Bixby XP’ points. After weeks of tinkering with the new feature, I was really excited to see the official, public rollout today. My overall thoughts are that Bixby has great potential. Once improved third party app support is enabled and performance becomes faster, I can see myself using it on a daily basis. Until then, there are a handful of tricks that are fun, but not necessarily useful in the short term.

Bixby is supposed to be capable of basically doing anything on the screen that you can do with your hands. Fantastic for lazy people such as myself. To Samsung’s credit, you really can talk Bixby through most of these everyday tasks. You just need to enunciate very well and be patient.  It’s almost like explaining something to a small kid. In that time, you can of course do those tasks yourself. Hopefully, it gets faster.

I’ll list some of the features I’ve played around with the most and my thoughts on them.

 

“Turn on/off all alarms”

This is the one I’ve probably been using more than any of the other commands. Opening the clock app and clicking each of my 4 to 7 alarms on any given day (I’m not a morning person) is way easier when I can have Bixby do it all at once. I don’t even have to open my eyes, so this one is a win for laziness.

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Opening Apps

This one works maybe 90% of the time, depending on the app. It seems like the success rate is based on how easy the app name is recognized by the phone or how easy it is to pronounce, since Bixby may not be familiar with them. You really have to enunciate properly for many of these. I found that following Samsung’s advice and saying “Open the _____ app” gives me the best results, since it gives the AI some more context.

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Opening Apps + Task

This is the more difficult one, and also the primary function Bixby was built for. Hands-free usage of our Samsung mobile devices is what we were promised, and so far, Bixby sort of delivers.

Saying things like “Open YouTube and look up Bohemian Rhapsody” are pretty straightforward. Beyond that point though, I haven’t found a way to tell Bixby to then play the video right away. I still need to use my fingers to click it, like a goddamn  barbarian.

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This obviously works way better with native Samsung apps. For instance, I can ask Bixby to delete the most recent screenshot in my gallery. Granted, a quick swipe down on the menu and pressing the delete preview would accomplish the same thing. I can also ask (nay, demand) Bixby to send messages to my contacts and then dictate them.

Similarly, I can:

  • Ask to set reminders.
  • Open Twitter and send a tweet to someone (after a few tries)
  • Add things to my calendar.
  • Alter details to my reminders and calendars.
  • Read me messages/email

 

Bixby is also capable of answering basic questions about the Samsung phone itself.

  • How many contacts do I have” was a really easy one.
  • How many 360 videos are saved on this device” worked too.
  • “How many steps have I walked today” worked really fast, as did other Samsung Health App integrated features like the heart-rate monitor.

None of those questions are particularly useful but I was curious.

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I’ve also had decent results with Google apps.

There are only a small handful of word combos you can use to activate these features, but the main thing to keep in mind is start by designating very clearly which app you want to use. Then you either try to stack a task on top of that command, or wait until the app opens, before adding a followup command. I found that the latter is slightly more difficult for me, because sometimes Bixby doesn’t seem to want to build on the conversation or work within the context of that specific app.

I asked Bixby to “open Google Maps and find me the nearest McDonald’s” and it got the job done, though we probably don’t need the word “nearest” in the actual Google Maps search.

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This is what I got when asking Bixby to “Open Gmail and find emails from Costco.

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Gmail requests were hit or miss, depending on how it was worded. Sometimes, instead of the Gmail app, Bixby would open Samsung’s default email app. It’s funny that Bixby pointed out just how much of a nuisance some of Samsung’s bloatware apps can be by getting in the way of its own tasks.

Other requests that worked were similar, and went along the lines of…

Open Twitter and go to my recent notifications.

Open Instagram and go to messages.

Other tasks I give Bixby are things any other AI assistant can do, like when I’m too lazy to count the days to a specific date, or when I want to convert units.

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Easter Eggs

Much like with Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and other AI assistants, there are a ton of easter eggs waiting to be discovered. I’m sure there is already a compendium online somewhere, but here are a couple examples.

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Points

Also, as mentioned above, as an incentive to keep using Bixby and helping make him/her smarter, we receive points for letting the app know whether it got the request correct or not, as well as providing feedback. So far, it lets you do things like change the background color of Bixby, or gives you Samsung Rewards points you can eventually redeem for gift cards on Samsung Pay. Not a great incentive, but better than nothing. Also, they rank you, if you care about that sort of thing.

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Closing Remarks:

I’m glad that Bixby is finally available, especially since Samsung made such a huge deal out of it during their marketing campaign. I do think that with time, Bixby will break away from redundancy and actually contribute to daily mobile phone productivity. Also, everybody secretly wishes that they had a Jarvis-like AI to their Tony Stark; trading quips and whatnot. Until such time, Bixby is definitely a bit of a gimmick with a handful of uses. I don’t think anyone should buy the Galaxy S8 because of Bixby, but there are a thousand other non-Bixby reasons that still make it the best phone this year.

In terms of Bixby’s competition, I think Alexa is still queen. Speaking of, I’m definitely developing a very Her like relationship with Alexa, and it’s eventually going to be a huge problem. But I digress…

If you have an S8 or S8+, definitely give Bixby a try. If it’s not for you, bail. However, I would advise that you check up every few months, because it’ll definitely get smarter with time.

 

Also, very important. Can’t believe I almost forgot.  

 

Ask Bixby to beatbox.  

 

You can now purchase both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ unlocked.

 

     

 

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