How to use Samsung’s Bixby assistant for all of your smartphone tasks

Modiface AR Makeup on the Samsung Galaxy S9
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

There is no doubt that Samsung Bixby, the artificially intelligent assistant found on the company’s flagship Galaxy S9, is quite different from Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant. Samsung’s take attempts to anticipate your needs and serve up contextualized reminders. Bixby edits photos, sends messages, and composes emails on command. Anything you do on your phone via touch, you should be able to do via voice with Bixby. It can also control some smart home appliances and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including smart fridges, TVs, and dozens of other Samsung devices.

Here’s how to set up Bixby, what’s new with Bixby, and everything you can do with it.

New improvements

Bixby isn’t perfect, but it’s slowly improving. Bixby Voice still has limited language support; the app currently supports Korean, English, and Simplified Chinese — but Samsung promises we’ll see more in the future. However, if you speak any of these languages you’ll be able to use the app in 200 countries.

Bixby’s ability to understand voice commands has improved exponentially over the last year. Its integration with third-party apps also allows Bixby to better anticipate your needs and fulfill them with very simple voice commands. While it’s not as refined as Google Assistant or Amazon Echo, the improvements are noticeable.

Bixby has expanded to other products too. You’ll now find Bixby support on some Samsung Smart TVs, Family Hub refrigerators, and other Samsung smart products. A Bixby-powered Galaxy Home smart speaker is also on the way.

The launch of the Galaxy S9 brought some interesting additions to Bixby Vision. For instance, the new Makeup category means you can try out makeup products through augmented reality.

Bixby Vision

Bixby Vision taps machine learning and database partnerships to make the camera a little more useful. Bixby Vision recognizes several categories of objects: Place, Text, Image, Food, QR Codes, Wine, and Shopping. You launch it by tapping the Bixby button in the Galaxy S9’s camera app, or the Bixby Vision icon on the left side. You can also find Bixby Vision in the Gallery app.

Much like Google Lens or Amazon’s Flow, Bixby Vision’s Image search tries to suss out whatever’s in front of the Galaxy S9’s camera (thanks to Pinterest’s Lens Tool), and serve up information depending on what it finds.

By default, Bixby Vision opens in Text mode, which allows you to translate a foreign language into your chosen language. It supports a large range of languages, and works similarly to other examples of its kind, like Google Lens. Line up the text you want to translate into the box on screen, and a real-time translation should appear. It can be a little buggy, but we got it to work eventually.

The newest category is Makeup. Here, you can virtually try on different products from Sephora. Once you find the perfect look, you can capture your image and Bixby Vision will provide you with details and links to the products for purchase. While the feature is limited to Sephora products for now, expect to see Cover Girl join the mix in a few months.

Bixby Vision’s Places uses FourSquare to identify landmarks and interesting places around you via waypoints, if you’re ever looking for somewhere to visit or something to do nearby. The Food tool lets you point the camera at food to see calorie information, which can then be added into your Samsung Health app. While it couldn’t recognize Pringles, a Cliff Bar, or other prepackaged foods in our office, it did manage to identify a pre-made salad; however it provided laughably inaccurate calorie information.

With Shopping, point the camera at shoes, clothes, or other products and Bixby will try to find it on Amazon, Nordstrom, and a few other retailers. With Wine, Bixby Vision uses Vivino’s database to let you scan wine labels to find more information about the particular bottle in front of you — it works remarkably well.

Samsung is certainly on the right track with Bixby Vision, but it needs to improve accuracy on some of these categories to make the feature more useful.

Getting started with Bixby and Bixby Voice

Pulling up Samsung Bixby and Bixby Voice couldn’t be easier. The Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Note 9, Galaxy S8, and Note 8 range all feature a dedicated Bixby button on the left side, just below the volume rocker. Tapping on it brings up Bixby Home, the assistant’s hub and setup screen.

If you’re on the Galaxy S9’s home screen, you can access Bixby by swiping to the right. When you pull up Bixby for the first time, you’ll be asked to agree to the terms of service — and to grant it access to your data. Hit Agree to all (after reading the terms), and then choose Allow when prompted to grant Bixby permissions.

To get to the settings screen, tap the gear icon in the upper-right-hand corner of Bixby Home, and then hit Settings in the drop-down menu. You’ll see options for Bixby Home cards, a list of supported apps, and more.

There’s more to Bixby than a single app or screen. Rather, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus ship with three incarnations of Samsung’s Assistant: Bixby Home, Bixby Vision, and Bixby Voice. If you don’t like Bixby and you just want to get rid of it, you can disable the Bixby key.

Bixby Voice

note 9 bixby
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Bixby Voice is like Siri on steroids — in fact, it can rap insults at Siri in Korean. Not only that, but it’s built to adapt to a person’s manner of speaking — rather than the other way around. According to Samsung, the assistant will be able to understand “Show me today’s weather,” “What’s the weather like today?,” or “What’s the forecast today?” — all variations of the same command.

Once you’ve installed the software and completed Samsung’s Bixby Voice tutorial, you’re free to invoke the voice assistant at your leisure. You can activate it by saying, “Hey Bixby” or by holding down the Bixby button while you talk. If you don’t want to look like you’re talking to your phone in public, you can talk to Bixby by holding your phone up to your ear, like a phone call.

Bixby can perform tasks like sending text messages via the Galaxy S9’s Messages app and responding to basic questions about the weather, upcoming meetings, sports scores, and movie showtimes. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg — the voice assistant also works across apps like the Galaxy S9’s dialer, settings menus, camera app, contacts list, and gallery.

In addition to the basics, Bixby can also handle complicated tasks like opening an app in split-screen view, rotating misaligned photos, reminding you where you parked, playing videos on a nearby TV, and composing emails. It can gather all the photos you took last week into a new album labeled “Vacation” and share it with your friends, or take a selfie and text it to someone. And it can perform two-step actions like, “Open Uber and rate my driver 5 stars,” or “Open Instagram and post my most recent photo.”

There are also some pretty sweet hands-free functions via Bixby. For example, you can ask Bixby to “read out the latest messages,” and it’ll read you your texts or emails, assuming you use native Samsung apps. In short, Bixby allows you to use your voice to easily complete most basic tasks on your phone.

Bixby Voice is also customizable — you can change the gender of the assistant on the fly, and it supports shortcuts: You can shorten the lengthy commands you use most often to a single word or phrase.

Samsung says Bixby supports more than 3,000 commands, including app-specific commands in Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Uber, Gmail, Google Maps, and more. The company is continually improving the app and adding addition third-party app support and more commands.

Bixby Home

samsung galaxy note 8 review hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung calls Bixby Home a “social stream for your device,” and that’s more or less accurate. It’s a unified card-like interface of reminders, contextually relevant information, and social media updates — sort of like a cross between Google Now and HTC’s BlinkFeed.

Bixby Home can be customized to a degree. You can dismiss, pin, or permanently hide cards by tapping the gear icon in the upper-right corner of an individual Bixby Home tab. You can also set quick commands. For example, you could set the assistant to turn off all lights and set an alarm when you say the command “I’m going to bed.”

Samsung’s default apps supply most of Bixby Home’s content. You’ll see a local weather forecast, activity stats from Samsung’s Health app, and local files in the Galaxy S9’s Music app.

The list of third-party services that support Bixby Home is growing. A Spotify card provides one-tap access to your playlists and music, and full support is on its way. CNN and Flipboard show trending news stories from around the web. Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter show the latest updates from your social circles. Uber will show your recent rides.

Eventually, Samsung says Bixby Home will be able to learn from your routine and update to reflect how you use your phone throughout the day. It even works with Samsung’s SmartThings app to serve up buttons that control smart light bulbs and door locks, shortcuts to the apps you use most frequently, and more — all based on the time of day, your location, and other factors.

Reminders

Bixby’s Reminders is a little more robust than the reminders you can create with Siri or the Google Assistant. It’s built into the Galaxy S9’s native apps and lets you attach media like videos, websites, photos, and messages.

You can set a specific time you’d like to see a reminder or even a specific location. When the conditions are met, said reminder will appear in the form of a notification you can dismiss, snooze, or check off.

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