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- Impossible dream
- Slim is in
- Fingerprint fumble
- Pure pixels
- Consolidation of power
- All-day pass
- Big bad Bixby
- Seeing isn’t believing
- Flying solo
- Super selfies
Big bad Bixby
Along the right edge of the device you’ll find a sole power button as always, but there’s a new arrangement on the left. Samsung has thankfully gone with a volume rocker instead of individual keys, and below it there’s a new button dedicated to its inchoate AI assistant, which it calls Bixby. It’s one of the premier features of the S8 and the start of a new voice-powered ecosystem for Samsung, but unfortunately it’s not quite ready for prime time yet.
I mean that both literally and anecdotally. Just days before the S8’s launch, Samsung announced that Bixby Voice, the primary method for communicating with Bixby, wouldn’t be able to understand English speakers until it is patched later this spring. As such, there’s no way to actually summon Bixby on the S8+, and the parts that do work are more like random app features than a cohesive system.
Pressing the Bixby button brings up the Hello Bixby home screen, a Google Now-like set of cards that show your schedule, reminders, weather, activity, steps, etc. There’s nothing bad about it, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Most manufacturers have already created their own spin on the personalized recommendation system, and while Samsung’s version looks nice enough, I just don’t see a compelling reason to use it.
Seeing isn’t believing
The other functioning part of Bixby, other than a pretty standard implementation of location-based reminders, is Vision, Samsung’s take on Google’s long-forgotten Goggles project. Its real-world discovery concept is unique to a digital assistant, but it’s not the first time someone has tapped into the camera to identify things on a phone. And the last effort didn’t go so well.
You may remember a few years back when Amazon took a stab at making a smartphone. Called the Fire Phone, its premier feature was called Firefly, and while it was primarily a way to wrangle shoppers, the concept was very similar to what Bixby is doing here. But even with the power of Amazon.com behind it, Firefly quickly fizzled out, and I’m not sure Bixby Vision will fare much better. It works well enough, but I just don’t see the usefulness of it beyond the occasional query.
Presumably you’ll be able to activate it by speaking once Bixby Voice goes live, but for now you need to open the camera app first, or choose a picture from the Gallery app. You’ll see a new eye icon at the left of the screen, and tapping it will turn your camera into Bixby’s virtual eyes, ready to scan whatever it sees. Once it locks on an image it will offer up a options to search for similar Pinterest images or Amazon shopping results, and, if applicable, text translations and wine identification. I wasn’t wowed by any of the results. While it did recognize the things I scanned as what they were, it didn’t always get the the specifics right. Books were mostly on the money (aside from some older obscure titles), but common objects were more hit-or-miss. For example, it knew that my MacBook was a laptop, but offered just as many PC notebooks in the results as Macs.
Ultimately, Bixby isn’t something I’m going to use very often. That might change once voice commands are activated, but for now, Google Assistant fits my needs, and Bixby doesn’t do nearly enough for me to consider switching. But even though Samsung is promoting Bixby as a major feature of the S8, it’s hardly an essential one, and before long you’ll likely forget it’s even there. Nothing about what I saw led me to believe that voice will add anything ground-breaking to the Bixby experience, but I’m willing to hold out judgement for now.
Bixby is a massive undertaking for the company with an equally ambitious roadmap, and it will likely take years of refinements before it can stand with the likes of Siri and Google Assistant. However, Google Assistant is still present and works just as it does on any phone, summoned with a long-press of the home button or by saying “OK Google.” Samsung’s lackluster Bixby AI doesn’t force you to give up anything, it’s just not a worthwhile addition yet.
With a gorgeous 6.2-inch display and a design that needs to be seen, the Galaxy S8+ truly changes the smartphone conversation.
- Amazing, brilliant, eye-popping display.
- An incredible design that makes a 6.2-inch screen feel like a 5.7-inch one.
- Camera offers nice refinements over the S7, especially for selfies.
- Fingerprint sensor is in a horrible location.
- Bixby isn't very useful or compelling.