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Galaxy S8's voice sidekick can do things Siri can't

Here are the important things you need to know about Samsung’s new voice app.

Now Playing: Watch this: 6 cool things you can do with Bixby Voice
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The clickable button on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus has finally fulfilled its purpose. Located just under the volume rocker on the S8's left side, the Bixby button will now launch brand new voice software that phone owners have been waiting months for.

"It's not a voice assistant," Quam Erogbogbo, senior director and head of services for Samsung's services and new business division, said of Bixby Voice. "It's an intelligent interface that will change the way you interact with the phone."

Samsung doesn't want Galaxy S8 owners to compare Bixby Voice to Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant (which is also on the Galaxy S8) and Amazon's Alexa because it does some slightly different things. Bixby Voice puts searching your phone ahead of searching online, and it won't track your packages or tell you when to leave for the airport. Instead, it promises to do with your voice everything you can tap or type with your digits.

For example, instead of scrolling through layers of menus to look up your SIM card's phone number (three steps if the S8's locked), Bixby Voice will deliver it in one step -- yes, even if the phone is locked. You can toggle settings, do a ton with the camera and photos, and even set short, customized commands for long, specific steps (this the my favorite Bixby feature so far).

But for all intents and purposes, it's easiest to think of Bixby Voice as a sidekick of the Siri/Assistant/Alexa breed, because you do use your voice and the software does actually assist you with your phone.

I got a chance to try out Bixby Voice a few weeks back on the Galaxy S8. It was a development build, not the full version that's just today become available for the Galaxy S8 phones. Generally, I liked the concept, as I like any shortcut that can spare my fingers from repetitive swipes and taps. There were idiosyncrasies I already discovered, some of which Samsung may have addressed in the final version.

Samsung said it will add to Bixby's capabilities as time goes on, and expand Bixby Voice to a wide range of Samsung appliances, like a future fridge, washer or TV.

There's a lot more Bixby testing to go now that the final version is out, so keep an eye out for updates to this story and new comparisons. And remember, the following represents my first experience with Bixby Voice, which gives you an idea of things, but is far from the final word.

Best so far: Bixby Voice can customize commands

Skipping way ahead, because this is my favorite feature so far. Let's say you have a specific request that you make often ("Remind me where I parked the car"). After you make it a few times, Bixby Voice will prompt you to record a shortcut. Then, you can just say, "Where's my car?"

There are 3 ways to launch it

  • Press and hold the Bixby button while you speak (like a walkie-talkie).
  • Say, "Hi, Bixby".
  • Open Bixby Home (press the Bixby button once) and press the stylized "b" icon on the top.

You have to have an internet connection

It won't work without Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Bixby Voice won't replace Google Assistant on the Galaxy S8

Bixby Voice is almost ready for you.

Josh Miller/CNET

If you're used to Google Assistant (and Google Now) and want Bixby Voice to do everything it will, you'll be disappointed. It isn't made to, at least not yet. So Google Assistant is probably the best to calculate tip, and find the local dry cleaner. (Bixby Voice opens the calculator and enters the figures while Google Assistant calculates for you.)

And they both can toggle on Wi-Fi and open apps.

But the two are bound to compete for your time and attention, and I foresee that keeping track of when to say "Hi, Bixby" and "OK, Google" is going to start getting cumbersome.

It saves typing, sometimes time

If you're just trying to turn on the flashlight or open an app, you probably won't save a ton of time using Bixby Voice over typing, but sometimes, tapping on a screen is the last thing you want to do.

The biggest time savings are when you ask Bixby Voice to do something really specific, like dictate a text message.

You can string together several commands

Go ahead, drill down into Bixby Voice. Here are some of Samsung's suggestions:

  • Open Samsung Internet and delete all of the personal data saved
  • Open Gallery and show the details of the most recent picture in the Family album
  • Open Camera and turn off radial blur of food mode
  • Open phone app and video call David
  • Open Settings and set the media volume to max

It'll take you partway there

If Bixby Voice doesn't understand exactly what you want, it might try anyhow. For example, it may ask you which app you want to use, or if you'd like to be reminded to call your mom when you arrive at the store or when you leave.

Have a favorite request? Make it a custom voice command.

Josh Miller/CNET

Others' voices might not get in the way

Bixby Voice often picked up stray words (spoken by me or others). Much of the time, that was OK. It still told me the weather and opened the right app.

It'll learn with time

All AI and assistant programs say this. Samsung says Bixby Voice will learn your habits and preferences as you make adjustments here and there. As more people use it, Voice should also build from your patterns.

Bixby Voice will work with third-party apps

Right now, apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps, YouTube and Uber (and more) are part of Bixby Labs, which Samsung classes as experiments. Look for a lot more of these to connect with Bixby Voice in the future.

You can search the internet

Samsung recommends using the phrase "Open Samsung Internet" to search for what you want, but I was able to ask:

  • When was the Empire State Building constructed?
  • When does the sun set in San Francisco tonight?
  • What is the Giants' score?

And see Google results.

However, if you search for photos, Bixby will pull up pics on your phone first. You have to specify "on the internet" or "online" to see those messages. And if you just ask "When does sun set?", you won't get too far.

You can't remap the Bixby button (not natively, anyway)

You might be able to use a third-party app to make the Bixby button do something else, but Samsung really wants you to use its app. The best you can do is turn off Bixby Voice, so that nothing happens when you long-press the Bixby button (a short press will open the Bixby Home app).

Bixby Voice is the best part of 'Bixby'

Remember, Bixby Voice is only one part of the app. But even now it's clearly the most useful. Bixby Home is a screen that surfaces info kind of like Google Now (the weather, an alarm you set, nearby restaurants, a news story…). Bixby Vision is part of the camera and can read business cards and signs and identify landmarks.

Read next: Tips and tricks for gettting started with Bixby Voice

First published June 23, 10 p.m. PT.

Update, July 19 at 5 a.m.: Adds that Bixby is now live on GS8 phones.