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LG G7's Google Assistant button vs. Samsung Bixby button

Are we witnessing the rise of the hotkey?

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Google Assistant on the LG G7, left, and Bixby on the Galaxy S9 Plus, right.

Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung last year debuted a button on its Galaxy S8 phones that triggers the company's house-made Bixby Voice assistant. Bixby took months to roll out, but has since become a constant feature on high-end Galaxy phones. Now, LG has done the same, adding a hotkey on the LG G7 ThinQ that opens Google Assistant after you speak a command.

Google Assistant is already integrated into the Android phone's home button. You can also launch it by saying, "OK, Google." So why would LG want a third way of calling up Google Assistant, if not to simply and blatantly copy Samsung? 

Because pressing LG's hotkey is designed to get Google Assistant working even faster. (Plus, you can avoid saying "OK, Google.") It also processes commands specific to the LG G7's camera, like "open the camera in portrait mode."

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However, LG has mimicked Samsung's aggressive decision to keep you from reprogramming the LG G7's hotkey to open the app of your choice. Both hotkey helpers can also handle basic settings, like turning on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

So how else do they stack up? While we haven't gotten a chance to thoroughly compare the two hotkeys, there are some important differences between the LG Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby buttons.

Bixby is all about Samsung's ecosystem

Samsung is throwing its weight behind Bixby, the AI software it wants to ultimately put on all its devices, especially home appliances. So it makes sense for Samsung to strong-arm you into using Bixby alone, even if it feels unnecessarily heavy-handed.

LG G7's hotkey adds 'custom' controls

LG has essentially made Google Assistant+ by adding commands that only apply to the LG G7, specifically to its camera. For example, you can tell it to take a wide-angle selfie, open manual mode on the camera, take a photo in portrait mode, and so on. It won't actually let you program your own controls.

Be advised that telling Google Assistant to take a photo will give you a 3-second countdown, which doesn't leave you much time to frame your shot. Telling it to open the camera instead will let you decide when to take your photo.

Like Bixby, you can press the hotkey to launch the software helper, even with the phone screen locked (this is a setting).

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The Google hotkey on the G7 is in the same place as the Bixby button on Galaxy phones, below the volume buttons.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bixby can juggle multiple commands 

On Samsung phones like the Galaxy S9, the list of Bixby commands you can say to control your phone is staggering. You can also nest commands, such as: "Turn on Wi-Fi and search for brownie recipes."

The Google Home speaker is capable of these nested commands, but I only got one command to work at a time when I tested it briefly on a preproduction LG G7.

Bixby doesn't always complete each task fully either, but it'll get you part-way there. For example, it may turn on Wi-Fi, but fail to open the specific website you want. Instead, it'll open the browser so you can complete the task yourself.

Once we compare the LG G7 Google Assistant hotkey and Samsung Bixby Voice tool side-by-side, we'll have a better idea of which hardware button is more accurate, fast and useful in real-world situations. For now, we wait.

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