Now that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are on sale, I thought we should take some time to get reacquainted with Samsung's ambitious virtual assistant. The sad truth is, the version of Bixby installed on the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus isn't that much better than what shipped on last year's Samsung flagships.
The world through Bixby's eyes
Bixby does a lot of things, but some of Samsung's most fascinating work has gone into Bixby Vision, a suite of seemingly useful image-recognition tools. Here's the rub, though: They're just about all powered by third-party services, and there's often little reason to use Bixby over any of those standalone apps. Vision is legitimately useful in that it provides a single place to access these functions, but it's hard to get excited when Samsung's main selling point comes down to convenience.
Samsung does, however, deserve credit for dramatically improving Bixby Vision's overall speed. With the Galaxy S8, you launched Bixby Vision through the camera, pointed it at something, and then chose what you wanted Bixby to do with that visual information after the fact. This time, Samsung streamlined the approach: You can swipe between those different Bixby modes before pointing the camera at an object. It might not sound like a profound change, but it definitely makes the Bixby experience feel more fluid.
As I write this, there are eight Bixby Vision modes, some more interesting than others. Consider the QR code scanner: It does its job well, and it's one of the few functions I could see myself using regularly (that is, if QR codes were still a thing). And, as was the case last year, Bixby is good at identifying bottles of wine through Vivino. Would-be sommeliers will probably get some regular use out of the feature, but it still feels like a gimmick whose novelty quickly wears off.