Samsung's Galaxy Home is here at CES, and you can (sort of) talk to it

Chances to talk to Bixby through a speaker have been strangely rare.

When Samsung revealed its oddly shaped, Bixby-powered Galaxy Home last year, many of expected the company to launch it immediately. That, uh, didn't happen. It's been five months since then, and Samsung still refuses to discuss when its first smart speaker will go on sale, or how much it'll cost when it does. Hell, even though Samsung has trotted out the speaker a few times since that day in Brooklyn, it generally hasn't let members of the public actually talk to it. At this year's CES, though, that changed — sort of.

There appeared to be exactly one functional Galaxy Home in Samsung's cavernous CES booth, and it was being tended to by a handler almost all day. They were the only ones who were officially allowed to talk to Bixby on the Home, so naturally, Samsung started getting a little concerned when I started chatting the speaker up myself. My first request: to play Vulfpeck's Animal Spirits in Spotify.

After a few tense moments watching the Galaxy Home's ring light swirl, it started to play the song I requested... though it cut out a few seconds after a jaunty opening out of what Samsung later said were copyright concerns. Still, Samsung's quirk speaker design seems to have paid off. Despite being surrounded hundreds of chattering people, the songs we coaxed Bixby into playing came through loud and clear.

Other requests, like asking Bixby for info on Italian restaurants nearby also worked well (after another long pause thanks to godawful WiFi performance), though Samsung was pretty sure that one would work. Was the most rigorous demo? No, but given the less-than-ideal circumstances, Bixby still did a little better than I expected.

That said, Bixby itself isn't the most pleasant virtual assistant to talk to — it generally figured out what I was saying without trouble, but in its current state, Bixby's voice still seems stilted and unnatural compared to rivals like Alexa and Google Assistant. Samsung stressed that this version of the Galaxy Home does not fully represent the experience you'll get when the speaker actually goes on sale (whenever that might be), and with any luck, the version of Bixby that ships won't sound anything like the version I just spoke to.