Opinion

The Bixby button drives me nuts

Hardware buttons have gone out of fashion now. That’s one of the reasons why Samsung’s decision to drop the home button on the Galaxy S8 was well received. The handset should ideally have had three buttons: power and volume up/down. That’s not the case, though.

Samsung introduced a dedicated button for its Bixby voice assistant with the Galaxy S8. It’s present on the Galaxy S8 Active as well, replacing the multifunctional Active key of previous Galaxy S active smartphones. It looks like this will be a permanent fixture on Samsung flagships from now on, as leaked images of the Galaxy Note 8 show the upcoming flagship will have a dedicated Bixby button as well.

The company may also add a dedicated button for the virtual assistant on non-flagship devices. Samsung has made no secret of the fact that it will expand Bixby to more devices. It’s only a matter of time before the company’s premium mid-range smartphones get Bixby, and ultimately some of its budget devices as well.

So what does the Bixby button do? Well, if you’re not in South Korea or the United States, it doesn’t do much. It brings up Bixby Home. That’s the card-based contextual information hub of Samsung’s voice assistant. It’s Bixby without the voice functionality.

If you’re in South Korea or the United States, pressing this button will bring up the voice assistant, ready to do as you command. Samsung says that Bixby can do almost everything in response to a voice command that a user can do manually by interacting with the display.

Samsung hasn’t said when it’s going to expand Bixby Voice to other markets across the globe. While there have been hints that a global launch might be possible, the company is yet to take customers into confidence regarding this.

It has sold millions of units of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ worldwide, handsets that cost over $900 in some markets, and yet they still don’t offer one of the flagship’s biggest selling points.

Simply put, if you’re not located in the supported markets, the Bixby button is useless for you. It bugs me, having a dedicated button on my smartphone and serves no purpose. I also find that it gets in the way and that drives me nuts.

It’s not that difficult to press the Bixby button accidentally when picking up the Galaxy S8, leaving you to mash the virtual home button because you want Bixby Home to go away so that you can do what you were really going to do. You might also press the button by accident when trying to quickly turn the volume down because it’s located below the volume down button.

The Bixby button gets in the way. Whether you’re viewing content for extended periods of time and trying to find a more comfortable position to hold the device or mindlessly picking up the phone when it’s lying on a flat surface, there’s no avoiding the accidental press of the Bixby button.

There’s no way around it. While it was possible to remap the Bixby button initially, Samsung has made it harder to do so now. Granted that it makes sense for Samsung to not allow remapping, it doesn’t even allow users to disable the button (unless they turn to third-party alternatives). Galaxy S8 owners have no choice when it comes to this pesky button.

Galaxy S8 Tip: Disable Bixby notifications and reminders

Choice is the magic word here. Many Android fans opt for Android-powered smartphones precisely because it offers them more choice compared to the only other leading mobile platform, iOS. Users are free to customize their handsets as they wish. They’re free to install apps from any source and free to flash any ROM.

Samsung sold us the idea of a very intelligent and capable virtual assistant when unveiling the Galaxy S8, but the fact remains that Bixby wasn’t ready at launch. Almost six months after the handset was released, a vast majority of Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ owners still don’t know when they will get to use Bixby in its true form.

The company should at least be more open with its plans for Bixby. It’s gearing up to launch another flagship that counts Bixby as one of its biggest features, and yet, most Galaxy Note 8 owners will not have access to this feature at launch.

One can live with the Bixby button if it actually serves some purpose. As long as it remains useless, it will just drive me nuts every time I press it by accident.

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