A few weeks ago I heard my iPhone speak with my voice using the new personal voice feature on iOS 17, part of the Accessibility settings to help with people who may be losing their ability to speak. Samsung, on the other hand, has haphazardly added this feature to Bixby, and now your phone can simply talk like you all the time. A stilted, robotic, very creepy version of yourself. I’m not sure who asked for this, but I'm asking to make it stop.
On the iPhone, setting up personal voice is a dramatic affair. It requires a good microphone with little background noise. You read dozens of phrases, which seem to have been randomly pulled from news stories or essays, sort of like passages on a standardized reading test. The entire process takes at least 15 minutes, and it’s so long that Apple lets you take breaks and come back later.
In the end, you’ll have a library of phrases that you've read. Personal voice is an accessibility feature. It is meant for people who have trouble speaking, and people who are losing their ability to speak, either temporarily or permanently. Apple seems to know this is quite the undertaking, and also appreciates the audience.
Personal voice can benefit a wide range of users. From folks suffering from multiple sclerosis to people who anticipate significant oral surgery, this feature can be a real blessing. It can let you communicate clearly in your own voice when your body won't cooperate. It won’t fool everyone, but it is smooth enough that you can use it on the phone, or at a drive-thru window, and it won’t bother anybody.
Samsung makes you say some unusual phrases
On the other hand, there is Samsung. Hidden in the Bixby app settings menu (who even knew there was a Bixby app settings menu?!), you can now create a custom voice. To get there, open the Bixby app (or hold down the power button), and open the Settings menu to the Language and voice style settings. The custom voice option is at the bottom.
While it took me two days to complete the Apple training for personal voice, Samsung only makes you read 10 sentences. They are awkward, poorly worded constructions that can be difficult to read because they aren’t things we would normally say.
For instance, the tenth sentence I had to say was “The hungry purple dinosaur ate the kind, zingy fox, the jabbering crab, and the mad, noisy whale.” Forgiving the lack of semicolon in the serial list, I can’t get past this weird, disturbing sentence. We are introduced to a kind, zingy (what the heck is “zingy”?!) fox just as he’s being eaten? By Barney!? Then Barney goes on a killing spree and murders everyone else in the sentence.
Samsung makes you pledge loyalty to Samsung to use custom voice
If you think that phrase is weird, the sentence that came before it is downright disturbing. If you want to set up a custom voice on Bixby, you must pledge your loyalty to Samsung. I’m not joking. Bixby forces you to say “No doubt I’m one hundred percent on team Samsung!” No doubt. None. Okay, maybe a little doubt.
What is going on? What is this nonsense? When people talk about the difference between the way Samsung treats its users and the way Apple treats iPhone owners, I’ll point them to this example. Apple would never in a million years require iPhone owners to repeat the phrase “I’m on team Apple.” It’s completely classless and makes me feel like a fool just saying it.
I paid $1,300 for this phone, I'm not pledging my loyalty just to use a feature. Have some respect for your buyers, Samsung.
Also, I cannot believe all the phonemes required for the Galaxy to learn my voice can be distilled to just ten complex sentences, and one of those sentences must contain a loyalty pledge to Samsung. I’ll bet that’s an extraneous sentence, or Samsung could have done better. Instead, it forces you to repeat an embarrassing team cheer. Team Samsung, here I am.
What do you get for your loyalty and roughly two minutes of speaking time? Bixby will now talk like you, all the time. Like Apple, you can just use Bixby for outward communication: on phone calls or talking to someone in person. Unlike Apple, there is no pretense of Accessibility. This is a Bixby feature. Bixby with your voice, talking like you all the time.
Nobody wants their own voice all the time
Y’all, this is so creepy. On my iPhone 14 Pro, I have a personal voice set up with iOS 17. It sounds like me. It sounds natural. The cadence is a bit off, and sometimes words are mispronounced, but it mostly sounds good. I would not be afraid of using it in public if I needed my iPhone to be my voice.
On my Galaxy S23 Ultra, Bixby talks like somebody found old recordings of me and chopped them up to make sentences. The words are totally stilted and don’t flow together at all. It sounds entirely unnatural in every way. The pronunciation is bad. The inflections are bad. The tone is odd. There are unnecessary pauses between words.
I would never use this in public in a way that represented myself. I might show this to people to have a good laugh. A very good laugh, because it is laughably bad. Unfortunately, when a feature meant to improve accessibility is laughably bad, that’s bad for everybody.
Do you like the sound of your own voice? Most people I know, myself included, find our external voice sounds strange compared to the way we sound in our own heads. Not Samsung. Samsung gives you your own voice for every Bixby feature.
Bixby, tell me a joke! I request. I hear myself in a stilted, robotic, uncanny voice recite: “I want to tell a joke about sandals, but I keep … [long pause] flip-flopping between two of them.” There is a sound effect like a robot rimshot. I’ve told myself a joke, and now I’ve told myself to laugh.
Samsung isn't taking this Accessibility feature seriously
There are people who need to use technology to communicate. There are folks who are hesitant to use a personal voice, even though it would be a big help. When a feature like Samsung’s custom voice for Bixby is this bad, it makes the entire prospect of a personal voice on your phone seem like a joke. Samsung isn’t taking this accessibility feature seriously, and it is making a laughing stock of the idea of using your phone to speak for you.
I hope that Samsung’s Bixby custom voice gets better. If there is one thing I know about Samsung (and I know a lot of things about Samsung), it’s that the company likes to continually improve everything. Very few features get dropped, and almost everything gets better, eventually.
Apple only releases features like this when they are ready. That is, when they won’t embarrass Apple or its users. Samsung isn’t bothered, or maybe it doesn’t realize how shameful a low-quality personal voice would be for users in need. But I expect the feature will improve until it’s almost as good as Apple’s iPhone. That is the Samsung way.