Buggy Samsung–Grammarly keyboard update puts profit before typing

In my experience, text input using the software keyboard on Android has always had some quirks and issues. However, all text entry and editing of more than a couple of sentences became nearly impossible after my Samsung Galaxy S10e received the One UI 4.0 update (better known as Android 12). The problems affected almost all apps I regularly use.

For example, I place the text cursor somewhere in the middle of a document. The document would then, seemingly on its own, scroll down to the bottom or some other paragraph. I scroll back to where I want to make an edit or type something, and the document jumps back to where it wants it to be instead.

Other times, text from one sentence or paragraph gets cut and pasted into the middle of another paragraph. This behavior only happens while none of the affected paragraphs are visible on screen. So, I don’t even realize it has happened until later.

Similarly, full or partial sentences and paragraphs randomly get deleted while they’re off-screen. In some apps, I notice this issue as it happens because they show an overlay scrollbar that suddenly gets shorter while I work on text elsewhere in the document.

I’ve also had issues with text selection and the pop-over context menu that should offer options like Copy and Paste. After I’ve selected some text, the context menu won’t appear, or it’s only shown for a split second before it disappears. I had to deselect everything, begin a new text selection, and hope that it works on the next attempt.

Likewise, the password auto-fill pop-over has been incredibly unreliable in my web browser and other apps. After I tap on a password field, the webpage or app view has automatically scrolled a bit. (To center it?) The scrolling dismisses the auto-fill context menu. I then have to deselect the password field, try again, and hope it won’t move and dismiss it on the second attempt.

I’ve also had several apps stop-responding after typing more than two–three sentences. Or rather, I thought it was the app that crashed, but it was probably just the keyboard app and not the apps themselves.

Pretty annoying stuff! I’ve always misattributed these issues to the apps I use or perhaps the system. I’ve experienced variations of these issues on Android for years now. I recently discovered that these most recent issues were caused by another party.

All my problems were caused by the software keyboard itself. I’ve always thought of the software keyboard as a letter-for-letter input device, but of course, it’s a full-blown input method editor (IME). IMEs can control the input cursor position (and thereby scrolling), as well as replace and substitute symbols, words, and whole sentences.

I’ve stuck with the default Samsung Keyboard app that came preinstalled with my device. I’ve never been a fan of the alternative swipe-to-type IMEs, so it’s been good enough for my needs.

I installed the Google Keyboard (Gboard) app on a hunch and discovered that all my problems went away. Great! If you’re looking for a quick solution to the above problems, this might be it.

However, I wasn’t satisfied with just finding a solution. I wanted to understand the underlying issues. (You may be a regular reader, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise.)

I began by resetting all user data (settings, dictionary, and typing predictions and completions) belonging to the Samsung Keyboard app, and the problem went away. Weird. Okay, so this suggests it was caused by one or a combination of my preferences.

I enabled each setting one by one until I found the troublemaker. The troublesome setting was: Samsung Keyboard settings: Suggest text corrections: Writing assistant: English (US).

One of the new features of One UI 4.0 is the deprecation of the English auto-spell checker, and the introduction of the new writing assistant, powered by Grammarly. Grammarly is a machine-learning-powered spell-checking subscription service. Its sales pitch is that it checks your sentences and paragraphs in context, not just the spelling of individual words.

It’s specifically the Grammarly integration too, as there are no writing assistants available for other languages. Languages that still use the old spell-checker don’t have the same issues as English with writing assistant.

Grammarly also has a dedicated keyboard app on the Google Play Store. I wondered if it would have the same problems and hoped it could shed some light on the Samsung Keyboard problems. I installed the Grammarly keyboard and switched to it as my default keyboard.

The Grammarly keyboard didn't exhibit the same problems in the apps where the Samsung Keyboard misbehaved. It didn’t do any highlighting or anything special in the incompatible apps.

I copied a text document I knew misbehaved with the Samsung Keyboard over to the Samsung Notes app. As a first-party app, I expected that it would be updated to work with the Samsung Keyboard. The Grammarly keyboard would underline some of the text in green, indicating that Grammarly could offer a correction or a suggestion.

Interestingly, these green texts were the exact positions that the Samsung Keyboard insisted on moving the input focus! There wasn’t anything of note at those locations with the Samsung Keyboard. So, I couldn’t know that there was anything special with the text there.

The Grammarly keyboard only jumps to these positions in the text when you click the assistant button. The Samsung Keyboard doesn’t have a writing assistant button, and I guess it just interrupts your writing and automatically jumps to where it would suggest something.

I then switched back to the Samsung Keyboard to check how it behaved. It didn’t misbehave in Samsung Notes, but it didn’t offer any extra corrections and suggestions either.

[Grammarly is] only available to users of Samsung S21, S20, and S10 devices that are updated to One UI 4.0.

How to use Grammarly through the Samsung Keyboard, Grammarly

I’ve confirmed that the issues aren’t present with One UI 4.0 and the Samsung Keyboard on devices that don’t yet have the new writing assistant. Unfortunately, the spell-checker option isn’t available on devices that were “updated” with the new writing assistant.

So, why has Samsung added Grammarly to their keyboard app? The Grammarly service subscription fees are a new revenue stream for Samsung. Grammarly pays affiliate partners 0,20 USD for referred sign-ups to free accounts and 20 USD for paid accounts. Samsung might have negotiated even more favorable terms.

I’m sure Samsung engineers are [most probably] aware of the app compatibility and quality concerns. In the end, the revenue potential won out over any concerns for the reliability of the keyboard app. The writing assistant works in all first-party apps by Samsung (except Messages), and I presume that was Samsung’s only benchmark.

The Samsung Community forums and Reddit are filled with complaint threads about text input issues with the Grammarly-powered keyboard. Few discussions have successfully identified the problem as the writing assistant and Grammarly. It’s an almost impossible intuitive connection to make, though.

This problem isn’t the full story, however. I’ve experienced similar issues in Android 9, 10, and 11. Well before the Samsung–Grammarly partnership. I don’t know exactly what caused those earlier issues. It didn’t occur to me at the time that my keyboard app was to blame. I’m now better prepared to troubleshoot similar issues in the future.