Basic Phone Controls on Your BlackBerry

Lecture 5 in's BlackBerry 101 Education Series looks at the Basic Phone controls on the BlackBerry.'s BlackBerry 101 Lecture Series
By Kevin Michaluk on 9 Oct 2007 02:29 am EDT

Gooooood Morning Class! Welcome to Lecture 5 in's BlackBerry 101 Series . We're still talking BlackBerry Basics and today we're going to go over the basic controls and important buttons to use on your BlackBerry. Without any further adieux, let's get Crack'n!


For this lecture, we will go over the BlackBerry's basic controls using an image of the BlackBerry Curve 8320. Though there are slight variations to appearance and layout, the controls found on the Curve are essentially the same as the 8800 and Pearl series phones (other BlackBerrys that use Trackball navigation). For older BlackBerrys using Trackwheel Navigation (vs. Trackball) your phone's Main Navigation keys (Trackwheel for navigating, Menu Key, and Back/Escape Key are found on the Right hand side of the phone.

Basic BlackBerry Controls

Main Phone Controls

Send Call: Colored "Green to Go", you can click this key to answer incoming calls, open the Phone Application (from the homescreen or from within any application), or to call a highlighted phone number or saved contact.

End Call: Colored "Red to End", you can click this key to end a phone call. This key serves double purpose on the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl, as it is also the phone's Power On/Off key. With the phone turned on, holding down the End Call key for 3 seconds will shut the phone off. If the phone is turned off, one tap of this key will bring it back to life. On BlackBerry's 8800 and 8700 business-targeted series of phones, the Power On/Off key is located on the top left hand side of the BlackBerry.

Trackball: The BlackBerry Curve, Pearl and 8800 series BlackBerrys use Trackball Navigation, allowing you to quickly scroll up/down, left/right on the homescreen, within applications, and on menu options. Depressing/Pushing In on the trackball is like hitting the enter key - it will cause the BlackBerry to take action on the highlighted shortcut/option/field/etc.

Prior to the Trackball, BlackBerrys featured the Trackwheel (an iconic BlackBerry look). While I was a huge fan of the Trackwheel found on older BlackBerrys, it really doesn't compare to the Trackball. The Trackwheel forced right-handed user operation (sorry lefties!) and only provided up/down (two direction) scrolling capabilities on the screen . To jump to secondary menus/fields, you would have to hold down the Alt key while scrolling.

Menu Key: This is the key that makes the BlackBerry Operating System so darn powerful. Clicking this key at any time will open the BlackBerry Menu, which will show all of the options available to you at that given time based on where you are (on the homescreen, within the Phone App, Address Book, Phone Volume Profiles, etc.). A whole lot of careful effort and refinement has gone into making the BlackBerry Menu incredibily intuitive. It is very likely that when you hit the menu while performing a function that the exact option you are looking for will be pre-highlighted. If you're new to the BlackBerry and want to learn everything you can do on it/with it FAST, click this Menu button ALL the time. You will quickly discover the multitude of things your BlackBerry can do (even after all the time I have spent on the BlackBerry I still stumble onto features I never noticed before!).

Escape/Back Key: Think of this as the Back Button on your Computer's Web Browser. Pushing this button will kick you back a screen, or if you are only one screen deep into an application it will exit you back to your BlackBerry's desktop/homescreen. It will also close the BlackBerry menu if it has been opened.

During a phone call, hitting the Escape/Back Key will also allow you to exit the phone app (while you remain talking) and take you to your homescreen, so you can open other applications while on the phone (i.e. open up your address book to look up a number the caller on the other end of the line is looking for). Before exiting to the homescreen while on a call it will probably make sense to activate your speakerphone first (if you want to keep talking while you look things up) as you'll have to move the phone away from your ear to see the display.

Perimeter Controls/Functions (buttons/functions located around the edge of your Berry)

Mute, Standby, Play/Pause: If your phone is ringing from an inbound call, a quick tap of the Mute key will silence it. While listening to music, this same key allows you to Pause/Resume listening to music with one click.

The function I use the Mute key most for is to put the BlackBerry into Standby/Sleep mode. If you hold the mute key down for two seconds, the BlackBerry will power down into Standby mode. Once in standby mode, the only way to turn the BlackBerry back on is to either tap the Mute key again or hold down on the power key for three seconds. If you don't use a case with your BlackBerry, or use a case/skin that doesn't have a 'sleeper' magnet (that automatically puts your BlackBerry into Standby when inserted into the case) you will want to get in the habit of using this button. For one, using standby ensures no keys get accidentally depressed while your BlackBerry is in your pocket, purse, etc. and secondly, using Standby will extend the battery life on your BlackBerry. Your phone will still take calls/get messages and ring/vibrate/give LED notification of events, but otherwise it's functioning in a conserving power manner.

LED Indicator: This is one of the functions that really puts the 'Crack' into CrackBerry. Thinking back to Electricity course I took in high school, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. The LED indicator blinks in different colors to deliver different notifications to the user:

  • Blinking RED: The LED indicator blinks red whenever you have incoming/waiting communication messages on your phone - new email, new call/missed call, new BlackBerry Messenger message, new SMS, etc. It is basically impossible to ignore the blinking red light - you'll find yourself having to reach for your BlackBerry no matter what. Welcome to BlackBerry Addiction. As Martha Stewart would say, It's a Good Thing.
  • Blinking GREEN: Coverage Indicator light. This lets you know you are connected to a network. It's annoying as all heck and you will want to turn it OFF before it drives you mad (if turned on, it never stops blinking!). Go to Options > Screen/Keyboard and turn LED Coverage Indicator to Off.
  • Blinking BLUE:Lets you know your phone is connected to a Bluetooth device, such as a Bluetooth headset.
  • Blinking YELLOW: Plug it in! A blinking yellow light means it is time to charge your BlackBerry as you are running low on juice.

Volume Up/Down: This one is pretty self explanatory. You can use these buttons during a call to turn the volume up and down. On older BlackBerrys, this is accomplished by moving the Trackwheel up and down.

Left Side / Right Side Convenience Keys: Convenience Keys allow you to launch an application with one click. Consumer-targeted BlackBerry's (Curve, Pearl) feature two convenience keys, with the one on the right by default programmed to launch the Camera, while the 8800 and 8700 series only feature one Convenience Key on the left.

To program the convenience key(s), go to Options > Screen/Keyboard. Within this menu you will be able to select Left/Right Side Convenience Key Opens and then choose the Native OS  or 3rd party application you want launched when the convenience key is clicked. USE the convenience keys - they are HANDY!

Headset Jack - for plugging in a headset. I never use this. I am ALL about Bluetooth Headsets, Headphones and Speakerphones. As I write this, I'm rocking the Blueant Z9 bluetooth headset for everyday hands-free chatting, Motorola S9s for listening to music on my Curve, and in the car I have a Blueant SuperTooth II speakerphone setup. As much as I am a certified BlackBerry Addict, I'm also a certified Bluetooth nut!

USB Port - For charging your BlackBerry or connecting it to your computer. It's so nice that RIM uses the standard USB connection on its phones - I can't believe there are manufacturers out there that use specialized connectors. If only all Bluetooth devices would standardize on this connector too I would never need to worry about my charging options as the abundance of these USB cables and chargers I have accumulated would allow me to charge all of my mobile stuff everywhere (living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, office, parent's house, girlfriend's house, cottage, etc. etc. etc.)!

Speaker / Microphone Pickup: These aren't exactly device functions/controls but its still good to know where they are located. The speaker is at the top front of the phone, optimally located for listening on the phone. Conversely, the microphone pickup is at the bottom of the phone, positioned for excellent voice pickup while talking. 

Important Keyboard Keys

Alt Key: Allows you to type the Alternate character on a Key. Example - if you are writing an email and want to insert the numbers '1234' as you are typing you would depress and hold in the Alt key while hitting the WERZ (1234) keys. Hitting the Alt and Left Shift keys will turn on the NUM lock function (all keys pressed will show the alternate character). Hit Alt to turn NUM off.

Left / Right Shift Keys: Depress this key once and then hit a letter to get the Upper Case form of that letter. After typing one letter it will go back to lower case typing. If you continue to hold in the Shift Key while you type, you will get ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. To turn on CAPS Lock, hit the Alt and Right Shift keys. Hit Alt to turn CAPS off.

Backspace/Delete Key: No confusion here. Use this while typing to backspace and delete your mistakes. Within applications (say your Inbox or Address book), hitting this key will prompt yo to delete the message/contact.

Enter Key: While typing this will give you a line break and within applications or on the BlackBerry Menu it will take action on your highlighted choices (same function as pushing in on the Trackball).

Symbol Key: You can't fit EVERYTHING onto a mobile device keyboard, so the Symbol key pulls up a menu of characters that can be inserted into emails/text: % < > = & more!

Speakerphone On/Off: This is the only key on the BlackBerry that's not really 'intuitive' in its placement, but once you learn its location you will find it quite convenient. While on a phone call, pressing the $ Dollar Sign/Speakerphone key will toggle the phone between Handset and Speakerphone mode. 

Crash Course Complete!

That's it class! I hope you found this crash-course in Basic BlackBerry Controls to be helpful. Have a great week, and spread the and BlackBerry 101 word! We'll see you next Tuesday!

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Reader comments

Basic Phone Controls on Your BlackBerry


I think this lesson was truly a good thing. I figured there was a numlock somewhere (numbskull!!) and I asked for a breakdown of LED colours and lo and behold I got it. Just like Christmas in one package - great lesson. Thanks...

Excellent information, as always! Perfect for the BB beginner! I had been wondering about the LED colors too. Thank you!

Just sent this link to my parents who just bought Curves (and yes I am jealous! I am still on an old 8700g model). This is so informative. Great job.

Great article! Thanks! I've been using my BB Curve for about two months now, thought I knew most of the shortcuts, but I learned a few new things here.

These lectures are so great, I do not have a Black Berry yet but soon I will...I look forward to reading the lesson every week. Great Job and thank you. Now do I hang with verizon and get the pearl or do I stop my suffering and finally ditch verizon and get that fantastic Curve. ARRRRRRRRRRR

I just signed up to I was looking for a good IM software for the Curve. (Unfortunately, AT&T doesn't have AIM for the Curve for some reason or another. Thanks for recommending BeeJive)

I had no idea that the standby button could pause and play the media player. That's awesome! Now, when I walk into my office, I don't have to go to the media player. I can just hit the standby button and it'll stop the music. Thanks!

I'm new to this and am already addicted. Wonderfull communication tool.
There are a few icons that appear on the screen that are not mentionned anywhere in the manuals, namely a small circle with a cross [upper left, under coverage bars]. Another is the white triangle just above the time, 3 little squares [upper right] in the browzer, etc.
Is there a list somewhere that shows them all!?
Many thanks

Very good information, there is many tricks to learn.
I found one that I use all the time. When typing, if you continue to press and letter a little longer, the letter is capitalized. no need to use the cap button. A lot faster...
P.S. Blackberry 8800. I assumed it works with others.

Hey with the magnet in the holster you were speaking of, I bought one from "just wireless". how do I find out if it activates my sleep mode?

Didn't know about the LED colors or the importance of putting my new baby into standby. Thx SO much for all the info; love this site!
Mom of 2-week old Curve

When my boyfriend bought me this blackberry pearl 3 weeks ago, I was so overwhelmed!! A friend of ours works for bell, therefore he's been a huge help. Unfortunately when he does help me, he just does it and doesn't show me... therefore I have no idea what or how he's done/fixed something. Thanks to these "classes" I don't have to worry about not knowing how to do something because I have done it myself. Great site. Oh, and i really enjoy how everyone keeps their hands down during lecture, really helps my concentration level!!! :)

Thanks to these classes I am adjusting my learning Curve. I have been using my Curve for the past couple of months but still feel so 'new'. Thanks again!

Does this light have a "Timeout"? I notice that sometimes it is blinking and sometimes not, when I haven't looked at it for a long time and have messages.

Great to see how to cancel out the maddening green blinking light, which is just redundant when you can see on the screen how many bars are showing for cell coverage.

Awful lot of bundled packaging features added or subtracted in the software versions, which differ from carrier to carrier.

This was AWESOME!1 Thanx so much. I'm new to both berry's, crack and black!! And this is very helpful! I'm catchign up and on to the next lesson now. It's midnight, have to work in the AM, but I can't stop.

Hey crack and black wasn't that the new AC DC album. Anyway thank you for the basics. I guess like anything else as long as I stay busy with the berry eventually you figure out all the little secrets


When I have my preferences set for LOUD and Phone only (gees the email thing was making me crazy). BUT I can't seem to make the ringer loud. I literally have to have it in eye site and be paying attention. Help? Or do I have defective phone?

brand new so where is vibrate?
Biggest issue is actually my CONTACTS...I tap my contact icon...Find is at the i hit it and the keyboard comes up...if an error i might get "new contact"...don't want that so exit..hit contacts again and get new contact back again...when all i want is my list of names to make a call