Craig's 10 Things You Should Know About Using a BlackBerry

Around Christmas time many people receive a BlackBerry as a present. It is not surprising since it is the fastest selling smartphone these days. The BlackBerry is pretty user friendly and most things are self-explanatory, however I thought that there are at least 10 things you should know about that will make using your BlackBerry so much more enjoyable.

Since I do not have a BlackBerry Storm yet, I have not covered it here, however if you would like to learn more about your Storm, please read Gary Mazo's article here.

Craig's 10 Things You Should Know About Using a BlackBerry

Number 1: Your BlackBerry PIN Number

Every BlackBerry has a unique number called a PIN number. This number is part of the BlackBerry itself and cannot be changed, even if you switch the SIM card. When you receive your new BlackBerry, one of the first things you should so, is find out it's PIN number.

To do this, find the Options icon (depending on the theme you are using, this could be under a folder on the BlackBerrys home screen, or right on the home screen. Click on Options, and scroll down to Status and click that. On the Status screen you will see your PIN number.

Unbeknown to you as a BlackBerry user, every time something is sent or received on your BlackBerry, your BlackBerrys PIN number is used. Browsing the internet, sending and receiving emails, etc. Now as a BlackBerry user, you do not need to know this, however there are some advantages to knowing your BlackBerry PIN, and your friend's or colleges PINs.

If you know a friend or colleagues PIN number, you can actually compose a message to them, using their PIN number in the To field instead of their email address. When you send a message to someone's PIN number, the message goes straight from your BlackBerry to theirs instantly. If you send an email, that email must travel the path of any other email. Sending a PIN message, as it is called, is the fastest method of BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry communication. In addition, when a PIN message is delivered to the recipient's BlackBerry, you receive back a delivery confirmation in the form of a little "D" that appears next o the check mark.

PIN-to-PIN communication can be very useful in the corporate world too. Because sending a PIN message does not rely on your company's BlackBerry server, or email servers, so in the event of an outage, you can continue to communicate, as long as you know people's PIN numbers.

Number 2: Run the Setup Wizard

When you receive a new BlackBerry and turn it on for the first time, it runs through the Setup Wizard. Many of you may dismiss this wizard with the excitement of wanting to start using your new BlackBerry, however this can cost you wasted memory.

The Setup Wizard does many things, but the most important one is removing unwanted languages from your BlackBerry. A new BlackBerry normally comes pre-loaded with many different languages. Each language takes up memory on your BlackBerry. If you only want to type English on your BlackBerry, then make sure that you make that selection when running the Setup Wizard because the Setup Wizard will delete any languages that you do not want to use. This really does make more memory available on your BlackBerry for all of those important emails and applications. If you skip the Setup Wizard, all of those languages stay behind and rob you of useful memory.

Other than the memory saving feature of the Setup Wizard, it does have great Navigation and Typing Tutorials, and steps you through setting up your email.

Number 3: Use your Thumbs

One of the mistakes that people make when typing on a BlackBerry, is not using their thumbs. The BlackBerry is design to be typed on using both thumbs. Hunting and pecking with an index finger is a very inefficient way to use a BlackBerry and since the keyboard was not designed for this method of typing, your typing is very slow.

Number 4: Save time with AutoText

AutoText is a feature that is built into the BlackBerry. It is a mechanism that watches what you type, and then switches your word for a new one as soon as you hit space. For example, if you type acn instead of can, the BlackBerry replaces acn with can as soon as you hit space.

AutoText can actually speed up typing too because it will fill in special characters for you. For example, to type the word aren't, you type a r e n <alt-k> t. The alt-k gets you the apostrophe. Typing that apostrophe slows you down because you have to hit two keys at once. On a BlackBerry you simply type the word aren't without the apostrophe, and when you hit space, AutoText fills in the apostrophe for you.

There are even some special AutoText features that save even more typing. Let's say you want to quickly send an email to someone asking them to call you. You can type Please call me at mynumber <space>. AutoText will change the word mynumber to your actual BlackBerrys phone number. Another one is mypin. After you hit space, AutoText changes the word mypin to your BlackBerrys PIN number. One last one is myver. If anyone ever asks you what BlackBerry model and OS you are using, just type myver and hit space.

If you navigate to Options, AutoText you will be able to see all of the pre-loaded AutoText entries. There you will be able to add new ones. For example, why not get the BlackBerry to do all of the typing for you? Let's say you are a busy business person, who always wants to quickly follow up after a meeting. You could create a new Autotext entry like zzzz. You would then type in an entire email like "It was a pleasure meeting with you today. I will follow up with you shortly but please let me know if I can assist you with anything before then."

Now as you hop into the elevator, you compose a new email on your BlackBerry, type "Hi Kevin."

Zzzz <space>. That's it! The AutoText replaces your zzzz with your generic follow-up email.

Number 5: Typing Shortcuts

There are a few typing shortcuts that further speed your BlackBerry typing.

  • Press <space> twice to get a period plus a space.
  • Hold a letter to switch it to a capital letter.
    • The BlackBerry automatically capitalizes the first letter after a period so this would be used when typing a name in the middle of a sentence, etc.
  • When typing a web address, a space becomes a period
    • This only works on web pages and in BlackBerry applications where the developer has designated that field to be a web address field. For example, when typing in a web address into the BlackBerry Web Browser.
  • When typing an email, the first space becomes an @ and subsequent spaces become periods
    • This only works on web pages and in BlackBerry applications where the developer has designated that field to be an email field. For example when typing in someone's email address when adding them as a contact in your BlackBerry address book.

Number 6: Buy a Memory Card

Today's BlackBerrys are full of multimedia features like cameras and video cameras. The BlackBerry Media Player can play many audio and video formats as well as display pictures. To really benefit from these features I recommend buy a Memory Card.

If you do not have a memory card, you can fill up your BlackBerrys internal memory quickly as you take pictures or video. When a BlackBerry gets close to running out of memory, it starts deleting old emails, calendar entries, address book contacts, etc. This is its self-preservation mechanism. As your BlackBerry runs out of memory it also becomes sluggish and sometimes things stop working they way they were intended.

The best way to prevent this is to buy a memory card. has many to choose from and you do not need to get the largest one you can find. Start with a 1GB memory card for $10.95. If you find you are filling it up quickly then you can purchase larger capacity cards.

When you insert a memory card into a BlackBerry, it sees it and will then save any pictures and video you take on your BlackBerry to that card, instead of the BlackBerrys internal memory.

Number 7: Use your BlackBerry as a Thumb Drive

If you have a memory card in your BlackBerry and you connect it to a computer with its USB cable (PC or Mac, Windows, Linux, or OSX), the BlackBerry pops up a message "Do you want to turn on Mass Storage Mode?". If you say yes, your computer will see the BlackBerry as a new drive letter. You will be able to drag and drop anything from your computer to and from the BlackBerry. This is a quick way to get media to your BlackBerry, but more importantly it allows you to carry around important documents with you all the time.

Number 8: Download and Install the BlackBerry Desktop Software

You can use your BlackBerry quite happily without needing to install any software on your computer, especially in a corporate environment. In a consumer environment however, it is very beneficial to install the BlackBerry software onto a computer. It allows you to easily move audio and video files onto your BlackBerry (even converts them to the correct format automatically) and synchronizes your address book and calendar.

If you are using Windows, start by downloading and installing your Device Software. Your Device Software is essentially the BlackBerry operating system. You will find this software on your carrier's web site. Make sure you download and install the device software for your BlackBerry model. If you are unsure of the model, click on Options, About to see it.

Once you have the device software installed, download and install the latest Desktop Software from the BlackBerry web site. As of today, the latest version is 4.7. I recommend downloading the Desktop Software that includes the Media Manager.

If you are an Apple Mac user, you can either use Parallels to make use of the Windows software, or you can download and install the PocketMac software from the BlackBerry web site. Remember to download both PocketMac and the updated PocketMac drivers. Both downloads are here.

You can also get PocketMac for free from the vendor here.

If you are a Linux user, there is software that allows some limited synchronizing with the BlackBerry. This article explains where to get it and how to get it to work.

Number 9: Install some Essential Software

To make your BlackBerry that much more useful, I recommend installing some essential software. Here are some of them.

  • Google Maps - FREE
  • Viigo - a FREE RSS Reader and much more
  • Vlingo - a FREE application that allows you to talk to your BlackBerry instead of typing
  • FaceBook - FaceBook on your BlackBerry, and its FREE
  • Pageonce - Manage your life on your BlackBerry
  • WorldMate Live - Perfect for the busy traveler
  • Games Galore - essential for some!!

Number 10: Personalize your BlackBerry

You can make your BlackBerry truly your BlackBerry by completely personalizing it. You can start by simply changing the ringtone, or maybe the wallpaper, or go all the way and install new themes. BlackBerry themes change all aspects of your BlackBerry including the fonts, wallpaper, icons, and screen layout. There are many web sites that offer ringtones, wallpapers, and themes, but why not start right in the CrackBerry,com by following the links below:

That's it! 10 Things You Should Know About Using a BlackBerry! Now go use it! And don't worry, if you get addicted, and that does happen, you can check out Kevin's CrackBerry Book to get your BlackBerry use under control.