There is an awful lot of stuff crammed onto the average BlackBerry, and with only 45 keys to access all of it, loads of keys do double-duty and even triple-duty. But while much of the basic functionality of a BlackBerry is reasonably obvious, various keyboard shortcuts and functions just aren’t so obvious.
That is a real shame because some of them are downright useful—if not absolutely essential—for making maximum use of this device.
For better or worse, I recently became a full-fledged BlackBerry user and (being the techie kind of guy that I am) I’ve been studying up on some of the device’s features. Let’s cover the “hidden” basics in this installment of my column.
Note: I have a BlackBerry Curve (aka, the 8300 Series), so some of what I describe
here will not apply, or be slightly different, on other BlackBerry models.
The Critical Keys
First off, let’s all get on the same page as to the four critical keys that are mentioned many times in the following tips. To the immediate right of the trackball is the Escape key. You use it to close menus or go back one or more screens. Next to the right is the End/Power key. It ends a call or turns the device off.
To the immediate left of the trackball is the Menu key, which opens the menus that are within all the BlackBerry applications. Next to the left is the Send key, which starts or dials a phone call.
You want to make the most out of that microscopic keyboard, right? It works reasonably well once you get used to it, but here are some cool typing tricks you might not know about that will save you some time and effort in formatting and the like:
Cut, Copy and Paste Tips
Anything that helps you avoid unnecessary typing on that tiny BlackBerry keyboard is a lifesaver. You should never retype text that is already on your device. Use the following steps to cut, copy and paste text in the same way you do on a computer.
To highlight a line of text, press Shift and roll the trackball up or down. To highlight text character by character, press Shift and roll the trackball left or right. Note: If you want to cancel a text selection, press the Escape key.
Now, to cut the highlighted text when typing, press Shift + Backspace/Delete. To copy highlighted text when typing, press Alt and click the trackball. And to paste highlighted text when typing, press Shift and click the trackball.
How to Massacre E-Mails and Manage Messages
Most of us spend the majority of our BlackBerry time reading e-mails —lots and lots of them. So here are some tips to help you more quickly deal with all those messages.
When you are within a message, try the following:
When you want to move around a message list, use these tips:
And here are more tips for when you are in a message list:
There’s a Spell Checker!
Bad spellers, rejoice: You can check spelling in a message, memo, task
or appointment by pressing the Menu key and selecting Check Spelling.
You can accept or ignore suggested spellings, and you can even add words to a custom dictionary (and you should do this whenever you’re prompted to, so you aren’t asked again next time).
To stop Spell Check, press the Menu key and click Cancel Spell Check.
Mastering the Mute Key
The Mute key’s name says it all—it kills the ring. Good to know that when your BlackBerry rings in a location it shouldn’t, there’s no need to fuss about pressing keys on the keyboard. But the Mute key also has a hidden function. Pressing and holding it puts the device in Standby mode.
In Standby mode, key presses and trackball clicks won’t wake up the device or turn on the screen. This is a great way to ensure that you don’t accidentally make a phone call or waste battery power when you put the device in your pocket.
To turn Standby off click the Mute key again. Note that in Standby mode incoming calls will wake up the device and it will ring or vibrate as it is configured to do.
Also, some BlackBerry cases and belt clips have a tiny magnet in them. (Look for a circle about the size of a dime near where the bottom back of the device will sit when in the case or clip.) This magnet trips a switch that turns off the screen and disables the keys—so there is no need to manually put the device into Standby mode.
Right-Clicking with Your Trackball
Those who regularly read my column know I occasionally get excited over right mouse clicks because they let you jump menu settings or options. The clever BlackBerry programmers have set up similar abilities on the trackball. For example, one quick click on the device’s trackball will let you do the following:
Disabling Your Wireless Transmit
Okay, let’s be honest here, how many of you can actually obey the airplane pilot at takeoff when you’re asked to disable your wireless transmit? For those of us that don’t know how to do this (and I will admit, it wasn’t obvious to me), click on Manage Connections on your home screen, and then click on Turn All Connections Off.
To turn things back on, do the same thing but select Restore Connections.
Tricks for Outgoing and Incoming Phone Calls
Digging around through your contacts list to make a phone call takes too many keystrokes. To initiate calls faster, simply type any part of a contact name or phone number on your BlackBerry’s home screen. The software will scan your address book and present you with the names that match the letters or number you have entered. Highlight the contact you want to call and press Send.
On the incoming side, there are certain calls you don’t want to miss—like ones from your spouse, partner or kids. Why not create a specific ring tone for each of them so you never miss their calls again? To do this, open the contact in your Address Book, click the trackball and select Edit, then click the trackball again and select Add Custom Phone Tone. Next, click the trackball to open a list of all available ring tones. Select one and save the change to the contact.
In addition, since you can easily take any picture with your BlackBerry camera, how about this? Take a picture of a contact and associate it with that contact to make that picture pop up when that person calls. To do this, just take the picture and then click on the Set As icon. It’s 3-D caller ID!
Voice dialing might seem like a gimmick, but it’s indispensable for safety and ease of dialing while driving. Here’s how to use it. Press the Voice Dial button—it’s on the left side of your BlackBerry—and you’ll hear the prompt “Say a command.” Wait for the beep and then say “Call” and the name or number you want to call (e.g., “Call 416-598-5863”). And this is cool: If you have more than one number stored for a person—such as a work number as well as a mobile number—simply indicate which one you want by saying “work” or “mobile” after the person’s name (e.g., “Call Jim Calloway Work.”)
You can also dial extensions using voice commands. Enable this in Phone Options, Smart Dialing. Then, in your contacts, you can put “x5864,” which will let the Voice Dial function understand you when you say “Call extension 5863.”
You can also check several things via the Voice Dial function, including the battery charge (say “Check battery”), signal strength, status, coverage and, last but not least, your BlackBerry phone number. Can you say “Check my phone number?”
And finally, these miscellaneous pointers for voice dialing: You can tweak several voice dialing options and settings to better fit your personal preferences (go to Device Options, Voice Dialing). And if you’re the international type, you can configure it to support other languages. Also to note: Voice dialing doesn’t work with all Bluetooth headsets.
Try a Few at a Time
There are tons of tips in this column. Don’t try to learn them all at once. Go back through and identify the two or three that will initially be most helpful for you. Learn those first, then pick a few more. In no time at all, you will be flying around your BlackBerry keyboard and crunching e-mail messages faster than you ever have before.
Dan Pinnington helps lawyers avoid malpractice claims and looks for good tech tips in Toronto, ON. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine.