BlackBerry Tip of the Week

By David Flynn, February 14 2011
BlackBerry Tip of the Week

Get your week off to a super-productive start with Australian Business Traveller's BlackBerry Tip of the Week, first thing every Monday morning! And these are just the 'tip' of the productivity iceberg, with more great tricks to be found on Twitter via @BlackberryHelp.

Sync your BlackBerry over the air

Larger businesses have dedicated company email servers which can synchronise contacts and calendars "over the air"  to their BlackBerry fleet instead of needing the BlackBerry to be plugged into the USB port of a Windows or Mac.

If you're part of a much smaller business or self-employed, such as running your own consultancy business, you can enjoy the same benefits of this streamlined system using Google's free Gmail service.

Gmail includes Google Calendar and Google Contacts, which become the central synchronisation point for your appointments and address book.

If you don't already have a Google Gmail account, sign up here.

Many recent-issue BlackBerrys have built-in support for syncing with Google: you can find step-by-step instructions on setting that up at the official Inside BlackBerry Help Blog.

If you have an older model, such as the original BlackBerry Bold 9000, Google offers a free app called Google Sync for Blackberry.

Syncing with your PC or Mac

You'll also need some software for your Windows or Mac computer to sync your current contacts and calendar with the Google equivalents.

For Windows, Google offers Google Calendar Sync for Outlook. Various third-party solutions are available for syncing with other email apps (for example, Mozilla Thunderbird) If you use Google Apps for Business, which costs $US50 per year, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook will sync both calendars and contacts.

For Mac, Australian Business Traveller recommends SyncMan for contacts and BusySync for your calendars.

Once you've successfully got your PC's contacts and calendars hooked up to Google, you need to install Google Sync on your BlackBerry (go to in your BlackBerry's browser). Google provides full instructions here.

Now  you'll have over-the-air synchronisation with your home/work PC/Mac and your Blackberry, at no extra cost.

How to reboot your Blackberry

The BlackBerry is designed so that it almost never needs to be turned off. When you hit the Off button it's really just going into standby mode so that it can start up instantly.

A side-effect of this is is that your BlackBerry may become slower over time, due to an app running in the background (behind your main tasks such as email, calendar, contacts or the phone itself) which is not operating properly.

Many people resort to pulling the battery out of the BlackBerry to force what's called  a 'hard reboot'.

But there's a quicker and easier alternative called a 'soft reboot' using the keyboard. Hold down the Alt key, Right Shift and DEL (back-arrow) keys at the same time. It's a three finger job so you can't accidentally reboot your BlackBerry. And note that you have to press the right shift key, not the one on the left next to the 0 key.

Some BlackBerry models don't have this keyboard shortcut, which is where the free QuickPull app from BlackBerry AppWorld comes in handy – it does a reboot when you click its icon.

Group messages by subject

If you get a lot of email every day, keeping up with important messages amid the stream of less important messages can be a challenge.

BlackBerry's latest operating system software — called BlackBerry 6 — has message grouping built in, allowing you to see your messages grouped by subject line.

The net effect of this is that you can see new emails as they come in more easily. Lengthy conversations with messages bouncing back and forth between several people, such as checking on the best time for setting up a team meeting, will accumulate in their own separate message group that will appear as just one line in your email list.

To activate message grouping:

  1. Open Messages
  2. Click the Menu button and select Options
  3. Select Message Display and Actions
  4. Toggle Display Style from "Single Messages" to "Group by Subject"

Note: the message grouping function is only available in the latest models running BlackBerry 6 such as the Torch 9800, Bold 9780 and Style 9760, although you may be able to upgrade your existing handset to newer software that supports it.

Transfer BlackBerry AppWorld apps to a new BlackBerry

Installing apps on a BlackBerry got much easier with the introduction of the AppWorld app store — but if you upgrade to a new BlackBerry handset it's not immediately obvious how to get all the apps you've loaded on your old handset across to your shiny new one.

The easiest way is to use the Device Switch Wizard, which is part of the BlackBerry Desktop Software. If you don't have that installed, you can download it for Windows or Mac.

Fortunately, RIM has thought that through — on your new BlackBerry, you just need to open BlackBerry AppWorld, select "My World", and log in using your BlackBerry ID. (If you can't remember your BlackBerry ID or password you can recover it using these steps.)

Once you're logged in, AppWorld will ask if you're changing smartphones and when you confirm that, it'll show you a list of applications you've previously installed — they'll be listed as "uninstalled". There might be some listed under "unavailable"; those are apps which, for various reasons, are incompatible with your new BlackBerry.

Turbocharge your emailing with keyboard shortcuts

These are some of the favourite tips of Australian Business Traveller David Flynn, who remains amazed at how many BlackBerry users have yet to discover these superb time-savers. It's also one of the great things about the BlackBerry compared to many touchscreen smartphones: there are so many keyboard shortcuts available for quickly navigating your way around the phone instead of tapping your way through several screens.

Keyboard shortcuts while you're reading a message...

R - reply
L - reply all
F - forward
Q - view the email address of the sender (highlight the sender name first)
C - create new message
U - mark as unread

Keyboard shortcuts while you're in the message list...

Shift+Space - page up
Space - page down
T - top of message list
B - bottom of message list
N - skip to next day's emails
P - skip back to previous day's emails
U - view next unread email
J - see next email related to this one
K - see previous email related to this one

Alt+O - view sent messages only
Alt+I - view inbox only
Alt+S - view SMSes only
Alt+P - view call logs

Use your BlackBerry as a 3G modem for your laptop

So you want Internet access when you're out and about with your laptop? There's no need to hunt for free wi-fi hotspots or buy a separate USB wireless broadband modem – you can use your 3G BlackBerry (Torch, Bold, Storm and latest-model Pearl and Curve) as a 'tethered modem'. This connects the BlackBerry to your notebook using a USB cable or via Bluetooth.

On Windows you need to install the Blackberry Desktop Manager 6.0 software. There's a full description of how to set up  tethering over USB cable here. It's more straightforward compared to Bluetooth, although it means you'll have to carry the USB cable around. For details on setting up Bluetooth tethering for Windows laptops, click here.

BlackBerry doesn't directly provide tethering support for Mac, although an app called Tether does the trick. It is unfortunately quite expensive at $US49.95, but goes on sale at a discounted price often.

Note that your BlackBerry plan with your mobile phone carrier will need to have a separate data allowance: the "unlimited email/web" you get on many BlackBerry plans only applies to email and Web browsing done on the BlackBerry using its own apps

If you need to get further help setting up your BlackBerry as a modem, you can contact your carrier's BlackBerry tech support desk on the following numbers:

Telstra: 1800 010 253
Optus: 1300 130 765
Vodafone: 1555 or 135 888 (corporate customers), 1300 650 410 (small business customers)
3: 1300 651 545

Add a web site to your home screen

If there's a web site you often check from your BlackBerry, the new BlackBerry 6 OS software lets you add an icon for it onto your home screen so you can zip straight to the page with just one click (instead of launching your BlackBerry browser and then thumbing through the bookmarks).

BlackBerry 6 is preloaded on the latest handsets such as BlackBerry Torch 9800, BlackBerry Bold 9780 and BlackBerry Style 9760, alhough you may be able to upgrade your existing handset to BlackBerry 6 as well.)

It's really easy to do: when you're browsing a web page that you want to add to your home screen, just click the BlackBerry menu button on your keypad and select "Add to home screen" from the pop-up menu.

Keyboard shortcuts for the BlackBerry clock

There's no doubt about it: alarm clock, wrist-watch and stopwatch manufacturers have seen a downturn in business since the advent of the mobile phone, thanks to the clock functionality built into phones since the earliest Nokia mobiles from the 1990s.

The BlackBerry's clock app is particularly cool. It's got good features for setting up recurring alarms and looks like a dimly-lit bedside clock when plugged in to charge overnight.

If you want to get around the clock app super-quickly, these little-known keyboard shortcuts are handy to remember:

T for Timer
S for Stopwatch
C for Clock
B for Bedside mode
R for Alarm

(Yes, we know, tapping R is not the most obvious key you'd use for the alarm).

Bedside mode is quite clever: it turns your BlackBerry Bold into an alarm clock which displays the time but won't interrupt you with calls or messages while you sleep (so no more bright red lights blinking at 3am!).

Quickly insert text snippets

Get ready for a big productivity boost. You may not realise it, but you're probably wasting time typing in repetitive bits of text on your phone all the time — your office address, your contact numbers, your passport number and frequent flyer number and so forth.

The BlackBerry's little-known AutoText feature speeds this process up dramatically. Just like Autocorrect in Microsoft Word, you can set it up to replace a short, unique word like "offad" with your full office address, for example.

It can also be used to set up custom email signatures — ideal if you're the multitasking entrepreneurial person with one main job and several other ventures going on the side, each of which requires a different email signature.

To set up AutoText:

  • from the main BlackBerry home screen, click to the Options icon (it's the one which looks like a wrench)
  • select AutoText – you'll see the screen is already full of many common spelling mistakes, which is how 'adn' is replaced by 'and' for example
  • press the BlackBerry menu key
  • select New from the popup list
  • type your desired abbreviation into the Replace field
  • in the With field, type the full text you want to appear in place of the abbreviation 
  • press the back button and select Save.

From now on, when you type that unique abbreviation anywhere in the BlackBerry the shorthand text will be replaced with the full text you defined in AutoText.

AutoText can also be handy for bashing out commonly-used phrases, such as setting up the text "In a meeting, call you in half an hour" with the abbreviation of "meet30".

Open BlackBerry apps with a single keystroke

BlackBerries come with a quick-dial feature which lets you start typing the beginning of someone's name when you're on the home screen to see a list of matching contacts. For example, if you type "Mar", it'll show contacts named Mark, Mary, Martin and so on. Every letter you type narrows down the list.

But if you'd rather have speedy access to your apps instead of your address book you can activate  the "Launch by typing" or "Application Shortcuts" mode.

This allows you to load key BlackBerry apps with a single keystroke from the home screen. For example,

Address Book — A
Alarm — R
BlackBerry Messenger — N
Browser — B
Calculator — U
Calendar — L
Compose — C
Help — H
Lock keypad — K
Messages — M
Notes — D
Options — O
Profiles — F
Saved messages — V
Search — S
Tasks — T

Like the sound of that? To activate this mode, open the Options app from the main BlackBerry home screen,  select General options and change the Dial from home screen option to "No". Click back and select Save.

That doesn't mean you have to give up the ability to quickly search for contacts. Just press "A" from the home screen to bring up Address Book, or press the green phone button to call up your dial screen, and then start typing as before.

Easily switch between apps

Switching between apps on a BlackBerry usually requires you to hold down two keys — Alt and Escape (which looks looks like a back arrow near the trackball or trackpad).

It works much the same as Alt+Tab on Windows or Cmd+Tab on the Mac, bringing up a horizontal strip on screen showing all your open applications so you can select the app to switch to.

However, there's an even easier way — you can assign one of the "convenience keys" on the BlackBerry to the application switcher.

The location of the convenience keys vary between BlackBerry models but they're usually located on the left and right side of the device. You may find that one is pre-set to activate Voice Dialling and the other is for the camera.

You can easily change what the convenience keys do by opening the Options app on the main home screen, select Screen/keyboard, select the Convenience key opens option and change it to "Application switcher".

When you press that key the task switcher will appear on screen. You can keep pressing the key to move through the icons in the switcher and press enter or click your trackpad/trackball to select one (or on a touch-screen BlackBerry simply tap on the icon.)

This even works while you're on a phone call, providing a quick and easy way to check your calendar or retrieve a contact's details for the person you're speaking to.

Dial 13CABS (or any alphabetised phone number) easily

Many companies have unique 'promotional phone numbers' like 13CABS so customers can easily remember them.

But while they're also easy to dial on the numeric keypad of a standard phone, which associated specific groups of letters with each number, that letter-to-number conversion doesn't translate well onto a QWERTY phone keyboard.

So here's yet another instance handy but hidden feature of the BlackBerry.

Start by typing the numbers as normal — such as 13 — and when you get to the letters, simply hold down ALT while typing those letters on the BlackBerry keyboard. The correct numbers will appear in their place.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on BlackBerry Tip of the Week