The ultimate guide to getting the most out of a BlackBerry

User guides Andrew Williams 15:51, 1 Mar 2010

We look at how to ensure you're getting the most out of your BlackBerry in this step-by-step tutorial

BlackBerrys have been popular business phones for almost a decade, considered reliable communications devices thanks to RIM’s dedicated data services.

They’re better at handling Exchange servers than most smartphones and the latest BlackBerry Bold 9700’s keyboard is considered by many to be the best mini-QWERTY seen yet on a mobile – making it perfect for emailing. That said, there are always ways to make a good device better...

How to combat signal strength issues
Finding solutions to signal strength issues can be difficult, as it’s not always easy to find their source.

However, a basic first step remedy is to change the BlackBerry’s Network Selection Mode from automatic to manual. This will stop the device from trying to connect to another network when signal issues arise. This selection is made within the Mobile Network submenu – found within Options.

After selecting ‘manual’ for this option, the user will have to select the network their mobile is connected to following a scan of available networks. If this does not improve matters, the SIM card should be re-seated and the phone restarted.

How to maximise BlackBerry battery life
The key to maximise the battery life of a BlackBerry is to turn off features that are not required, specifically Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Even when switched on, these generally won’t use as much battery power as 3G connectivity, but it’s worth switching them off when not in use for extended periods.

These features can be switched off manually within the Options menu. However, WiFiPower (£2.09), an app available from BlackBerry App World, lets users schedule when to switch off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Just using this to turn off these features during the night, or when not at work, will improve battery life.

If the resulting battery life is still insufficient, high-powered replacement batteries can be bought from most mobile accessories suppliers. However, unofficial batteries claiming higher mAh capacities won’t necessarily offer more power than the standard battery.

How to maximise BlackBerry download speeds
The quality of user experience in a 2G or 3G connection is, for the most part, down to the carrier used.

That said, making sure that the right type of connection is selected is also a very important consideration. BlackBerry phones were late to adopt 3G connections, and while all the top-end models have this feature now, lower-end devices still rely on EDGE connectivity for browsing.

To check whether the right type of connectivity is enabled, enter the Mobile Network sub-menu within Options. At the bottom of this menu is the Network Mode selector. If the device is 3G-capable, make sure the 3G and 2G option is selected for the fastest connection speeds.

How to speed up a BlackBerry
Slow performance of a BlackBerry handset is usually caused by a lack of free memory. The simplest way to free-up some memory is to delete installed applications. A complete list of installed applications can be found in the ‘Applications’ options within the standard options menu.

If this does not speed-up the BlackBerry sufficiently, the Memory Cleaning feature can be enabled to flush the memory at regular intervals, from once an hour to once a minute. This is actually a security measure, hence why it’s found within the Advanced Security Options menu, but it also gets rid of any temporary files left over from apps running in the background, avoiding memory clogging.

How to make a conference call on a BlackBerry
BlackBerrys can conference call natively. First, phone a number as usual. Once the call is connected, put the recipient on hold, which is an option found by pressing the Menu button. Now, start a second call as usual. Press the Menu button again and select the Join option.

For a more refined conference calling experience, download Advanced Conference Call (£13.95) from BlackBerry App World. It allows for conference calls with up to five participants and includes scheduling and notifications. A free trial of Advanced Conference Call is also available from App World.

How to use Office on a BlackBerry
Many Blackberrys include the Documents To Go office suite as standard. Roughly paralleling the Microsoft Office package, this package is compatible with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel files.

The application can view the files from the memory card or internal memory The Standard version of Documents To Go is available for free and includes viewing and basic editing of files. The Premium edition lets users view, edit and create files, and costs $49.99 from the developer Dataviz’s website.

eOffice is a cheaper alternative available from BlackBerry App World – also offering compatibility with most Microsoft Office files. A free trial is available for both packages.

How to secure a BlackBerry
Built-in security measures make BlackBerrys more secure than most other mobiles. With the latest edition of the BlackBerry operating system, data encryption and a Firewall are included as standard.

These options are selected from within the ‘Security Options’ menu, which sits within the main ‘Options’ menu. In order to activate data encryption of contacts and media files, a password needs to be set - which is done within the separate ‘Password’ submenu.

Additional layers of security can be added using apps from the BlackBerry App World. SBSH SafeWallet Pro is designed to act as a password-protected safe store of sensitive information, such as passwords and bank account details. To take things up to the next level, mSecureVU (£13.95) lets users watch the video from a webcam on their BlackBerry in real time.

How to back up a BlackBerry
The BlackBerry Desktop software package, available for download from the BlackBerry website, can be used to backup and restore a BlackBerry over a USB connection. However, several other options are available from BlackBerry App World.

The imaginatively titled Backup (£6.99) is able to backup the BlackBerry’s Address Book, Calendar, Task list and Memo list over-the-air, sending a backup file to a pre-defined email address. Backup can even do this automatically, working in the background rather than requiring active user input. txtForward (£6.99) sends copies of every sent SMS message to a pre-defined email address, effectively acting as a real-time backup of a user’s communication.

We wouldn’t recommend linking it to a regular email account, but as it’s compatible with most of the popular free email services, there’s no reason not to setup a dedicated email address for this app.

BlackBerry App World
BlackBerry App World opened its doors on April 1 2009 – inviting some suggestions that it was an April fool, but nevertheless that was the launch date. Although beset by a number of technical problems and faulty navigation, BlackBerry App World is now one of the best app stores out there in user experience terms.

Free and paid-for apps can be searched separately and the comprehensive categorisation of the store makes finding specific apps relatively easy. Compared with the Apple App Store and Android Market, apps can be higher-priced without crippling sales – if the functionality warrants the cost.

How to install BlackBerry App World
Most BlackBerry phones will not come with App World installed. The simplest way to install this dedicated BlackBerry app store is to download it directly through the BlackBerry’s browser. Follow the instructions and App World will install to the main menu screen.

Alternatively, App World can be downloaded using a computer. As long as the BlackBerry is connected to the computer with a USB cable, the software will install.

How to develop an app for the BlackBerry
Developing for BlackBerry is a little different to developing for another smartphone platform because there are two application types to consider – Java applications and those designed for version 5 of the BlackBerry OS. Only the latter is a true smartphone app platform.

A good initial springboard into BlackBerry app development is BlackBerry’s own developer website. There is a nominal $200 fee to register as an app developer, and this will be refunded in your account is not approved. As with Apple’s App Store, applications submitted to BlackBerry App World are checked for suitability.

For more information, check out the BlackBerry App World Vendor Guidelines webpage.

From an article on our sister site, IT PRO

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