RIM BlackBerry How To: Insert, Format and Use microSD Memory Cards

Your RIM BlackBerry may not have as much built-in memory as that fancy new iPhone, but it has something Apple's smartphone doesn't: A microSD card slot for external flash memory. Here's how to set up and use a BlackBerry memory card, encrypt data and use your BlackBerry like a USB stick.

If only expanding your own mental storage capacity was as simple as increasing a Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry's memory.

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The majority of modern smartphones have media players and image viewers so you can listen to your favorite tunes, watch video clips and scroll through digital picture albums. But media files, particularly video, tend to be rather large, and there's only so much your BlackBerry's internal memory can hold--after all, your device is already storing and running the handheld operating system (OS) and all its various components. To the rescue: microSD flash memory cards.

Our previous BlackBerry How To articles have offered you various BlackBerry software downloads--free, open source and otherwise--plus keyboard shortcuts, tips and tricks, battery-life advice and suggestions on how to free valuable internal smartphone memory. This time around, we'll show you how to increase your available memory for storing media by using a microSD card.

1) Drop Some Cash, Pick Up a microSD Card

Memory cards like microSD and miniSD are commonly used in personal electronics such as digital cameras, game consoles and GPS units, and they can be purchased in retail shops like Best Buy and Circuit City or online for significantly less from sites like NewEgg.com or Amazon.com. One gigabyte (GB) microSD cards go for as little as $4 on NewEgg and 4GB microSDHC (high capacity) cards go for $15.99 or less on Amazon.

The full lineup of RIM's 8100, 8300 and 8800 series of devices feature microSD card slots, as does the upcoming BlackBerry Bold--and according to rumors, so will the company's touch screen-based device, the "Thunder 9500"--but the cards are sold separately. In fact, the BlackBerry 8700 is the only 8xxx series device that doesn't have expandable memory functionality.

image of BlackBerry Curve with microSD cards
BlackBerry Curve 8320 with microSD Cards

The largest size memory card your BlackBerry device will support depends on the version of handheld OS software you're running. For instance, BlackBerry handheld OS v4.2.0 supports up to 2GB; OS v4.2.1 and v4.2.2 support up to 4GB; and devices running v4.3--which will officially be known as v4.5 upon its general release--will support up to 8GB, according to a post on RIM's official support forums. (A BlackBerry Bold product manager also told us at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium in May that the Bold device can potentially support a 32GB microSDHC card, though the current software it will initially ship with, OS v4.6, won't be ready for 32GB cards.)

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2) Lock and Load: Insert New microSD Card Into Your BlackBerry

Most 8xxx series BlackBerry smartphones require you to remove the rear battery cover to access the microSD card slot, except for the Pearl 8110, 8120 and 8130 devices, which have external slots on their left sides. RIM's Curve 83xx smartphones have microSD slots beneath their batteries, so it's necessary to power down your device every time you want to insert, remove or exchange cards. The 88xx devices have expandable memory slots inside their rear-side covers, but you don't need to remove the battery to access them.

BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with microSC card
BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with microSD Card

Users of Pearl or Bold devices with external microSD slots need only pry open the plastic flap on their left sides and make sure both the tiny sections of metal on the underside of the memory card and the device itself are face up. The narrow end of the card should be closest to the BlackBerry. Then carefully slide the card in until it clicks. Don't force it, but you may need to push it in firmly. When the memory card is in place, a dialogue box will appear on screen that reads "Media Card Inserted."

To insert a microSD card into a BlackBerry Curve or 88xx series device, you must first remove the rear battery door. These devices employ tiny metal hinges to secure microSD cards. Engraved on those hinges are the words "Lock" and "Unlock" next to corresponding arrows. Slide the hinge in the Unlock direction and open it so it stands at a 90 degree angle to the device. When opened, the hinge features small flaps to hold the microSD card in place. Hold the memory card upright so its metal sections are on its bottom half and facing you. (The metal sections should mesh with the metal prongs on the device, inside the hinge.) Next drop the hinge back down and slide it in the Lock direction until it's securely in place. If you're using an 88xx smartphone, you'll see a "Media Card Inserted" message. You'll need to replace the battery and restart if you're using a Curve.

3) Get Up and Running: Format microSD Card Via BlackBerry

Some new memory cards can be used right out of the box, but it's always a good idea to format a microSD card before loading it up with personal files. The formatting process is short and sweet, and we strongly advise walking through the following steps to avoid future issues. You may also need to reformat your memory card in the future if it stops functioning properly, and this process can be used for reformatting as well.

First, click the Options icon on your BlackBerry icon screen--the icon looks like a wrench in most default BlackBerry themes. Inside Options, scroll to Media Card and click the trackball. Next, while on the Media Card screen hit your BlackBerry Menu key--to the left of the trackball--choose Format and select "Yes" when the prompt asks if you're sure you want to format the card. After about 10 seconds, you'll see another prompt that tells you your card has been reformatted.

screen shot of BlackBerry Media Card screen with Format Card option

To check the amount of available memory at any point, simply return to the Media Card screen and compare the Total Space value to Free Space.

4) Protect Your Personal Files: Encrypt That microSD Card

Encrypting files on your media card can help protect the personal data you store on your device. BlackBerry smartphones let you encrypt the files on your microSD card using a media card-specific encryption key, your existing handheld password or both. You can also decide whether or not to include certain types of media files in the encryption.

To do so, you need to return to your Media Card options screen by clicking the Options icon on your BlackBerry icon screen and then choosing Media Card from the list.

screen shot of BlackBerry Media Card options screen with Encryption Mode field highlighted

Next, set the Media Card Support field to "On." If you wish to use a random key generated by your smartphone to encrypt your files, set the Encryption Mode to Device. If you want to use your handheld's password to encrypt the files, set Encryption Mode to Security Password. If you want to use both to protect your media card files, choose Security Password & Device. Finally, set the Encrypt Media Files field to "Yes," and then save your changes when you exit.

5) BlackBerry as a USB Memory Stick: Turn Mass Storage Mode On and Off

When you equip your BlackBerry with a microSD card, you enable the device to be used just like a traditional USB memory key. However, the proper settings are required in order to store files on your card.

First, you should return to your Media Card screen by clicking the Options icon on your icon screen and selecting Media Card. On that screen, set the Mass Storage Mode Support field to "On." Then scroll down to the Auto Enable Mass Storage Mode When Connected field and choose "Yes" from the associated dropdown menu. Or if you want to choose whether or not to turn on Mass Storage Mode yourself each time your BlackBerry is connected to your computer, set the Auto Enable Mass Storage Mode When Connected field to "Prompt."

One of the simplest way to add media files to your microSD memory card is via the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software that ships with new BlackBerry devices. You can also obtain the most recent version of the desktop manager from your wireless carrier or from RIM's website. Refer to your device user guide for further information on how to use RIM's desktop manager software.

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