RIM BlackBerry Tips and Tricks: More Keyboard Shortcuts for Power Users

Always looking for new ways to do more with your RIM BlackBerry? Learn the following tips and tricks, including two from the co-CEO of RIM himself, and take your smartphone prowess to a whole new level.

For such a tiny little device, that BlackBerry smartphone of yours has an amazing amount of functionality packed in behind the scenes. But, unfortunately, realizing the true potential of a Research In Motion (RIM) device isn't always as simple as opening up a user guide or surfing on over to Google.

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That's where we come in.

For months now, we've been offering up weekly BlackBerry tips, tricks and shortcuts for the novice, the seasoned expert and everyone in between. We've provided lists of our favorite BlackBerry software downloads--the majority of which are free, and some of which are open source. We even asked the bigwigs at RIM for their third-party application suggestions, and delivered smartphone battery-life advice, memory optimization methods, and innovative uses for your BlackBerry's Bluetooth.

This week, we bring you our favorite set of tips and tricks yet. After learning these techniques, you'll wonder how you ever got by without them. Two even come directly from Mr. BlackBerry himself, Mike Lazaridis, RIM president and co-CEO. A couple more originated from CIO.com readers who commented on our earlier Five Essential BlackBerry Keyboard Tips and Tricks article.

So sit back, whip out that BlackBerry and pay attention.

Three Can't Miss Messaging Shortcuts

Navigating Message Threads

We already covered the basics of BlackBerry messaging and keyboard shortcuts, after an informative chat with insurance company Aflac's smartphone guru. But these two lesser-known tricks are sure to lighten the load of any BlackBerry power user. (Thanks go to Sjaak Koole and another anonymous CIO.com reader for pointing them out!)

Heavy BlackBerry users know the pain of trying to catch up on an e-mail thread with multiple responses. You may have received the first response an hour ago, the second and third 15 minutes later and a fourth and fifth could have landed in your inbox just as you get to the first. Without a shortcut, you have to sift through the tons of messages that arrived in between the thread's various components. A much simpler way is to open the first message and then hit the J key to jump to the next response, and so on. You can also return to an earlier message in the thread by hitting the K key. (Note: If the subject line of the thread has been modified, you may not be able to find all responses using this shortcut.)

Bookmarking Messages to Return at a Later Time

Scenario: You're reading an important--and long--message from the boss when you're called away from your device by a coworker or family member in need. Have no fear, there's no need to scroll through paragraphs you already read when your return to the e-mail--at least if you use this shortcut. You can simply close the message, and when you're free again, just hit the G key after reopening it, and you'll be brought to the exact spot where you stopped reading.

Using Multiple Message Signatures Via AutoText

There are clear benefits to using a BlackBerry e-mail signature, but if you're like us, you probably don't want to use the same signature all the time--and there are likely instances in which you'd rather use no signature at all. Switching back and forth between signatures, or occasionally deleting one, can mean using different e-mail inboxes and accounts with separate signatures (or even repeatedly going into your BlackBerry Desktop Manager if you're on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) or BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) account) to make the necessary changes. That's a lot of legwork.

We suggest using pre-programmed AutoText entries to call up different e-mail signatures.

BlackBerry Custom AutoText Creation Field

To do so, first delete the current signature you're using via the desktop manager software or your wireless carrier's website if you use BIS. Then click the Options icon on your BlackBerry home screen, choose AutoText, and then hit your Menu button--if you're using an 8xxx series device, Menu is located directly to left of the trackball. Select New from the options list and then fill in the Replace field with an easy to remember command, like "ZZ" or "XX," and the With field with an e-mail signature. You can use this method to create as many different signatures as you'd like by typing different commands into the Replace fields. (Note: When using the new AutoText command, make sure you hit Space after you type your AutoText--"ZZ + Space", for instance--or the message may not correctly display your signature.

Dialing Alphanumeric Phone Numbers on Full QWERTY BlackBerry Keyboard

Ever tried dialing a phone number with letters, instead of all numerals, using your BlackBerry's QWERTY keyboard? You know, 1.800.Comcast, for example. If so, you've likely experienced the frustration of being unable to key in the letters you want as part of your number--unless, of course, you already know this shortcut. It's simple really. Just type the numerals as you normal would--1,8,0,0--then hold the ALT key while dialing the letters, and you're good to go.

BlackBerry Phone Screen with Alphanumeric phone number

Access Default BlackBerry Apps With a Single Click from Home Screen

Many folks use their BlackBerry smartphones for messaging and Web surfing more often than they employ phone features. If you fall into this category, you probably want to disable your Dial From Home Screen option so you can access a variety of helpful Home Screen shortcuts. To do so, click your Phone icon on the Home Screen or hit the green phone button on your device. Then press your Menu key, pick Options, then General Options and change the Dial From Home Screen field from "Yes" to "No." Finally, hit the Escape key and choose to save your changes. (Note: This option only works for devices with full QWERTY keyboards.)

BlackBerry General Options Screen with Dial From Home Screen option

Now you'll need to hit your Phone icon or click the green phone button to dial a number and place a call, but you'll have access to all of the following shortcuts from your Home Screen via a single click of the corresponding letter key:

  • WAP Browser -- W

  • Alarm -- R

  • Tasks -- T

  • Calculator -- U

  • Options -- O

  • Address Book -- A

  • Search -- S

  • Notes -- D

  • Profiles -- F

  • Help -- H

  • Lock keypad -- K

  • Calendar -- L

  • Messages -- M

  • Browser -- B

  • BlackBerry Messenger -- N

  • Saved messages -- V

  • Compose -- C

Programming Application Switcher as a Convenience Key

The vast majority of BlackBerry devices have buttons on their side or sides that can be programmed by individual users to activate functions of the user's choosing. These buttons are commonly known as convenience keys.

BlackBerry Application Switcher

The obvious choice for convenience keys are the applications that you use most frequently, but we found an even better use: Program one of your convenience keys to be your Application Switcher. The Application Switcher displays a taskbar or "ribbon" with all of your active applications, so you can switch back and forth between programs without closing them out or ever returning to your Home Screen. (When we asked RIM's co-CEO Mike Lazaridis for some of his most valuable BlackBerry tips, this was number two on the list. Keep reading for number one.)

To set a convenience key to the Application Switcher, simply click your Options icon on the BlackBerry Home Screen, choose Screen/Keyboard and scroll down to the Convenience Key Opens field(s). Then open the corresponding dropdown menu and choose Application Switcher. (Note: You can also access Application Switcher at any time by holding the ALT key and hitting Escape.)

Access Standby Mode Via Mute Key

If you don't employ a holster, pouch or other BlackBerry carrying solution that protects your device's keyboard when not in use, you're probably used to mistakenly dialing random numbers or sending the occasional accidental message. Throwing an unprotected BlackBerry or other smartphone into a bag or slipping it into a pocket is just asking for trouble. But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, you can deactivate your BlackBerry's keyboard and other buttons with a single click.

Mike Lazaridis told us that this is the trick he recommends most frequently to BlackBerry users, because it's not only simple and remarkably valuable, it's also little-known. We knew the trick when RIM's co-CEO recommended it, but we couldn't agree more that this one's worth remembering.

BlackBerry Standby Mode Screen via Mute key

To put your BlackBerry into Standby Mode, just hold the Mute key found on the top of your BlackBerry--at least if you're an 8xxx series user--for three seconds. Then you can toss your device in a pocket or purse without worrying about unintentional dialing or messaging. And to remove the device from standby, just tap the Mute key again briefly.

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