What Is a BlackBerry

by Dave Mabe, author of BlackBerry Hacks
A BlackBerry is a handheld PDA device that is engineered from the ground up for email. If email has become a vital part of your business or personal life, then you would no doubt benefit from using a BlackBerry. Most models now come with a built-in mobile phone, making the BlackBerry an obvious choice for users with the need to access their email from somewhere besides the comfort of a desk chair.

In this article:

  1. Email: BlackBerry's Bread and Butter
  2. Keyboard Design and Usability
  3. The BlackBerry Web Browser
  4. Key Corporate Features
  5. Developers, Developers, Developers
  6. Games and Third-Party Apps
  7. Quick Tips for New Users
  8. So, What Is a BlackBerry?

Although you can't make a cobbler out of it, there's not much else you can't do with a BlackBerry. The device now sports a cell phone and other features, but recently it has gained popularity because of its push email capabilities in particular. Most handheld devices force you to retrieve your messages when you happen to be in a coverage area. With a BlackBerry, email messages are pushed to your device the instant they are received in your inbox. You can view them even when you're out of cellular coverage. Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, has built on this solid foundation of push email and has added a slew of features, including built-in security, to make the BlackBerry a leader in the corporate wireless email market.

In this article, we'll look at six reasons why the BlackBerry is a true productivity tool, and conclude with tips for new users.

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Figure 1. BlackBerry 7290 (left)
Figure 2. BlackBerry 7100g (right)

1. Email: BlackBerry's Bread and Butter

Once you obtain a BlackBerry device, you'll need to establish service with one of the wireless carriers. In addition to your regular voice plan, you'll need a BlackBerry data plan. Although there are options for per-megabyte plans, it's best to go ahead and get an unlimited data plan since you're likely to transmit more data than you would with a standard mobile phone. Once your wireless service is established, you'll be assigned an email address such as, which will deliver messages to your device. Although you could start using that address, you'll probably want to integrate your BlackBerry with your existing email accounts. Just set up forwarding using procmail or a .forward file to forward your mail to your BlackBerry email address. You can also configure BlackBerry Web Client to check an email account using POP3 and deliver new messages as they arrive. There's no "Check Now" or "Send and Receive" button to click--new messages are pushed to your device as they are received.

By default, any messages you send from your device will show as coming from your address. You can log on to the BlackBerry Web Client (also known as the BlackBerry Internet Service) and change the From: address to whatever address you choose. The BlackBerry will let you open common attachments as well, a feature that handhelds have traditionally lacked.

2. Keyboard Design and Usability

Although push email is the main reason for the BlackBerry's meteoric rise, the form factor and keyboard make it as usable as any handheld device on the market. With the trackwheel combined with the QWERTY keyboard, you'll type and get around on the BlackBerry much faster than your Palm-toting friends. The newer, consumer-targeted 7100 series has a smaller form factor and fewer keys. In order to type using a keyboard on which more than one letter is assigned to a key, the 7100 uses a technology called SureType, which predicts the words you are typing as you enter them. This feature is surprisingly effective, and RIM has promised more typing improvements around the corner.

In addition to the keyboard layout, the BlackBerry OS provides myriad shortcut keys that advanced users will want to commit to memory. Built-in shortcuts provide quick access to common programs and functions, not only allowing you to move around quicker but also reducing the battery usage. Although you'll find the keyboard a breeze compared with those of other handhelds, you can also create your own abbreviations to shorten common phrases. For example, you could set up an AutoType abbreviation to insert your mailing address when you type the string addr in a text field.

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