Just got a BlackBerry? The best apps, accessories, and tips
byJacob Schulman||December 28th 2010 at 3:55pmDecember 28th 2010 3:55 pm
So you just got a BlackBerry, huh? First off, welcome to the world of glorious hardware keyboards and the holy grail of mobile messaging we mortals call BBM. Once you get past the novelty of sending the obligatory "mypin" texts to everyone you know, you're probably thinking to yourself -- what now? Luckily for you we've compiled a list of our favorite apps and accessories, as well as some veteran tricks of the trade, so head past the break for a crash course in doing more than just playing BrickBreaker on a BlackBerry.
Twitter for BlackBerry (Free). It goes without saying that if you've got a Twitter, you probably want to be checking it wherever you are. The official Twitter app for BB gets the job done in a fun green and blue environment. It's got tabs up top for all the familiar Twitter functions, and the rest is pretty straight-forward. We still have a penchant for SocialScope, but since that'll probably never escape private BETA... we digress.
TuneIn Radio (Free). While RIM certainly beefed up the media capabilities with BlackBerry 6, it has still left the door wide open for developers to fill in the gaps. TuneIn radio is our favorite media app, as it streams over 40,000 online radio stations. It works over WiFi and 3G, but be careful if you don't have an unlimited data plan. It can even search for stations near your location, though if you're like us and simply have to stream BBC Radio 1 from anywhere in the world, you're certainly able to do that too.
Dropbox (Free). We're not shy about being fans of Dropbox's offering, and now that they've got a dedicated BlackBerry client you officially have no excuse for not signing up. Opening up documents you've got synced to your Dropbox is a snap, and you can even edit using DocumentsToGo if it's installed on your device. If you're new to the service, you can sign up for a free 2GB account directly from your phone -- sweet indeed.
CrunchSMS (Free, $4.99 "for more screen space"). BlackBerry Messenger got a snazzy makeover with OS 5, but poor old SMS has been left out in the cold. CrunchSMS offers a more elegant texting solution with familiar chat bubbles and other options like seeing contact pictures in conversations. It's minor, but makes the chore of not-BBM'ing someone all the less painful.
Pixelated (Free, $2.99 "Plus" option). BrickBreaker is totally fun and will forever hold a special place in our hearts, but Pixelated is an addicting time waster that is a little less repetitive. The objective is simple -- make all the pixels the same color in as few moves as possible. It's easier to try than to explain, but don't blame us if you instantly become less productive upon installation.
Google Maps (Free). In our opinions, Google Maps should come preinstalled on every phone in the world, as it's useful for finding pretty much anything wherever you are. It's indispensable for finding restaurant addresses and phone numbers on the go, not to mention "layers" for things like traffic, Wikipedia pages, and transit maps. As a bonus, it integrates with Google Latitude so you can seamlessly stalk locate your ex kids.
Gmail (Free). There's nothing necessarily wrong with the built-in email services on the BlackBerry OS, but if you're a Gmail-aholic like most of the Engadget crew, you should probably check out the official Gmail app. It allows you to perform familiar desktop functions like labeling, archiving, and storing, as well as support for conversation threading. We use it as a supplement to the built-in push email services, but the functionality it adds is a must have for anyone who knows what a search operator is.
Feeds ($2.99). It seems like the world is suddenly flooded with Reeder knock-offs, but in the case of BlackBerry -- that's a good thing. Feeds is a cleanly designed Google Reader client that make for a simple and elegant RSS experience. There aren't a whole lot of options to speak of, but the inclusion of Google keyboard shortcuts is a nice perk. If you want a streamlined, classy RSS reader for the BlackBerry platform, Feeds is calling your name.
Engadget for BlackBerry (Free). How could we not recommend the Engadget app? It's a super slick way to access the multiple Engadget sites, so you'll never miss a post. Top stories are displayed up front and center, and support for keyboard shortcuts make it a little more pleasurable than the default BlackBerry browser. And don't despair Torch users -- a new version is on the way soon!
Viigo (Free). Viigo has tons of built-in "channels" that can bring you virtually any kind of news on the go. You choose your preferences in things such as sports, weather, stocks, and news sites to curate your own stream of information relevant to you. Now that Viigo's been acquired by RIM, we could be seeing a lot more integration in the near future.
Case-Mate ID Credit Card Cases ($29.99). This slim-fitting BlackBerry hard case has a hidden secret on its backside. You can hold up two or three cards in the built-in slot, perfect for a night on the town when you don't want to carry a wallet.
BlackBerry Leather Pocket ($29.99). Professional devices require professional cases, right? Well, the Leather Pocket case straight from RIM will probably match your impeccable suit quite nicely when it's time for a board meeting. It's got a built-in magnet that allows your device to recognize when it's holstered, so you can even set your sound profiles to change depending on whether it's inside or not.
BlackBerry Charging / Sync Pod ($39.99). You may have noticed some exposed metal contacts somewhere on the back or side of your device, and you've also probably got no idea what they're for. Well, your BlackBerry supports wireless charging -- in a sense, anyway -- and you can buy a dock to charge it without having to plug-in. We've had one of these on our bedside tables for a few years now, and it's especially great if your phone doubles as your alarm clock.
Extended battery (prices vary). BlackBerrys are renowned for their battery life, but with all these apps installed you could drain your power more quickly. We always keep a spare in our backpack and can't say how many times its saved us. You can find super cheap ones on Ebay, but just check the seller's rating to ensure it won't fry your device.
Bundles (prices vary). The ShopBlackBerry store has tons of bundles for new device owners looking to accessorize. Our particular favorite? This Torch Starter Bundle that has a sync pod, leather pocket, and screen protector for a penny under $50.
Tips and tricks
Not a fan of the default shortcut keys on your shiny new device? You can change those pretty easily in the options menu, under "screen and keyboard options." Come on, set that right convenience key to BrickBreaker, we won't tell anyone.
While there's no way to change the battery status icons to percentages on your homescreen, you can still find out you 'Berry's vitals using the Alt+Shift+H key combo. It takes a little practice, but battery level, PIN, and other stats are available at this appropriately titled "Help Me!" screen.
Don't forget to install the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software on your Mac or PC. In the unfortunate event that you lose your device, having a complete backup that can be easily restored to your new one can save you endless agitation and frustration.
You can sync your BlackBerry with iTunes! BlackBerry Desktop Manager includes a built in sync manager that will allow you to sync selected artists, genres, and playlists to your device with ease -- as long as it's not iTunes DRM-protected.
The above app picks, accessories, and tips are just a handful of selections from the team. If you've got some all-time favorites or some clever tweaks, sound off in comments below!