Must Have Apps for the Blackberry

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While the iPhone is all the rage, no smartphone says business like the BlackBerry. It's a powerful little device that lets you send and receive e-mails, browse the Web, view documents, keep track of tasks and contacts, and even take photos and videos. You can also make phone calls with it.

BlackBerry_IMThe first thing that just about every new BlackBerry user does is load the device with as many applications as they can. Finding applications and choosing the ones that fit your needs can be a long, drawn out process. This Tech Tip looks at some useful BlackBerry software. Some of it will help you be more productive, and some will keep you better informed. Most of them are free.

Before you start installing

Before you put your first application on your shiny new BlackBerry, consider getting a microSD card. Most BlackBerries, especially newer ones, come with a decent amount of internal memory. But you can always use more – whether it's for the applications themselves or for your files and photographs.

A microSD card gives you that extra storage. It's relatively inexpensive (under $20). And it's easy to install. For more information, check out this video.

Keeping organized and synchronized

One of the great things about a BlackBerry is that it works well with a number of Web-based applications. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I do a lot of work in the cloud. But that's not to say that I completely trust Web-based applications. A number of high-profile outages have occurred and it's always good to have an offline copy of certain information.

Google Sync

If you use Google's applications, you can synchronize your calendar and contacts using the free Google Sync. It's not just for the BlackBerry; there are versions of the software for other mobile phones and smartphones, too.

Google Sync pulls the contacts from your Gmail account and adds them to the address book on your BlackBerry. That means you can send e-mail to those contacts from your smartphone. If you add a contact on your BlackBerry, that person's information will be added to your Gmail contacts. Google Sync also does the same for entries in your Google Calendar. It's quick and it's simple.

MilkSync

One Web-based application that many rely on is Remember the Milk. It's an online task management tool, which not only stores details about what needs to be done and there’s a reminder when something needs to be finished. You're probably wondering why I continue to use MilkSync. The biggest reason is that I can synchronize the task that I enter in Remember the Milk with those on my BlackBerry – you can set it up to do a two-way sync.  It's fast and efficient and it beats trying to maintain two sets of information.

While the MilkSync software is free, it will only work with a Pro account on Remember the Milk. The account costs $25 a year, and is worth every penny.

Reading news

Information. None of us can get enough of it, and it seems to be something that many BlackBerry users are addicted to. That's where a good news reader comes in. I've tried a number of them for the BlackBerry and the only one that I've found to be a keeper is Viigo. Viigo allows you to view content from literally thousands of sources. You can get news, weather, sports, entertainment, airline flight and travel information, stock quotes, blogs and podcasts, and a whole lot more.

The Viigo service has a library from which you can add information sources (called channels). Or, you can add your own channel. That can be just about anything – RSS, a Web page, or the feeds in a feed reader like Google Reader, My Yahoo!, or Bloglines.

One of the great things about Viigo is that it's easy to use. The interface is really designed for a mobile device, and it's one of the few interfaces (on any platform) that I've found to be anything close to being intuitive.

Additionally, Viigo is free, although you do have to sign up for an account. Vigo is supported by ads, which appear in the top left corner of the application. The ads are small, and easy to ignore.

Using the Web

Out of the box, every BlackBerry comes with a Web browser and (depending on your wireless provider) applications that connect you to such popular social networking sites as Facebook and MySpace. The browser isn't the greatest, although it is useful for installing applications over the air. While they have a lot of users, not everyone is interested in Facebook or MySpace.

The next couple of applications fill in a few gaps.

Opera Mini

Two weaknesses of the BlackBerry browser is that it doesn't handle Javascript, and it's kind of a little slow. The free Opera Mini browser, on the other hand, doesn't have those problems. It's leaner and meaner than the BlackBerry browser and a lot more flexible.

Besides the Javascript support (which is essential for Web applications), Opera Mini also compresses Web pages by up to 90% and lets you choose the quality of images. Lower quality images on a page mean faster loading times and you burn less of your monthly data limit.

For me, the biggest advantage of Opera Mini is that you can use it over a wireless connection. The default BlackBerry browser balks at that.

Twitter

Say what you will about Twitter but it's become a popular way for people to connect and express themselves on the Web. All you need to do is type 140 characters or less – sort of like a text message.

Of course, to use Twitter you need a free account. Many people post to Twitter by logging in – with a BlackBerry, you can use the mobile version of the site. But why do that when you can view and post messages at your convenience? That's where a good mobile Twitter client comes in.

An easy-to-use Twitter client is TwitterBerry. You can view the latest from the posters that you follow on Twitter and can quickly send your own posts to the service. TwitterBerry even gives you a character count, so you stay within the 140 character limit of a tweet.

The only drawback is that TwitterBerry doesn't work on a wireless-only connection. If you have a newer BlackBerry, and need to tweet over wireless, check out Yatca, which is a Twitter client and a lot more.

A Pair of Others

What other software is useful? That's definitely a loaded question. But here are a couple good choices:

Moving files around your BlackBerry can be a bit of a chore. The built-in Media application does a good job of managing audio, video, image, and music files. But it's not the best. File Manager Pro does a fantastic job of managing every kind of file on your handheld. You can move, copy, rename, and delete files; compress them; and send files by e-mail. It also enables you to create a new folder in both your BlackBerry's memory and on a microSD card. The drawback? File Manager Pro costs $11.95. But after the seven day trial period, you'll probably find it so useful that it's worth the cost.

One of the strengths of the iPhone is that it's backed by Apple's AppStore. You can literally download and/or buy hundreds of pieces of software for the iPhone. That's convenience. Until recently, to do something like that with the BlackBerry you needed to visit a handful (or more) of Web sites. In April, 2009, though, Research in Motion (the company behind the BlackBerry) launched BlackBerry AppWorld. It's both an online marketplace and an application for the phone. You can browser various types of software, and download free or trial versions. If you like the application, you can buy it from within AppWorld using a PayPal account. AppWorld is a little slow, but it does have a good search function and makes finding useful software a lot easier.

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LAST UPDATED 6/25/2009