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BlackBerry has a few tricks up its nifty sleeve

If you're a BlackBerry user, you're probably getting tired of hearing about all the things Apple's iPhone can do.

Rumor even has it that a more iPhone-like BlackBerry is in the works.

But don't despond: Your current trusty e-mailing device has a few tricks up its sleeve that you may not know about.

This week, I gathered up some useful shortcuts that come built into most of the BlackBerrys, even older models, made by Research In Motion Ltd., but not many owners actually use or know about them. Ironically, most of these shortcuts are conducted using a BlackBerry feature that the iPhone lacks: its physical keyboard. (The iPhone uses a virtual keyboard that appears on-screen only when needed.)

A series of keystrokes work in various BlackBerry applications to make navigation much faster. Pressing the Space bar works like Page Down on a computer keyboard, moving down one screen per press. Holding Shift while pressing the Space bar moves in the opposite direction, like the Page Up key. To quickly move to the very top or bottom of a page, press “T” or “B,” respectively. Another way to page down or up through lists is to hold the ALT key while scrolling with the trackwheel.

Users can toggle between the BlackBerry's running applications without the extra step of navigating back to the Home screen. To do this, press ALT and the Escape key, then release Escape and use the trackwheel to scroll through a display of icons that represent running programs until you reach the desired program, then release the ALT key to select that program.

Shortcuts in BlackBerry messaging can be a real boon when you're trying to get work done quickly. While looking at a list of e-mails, hit “C” to immediately start composing a new e-mail. When a specific e-mail is highlighted, pressing “R” will reply to that message; “L” will reply to all and “F” will forward it. Hitting “J” while an e-mail is highlighted will jump directly to the oldest message in that e-mail chain.

A list of e-mails can be more neatly organized from the message screen by holding the ALT key and pressing a letter. “I” will alter the list to show only incoming e-mails, “O” will show just those e-mails that were sent. “P” shows a phone log, including dates and times, and “S” displays all SMS messages made or received on the BlackBerry.

In the body of a message, pressing the Space bar twice inserts a period and capitalizes the next word. When the left Shift key and ALT are pressed together, the keyboard's number lock is on; the right Shift key and ALT work as the caps lock. Holding any letter down will capitalize it, saving users from pressing another key to do so. To type a letter with an accent, hold the letter key down while scrolling up or down with the trackwheel until you find the correctly accented letter.

While composing e-mails, a series of AutoText codes can be typed in the e-mail body to automatically display certain phrases or information. Typing “mynumber” and a space in the text of an e-mail will automatically display your BlackBerry's phone number. Similarly, when “LD” is entered, the local date is displayed; when “LT” is typed, the local time appears.

More codes can be found in the blogosphere or in a special section of RIM's Web site: http://na.blackberry.com/eng/support/blackberry101/tips/.

Adopting just one of these shortcuts can significantly change the way you use your BlackBerry.

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