BlackBerry PlayBook tips for all RIM tablet users

Research In Motion's (RIM) first tablet PC, the BlackBerry PlayBook, was released in the United States and Canada almost a month ago, on April 19. Whether you ran right out to your local electronics retailer to pick up a PlayBook and you haven't put it down since, or you just nabbed a RIM tablet of your own today, you're sure to benefit from the following seven PlayBook tips and tricks.

Get around your device faster and do more in less time. Capture on-screen images and save them to your picture gallery. Manage Wi-Fi and connect to the networks you want, when you want. Boost browser security. Control how applications behave while multitasking, and more. Keep moving for specifics.

(You can also find a list of BlackBerry PlayBook security best practices here. And if it's BlackBerry PlayBook apps you seek, I've got your covered there, as well. Check out my two recent lists of PlayBook apps -- all of which can be downloaded for free -- here and here.)

Wake PlayBook Display with the Swipe of a Finger

You can wake your "sleeping" PlayBook at any time by depressing the device's power button, which is located on top of the tablet, next to the volume-up and volume-down keys. But the PlayBook's power key is a bit tiny, and it can be particularly hard to access if you're using a case or sleeve that covers the power and volume buttons -- as is the case with many of RIM's own PlayBook protective products.

Thankfully, RIM built a gesture into the BlackBerry Tablet OS to allow you to wake your PlayBook's display without tapping the power button. Just slide a finger from the bottom gesture-area of your PlayBook's screen to the top, or vice versa, while it's sleeping to wake your display. (It would've been nice if RIM also included a similar gesture to power down the PlayBook's display, so swiping downward from the tablet's bezel would put the device to sleep, while swiping upward would light the display, for example. But perhaps a future software update will add a gesture to this effect.)

Capture and Save BlackBerry PlayBook Screen Shots

Unlike RIM's BlackBerry smartphone OS, the PlayBook's Tablet OS has a cool, built-in feature that lets you quickly capture screen shots of your PlayBook's display. And those screen captures are automatically saved to your PlayBook's pictures gallery.

To snap a PlayBook screen shot, simultaneously press and hold the device's volume-up and volume-down keys for a second until you hear what sounds like a camera's shutter -- if you have your tablet's volume turned all the way down, you won't hear anything.

(Note: Corporate BlackBerry users or RIM smartphone users connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) won't be able to snap a PlayBook screen capture while linked to their smartphones via BlackBerry Bridge, due to a security feature. However, BES users can simply disconnect BlackBerry Bridge for a second if they need to take a screen shot.)

Managing BlackBerry Playbook Apps and Icons

Your PlayBook applications are all stored on home screen "panes" that can help make it easier to organize and quickly access specific apps when you need them. The main PlayBook home screen pane, the "All" pane, displays every application installed on your tablet. The "Favorites," "Media," "Games" and "BlackBerry Bridge" tabs house specific kinds of apps. But you can easily move and delete most apps from these panes to customize your PlayBook and place the apps you use frequently wherever you want them.

To move an app from your "All" pane to another pane, simply hold your finger on the app you wish to move until it starts "throbbing" slightly and/or a small trashcan appears beneath its icon. (Not all applications can be deleted, so some apps will not appear with a trashcan icon.)

To move an app from the "All" pane to your "Favorites" -- or any other pane -- simply drag the app-icon and drop it onto the word "Favorites" in your pane-navigation bar.

To delete an app from your tablet, where possible, navigate to the "All" pane, hold an app icon until it throbs and tap the trashcan icon beneath it. You can only delete apps from the "All" pane; if you try to delete an app from any of the other panes, it will be removed from that specific pane, but not the "All" pane.

Create PlayBook Home-Screen Shortcuts for Webpages

The BlackBerry PlayBook's Webkit browser lets you easily create home-screen shortcuts for frequently visited Web pages. Creating such shortcuts can save you time, since they eliminate the need to open your tablet browser and type in a specific Web address.

To create a PlayBook home-screen shortcut, launch your browser and navigate to the page for which you want to make a new shortcut. Next, tap the star icon with a plus sign in the top-right corner of the browser to bring up an on-screen menu -- you may have to drag a finger down from the top of your browser to see the star icon, depending on your browser settings.

Finally, click the Add to Home Screen option from the menu, and the shortcut will be automatically added to your PlayBook's "All" pane.

Keep PlayBook Apps Active While You Multitask

One of the best things about RIM's PlayBook tablet is its ability to "multitask," or run multiple applications at the same time. So, for example, you can listen to music via the core music-player app while responding to e-mail using BlackBerry Bridge.

But the PlayBook ships with a default setting that "pauses" some applications when you navigate away from them, which can be both a good and bad thing.

It's good if you're playing a videogame, and you quickly hope over to Bridge to check a new e-mail or BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) message because your game pauses on its own. However, you may not always want apps to pause when you leave them.

I constantly employ Amazon's Cloud Drive to listen to my music on-the-go, but since Cloud Drive tunes are accessed via the PlayBook browser, I don't want the browser to pause when I jump to my e-mail inbox because my music then pauses, as well.

So I changed the default app-setting from Paused to Showcase. To modify this setting, open your PlayBook's General Settings menu by tapping the gear icon in the top-right corner of your home screen. Then scroll down to and select the General option to display additional settings.

On the General page, tap the drop-down menu next to Application Behavior and change the setting to Showcase.

Your PlayBook apps will now continue to run even after you've navigated away from them.

Manage and Prioritize PlayBook Wi-Fi Networks

The current version of RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is Wi-Fi-only, though cellular versions for AT&T, Sprint and others are expected this summer. As such, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the various PlayBook Wi-Fi settings, since you'll presumably be using Wi-Fi often.

When, or if, you connect a BlackBerry smartphone to your PlayBook using BlackBerry Bridge, the tablet automatically imports your Wi-Fi profiles, so you don't have to re-enter all of your network information.

But sometimes you're in areas with more than one available Wi-Fi network. Thankfully, the PlayBook lets you prioritize your networks, so you connect to the network of choice first.

To prioritize one network over another, again open your PlayBook's General Settings menu by tapping the gear icon in the top-right corner of your home screen. Next, select the Wi-Fi option, and then choose Saved Networks from the Select a Network drop-down menu.

Finally, locate the networks you wish to connect to, and prioritize them by touching and holding a network name, then dragging it to the top of the networks list, with the network you wish to connect to first at the top. Then simply order your networks according to how you want to connect them, from top to bottom, with your preferred Wi-Fi networks on top.

BlackBerry PlayBook Private Browsing

Sometimes you just don't want others seeing the websites you visit.

If you share your tablet with others, or just don't like leaving a digital trail, you may want to employ the PlayBook's private browsing feature, which stops your browser from storing certain information about where you've been on the Web. (Private browsing doesn't eliminate all traces of your whereabouts, but it covers up the majority of easily accessible on-device information, like browser history, cookies, etc.)

To enable private browsing on your BlackBerry PlayBook, first launch your tablet's browser. Next, open your browser options by dragging a finger downward from the top of you display, and then click the Options gear icon to show some more settings. On the following page, tap the Privacy & Security menu item, and then activate private browsing by clicking the related on/off switch to the on position.

Your PlayBook's browser remains in private mode until you switch it off, so simply reverse the process described above when you want your browser to resume collection of your browsing data.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at asacco@cio.com

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