Text Messages, Email, Call Logs Disappearing or Deleted? Insufficient Application Space? Keep Getting a Tumbling Hourglass?
If you are experiencing any of the above, you may have MEMORY PROBLEMS with your BlackBerry. You may have spent hours on the phone with your wireless provider’s technical support. You may have been told you need to replace your phone. You may have been told your phone has a known problem–a “memory leak”–and that RIM is working on a fix.
Before you finish this article, your memory problems might be corrected. Are you ready to try?
PostScript March 9, 2008: Keep an eye on my post about upgrading to BB OS 220.127.116.11 to see if it manages memory better. I’ll use postscripts to record what I learn from my own experience plus reports from readers.
OK, first let’s try to understand what we’re fighting. If you’re not that “technical” you might be hoping to skip the explanations and just get right to some simple directions to fix your problem. That’s understandable. But if you want to keep the problem from coming back, you really need to understand the root cause. Fair enough?
Basics of Your BlackBerry’s Memory
Your phone can have two kinds of memory:
Device memory built into the phone. Exactly 64 megabytes (MB). Used for your phone’s operating system, application programs, storage for messages and logs, and program data (address book, calendar events, tasks, settings, temporary data, etc.). It can also be used to store music, ringtones, voicenotes, pictures, and videos. But it cannot be expanded. Not ever!
Optional media card–a microSD memory card that plugs into a slot on the side of the phone. Typically 1 to 4 gigabytes (GB). If you have one of these cards, it can be used only to store your media files: music, ringtones, voicenotes, pictures, and videos–nothing else. It cannot be used to expand your device memory, it cannot hold messages, logs, program data, or application programs.
If you take pictures, make videos, or download music, you’re crazy not to have a microSD media card–even the cheapest you can buy. And you need to change some settings to make sure your media gets stored on the media card, not in device memory. More on that later.
What Happens When Memory Runs Low?
In the most serious case, when memory runs extremely low, a tumbling hourglass icon will keep popping up on your screen. It might run continuously and prevent you from doing anything with your phone–even shutting it off. You have only one option: to remove the battery cover on the back of the phone and pull out the battery. After waiting about 10 seconds, replace the battery. Still, you may not have much time before you’re in trouble again. So, you’ll need to keep reading to learn how to fix the root cause of the problem.
In a slightly less serious case, your phone may simply respond and perform slowly. The battery-pull trick may be helpful here to recover enough to buy time to attack the root cause.
One of the most common symptoms of low memory is that text messages, email messages, and call logs mysteriously disappear. Or it may be that you think that messagers were never received, when in reality they were deleted almost immediately after reception.
Yet another case of low memory is when you attempt to install a new application, you get an error message that there is insufficient application space.
How Can I Know If Memory Is Low?
While your phone is working well enough for you to try this (like after a battery pull), do (press menu key) > Options > Status. Read the value for File Free. On a phone with no 3rd-party apps installed, you may have about 20000000 bytes (20 MB) of free device memory. If you have downloaded and installed numerous apps, you may have about 5000000 bytes (5 MB) of free device memory. Everybody’s phone will be quite different based on your usage and how you’ve customized it. If the File Free value is really small compared to a few million bytes, maybe even approaching zero, your memory is low. And if it’s not low when you first check it, check again later, and again much later. When you’re having a memory problem, memory often seems to slowly disappear, as if it were dripping away like water in a leaky bucket. That’s the origin of the term “memory leak.” It doesn’t mean anything more than the phenomenon of slowly decreasing free memory.
What Causes Low Memory and How Can I Fix It?
One of the most common mistakes users make is to start up too many applications (”apps” for short; programs like the BlackBerry Browser, the Media Player, BrickBreaker, or apps you’ve downloaded), then forget to properly close them. They keep running in the background, taking up memory space, and possibly slowly consuming more memory as time goes on. New users make a very simple mistake of starting an app, pressing the Escape key (just to the right of the trackball) or the End/Power key (with red handset icon), causing the app to disappear so that you return to the Home Screen. It looks just like you’ve closed or exited the app. But you haven’t! It’s just like on a Windows computer when you minimize a program to the task bar. The program or document is still open and running, just hidden from the desktop. You can pull it back up at any time. Same thing with apps on your BlackBerry! Because your BlackBerry is just like your Windows computer! It is a computer but also a phone–a smartphone.
So how can you know if you’ve left apps running in the background. First, hold down the Alt key (bottom left corner, key with up/down arrows on it). While holding down the Alt key, press the Escape key. You will see on the screen a rectangular window pop up with a series of icons from left to right. If you keep holding down the Alt key and roll the trackball left and right, you can scan across the icons to see what apps are running in the background. This is the Application Switcher. If you release the Alt key, the icon you have selected will return to the foreground, filling the screen. There are several apps that need to run all the time and you can’t close them if you try: Home Screen, Messages, BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry Browser, and Call Log (not necessarily found in that order). So don’t worry about leaving them running and finding them in the Task Switcher. But if you find other apps, use the Task Switcher to restore them. Then do (press menu key) > Close or Exit to shut them off. You will have to shut down each app one-at-a-time. [I've had readers tell me they found every app on their phone running in the Application Switcher!]
Probably another common mistake is to take lots of photos and videos and store them in device memory. If you started out without a media card, this is bound to happen. Videos, especially, can fill up memory very quickly. You need to get a media card, and choose the option of saving media to the media card. For example, if you enter the camera, do (press menu key) > Options > Store Pictures: > On Media Card. If you need to move media from device memory to the media card, I recommend using the Desktop Manager’s Media Manager (Roxio). Roxio gets a lot of bashing, and I don’t use it a lot myself, but for moving the media around, I think it’s the overall easiest tool.
I don’t know how common it is for people to store vast numbers of text (SMS), pix/flix (MMS), or email messages, but if you do, that will certainly fill up memory (especially MMS messages). If you think that’s your problem, try doing this: Messages > (press menu key) > Options > General Options > Keep Messages: > (some smaller period of time).
An easy case is when you simply try to add one more app to your phone and you get a message that there isn’t sufficient space for the app. That’s pretty much self-explanatory. Your solution is to delete enough other things from device memory (not the media card) to make room for the new app. Or, you just can’t install it–it’s that simple. You can use the Desktop Manager’s Application Loader (see below) to remove unwanted apps or features (such as support for languages you don’t speak).
Oh–one of the stupidest things you’ll find on your 8130 is a sample video in device memory that takes up a ridiculous amount of space. Don’t wait, delete that NOW (see screen capture above)! If you are an advanced user and want to utilize every last byte of memory, you need to consult a more in-depth information source than this article. See my references at the end.
A great suggestion from a reader (carol, see her comment below) is to check your “database sizes” by doing Options > Status> (press menu key) > Database Sizes (see screenshots below left).
I might have named that measure “memory consumed” because that’s more informative (and “database” means something different to me). Note the wealth of information provided (for example, it shows my phone does NOT have a lot of junk stored on it). Note how many types of message databases are revealed. If you are a messaging “junkie” you may have lots of memory consumed there. If you are a browsing junkie, your Browser Data Cache could be cleared to free up some memory. Now, instructions on how to delete each of those databases could get quite lengthy. As readers ask, I may type up how.
Now we come to some really nasty possible causes of low memory. One is poorly designed 3rd-party apps. Personally, I’ve never had one of those on my phone. However, I did install a very popular, well-respected app named Viigo that almost completely filled up my free memory even before it started running. And when it ran, it did fill up my memory. I ended up with the dreaded constantly tumbling hourglass. See my article on that disaster.
Among all the free or for-pay apps you can download onto your phone, it’s interesting how some are very tiny and some are huge. You really have to pay attention to that. But if you tried everything up to here and memory keeps disappearing, look long and hard at all the 3rd-party apps you run. You could start with a battery pull to start fresh, then just exercise one app and periodically check your free memory. Run it long and hard to see if it’s “leaking” memory. If one passes the test, move to the next. Actually, a quick check can be done by simply googling to see if anyone has posted a complaint about that particular app and “memory leaks.” There’s nothing new under the sun. If there’s a problem, someone has already beat you to complaining about it on the web.
Lastly, one can’t rule out that your phone is defective. I just wonder how many thousands of phones have been returned when the phone was not truly at fault, but rather one of the mistakes I’ve mentioned above. I just know the numbers are huge. I see lots of posts on the web making unsubstantiated claims about BlackBerry Pearls having a “known memory leak.” If such a claim doesn’t refer to an authoritative source that can be checked, it should be flatly ignored.
There is a ton more that could be written about memory problems. Most of what I’ve learned has come from:
BlackBerry Technical Solution Center (numerous Knowledge Base articles)
BlackBerry Forums article on optimizing memory (includes some difficult reading for the average person)
I hope by now you have found a solution to your memory problem (if indeed you were having one). In some cases, it takes more time and testing. However, in some cases, the solution was easy (like shutting down your apps after you’re done with them). As always, if I learn something from my readers that requires me to revise this article, I will. But I know there is a lot of good info here because I have used it all myself with success.