A media card is one of the most important accessories you need for your BlackBerry (BB). There is simply not enough memory in the phone alone to fully enjoy some of the coolest features that come with your BB: beautiful music playback, crystal-clear photos and videos, voice recording, etc. This article answers some basic but critical questions:
- Why exactly do I need a media card?
- Will a media card help with my low memory problems?
- Which card should I buy? Where? For how much?
- What can I store on the media card? What can I not store on it?
- How do I manage the media content on the card?
- Are there any “secret” tricks I should know?
- What are common problems and solutions with media cards?
Why a Media Card?
To understand the value of having a Media Card, you must understand a little about the internal, or system, memory of your phone–usually referred to as Device Memory. Your phone comes with an adequate but not generous amount of Device Memory:
|Model||Device Memory||Onboard Storage Memory|
|none…that’s why you need a media card!|
|none…that’s why you need a media card!|
|BB Bold *||128 MB *||1 GB *|
The values in the table above may look like a lot, but you’ll find it’s not. Device Memory is extremely critical and valuable because (a) it cannot be expanded (despite the wording you may find in published specifications), and (b) it’s the only memory that can be used to store:
- The BlackBerry operating system (OS)
- Standard BlackBerry applications, such as Phone, Messaging, Browser, Calendar, Tasks, Camera, Video Camera, and Media Player
- BlackBerry “databases,” such as address book, messages, call logs, calendar entries, task to-do items, and configuration settings
- Custom applications, such as Google Maps for Mobile and Opera Mini
- Custom themes and games
- Temporary working storage for running programs
So, your phone is in big trouble if there is not enough free Device Memory for the above. As explained in an earlier post about memory problems, when Device Memory gets too low, the OS is forced to seize and free up memory by deleting older messages, call logs, calendar events, etc. It is extremely common for Device Memory to slowly, gradually disappear (”leak”) until no free memory is left. First-time BlackBerry owners are stunned and sometimes infuriated to discover this, so if you didn’t already know about this, be forewarned. You can manage this situation if you understand it.
Another possible use of Device Memory is to save photos, videos, music, ringtones, and voice notes. These files can be extremely large in size. If you have no Media Card, you have no choice but to save these media files in Device Memory. However, if you do have a Media Card, you can set your phone to store those files on the card, instead. This is the only sensible thing to do with media files–seriously.
Now, to repeat, the Media Card cannot be used for any of the purposes I listed above that are solely for Device Memory. It cannot be used to expand Device Memory. Understand it this way: a Media Card is used to store media files (music, pictures, videos, ringtones, voice notes). Technically, there are some exceptions but I want to keep things simple right now.
Which Media Card Should I Get?
The BlackBerry Pearl, Curve, and Bold will accept microSD cards of varying capacity. (RIM usually states “the amount of storage is determined by card capacity,” saying nothing about a possible maximum supported.) Here are some common questions with answers:
- Does it matter which brand microSD card I buy? It shouldn’t matter, as all reputable brands should be equivalent. There is a newer technology called SDHC which is more expensive and are not guaranteed to work in the Pearl or Curve. I recommend you not buy SDHC except for a Bold.
- Where can I buy a microSD card? Almost any store that sells computer accessories, business office supplies, cell phone accessories, etc. Numerous online sources such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, OfficeDepot.com, and eBay. Avoid wireless provider’s retail or online stores–they overcharge. Personally, I find the lower capacity microSD cards on clearance sales all the time.
- What price should I pay for a microSD card? At the time of this article (July 2008), prices (in USD) range approximately like this: 1GB $3-$30; 2GB $7-$40; 4GB $15-$60; 8GB $40-$80. Obviously, you should shop around for the best price!
- Which size (capacity in gigabytes) should I buy? It depends totally on your particular usage. Below is a table that might give you a rough idea of what you could store on various sizes of cards:
Camera photos, medium/normal
|1GB||256 or –>||1,024 or –>||21,000 or –>||42,000 or –>||10,500|
|2GB||512 or –>||2,048 or –>||42,000 or –>||84,000 or –>||21,000|
|4GB||1,024 or –>||4,096 or –>||84,000 or –>||168,000 or –>||42,000|
Use the search box below to find good deals on media cards at Amazon.com (you can change the search keywords to narrow your search):
If you’re curious, my Pearl 8130 has a 2GB Ativa brand microSD card. It’s about 75% full. I have on it 222 MP3 songs, 80 camera photos, 19 wallpaper images, 16 MP3 custom ringtones, 12 camera videos, 5 MP4 music videos (some single songs, some multiple songs), 1 30-minute MP4 TV show video, and no voice notes.
Probably every microSD card comes with an adapter that allows you to use it with devices that take the much older SD card. In the picture below on the left, you will see a microSD card beside a larger SD adapter (about the size of a regular US postage stamp). Below the microSD card and the SD adapter is a separate and optional product: a USB adapter. The picture on the right shows that the microSD card is inserted into the SD adapter, and how the SD adapter can be inserted into a USB adapter. (USB adapters can be purchased for roughly $10 at the same kind of places mentioned above for purchasing a microSD card. But don’t spend your money until you know if you really need one.)
Many computers come with an SD card reader built-in, so you can use the microSD card and SD adapter with such a card reader. Virtually every computer has USB ports, so the USB adapter can be used to read the microSD card with your computer.
Now, you may never really need to use either the SD adapter or a USB adapter at all. But in some circumstances, you might. You need to read on to understand why.
Using a Media Card from a Previously Owned Phone
It’s very possible that you have a microSD card from another phone of yours. Furthermore, it may already have a great collection of songs, videos, and pictures. Or maybe you can obtain a used microSD card with known or unknown contents. Can you simply plug such a card into your BlackBerry and start using it? I would NOT recommend that. I can’t rule out that it could work, but I’m almost certain there are cases where it would not work. Why not be safe?
The issues with a used microSD card are these:
- Does it have any corruption on it?
- Is it formatted properly?
- Does it have the right folders for each kind of media?
- Are the media files of a file format that will work with the BlackBerry?
Here’s my advice (detailed instructions relating to each step below will follow later in the article):
- Transfer the old media files from the used microSD card to your computer
- Format the microSD card
- Transfer the old media files back to the newly formatted microSD card
- Test at least a few media files to see if any don’t work (e.g., songs/videos won’t play)
Inserting Your Media Card
Insert a microSD card into a BlackBerry Pearl as shown in the photos below:
1. Pry off the media card cover using your fingernail. Spin it around 180° to clear it from the card slot.
2. With the card’s copper contacts facing upward, push the card in till it clicks and doesn’t pop back out before you replace the cover. It may take a few times to develop the touch to get the card to “click” into place and not just spring right back out.
3. Spin the cover back around and press it into place.
Inserting a microSD card into a BlackBerry Curve is much less convenient than the Pearl. Actually, it kinda sux. Using the photos below as a guide, do these steps:
- Power down the Curve.
- Remove the rear cover (press the silver button between the two copper charging contacts).
- Carefully pry out the battery.
The microSD card does not “plug in” anywhere as you might expect. Rather, it slides into a little hinged frame that raises and lowers like a trap door. If that’s not unusual enough, the frame locks and unlocks. If you look closely, there are engraved directions on the frame, with words and arrows showing which direction unlocks and locks the frame.
Looking into the Curve with its top facing upward, the frame unlocks by sliding it to the left. I have to use a fingernail to slide the frame. (Good luck to you fingernail biters!) That allows the frame to swing upward to a vertical position. IMPORTANT: Do not force the frame–be gentle. If it doesn’t slide and make a “click,” try jiggling it, sliding fully back to the lock position, and try again. Sometimes I have to use two finger(nails) to grip the frame better (luckily I have relatively small fingers and good fingernails). If you get frustrated, chill, and keep trying. Don’t get rough with it or jam sharp tools into it. You’ll get it eventually. Probably when you quit trying so hard.
The microSD card is then dropped gently (not pushed or plugged in) down into the frame with the copper contacts facing to the right (where they are easily seen). When the frame is folded back down to the flat position, the copper contacts make electrical connections with the spring-loaded fingers below. The springs will want to push the card back up, so you have to use your fingertip to gently hold it down.
To secure the microSD card in place, the frame must be locked by sliding it to the right. Finally, the battery and rear cover must be replaced. Piece of cake, right? What was RIM thinking with this design???
With the Curve, swapping media cards is not a very practical idea. Nor is off-loading media files by removing the card and using a card reader. Yes, it can be done. But it’s not something you would want to do very often. Rather, it will be more convenient to plug in a USB cable and access media files using the Curve like a flash drive. That’s covered below. With a Curve, you’d do well to purchase the largest capacity (supported) microSD card you can afford.
The BlackBerry Bold isn’t available at the time of this writing. From images on the web, it appears that the media card is inserted just like the Pearl.
Enabling Your Media Card
To use a media card, you must enable Media Card Support, by doing Options > Media Card, and setting support to On as shown below. You don’t necessarily have to enable Mass Storage Mode as shown below, but you probably will want to in most cases. We’ll come back to that topic later.
Formatting Your Media Card
In the early days of the personal computer, when you purchased floppy disks (think “removable media–like your media card”), you had to format it first before you could store files on it. Well, I have observed that new microSD cards come already formatted in an acceptable exact format needed for your BlackBerry. Microsoft Windows has three format types (older, old, and new): FAT (also known as FAT16), FAT32, and NTFS. Don’t worry about what those acronyms stand for. New microSD cards seem to come formatted as FAT; they need to be FAT or FAT32 to work in your BlackBerry. Not to worry–formatting can be done automatically. I give that background in case something goes wrong and you need to format your media card on a PC.
Automatic formatting by your BB
Fortunately, RIM designed the BlackBerry Pearl, Curve, and Bold to automatically format a new microSD card when you first use it. If the card is new, just insert it, and your BlackBerry will format it. As part of the formatting process, some folders will get created (see Windows Explorer screenshot below). In the root of the media card’s file space, you will see a BlackBerry folder. Inside that folder you will find folders named music, pictures, ringtones, videos, and voicenotes. It should be self-explanatory what those folders are used for storing.
If your media card is not new, or if for some reason it was not properly pre-formatted, you may need to format it manually (keep reading).
Manual formatting using your BB
To manually format your media card using your BlackBerry itself, do Options > Media Card > (press Menu key) > Format Card.
Manual formatting using your Windows PC
Use a card reader or adapter to plug your microSD card into your computer so that it opens like a disk drive. Locate the drive that represents your card, right-click, and select Format. I think it’s wisest to format it as FAT32, as I believe that will work no matter what capacity (in GB) your card is.
Now, if you format your card this way, the card gets the proper file system formatting, but it doesn’t automatically get the folder structure that your BlackBerry wants. As show in the figure a couple of sections above, you need to manually create some folders. After formatting is done, use Windows to open that “drive,” so you see the empty root directory. Create a folder there named BlackBerry. Now, open that folder, and create these folders:
When formatting seems to fail
Many readers report problems where they just can’t seem to get their media cards to format and work properly. Here are some sample complaints:
- When I try to format my card in the phone, when I click “Format,” the phone reports a device error, or the phone reboots.
- Your media card may be defective. The best way to know is to use a card reader or adapter and try to format the card using your computer. If that fails, the card is almost certainly defective and must be replaced.
- Phone reports: “A Media Card has been inserted that contains errors. To correct the errors please use a disk error-checking utility on a computer.”
- One (or more) of your files may be corrupted. Move all your files off the card onto your computer. Move back a block of them at a time. Test for reported errors after moving each block. When you get to an error, remove that block, divide it into smaller blocks, and repeat the same kind of process. By process of elimination, find which file(s) is corrupt and causing a report of errors. You may even find a case where a file looks/plays fine on your computer, but not on your phone. It may a subtle file problem that your computer can overlook, but your phone cannot.
- I shut off my computer while my phone was still connected to it. The media card got trashed.
- Don’t do that! Disconnect your phone first. If you trash your card like that, you’ll need to reformat it. Hopefully, you didn’t do permanent damage to it.
- I formatted my media card, but it shows up having less space (GB) than it is supposed to.
- You probably formatted it wrong. Use FAT32 format option, not FAT (FAT16). And don’t format as NTFS.
- I formatted my media card, but it doesn’t get recognized by my phone.
- You may have media card support disabled. Do Options > Media Card, and turn on Media Card Support. Enable mass storage mode, too, if you want it to open like a drive when plugged in to your computer.
- My phone keeps resetting itself. Why?
- Your media card may be defective or corrupted. Remove it and see if the phone stops resetting. Try reformatting your card.
- My media card just doesn’t work. Why?
- Your card may not be supported by your phone. As microSD cards are produced with larger capacities, and using newer technologies (e.g., SDHC), you may end up purchasing a card that’s “too new” for your phone. Sadly, RIM’s specs on the web are sometimes vague about which card capacities are supported.
- I’ve tried everything you’ve suggested. Nothing works. What now?
- Your phone or computer may need rebooting. If you haven’t already tried it, reboot your phone (battery pull). Reboot your computer (if you’re using that in the process). You never know when the card is perfectly fine but the software/hardware in your phone or computer is temporarily out to lunch.
- You may have an unsupported filename for a media file. This is a long shot, but with a non-BlackBerry phone years ago, I had cases where an unusual filename caused a problem with my media card (a song wouldn’t play, or a song wouldn’t show up when it was definitely there). These aren’t really media card problems, per se, but are in the same ballpark.
- If you have a filename with “accented” characters, try replacing those letters with the equivalent unaccented characters. For example, change Björk to Bjork, or Niño to Nino, or Pêcher to Pecher, or Cœur to Coeur, or Façade to Facade. You get the point.
- If you have a filename with punctuation marks, try removing or replacing them with letters/numbers. For example, change 02 – Yeah!.mp3 to 02Yeah.mp3. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll need to do this on a BlackBerry, but maybe some other phones or media players.
- If you have a filename that’s really, really long, try shortening the filename.
Media File Transfer
There are several scenarios where you might need to transfer media files to or from your microSD card. You may never need to know but one or two methods, but below there are numerous methods described.
Transferring media files from a used microSD card to a computer using a card reader
Following up from the previous section of this article, if you already have a microSD card with media files on it, and aren’t sure if it will work as-is in your BlackBerry, I recommend you take the first step in making sure your media card will work: get the media files off the card and onto a computer. You will definitely need a card reader of some sort:
- A USB card reader similar to the one described and pictured in the previous section
- A built-in SD card reader on your computer. You’ll also need the SD adapter that came with your microSD card.
- A multiple memory card reader of the type often sold in digital camera departments of a store
Using one of the card reader options above, list the contents of the used microSD card with your computer to casually inventory what’s there. On your computer, create a folder named BlackBerry. Inside that folder, create folders named music, pictures, ringtones, videos, and voicenotes. From your microSD card, copy (e.g., copy/paste, drag-and-drop) media files to the appropriate folders on your computer. For example, music files to the music folder, images to the pictures folder, etc. Make sure you copy all the files to somewhere on your computer, even if you’re not sure what some files are. If you’re following the 4-step process in the previous section, you’re going to end up erasing all the media files on the card. So, make sure you get all the good files off the card at this stage.
Transferring media files from a computer to a microSD card using Desktop Manager’s Roxio Media Manager
I’m nervous about writing this section because I’ve read so many complaints about the Roxio Media Manager. But, honestly, it’s worked fine for me–what little I’ve used it, and when it works, it has significant advantages. I won’t begin to attempt to cover all the Media Manager features, only a few basics that are pertinent to this article.
Connect your phone to your computer using an appropriate USB cable, give it a few seconds to be recognized by the computer, then start your Desktop Manager (DM). Now give DM a few seconds to detect the phone. Run the Media Manager.
Your Roxio Media Manager is generally divided into an upper pane that looks into your computer (media folders and files). The lower pane looks into your BlackBerry: Device Memory and Media Card. Actually, you can set the upper and lower panes to show whatever you want using the pane’s icon-identified tabs.
Let’s say I want to transfer a video file from a folder on my computer to the media card in my phone. First, in the upper pane, I’d navigate to the desired video file. Second, in the lower pane, I’d select the BlackBerry Media Card and navigate to the video folder.
To do the transfer, it’s as easy as dragging the file from the upper pane to the lower pane. Except that when I release the mouse to do the drop, I get a dialog box asking if I want to Convert for Optimal Playback or not. Generally, I would click OK and let Media Manager decide the best format and conversion parameters to match the performance of my BlackBerry. Prepare to spend a few minutes for the conversion to complete. In the actual case below, I chose an 82MB .wmv file of my favorite band, Flyleaf, performing “All Around Me.” Media Manager took about 5 minutes convert it to a 16MB .mp4 file. The playback quality was superb. For the average user, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to use Roxio to do media conversions for you.
WARNING: After using Roxio Media Manager to move files on/off your media card, be aware that the phone needs some time to “re-compute” its directories and playlists of media files. What I’ve observed is that I disconnect my phone from the computer and open up Media to find all my media files missing! But if I wait for a minute, maybe less, I’ll see my hourglass icon pop up for a while, then magically all my media files reappear. So, don’t freak out if that happens to you.
Transferring media files from a computer to a microSD card using the BlackBerry Mass Storage Mode
With your microSD media card inserted in your BlackBerry, you can access it just like a typical USB drive (also known as a flash drive, jump drive, thumb drive, etc.). To do that, you need to enable Mass Storage Mode on your phone by doing Options > Media Card, then changing the settings as shown in the screenshot on the right.
I don’t recommend using the Encryption Mode unless you really know what you’re doing, because you risk being unable to recover the contents of the card on a later occasion. I do recommend all the other settings as shown.
The way most Windows computers are configured, when you plug in a USB drive (or connect a BlackBerry with media card settings as recommended above), you get a Windows AutoPlay dialog box pop up asking what you want to do with the so-called Removable Disk (which how Windows refers to the media card in your phone). What you want to do is simply Open folder to view files.
When you click to open the media card, you will find in its root directory a folder named BlackBerry. If you open the BlackBerry folder, you will find folders named music, pictures, ringtones, videos, and voicenotes. The kind of files those folders are meant to contain is self-explanatory.
You can now simply drag-and-drop media files from your computer to the appropriate folder on the BlackBerry’s media card.
Transferring media files from a computer to a microSD card using a card reader
This technique is so straightforward that I won’t go into a lot of detail. Using a card reader, be it built into your computer or a separate device, you insert the card and let it open using Windows AutoPlay (if using Windows). Drag-and-drop files to your heart’s content.
Document Storage and Retrieval
I’ve only recently delved into answering questions about document storage and retrieval from media cards. To the degree that a media card can be treated like a flash drive, yes, you can store documents (files not classified as media files) on the media card. Here are some miscellaneous facts worth knowing about:
- You can’t save email attachments, such as Microsoft Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, to the media card without using certain 3rd-party applications. Why not? Because something tricky happens in the process. When someone sends you an email with an attachment, the email message is handled in the “middle” by a BlackBerry email server (a so-called “middleware” server). The attached file is converted to a unique format that allows it to be rendered on a BlackBerry screen. It is not received in its native file format. So, if you were allowed to save it to your media card, and transfer it to your computer, it would not open in its native program. For example, an Excel spreadsheet attachment would not open in Excel–because it is no longer in a true Excel file format.
- You can use a computer to copy a number of file types to your media card and be able to use them with your BlackBerry. For example, text files can be opened by MemoPad. Certain Java archive files can be opened by the BlackBerry Browser (simulates an OTA download). I’ve had terrible luck with .jar/.jad Java files being deemed “invalid format” by my BlackBerry. I have considered finding eBooks or journal articles in plain text format and loading them onto my media card so I’d essentially have a book to read on my BlackBerry when I was stuck somewhere with nothing better to do.
I never thought there was much to say about media cards till I started outlining this article. But you can never have enough memory, especially considering that a BlackBerry can double as an MP3 player, and can potentially store and playback full-length TV shows or movies. So, to get the full value from your BlackBerry, you simply must have a media card, and know about using it.
* At the time of this writing, the BlackBerry Bold had not been released, so model numbers and firm specifications were not available.