When new users first get a BlackBerry, the email function is usually what attracts the most attention. There is no denying that email is what makes the device great. However, the BlackBerry Browser is an excellent program that allows you to access a ton of useful information on the Web. Having been a relatively recent addition to the BlackBerry operating system [Hack #20] , even veteran users tend to pass it by not realizing its utility. Some users may have taken the browser for a quick test drive with their new device, only to have their high expectation unmet as they visited a poorly formatted site made exclusively for desktop browsers.
There are an abundance of sites to get very useful information (even entertainment!) using the BlackBerry Browser, but there is no central list where someone can visit to find out about them. There is a lot of trial and error in finding sites that work well on the BlackBerry. This hack highlights the most useful ones and then lists other sites that also work well and provide access to excellent data that you thought was available only on your desktop computer.
Google provides a great XHTML interface (http://www.google.com/xhtml) for the BlackBerry Browser. When you access a link in a set of search results, Google actually proxies the request on your behalf and returns the page in a format that's more readable on small screens. In addition to search results, you can access other Google services. Its main search page is accessible as well as the Google Local searches (http://local.google.com). Google's local search is quite useful for a mobile user to get driving directions, local restaurant locations, and local maps. Google also provides a nice WML version of its search page (http://www.google.com/wml) that searches only sites that are formatted in WML. You can even access a WML version of Froogle, Google's shopping comparison service (http://wml.froogle.com).
Yahoo! offers an excellent version of its site for handhelds at http://wap.oa.yahoo.com. This WML version of the site allows you to log in with your regular Yahoo! ID and use a good deal of their services from WAP browser. You can view your stock portfolios, view sports scores, get weather reports, read the news, and even play several WAP-based games.
ESPN has a great version of their site available to XHTML browsers at http://pocket.espn.go.com/. The front page is updated with the latest story from the regular version of their page. Each sport's main page reflects the desktop version of its page as well. You can get news, standings, statistics, and results from a variety of sports that look excellent on your BlackBerry device.
pdaPortal (http://pdaportal.com) is just what the name implies—a customizable portal that you can access from your BlackBerry. You can access a ton of information, including RSS feeds in a nice format, a search engine, and even a random site. Probably the best feature of pdaPortal is its link library of well over 600 sites formatted for handhelds, organized by category. pdaPortal keeps track of hits to the various links it has posted on its site so it can organize its links by popularity.
BlackBerry's version of a mobile portal (http://mobile.blackberry.com) is eye-catching; if you haven't seen it before, check it out. It is formatted with SVG (or scalable vector graphics) using the tools from Plasmic. Its look and feel resembles that of a Macromedia Flash application on your computer's browser. It provides links to various sites that are very usable on the BlackBerry. It also provides links to games and ringtones to download.
Every geek's favorite news site has a version of its site available for handheld browsers. Point to http://slashdot.org/palm to access it. The problem with accessing the main version of Slashdot on your device is all the comments to each article make the site very large to pull over a GPRS network connection. The handheld version of the site contains no comments (although you can choose to view the top five comments for each article), no images, and no sidebars.
You can easily access Amazon.com from your BlackBerry. You can browser and buy items and view the status of orders you've made whether you ordered the item on the desktop version of the site or the handheld version. If you're a heavy Amazon.com user, you may want to try the ShopEdge third-party application for a streamlined interface in a native BlackBerry application [Hack #58] .
If you're into serious geekery, the Misterhouse home automation program (http://www.misterhouse.net) has a built-in WML interface that you can use to control your home from anywhere. Control your lighting, turn on your sprinklers, detect motion in your driveway—it's amazing all the cool things you can do with this open source software. Throw your BlackBerry Browser into the mix, and you can do all these things from anywhere you have cell coverage.
There are countless other useful sites to view from your BlackBerry with more and more popping up every day. Table 4-1 lists some of the noteworthy ones.
Table 4-1. Useful sites accessible via the BlackBerry Browser