If you’ve ever used a Windows Mobile device, chances are you already know the good folks over at SPB Software. For a number of years they’ve been piping out some stellar tools for the Windows Mobile platform. And today, we’ve been blessed with the latest of these tools. Enter SPB Mobile Shell 3.5. Mobile Shell is less of a tool, and more of a user interface replacement for your device. This update to the older Mobile Shell 3.0 brings some much needed bug fixes and improvements.
By now, I would have hoped everyone at least gave Mobile Shell a try. And if you haven’t, raise your hand so that I may single you out! In the wake of the iPhone and the flashy Touch Flo 3D, it seems as if anyone with some ability to create a user interface is in a race to do so. Before you write this off as just another UI, you should know that Mobile Shell holds its own in this market.
Mobile Shell 3.0 was a bold move and it paid off in a big way. Multiple home screens and the ability to add and remove widgets in any order have proven to be a great combination. In all fairness, I should point out this approach was first brought to light on Google’s Android platform. But over here in Windows Mobile land, we don’t care! Moving right along (fan boy over and out!)
Mobile Shell 3.5 offers some very interesting changes. Gone is the “professional” view from the UI all together. The professional view provided pretty much all the information you could ever want on one screen. The advantage of this was the ability to gather all of your current and recent happenings in one glance. It really is a genius way of doing things if you need as much info relayed to you with as little effort as possible. The problem is; it’s ugly. So now it’s gone, and we’ll learn to move on, right? Right!
Now we’re left with the new “Life Style” UI. As I mentioned before, this UI offers multiple home screens and the flexibility of widgets. The combinations generated from this concept are entirely up to you. You are allowed to have any type of widget anywhere on any home screen. It’s actually fun to sit down and think about how you want the many screens and widgets to be organized.
Let’s take a look at the home screen. In Mobile Shell 3.0, you were only allowed three home screens. You’re still given three by default, but 3.5 offer the option to increase the screens to five. That’s just madness! Or is it? Take a look at my ingenious lay out. It took me many minutes and maybe the use of a T-square or two, but I have something that might make sense to you.
This is my default home screen. Here you’ll see the huge digital clock that I love and hate. I love the fact that it is so big and readable, but that font has got go! This is not a big deal, as there are many other clocks and sizes to choose from. I suspect you’ll find one that you like without a problem. You’ll see the com manager (for my Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and airplane mode.) A nice Medium sized weather display. The profile widget, which allows me to switch between volumes and vibrate settings. Last but not lease, my mail, SMS and Missed calls notifications.
To the right of the main home screen, I set up an organizer screen. Here it only displays two things, my tasks and calendar. The tasks view is brand new to 6.5 and a much welcome addition.
To the right of the organizer screen (we’re two screens over to the right now,) I set up a quick launch screen for all my most frequently used applications.
To the left of the main home screen, I set up a contacts screen. Here is a list of the people I keep in contact with most often. Notice the contacts button at the bottom of the screen. This also has a very nice contacts layout, but I prefer my contacts to have their own screen. I really like to see SPB didn’t force you to use their contact shortcut. It’s also worth noting, when this review is publish, I would have been contacted by two to three of these people pictured above, demanding royalties for their appearance here today. Please join me as we ignore them together.
And to the left of the contacts screen (two screens over to the left from the default home screen,) I’ve set up a social networking screen. Here you can see the two most addicting social networking platforms around. New to 3.5 are the Facebook and Twitter update status bars. Once you’ve set up and linked your accounts, updating your FB status or tweeting is a breeze from here. I’ve also added a program link to Twikini and the Microsoft Facebook application in case I actually need to do a little more than just update.
Now that we covered the home screens concept (doesn’t mean you understand it, but we covered it,) let’s talk about the widgets. SPB has provided a few more widgets in 3.5 for your widget pleasures. Widgets are offered in any array of preset functionalities. But you have the option to link programs that already exists on the device to the current screen. You also have the ability to turn contacts into widget, that’s how I created my beautiful contact page.
As you can see, SPB has put a lot of thought into their collection of widgets. One of my favorites would have been the “Internet Search” bar. By default, it searches Google for any queries you may have. Google? Sorry, around here we Bing (fan out, over and out…again!) It would have been nice to see an option to tweak that.
So with an abundance of widgets at your finger tips, how easy is it to add them to your home screens? Very easy! Simple click the button at the lower right hand corner and you’ll be greeted with by this menu.
As you can see, you have the option to add widgets, edit current screen layout, and change the background image and the settings. Simply clicking add widget will take you to the selection of widgets and shortcuts available.
The edit layout button is where a lot of the magic happens as well. Here you get the opportunity to drag and drop widgets and shortcuts as you please. You can even resize icons and remove any existing objects you may no longer care for. A lot of details have been added to this aspect. Each widget or shortcut is capable of having multiple sizes and even the ability to change the skin of the icon. This is a very nice touch, as some application icons are downright ugly. SPB does a good job at trying to maintain an all-around pleasing look and feel between the screens and the widgets.
All of the core features of Mobile Shell 3.0 still remain in 3.5. Things like the Facebook contact sync and deep integration in the Windows Mobile system settings and program files UI are all intact. Mobile Shell 3.5 seems a bit snappier than its earlier version. Not that I am complaining, but Mobile Shell always ran like a champ, it’s great to see they were able to make improvements to areas that really didn’t need tweaking. While there may be no new block buster features, all of the improvements and minor tweaks are most certainly welcomed. From version 3.0 to 3.5, they’ve provided a great product worthy of an incremental release. If haven’t already tried Mobile Shell 3.0, then 3.5 is a great place to start. It’ll provide a new and fresh feeling to your phone with little effort. It is especially great for older phones not able to run UI’s like Touch Flo 3D. I highly recommend this product.
Allow me to add a notch to my wish list for Mobile Shell 4.0. I have to toss out the “cards” multi-tasking concept palm has been running with on the Web OS. I know the talent over at SPB is more than capable of not only pulling that off, but improving on an already excellent idea.
It turns out the professional view is still offered in the 3.5 update. Unlike the last version, it was not enabled by default. To enable it, you’ll need to head into the settings>Spb Mobile Shell>Home Screen and select the “Enabled Layouts” option. Here you can set the display mode to either professional or lifestyle view, or both if you’d like.
In the name of battery life, I’ve become accustomed to disabling the 3D acceleration in the 3.0 version of the software. I quickly followed suit here as well, but I’ve missed some very important new features because of that. So allow me to make amends.
The first of the 3D features they’ve refined is the carousel. They’ve now added the option to use your phone’s G-Sensor. When this is enabled, by simple tilting the phone, the carousel will react accordingly. Even though it’s a cool effect, it doesn’t really change the way you navigate the carousel. Perhaps they could improve on that with future releases.
The second more noticeable and functional of the 3D features is the messaging views. This alone is reason enough for me to leave the 3D acceleration enabled. This 3D view adds a completely new interface to your mail and text messages. Each message or email appears as a single 3D page showing a good deal of preview information. Swiping back and forth between messages provides some silky smooth animations and transitions.
Oddly enough, these features were also not enabled by default. You’ll need to edit the layout of your screen, tap on the mail or text message widget and change its default action.
I am not sure why these 3D features were not enabled by default, but they are worth doing so after you’ve installed Mobile Shell. They only add the overall excellent experience that is offered from this product.