Call them what you will; shells, enhancements, replacement UI's, dashboards etc., I've never really been a fan of them. Don't get me wrong, the idea is nice but more often than not, the execution is poor and the software serves as nothing more than a large piece of software taking up valuable resources on your device.
Today, SPB have released Mobile Shell 3.0 and I'm going to take a quick look at whether it's really worth the hefty $29.99 price tag![/teaser]
The main problem with these "replacement" UI's is that they just don't go deep enough to cover up the lacklustre, standard Windows Mobile UI. Unfortunately, SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 is no different. In fact, the only full system integration this software seems to have is with the contacts - and even then you can't delete a contact. Messaging integration is limited to notifications, anything else and you're taken back to the standard Windows Mobile UI. There's a bit more integration with the calendar but again, for the most part you are taken back to the standard Windows Mobile UI. Finally, whilst all the device settings pages have their own SPB page, to access the settings themselves, you are again taken back to the standard Windows Mobile UI.
So, it's clearly not a "shell", more of a today screen replacement but what can it actually do? Well, feast your eye's on the following plethora of screenies
The Main "Today" Screen
This comes in two variants as standard; "professional" and "lifestyle". Both look pretty nice but the lifestyle layout is customisable with "widgets" and expands across three "screens" allowing you to have a wallpaper which is of a higher resolution then your device screen's standard resolution and then scroll from one side of it to the other with your finger. The included wallpapers have a resolution of 960x748px. This is obviously an idea borrowed from Android but that's no bad thing, I certainly like it!
Additionally, for those who are into customising, I had a quick look in the Program Files Folder the widgets are .dat files which, when renamed to .zip files contain nothing more than image files and .xml files. The .dat files are password protected but after a bit of digging, I've found that entering b0fm18zq does the trick
There are two ways to navigate the various screens/pages in SPB Mobile Shell 3.0. The first and default way is via the carousel. This funky, floating, 3D scroller is reminiscent of the Asus Glide "Multi-Home" UI, allowing you to flick seamlessly between screens/pages with the stroke of a finger. The other way is via a tiles view, similar to the Xperia X1's panels interface but not quite as swish.
With the main features covered, the rest it fairly self expository so have a gander at some eye candy....
So, am I converted? Is it worth $29.99? In a word, no.
The lack of integration depth is a big let down. Especially when you consider the great job HTC did with TouchFlo 3D. The other let down here is the standard theming/skinning. It seems that software developers these days have run out of imagination and are content to just make everything look like an iPhone or Vista. Granted that's not always a bad thing but still... Obviously, fans of SPB Mobile Shell 2.0 will love pulling all the new features of version 3.0 apart for their customising needs and further down the line there will most likely be some rather nice user contributed themes available but fiddling about with things like that isn't for everyone and it's kind of unfair to expect people to pay $29.99 and then make it look better themselves....
Overall the interface was very smooth and didn't seem to affect the device's performance much at all. I tested this out on a Touch HD which allowed me to take advantage of SPB Mobile Shell's hardware acceleration feature and although I haven't tried this on any lower spec devices with limited RAM etc., I would imagine that without the hardware acceleration, it wouldn't feel half as smooth.
If you were a fan of SPB Mobile Shell 2.0, you'll most likely love version 3.0. If you're looking for something to replace TouchFlo 3D, walk on by...
You can download a trial version of SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 here and give it a try yourself. Let us know what you think!