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Apr 21, 2009

Warning: SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 Released. It's Addictive.

Before you continue: check out SPB Mobile Shell 5 for Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian

Well well well! The best application for Windows Mobile is back, stronger, faster, and better than ever!
SPB Mobile Shell 3 is here, and I was lucky enough to get an early version and play with it for a while.
I absolutely loved SPB Mobile Shell 2 and I feel the same with the new version! It's fast, it's stable, it has kept most of the good things from the previous version and added a lot of amazing new features!
Here's my thoughts about SPB Mobile Shell 3:
Before I begin, you probably ask yourself how is it that the Mobile Spoon, who usually complains and whines about everything, really likes the SPB Mobile Shell?
Well, it's just good. It is darn good.
SPB Mobile Shell is much more than a Launcher application. It's a complete shell that hides most of the Windows Mobile UI. Like the TouchFlo 3D it gives you an agenda screen, weather, contacts, better phone application, tasks manager, etc.
But, I prefer it over the others because of few reasons:
1. Great visual look (colorful, animated, and consistent)
2. Good ergonomics design (all the buttons are located in the bottom)
3. Finger friendly (not almost, not like - everything is finger friendly)
4. Speed (It's a devil! Fast, responsive, no lags, ever)
(especially comparing to the TouchFlo3D...) RoadRunner

New features in SPB Mobile Shell 3:
Here's the formal list of new features in this version:
  • Widgets (Lifestyle Home Screen)
  • Facebook integration
  • 3D carousel
  • Widget-based photo contacts
  • Finger friendly agenda view
  • Call log
  • Finger friendly profile editor
  • Ringtone management
  • Management of contact photos (crop, rotate etc.)
  • Work as a home screen
  • Media Player widget
  • Wireless Manager
  • New launcher
  • 3x3 phone menu is back
  • Finger friendly settings
  • Kinetic scrolling everywhere
  • Email indicators for individual email accounts
  • Improved task manager
  • Back/Restore settings

So a new version is released, and there's a lot of changes from the previous version, here's the things I particularly liked in SPB Mobile Shell 3:
Home Screen (x2):
Screen77 Let's begin with the "Home" screen.
SPB now has 2 types of Home screens; the Professional layout (image on the right) and Lifestyle layout (widgets based).
The professional screen is pretty much the same as it was in version 2 where each area is actually a launcher to a specific application (weather, mails, messages, etc.).
There is, however, one one significant improvement: clicking on the appointments does not open the default calendar application, and instead, it opens a special screen just for the calendar entries; the calendar view.
Screen99 The Calendar view is an important addition, because unlike the annoying default WinMo calendar, it's finger friendly (of course), it has kinetic scrolling and you can easily jump from one day to another by clicking on a specific day in the bottom bar (or just use finger gestures to scroll).
The performance and responsiveness are perfect.

Context Sensitive views and menus:
The bottom area of the shell have been slightly changed. Instead of 4 fixed tabs, there are now only 2 which are context sensitive (in the middle), one back button (on the left), and a context sensitive menu (on the right).
bottom copy
bottom copy2
From the Home screen you can easily access the Launcher window or the contacts window, but when you access one of those windows, the bottom area will include different shortcuts.
It does make things a bit more complex than the previous version but on the other hand, it is required because there are a lot of new features.
SPB Widgets (Lifestyle Layout):
Screen80 Screen79
The Lifestyle layout is basically a widgets surface.
Unlike Samsung's TouchWiz, the interface can include multiple pages, which is required, given that you will want to include more than just a few widgets, and maybe split them to different sections.
Screen99I'm not a huge fan of widgets, but in this case, since you can add application shortcuts, calendar entries, images, contacts, and all in different pages - it's nice. You can create one page with your favorite widgets, a second page with your PIM apps, and so on.
The configuration capabilities are pretty powerful, and the layout is modified using the same concept: right button triggers a context menu (see image) and from there it's pretty self explanatory.

Phone & Contacts:
Screen99 SPB Mobile Shell wraps your WinMo contacts with a finger friendly user interface which allows easy calls invocations, contacts browsing, modifying ringtones or images.
The contacts and phone shell were enhanced to include more features and additional layout alternatives.
When switching to the contacts window you get easy access to your recent calls, favorite contacts, and all contacts. Everything is completely finger friendly.
You know what? Few pictures worth a thousand words:
favs_green contacts_circle

Applications Launcher:
Of course, one of the most important things in SPB Mobile Shell 3 is still, the applications launcher.
The Launcher window includes 2 tabs: recent applications and the pre-defined folders. Previous versions had everything in one tab, and now it's split into 2, which is much better.
Clicking on each folder drills down into the context of the folder - all with a comfortable custom UI.
Most of the functionality is pretty much the same as in version 2, and you can also add your own custom folders with your favorite applications.
Screen94 Screen85

There are more useful features in SPB Mobile Shell 3; a finger friendly Tasks Manager, Weather screen, clocks, alarms, profiles manager and more. I will not review all of those as I do need to get some sleep sometime...
weather Screen67
Screen63 time

Things I did not like in SPB Mobile Shell 3:
You know the deal by now.
Every MobileSpoon review must end with something negative to talk about. This is part of my duty, in order to stay reliable (and also because I'm a pedant whiner...).
It was hard, but I did manage to find 2 things I didn't like in SPB Mobile Shell 3.0:
1. The Carousel View:
Layouts-tmp-screen Sure, it's a cool feature, nice animation and finger gestures, but for a practical person like me, it's more of a waste of an important window. whenever you click on the "back" button from the home screen, you get into this strange looking carousel view (can be changed to a tile view) with a quick access to all the different SPB screens.
The reason I don't like it is that it's not really required, as it's very simple to access those screens the usual way, and the second reason is that it's not very comfortable to use it. I think a tasks manager would have been a better option.
2. Kinetic scrolling:
Screen81 I am probably the only one on this planet that will say it, but in version 2, there used to be small arrows to navigate through long lists. It was my favorite feature because it was accurate and fast.
In version 3, SPB replaced the paging with a kinetic scrolling which is working OK but it's less accurate, sometimes you want to scroll the list but instead you activate one of the items, and for me it's a big dissapointment that the arrows no longer exist.
If SPB developers are reading this review - please bring me back my paging arrows. P-l-e-a-s-e-e-e-e.

SPB Mobile Shell 2 used to be my favorite Windows Mobile application and SPB Mobile Shell 3 is even better.
It has many improvements and new features: the widgets layout, the calendar view, the context sensitive menus, and more.
The UI is very comfortable and rich, and all of those goodies work extremely fast. 
I love it.

More resources:
A video preview of SPB Mobile Shell 3.0
SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 Press Release
SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 home page (trial link included)
More SPB news and applications
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