Review: Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 increases the efficiency of your Windows Mobile device

The HTC Advantage (check out my review) is one of my all-time favorite Windows Mobile devices and I am using it more and more as an ultra portable PC. There are lots of different Today screen plug-ins available, but I find a lot of them slow down the device or are not easily accessible with a quick finger press. Spb Software House develops some of the best applications for Windows Mobile devices and I tried using Spb Mobile Shell 1.5 last year on the Advantage, but when I loaded the RealVGA utility to take advantage of this beautiful high resolution display I ran into some compatibility issues and removed it from the Advantage. I was very pleased to see that Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 was just released yesterday and am happy to report it works well with RealVGA running on the HTC Advantage. I have been playing with this application for several days and you can check out just about every screen in the application in my image gallery as well as view the application in action in my video below.

The HTC Advantage (check out my review) is one of my all-time favorite Windows Mobile devices and I am using it more and more as an ultra portable PC. There are lots of different Today screen plug-ins available, but I find a lot of them slow down the device or are not easily accessible with a quick finger press. Spb Software House develops some of the best applications for Windows Mobile devices and I tried using Spb Mobile Shell 1.5 last year on the Advantage, but when I loaded the RealVGA utility to take advantage of this beautiful high resolution display I ran into some compatibility issues and removed it from the Advantage. I was very pleased to see that Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 was just released yesterday and am happy to report it works well with RealVGA running on the HTC Advantage. I have been playing with this application for several days and you can check out just about every screen in the application in my image gallery as well as view the application in action in my video below.


 Image Gallery:Just about every screen in Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 is shown in my image gallery.  
Image Gallery: Quick gesture access from any application
 
Image Gallery: Spb Menu panel
 

Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 give you your most important information on a single screen so that when you turn on your display you can quickly view the latest weather, notifications (email, text, and phone calls), change your profile, see the time and date, see upcoming appointments, view your battery status, and view your carrier status and signal strength. That is just with the Now panel. There are also Spb Menu and Speed Dial panels in the application.

Now panel: While there is a lot of key information on the Now panel as mentioned above, you can also dive into the details right from this large clear icon display. Tapping on the weather icon takes you to a weather page where you will see temperature and status (sunny, rainy, cloudy, snowy, etc) for night, morning, day, and evening times for the selected day. You can get high and low temperatures for the next 3 days out and tapping on one of these days brings up the detailed forecast for these days too. You can tap a single icon to update the weather as well. Weather settings let you choose from degrees C or F and select a city for updates. With Spb Weather (another application) installed you can get multiple city support, forecasts for up to 10 days, and more weather views.

Tapping on the central date/time in the middle of the Now panel take you to an even larger clock with alarms and a world clock with other times quickly viewable. You can select up to 2 other cities for viewing times. Tapping the notifications or appointments takes you into the native Windows Mobile applications or other 3rd party applications you may have setup for these default apps. Tapping the profile icon pops up a quick selector right on the display so you can easily switch between available profiles on your device.

Spb Menu panel: The Spb Menu panel is a panel full of icons that let you quickly access your most recently used applications (appears on the left on the landscape oriented HTC Advantage) and utilities (like brightness settings). The center 6 icons can be customized by you in the settings and tapping one of these takes you down a level into application shortcuts, settings, or other functionality. You can setup custom menus and select from the default ones and only use those you desire. You can choose to launch an application or open a folder in your custom menu.

Spb Software House has also provided some custom functions for Windows Media Player, Camera utility, and the Pictures and Video utility. Tapping on these icons takes you to some common functions like photo, video, sport mode, browse storage card, slide show, and library. These subtasks can also be turned on or off when you go into the Spb Menu panel advanced settings (shown in the screenshots and video).

Speed Dial panel: The third panel is quick helpful on a device like the HTC Advantage where dialing is not the best experience. You can add contacts to 15 speed dial slots in the Speed Dial panel and if you have a photo of them it will appear on this panel as a photo speed dialer. The last block in the bottom right (there by default) is for the Spb Contacts option. On the Advantage the phone keypad appears on the right side of the display and as you dial a number or spell out a name your contact list is quickly filtered so you can dial your contacts quickly and easily.

Single tapping on a contact take you to a full contact page with their phone numbers and ability to call any of them or send a text message. The contact photo also appears much larger in this detailed view. You can also select to open and then manage that contact as well from this detailed view. Tapping and holding (something I forgot to do in the video) lets you choose to replace the contact, see your recent calls, move the Spb Contacts icon to this particular slot, edit the contact, or remove the contact.

Spb Mobile Shell settings: There are quite a few settings (shown in the video and in the image gallery that allow you to customize your Today screen, Now panel, animations (sweeping, sliding, folding, revolving, and flipping), tabs, Spb Menu and Now screen details and applications, theme colors (16 to choose from), and weather details. You can spend a lot of time customizing your Spb Menu panel to get it to function just like you desire.

Performance and gestures: Spb Mobile Shell pretty much flew on the HTC Advantage when switching between panels and utilities and I did not notice any drag on my CPU resources. There are three icons on the right side (on the landscape Advantage) to allow you to quickly jump between the three panels, but you can also simply swipe your finger across the display from left to right and switch to the next panel. You can choose to use animations or simply tap on an icon to make something happen in Spb Mobile Shell.

One very cool feature that I have been using all the time is the ability to use a simple gesture swipe from the top taskbar down to activate the Spb Mobile Shell panel selector. You will see the three panels (Now, Spb Menu, and Speed Dial) appear in a Vista-like overview mode on top of your current application when you swipe your finger down and hold it. You can then move your finger (or stylus) left or right to select a panel to jump to. You will also notice that even these small thumbnails have panels that are active and the info on the thumbnail panel is up-to-date (weather and time is just as it will appear when you launch the full panel). Check out my video to really see what I am talking about here if it is not clear. Also, if you slide your finger down from the taskbar on the left side then the panel appearing on the left side will be selected first, sliding your finger down from the center of the taskbar chooses the center panel, and so on. If you change your mind and do not want to jump to a panel then simply slide down past the grayed out Spb Mobile Shell panel selector and you will go right back to your application.

Conclusions and areas for improvement: I am VERY impressed with Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 and it will be the first application I load on my touch screen Windows Mobile device from now on as it lets me be more efficient and I have not noticed any slow down or negative impact on the device. If you have a touch screen device, then I highly recommend you at least give this application a try to see if it can help you out as much as it has me in just the past week.

I don't quite understand the setting to allow 8 items on the Spb Menu panel when the application only shows 6. You should either be allowed to show 8 or a dialog box should pop up stating only 6 checked boxes are allowed (like what happens in the Start Menu of Windows Mobile). At first I kept looking to try to figure out how to view my other menus I setup in the advanced settings.

I also think improvements could be made to how you setup your menus in advanced settings since it is definitely something for enthusiasts like me, but I could never see my wife actually going in and setting up these menus. Maybe something like tapping and holding on the Spb Menu panel could pop up a wizard to allow you to quickly add links to applications and folders onto the Menu panel.

Price and availability: You can try out the full version of Spb Mobile Shell 2.0 for 15 days before the trial expires. You can then purchase it for US$29.95. If you purchased version 1.x then you can get the upgrade for a 50% discount and if you purchased it within 90 days then the upgrade is free. Check out the Spb Software House upgrade policy for all the details. The application is available now on their website.

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