SPB Mobile Shell was installed on a Nokia 5800 XPressMusic, an S60 5th edition device with Symbian OS 9.4.
Installation is simply via the Nokia Application Installer available in the Nokia PC Suite.
SPB Software has created a new UI shell called Mobile Shell 3.5 for Symbian, available for Symbian-based touchscreen devices (works on Symbian S60 5th Edition and higher). We have reviewed other UI shells for S60, Handy Shell 2.0, M1 – Android UI and MyPhone here at BestofSymbian, lets see how Mobile Shell fares against the incumbents in the market.
SPB Mobile Shell has come up with a new UI that’s more than just a token front end interface for the Symbian applications and tools that reside in the background. Its a completely new user interface with multiple screens and customizable widgets that give you up-to-date information at a glance such as time, weather, calendar, upcoming appointments, alarms, new call and messaging events which can all be accessed with a single touch.
Five Home Screens
Mobile Shell comes with five Home Screens that is similar to the Nokia N8′s three customizable home screens. Each of these screens, are fully customizable and one can add various widgets on the screen and its only limited by the screen real estate. The 3 images below show the three screens. By default, 3 Home Screens are created. You can add additional screens easily.
You can switch between the screens by just a flick of a finger to the left or to the right. The sliding Home Screens don’t loop around to get back to the main screen. As you can see on the image of the main home screen below, the clock, contacts, wireless manager, profiles and calendar view are all widgets and each can be customized or moved around the screen to one’s preference.
At the bottom of Home Screen, there is a toolbar that allows you to switch between SPB Mobile Shell components and access the Menu button to view the available options of the selected tab. The image below shows the options you get when you edit the Home Screen by pressing the right button on this toolbar. You can change the Layout, Add a new Widget, rearrange the widgets on the Home Screen using Edit Layout and change the Background and modify other settings that further customize the Home Screen and the Layouts. SPB Mobile Shell comes with a few pleasing background images that stretch across the 3 screens. As you slide the home screens, they seem like sliding across a landscape image and its very well implemented. By pressing the Show Home Screen widget, you can get back to the native S60 home screen.
The 3D Carousel is another method to flip through the various screens. It can be enabled by tapping the button on the bottom left of the Home Screen. The Carousel gives you a preview of all the pages of SPB Shell. I expected the Carousel to be slow and CPU hogging but the experience was actually very good. Flipping through the carousel was very fast. Kinetic horizontal scrolling helps. If implemented badly, poor feedback of the 3D Carousel could have undone all the hard work done for the SPB Mobile Shell but SPB have pulled off the impossible and have come out unscathed by providing a great user experience on the Carousel.
Home Screen Layouts
The home screens have two layouts: Professional Home Layout (disabled by default) and Lifestyle Home Layout. The Professional Home Layout is sober looking while the Lifestyle Layout is more flasy in its appearance. You can enable both layouts at the same time and switch between them too.
Mobile Shell has a number of widgets that you can choose from. Each of these widgets have context specific actions that can be configured on the widget is added to the Home Screen. Some of the widgets I really liked were the Contact widget, that I’ll talk about in more detail in later sections, Picture Frame, Birthdays & Incoming Items. The Birthday widget picks all Birthdays and Anniversaries stored in the Contacts. The Shortcut, takes you further to other custom SPB shortcuts which can also be added to the Home Screens. I particularly liked the Wireless Manager shortcut that lets you access all wireless services, WiFi, Bluetooth and Radio via a single Widget.
Add Widgets to the Home Screen using the Add widget button in the main menu then select the item you want to add to the Home screen. Add a clock, a picture frame, the Google Search bar, or a calendar that shows upcoming appointments, etc. Widgets can be moved around the Home Screens. To drag widgets to the desired locations, you have to select Edit Layout and then tap and hold on a widget with some pressure before you start to drag. While dragging, do not release your finger until you have reached the target position.
The Launcher tab, which can be opened by tapping theLauncher icon in the toolbar in the bottom of the Home Screen, adds a fast and convenient way to navigate through your device. All of the pages support kinetic scrolling. Launcher tab has two main pages: Launcher and SPB Menu. The Launcher shows Pinned shortcuts, recently used programs, and a finger friendly task manager. You can use the left/right gestures to switch between Launcher main pages. At the bottom of the Launcher pages, there is a toolbar that allows you to return to the Home tab and access the Menu button to view the available options of the selected page.
The SPB Menu contains all of your device programs, settings, and tools well organized in categories. The SPB Menu is basically a unified interface to Symbian’s tools and settings from within the Shell. In order for a user to access all of the applications and settings from SPB Mobile Shell and completely abstract the native S60 UI, SPB Menu is a necessary function.
The Contacts page is a very important component of SPB Mobile Shell. The Contacts tab helps you to manage your contacts and calls without going to the S60 address book.
The Contacts tab has three pages: Favorite Contacts, Call Log, and SPB Contacts. The Favorite Contacts, lets you add many icons with specific call actions, e.g. calling to Mobile, Home, Car, etc. The “Phone” icon against the contact means a mobile phone number is dialed, when contact is pressed. Similarly a “Home” icon is used when you setup the specific call action to call the Home number. When no icon is present, the Contact is opened for you to select the action you want to perform. The Contact’s image is also displayed.
When you open a Contact, you get a screen with the Contact’s image, and other details. You can easily assign or crop a contact picture and set a unique ringtone for the favorite contact from within SPB Mobile shell.
The Call Log simply replaces the Log application in the S6 UI.
SPB Contacts is an improved version of the native Contacts application. You can search an application by just typing out a name – just like T9 Nav. I find this to be extremely useful and it scores greatly over the native Contacts application. SPB Contacts and Call Log have full kinetic scrolling.
The SPB Contacts Carousel lets you flip through your favorite contacts easily.
The Weather Panel is quite useful, with a small window on the Home Screen and a larger Panel with the weather forecast and current conditions for the city. It unfortunately doesn’t support multiple cities but you can change the city from a long list. You can setup the Weather updates to be done periodically or only when you get WiFi connection.
SPB Mobile Shell comes with preinstalled background images and also has some additional images on the web that can be downloaded from within the application. The background image is tiled across all the Home Screens and as you flip the Home Screens, it appears that the Home Screens glides through a vast canvas.
While SPB Mobile Shell could be a little overwhelming at first glance, due to the multitude of Screens, Widgets and Panels, once you get used to it in a day or two, its a delight to use. I have been using it for over a week now and I am completely comfortable using SPB Mobile Shell for all my operations, from making a phone call, opening applications and checking the weather. I particularly liked the custom widgets like Photo Frame, Birthdays, Wireless Manager and one touch contact calling.
I installed SPB Mobile Shell in the C: to get the fastest response. It takes upto 20 Mb of RAM space but its well worth it. SPB Mobile Shell didn’t slow down my Nokia 5800 in anyway.
There are way too many Settings. Every possible tweak and customization that can be made to SPB Mobile Shell is available to the user. There is a geeky touch to the SPB Mobile Shell, which rubs off from the Symbian experience.
Just like the S60 UI, multiple context specific Settings exist in each Home Screen for each different Panel and Widget. The Weather Panel’s Settings page are different from the Calendar’s Settings page. While this is logical and specific to Widget or Panel that you want to configure, this is exactly the bane of S60 which we lament about. A single Settings page for all Widgets and Panels, with lesser options would go a long way in engaging the lay user. I guess most people won’t go beyond the basic settings that come with the first install.
SPB Mobile Shell completely abstracts the S60 UI and provides an immersive experience. With a mix of amazing features like the 3D Carousel for the wow factor and absolutely utilitarian features like Widgets and Panels, SPB Mobile Shell is a winner. I look forward to using it on a Capacitive touch screen where the touch experience will be much better than the Resistive touch screen of the Nokia 5800. I give it 5 of 5. SPB Mobile Shell can be purchased for $29.95 for downloaded for a free 15 day trial.