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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SPB Mobile Shell, in depth review

I shortly reviewed the SPB Mobile Shell a while back as I was very surprised of what it can do for my Nokia 5230.

I decided to write a more detailed review, and the guys at SPB were kind enough to give me a license.

SPB Mobile Shell is a replacement of the default nasty Nokia homescreen. It can also be a replacement for the entire Nokia menu.

The SPB Shell is a collection of useful apps like weather, contacts, agenda and a shipload of widgets for any purpose you can think about. Most of the stuff you can add to your homescreen, widgets or shortcuts, can be customized. You can change their theme and size.

Smart dialer

The digital clock widget is one of the most useful widgets available in SPB Shell. When in large mode, it shows the current date (with day of week and all), the next alarm you have set and of course the current time. Clicking on the widget opens the SPB clock application which shows the time for three cities of your choice and the next alarm set. One cool thing about choosing a city is the T9 enabled search trough the available cities. Clicking on the current time opens the S60 default clock app.
There is also an analog clock widget for those who want a classic look for your homescreen clock.
The search widget is also one widget that I frequently use, because on an S60v5 device, searching something on Google or Bing consists in opening the browser app, searching for the search engine bookmark, wait for the page to load, enter the search text and press the search button. These 5 actions are replaced by a click on the widget, entering the text, and pressing ok.

The contacts application that comes with the SPB Shell makes you forget you are using a Symbian phone. It has very good kinetic scrolling, which is also available throughout the application, and allows you to call or text somebody in two clicks, unlike the default S60 contacts app. The T9 search available is beautiful and it doubles as both search for name as well as search for phone number.

The contacts app has two more sceens, the call log where you can see the incoming and outgoing calls, the day and time they were made as well as their duration.

Favorite contacts
Tiles view

And the favorite contacts screen where you can add as many favorite people as you like, thanks to the vertical scrolling available here. In the favorites panel you can also change the size of each contact to give some people more importance than to others. The favorite panel of the contacts app also has a carousel view that can be used to swipe trough your contacts and allows you to set custom ringtones and change the contact's picture.

The launcher app groups the apps available on your device by their purpose, for example Multimedia apps in one place, Internet stuff in another place, quick access to system settings using the Tools group, creating emails and SMS using the Messaging group and quick access to Calendar, Tasks and Notes using the Organizer group.

The tiles view shows all the available panels of the SPB Shell on a grid view. You can easily find everything within this view, from the contacts app, homescreen, settings, launcher, in one word everything.

Carousel view
Homescreen contacts and pics

The tiles view can be switched to the carousel view which also shows the same panels as the tiles, but in more details, and you can easily swipe through them.

Some of the best things that can be integrated into the SPB Shell homescreen are contacts. Each contact can be added as a widget on the home screen, with size varying from a small, yet thumb friendly size, to large, half screen width icon. This way you can call, SMS or email your favorite persons in two clicks.
One cool thing that a family man such as myself can't live without is the picture frame widget. This widget shows you a scaled down version of an image of your choice. I for one have two pictures, one picture of my wife and one of my kid on my homescreen always. The picture frame comes in many flavors, but I prefer the paper ones because the frame has the same size regardless of the orientation of the picture it shows. Another thing is that if you click a picture frame SPB Shell opens a picture viewer app that even allows you to see a slide show of all the pictures in the same folder as the one you just clicked.

The Agenda app is configurable and can show from 2 up to 4 weeks. The days are shown in both grid and list view at the same time, and the list view also has shows the weather conditions for the next days. The list view allows you to easily add a new meeting just by clicking the button on the left side of the list view item. The Agenda widget, available for the homescreen also highlights coming events and shows the next alarm you have set.
The tasks widget is an easy way to see your current tasks all in one place, and allows you to see all available tasks, or create a new one in just two clicks.

Bluetooth switch
Weather forecast
Weather conditions

On a Nokia S60v5 device, switching bluetooth on and off can be a pain. Luckily SPB Shell offers a bluetooth widget(amongst other connectivity widgets), that allows you to enable your bluetooth in discoverable of invisible modes with two clicks. Turning off bluetooth is just one click away. The widget also displays the status of your device's bluetooth.

Another must have is the incoming items widget which shows you how many missed calls, messages and emails you have in one glance. There are also separate widgets available for calls, messages and emails, if you don't like the all in one line incoming items widget. Just one click on the item you want shows you the list of missed calls or opens up the system application to manage the messages.

One more useful thing that I really like is the backlight widget which allows me to quickly change the intensity of the phone's backlight. Normally I keep my backlight intensity at 50%, but this gets really handy when I am outdoors and I want to do something with my phone and I need to set the light to 100% (because my phone does not have ambient sensor).
Backlight switching in two clicks.

Another app that is very handy and widely used is the Weather app. The weather widget also comes in different sizes, from a small icon showing the current temperature to a screen wide widget that shows you the current weather conditions including the atmospheric pressure, wind speed, humidity as well as a 4 day forecast with high and lows. When you click the weather widget, the integrated weather app opens.

This app has to panels, one for current conditions and one for a detailed forecast. The current conditions panel is kind of self-explanatory while the forecast panel gives you a detailed forecast that includes the probable temperature and weather conditions for night, morning, day and evening over the next 4 days. The weather can be set to automatically update at 30 minutes up to 4 hours intervals.

Of course I also use shortcut widgets that can link not only to installed apps, but to any file on your system too.

There is also a media player widget which controls your music player application, and tones more or widgets.

I described in this review only the widgets that help me out throughout the day.

SPB Shell eats up about 10MB of RAM on my phone, but I'm still left with 36MB, which is more than enough for me. The consumed RAM can be decreased if you use less homescreens. I use 5 screens and they're all full of widgets.

Bottom line is, the SPB Shell changed my phone in a very pleasant way and I don't think that I'll ever give it up.

You can give it a try at the SPB Software website.