There's no doubt that many Windows Mobile smart phone users look at the iPhone with envy; its user interface is far more intuitive and lets you accomplish a lot with just a swipe of a finger. Spb Software's Mobile Shell 3.0 ($29.95) will let them reclaim some of their pride. This piece of software, which sits on top of Windows Mobile Professional, makes viewing all of your tasks, messages, contacts, and applications much easier and in a much more visually pleasing way. The latest generation even goes so far as to integrate with Facebook, adding a social networking element to an already useful piece of software.
Mobile Shell 3.0 only works with devices running Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC and later (including Windows Mobile Professional 6.5); we tested it with an AT&T HTC Fuze running Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. After purchasing the software from Spb's Web site, you can download the 6.9MB CAB file for the Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 to your PC. To install it, simply transfer the file to your phone. If you want to install the software from your desktop via a USB cable, you can also download the 8.4MB executable file and run that with your phone attached to your computer. We were up and running in 5 minutes.
Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 is similar to other UI overlays, like Samsung's TouchWiz and HTC's TouchFLO 3D, in that it sits on top of your existing Windows Mobile installation. But Mobile Shell 3.0 lets you do a lot more. The interface is very clean, and you can choose between a variety of themed colors (we preferred black).
It's worth noting that Spb pulled the smart gestures from this new version. In Mobile Shell 2.0 you could access the shell at any time by simply dragging your finger or stylus in a certain fashion (top middle to right, for example) on the touchscreen display. It's a minor change, and the gestures didn't seem necessary, but if you're used to them, their absence could take some getting used to.
Work and Play Themes
The two primary ways to view your desktop are Professional Layout and Lifestyle Layout. Within the Lifestyle Layout, you can view the weather, time, and remaining battery, as well as any e-mails, messages, or missed calls you might have had. Clicking the weather icon lets you view the current temperature as well as a four-day forecast. The Professional layout shows upcoming appointments, as well as a two-week calendar. It also includes weather information and icons representing missed calls, messages, and e-mails.
You can easily toggle between the two layouts depending on whether you're at work or play, and both can be customized with widgets. Simply click Settings > Add Widget, and then choose an application or shortcut to bring to your home screen and place it where you like. For example, we added the Multimedia app on the screen, which gave us quick access to our photos.
One Slick Carousel
At the bottom left of both layouts is a small cube. Clicking it zooms the desktop back, presenting a 12-sided carousel of panels that you can navigate by swiping your finger. The panels launch applications, the Spb menu (settings and more), your contacts (where you can add more), weather, time (save up to four time zones), or your current profile (where you can edit ringer volume and tones, for example). It's beautifully laid out and easy to navigate, and there was little to no lag during the transitions.
An Easier Way to Launch Programs
The Launcher, a button on the homescreen, lets you quickly start applications without digging through Windows Mobile's messy file structure. From there, you can access programs using the Simple Launcher, which lists recently used programs and favorite shortcuts to places like Settings and the Task Manager. Or you can use the Advanced Launcher, which can be customized to display only the apps you choose.
Mobile Shell 3.0 supports multiple e-mail accounts; to keep things organized, the software will open the first account with unread e-mails, or the account that had unread e-mails last. This is a lot easier than having to check multiple accounts manually.
Facebook-Friendly Address Book
Of all the panels, the Favorite Contacts screen is perhaps the most useful. Blank squares can be used as shortcuts to your address book. Once you've entered in names and phone numbers, you can click a small icon at the bottom right of the screen to launch an option menu. If you select Facebook and log into your account, Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 will automatically match up your contact's names with their corresponding Facebook pictures. Once a picture is added, you can choose to crop it down to size as well, which is good if you want to pick out your friend's face from a profile picture that has many people in it.
If there are duplicates, you can choose the correct picture for each person, and if you don't want to use a given Profile picture, you can select More Pictures to view other tagged photos of your friend. The layout is customizable and beautiful when populated with images. It was much easier to pull photos from Facebook rather than having to scour our phone's memory card or PC. However, Mobile Shell 3.0 didn't pull down our own Facebook picture, and there were a few friends that it wasn't able to find pictures for, even though they are on Facebook.
Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 is an excellent user-interface overlay. We didn't experience any crashes during our few days of testing, and it made Windows Mobile much more user-friendly. We especially liked not having to dig through menus to find contacts or applications. Even if you have HTC's TouchFLO 3D or Samsung's TouchWiz installed on your smart phone, Mobile Shell 3.0 adds more functionality (like tight Facebook integration) without slowing you down. This finger-friendly app is a worthwhile $29.95 upgrade to any Windows Mobile Professional device.