Technology-Headlines

by George Heymann

Review: SPB Shell 3D home screen replacement for Android

by George Heymann

techeadlines@gmail.com

SPB Shell 3D is based on the SPB Mobile Shell product line for Windows Mobile and Symbian.

My first impression of the interface is that it’s very fluid and intuitive. I was able to navigate the interface add apps, widgets as well as adding, deleting and re-ordering screens within the first few minutes of use. The UI is beautiful to look at and has a visceral quality that makes it hard to put down.

Once you install and launch the home screen, it just begs to be touched. I spent the first 15 minutes with the program just watching the screen animations once the launcher is placed in 3D mode.

The home screen replacement is more than just eye candy. The screen animations also serve to give users an overview of available features contained within the interface.

SPB Shell 3D also adds functionality that I would like to see added to the stock Android experience. For example, when navigating the SPB Shell 3D in Carousel mode you can add delete or re-order pages from the edit screen very quickly and intuitively. Select the panel/page you would like to move and drag to the home screen page where you would like it to appear. The other pages automatically re-order themselves around the page you moved, very nice.

SPB Shell 3D makes interesting use of folders. From any of the home screens you can drop a folder widget onto the home screen. You can then drag and drop icons on to the folder. The folders are automatically named depending on the application type. The folders can be renamed to anything you like. The folder icon displays miniature previews of the applications contained within the folder.

You can expand the folder view to display four icons across on the home screen; the last three applications added to the folder along with the preview icon. If you click on the folder, the view is expanded to display all applications contained within the folder. You can click on any application icon in the expanded view to run that application. The folder system reminds me of how iOS handles folders. Jenny Pyatko SPB Software marketing manager added “A new patent-pending technology of smart folders is a good example of the SPB approach to mobile usability. SPB Shell 3D folders allow you to reach the most important applications directly from the home screen and launch them in one tap.”

Another feature that I find extremely useful is the scrollable tray available from any home screen. When you select a home screen, a tray appears at the bottom of that screen that you can add apps, widgets and shortcuts to. You can then navigate to the home screen page you want move them to, open the tray and drag them to your new screen. This method is much simpler than selecting each individual application you want to move and dragging them to the edge of the screen and flipping through the pages till you arrive on the page you want to move them to and dropping them there.

Rounding out the feature list for SPB Shell 3D is a collection of 13 widgets. Some of the widgets are simple toggle switches for sound, screen brightness, and various radios, WiFi, Bluetooth etc. While other are more in depth and very nicely animated, my two favorite widgets are the weather widget, which combines current weather conditions with a extended four-day forecast, and a birthday reminder widget.

It has been rumored that SPB Shell 3D is being marketed to handset manufacturers for possible inclusion as the default home screen/launcher on a future handset. Pyatko responded “Several months ago we have officially released the product for manufacturers and mobile operators. SPB Shell 3D for Android is a reference product built on SPB UI Engine that we presented to manufacturers and carriers. According to our corporate policy we can’t share the information about our future projects and partnerships. Unless the product is brought to the market the information is confidential.”

I did encounter a problem with the SPB Shell 3D program running on a MyTouch 4G when restarting/rebooting the phone. SPB Shell 3D was hanging on the loading screen after the phone was power cycled. This problem occurred with or without fastboot selected from the phone settings screen.

I reached out to SPB Software support for assistance. I received a response within one business day. The support staff had me install a utility called “Log Collector” to help troubleshoot the application.

Today I received a new version of the SPB Shell 3D .apk that appears to have successfully addressed the problems I was having on my Mytouch4G. With those problems resolved I’ve made SPB Shell 3D my default launcher/home screen replacement on Android.

Overall, I really like SPB Shell 3D. It looks great, is very fluid and adds real functionality.

Pyatko had stated that “That the main goal of creating SPB Shell 3D was to provide the next generation user experience by transforming the whole Home screen into a 3D space while keeping all advantages of Android. Usually the 3D elements are used only to achieve the WOW effect without caring much about the usability. With SPB Shell 3D the third dimension improves usability and makes the interaction much more intuitive than it was before with 2D. The other question of creating the launcher with the advanced visual effects is how to save the battery life. SPB Shell 3D consumes less battery power than popular UI solutions from top devices as the battery tests confirm.”

I believe that for the most part they have succeeded, although I have not noticed any discernible difference in battery life in my usage.

SPB Shell 3D is available in the Android Marketplace for $14.95.

I contacted SPB Software to see if there is a list of certified compatible smartphones. “The most popular smartphones on the market are compatible. All new smartphones will also be compatible. The main requirements are: Smartphones only (tablets not supported), OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible GPU and Android OS 2.1 and higher” according to Pyatko.

Besides tablets, live wallpaper is not supported in the current version of the software.

Disclosure: SPB software provided us a copy of SPB Shell 3D for this review.


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7 Responses

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  3. Fleta says:

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  4. […] company. SPB also announced that one of its key mobile software applications SPB Shell 3D ( see our review here) would be enhanced to integrate Yandex’s cloud service […]

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