04
Sep
11

SPB Shell 3D: Will it make you go all GUI?

About 3D Having tried the original SPB Mobile Shell for Symbian a few years back, I was interested when SPB announced; that they were now releasing SPB Shell 3D for Symbian.

My first impression once the app was installed on my Nokia N8 was that the GUI is a treat for the eyes. When I started playing with it I was VERY impressed that you can enable up to 15 homescreens.

The main difference between this GUI and the standard one is homescreen via a 3D carousel which can either be accessed via a tap on bottom centre icon or by dragging this icon left or right.

Homescreen layout

SettingsAnother surprise came in the realisation that tapping on the top information bar does NOTHING. Over the years I have become accustom to tapping the information are providing me with battery level information, access to the alarms screen and access to the connectivity, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth menus. In some ways this feels like a backwards step from the default homescreen capabilities.

One very user friendly functionality of homescreen creation is tapping the bottom left icon opens an alphabetical app list which can enables the user to add apps to the homescreens via a long press. If you run out of real estate on a homescreen icons/widgets get transferred to the bottom bar and can be moved from here to another homescreen.  A limitation of this system is that it has been set up such that only one app can be added at a time with the alphabetical app list having to be re-accessed for each app addition. Also any app can only be added to one homescreen.

For those of your having used the auto rotate functionality of your Nokia devices over the years you may be surprised to see that SPB Shell 3D does not support this functionality with the GUI remaining portrait orientated no matter the orientation of the phone. This may be a result of the issues witnessed with misaligned and overlapping icons when auto rotated into landscape orientation in SPB Mobile Shell.


Panels

Of the 15 homescreens 4 of them are dedicated to specific functional panels, namely:

  • Weather Panel2 Weather PanelWeather Panel: Provides the user with animated current weather and temperature information  along with forecast information for the following 4 days, which can be enhanced into night, morning, day and evening predictions for any of the future forecast days.
    The settings for this panel enable the user to select the location, periodicity of updates, and the measurement units for temperature, wind speed and atmospheric pressure along with the ability to perform a manual update.
  • Calendar Panel2 Calendar Panel Calendar Panel: Displays the current day and date, alongside a calendar month view, with the ability to scroll back and forth by a month, all within the upper half of the screen. The lower half of the screen is user to display the days calendar events.
    Tapping the calendar area opens the default calendar app for the current day, whereas tapping on the plus symbol to the upper right of the day’s events pane opens the default calendar on the new even screen.
    The settings for this panel enable the user to show or hide all day events and select the desired first day of the week.
  • Picture Panel2 Picture Panel Picture Panel: Displays Flickr Picture of the day album.
    Tapping on the main image display window provide the user with the ability to Open the image in the image in the default web browser, set the image as the homescreen wallpaper or download the original of the displayed image. Tapping on any of the 15 smaller image in the lower 1/3 of the screen displays them in the upper, main image display window.
    The settings for this panel enable the user to manually update the displayed images, set the periodicity of automatic updating and enable/disable updating via cellular networks.
  • Clock Panel3 Clock Panel  Time Panel: Displays an analogue clock which takes 3/4 of the screen with information on the lunar phase taking the bottom 1/4 of the screen. Additional to this, the dad, date and month is written above the clock and information on the next alarm is displayed below the clock.
    Tapping on the clock opens the default time and alarm settings app, whereas tapping the lunar phase area opens a 6 day lunar phase calendar.
    The settings for this panel enable the user to change the clock skin, although in my version this was not possible as I was repeatedly presented with a “Loading skin catalogue failed” error message.

Widgets

Additional to the panels, SPB Shell 3D provides the user with 13 widgets, some more useful than others

  • Weather Widget Weather: Can be displayed in 5 different forms:
    • Single Icon: Displays today’s weather image and temperature range
    • Double Icon Width: Displays today’s weather image and temperature, temperature range and the location set.
    • Single Row: Can be displayed in 3 different forms:
      • Variant 1: Displays weather icons, temperature and temperature range for today and following three days.
      • Variant 2: Displays a four day weather histogram, today’s weather image and temperature, temperature range and the location set.
      • Variant 3: Displays weather icons, temperature and temperature range for today and following three days, as well as location.
  • Scr000018 Phone: One touch toggle between normal and off-line modes. May be useful when travelling, although the same end result is achieved by switching to the offline profile. I did notice that when I switch to offline mode using widget the phone switched to the standard Nokia homescreens.
  • Wi-Fi: One touch access to the standard WLAN wizard.
  • Bluetooth: One touch access to a Bluetooth mode switch, between Invisible and Discoverable.
  • Battery Life: Battery life indications with percentage remaining. Somewhat redundant as the battery life is indicated as default to the right in the top information bar.
  • scr000009 Birthdays: Two icon wide widget displaying the next anniversary/birthday stored in the phone. A quick tap on the widget provide a scrollable view of all anniversaries/birthdays stored in the phone.
  • Profiles: One touch access to a profile selection overlay.
  • Gallery: A single row widget which displays the last three captured/modified images in the phone’s default gallery app. The fourth (right hand image) opens the default gallery app, with the middle two buttons opening the displayed images. Tapping the left hand (image of the last captured image) opens a scrolling view of all images in the default gallery app. Tapping any images in this view opens them in single viewable mode.
  • Scr000014 World Time: A single row widget displaying the globe and the present location and time as well as two user selectable locations and time. Tapping on the globe opens an animation of  rotating globe with the locations and time displayed. Tapping any of the locations/times enables the user to change the locations.
  • Clock: Can be displayed in three forms, which when tapped on opens the default clock/alarm app:
    • Double icon width: Displays time, date and the next alarm time with time remaining until activation.
    • Single Row: Displays time, day, date and the next alarm time with time remaining until activation.
    • Double Icon height and width: Displays an analogue clock.
  • Clock and Calenday Widgets Calendar: Can be displayed in three forms, which when tapped on opens the default calendar app:
    • Single Icon: Displays the day of the month.
    • Single Row: Displays the day of the month and the next few events in the default calendar.
  • Backlight: Can be displayed in two forms:
    • Single Icon: Single tap access an overlay to change the backlight level for the phone screen.
    • Single Row: Direct access to change the backlight level for the phone screen.
  • Scr000017 SMS: A single row sized display of the last received SMS with the sender’s image if stored in the default Contacts app. Tapping on the senders image opens an animated scrolling view of the last 16 received SMS whereas tapping on the message opens the default messaging app.

There is also a Favourite Contacts folder, which could be seen as a widget, but which is not selectable from the add widgets menu. This takes up a single row, displaying four favourite contacts from the default Contacts app like the standard Nokia widget. An extra little functionality comes when the folder is tapped and it reveals the remainder of your favourite contacts.

Missing Widgets

Although there as quite a number of widgets available, there were some distinct gaps in the offering

  • Email: SPB Shell 3D does not provide an email widget which has become a staple of my main homescreen on any Nokia phone. The is no notification of receipt of new emails and to check you have to tap on the app icon to open it and check.
  • Notification: There is no Notification widget in SPB Shell 3D meaning you no longer have the one stop shop for checking missed calls, a and SMS, etc. There is a stand alone SMS widget, but it’s just not the same.
  • Social: There is no Social integration in SPB Shell 3D. In this social age I was surprised by the lack of Twitter and Facebook widgets.
  • Music Player: SPB Shell 3D does not provide a Music Player widget. To listen to music the user has to open the Music Player app and has no interface embedded within a homescreen.

Folders

Homescreen Settings A welcome addition in SPB Shell 3D is the introduction of folders to the homescreens which permit which can be displayed in three different states. When any icon on the home screen is long pressed the homescreen goes into a modification state like the standard Nokia homescreens. Whilst in this mode, the folder has a white arrow with a green circular background to the top right corner. Tapping on this image switched the display form of the folder between:

  • Minimal: Folders takes the space of a single app icon displaying miniaturised images of the app icons held with the folder which when tapped opens the folder to provide access to all contained apps.
  • Single Row: Folder takes up single row, displaying three of the app icons held within the folder at normal size with a fourth image on the right hand side displaying miniaturised images of the app icons held with the folder which when tapped opens the folder to provide access to all contained apps.
  • Double Row: Folder takes up two rows, displaying seven of the app icons held within the folder at normal size with an eighth  image to the bottom right hand side displaying miniaturised images of the app icons held with the folder which when tapped opens the folder to provide access to all contained apps.

I was initially disappointed that when the apps list screen, accessed when the right hand icon in the bottom bar is tapped does not support folders, as was the issue with SPB Mobile Shell for Symbian. The disappointment went away somewhat when I noted that pressing the hard menu button still accesses the standard Nokia menu screen providing access to the standard files and folders structure. If you want to steer away from the default GUI it may be possible to use the 15 homescreens and folders to access everything.

Performance

Finally once SPB Shell 3D is up and running it feels very responsive and transitions are smooth although the initial period start-up period seems to take a lifetime. Once installed SPB Shell 3D auto starts on phone start-up if operational at the point of switch off, but during the power-on the default GUI is displayed. It would be nice if this were hidden by a splash screen from when the unlock screen disappears to when SPB Shell 3D is fully operation.

Conclusions

After playing with SPB Shell 3D for a few days I can see a lot of promise for it, although for me it needs to receive some additional widgets, namely email, notifications, social and music and incorporate auto rotation before it becomes a must have. With a price tag of $14.99 it’s not the cheapest things you’ll buy for your phone, but if the extra widgets are added and you are after something a little different to the standard Symbian GUI it may be just what your after.


11 Responses to “SPB Shell 3D: Will it make you go all GUI?”


  1. 1 Rinslowe
    September 9, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Quite an accurate description.

    I have found with the N8 that some transitions can be jerky at times and at other times the response could be faster as it tends slow down in some places.
    The app seems to have a problem jumping from built in system applications and back to SPB in regards to fluid animation (try swiping between pages or zooming out to the carousel view straight after coming out of mail or conversations etc… to see what I’m talking about), but it could be seen as a minor issue. Also not sure if the Android version or other Nokia handsets suffer the same…

    Definitely the decision to leave out mail, call and messaging notification widgets was a bit of a no no really as it is a given with Nokia devices…
    Dedicated social and music widgets are not too big a deal in my opinion but each to their own really…

    Price is not the cheapest as you say, though the experience is in a lot of ways superior to Symbian Anna and well worth the purchase.

    Certainly it would be acceptable to say that Symbian Belle won’t be too much of a challenge here.

  2. 2 GrainySnapshot
    September 14, 2011 at 5:39 am

    The lack of an email widget is the biggest disappointment. The missing alerts widget from Symbian Anna is also disappointing. I note the latter widget is also missing from Symbian Belle. It is replaced to some extent by the swipe down status panel but I really liked the old widget best and I hope Nokia and/or SPB bring back the alerts widget. By the way, while the Symbian Belle homescreen and SPB Shell 3D are the current last word in GUI for Symbian they lag way behind HTC’s Sense UI (whether for WM6.5 or Android) in terms of information at your finger tips.

  3. 3 CLTSchwarz
    September 14, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for the review, I’ve always been curious about this one. No email widget is a big no-no, so I won’t entertain trying this.

    I can’t see why business users think the iOS/iPhone is a great device for this reason, there are several clicks to get to your Mail inbox, more clicks depending on what you were last looking at or doing. I tried iOS for a while and found this scenario frustrating when I heard a new email:
    Click/slide to unlock, exit Safari, enter Mail, exit previously read mail, find out it was not an important mail!!
    On my N8 I slide the unlock button and the mail widget is looking at me, and at most I might have to press the home button once also, it’s sooo much better.

  4. 5 Mark
    November 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    These comments about no having an inbuilt email widget are a bit misleading, at least on Android, as you can always install another 3rd party widget. Any android widget can be incorporated into the screens with the native widgets. However, like the commentator above, I found the screen transition did slow down when going from native screens to custom screens. A little annoying, as it’s otherwise very smooth.

  5. 6 Lara
    February 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    How does the messaging (sms ) roladex work,if anyone knows how to get it working that would be great.The auto rotate annoys me as when I am reading lying down the screen switches to landscape I’ve tried unchecking auto roatate in the settings menu and also tried downloading auto rotate apps from the android market but the SPB 3D shell overrides them all…really getting on my nerves!
    Would also be nice to delete some of the panes instead of putting in the bottom tray but heyho am waiting to see if they take any notice of what people are emailing them.

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