For many Windows Mobile users(hopefully there are few around now), SPB Mobile was the UI of choice. This was the launcher I used on my ASUS P565 till I ditched WinMo and moved over to Android on a much better device – Samsung Galaxy S. SPB improved the WinMo experience substantially for me and when SPB ported over their shell to Android, I had to try it out.
Shell 3D essentially consists of several(up to 16) panels, one of which is designated as the Home panel. You can swipe between different panels, which happens very smoothly with no stutter. The mode that SPB is marketing heavily is the Carousel mode, which can be activated by touching the central button on the dock. Admittedly, this mode looks very good, with lovely animations previewing the contents of each pane. However, I dont see this mode enhancing the usability of the phone in any way whatsoever. It only makes for a great way to show off your phone to people.
Besides supporting Android widgets, SPB has its own widgets; though none of them bring anything new to the table. Some of the SPB widgets have good graphical effects like the Weather widget, which shows you daily weather metrics as a 3D bar graph, and the Gallery widget which shows your pics in a 3D layout. But, as you can probably see from the screenshots, Android widgets look out of place in the transparency heavy UI of SPB. It would have helped if SPB had bundled some widgets for popular social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Android has supported folders on the desktop for quite a while now. But these have been very basic and with little options to customize their look. SPB fixes this with their take on Folders. When you create a folder and add apps to it, by default it looks like the folders in iOS – with tiny previews of the apps contained within. Long pressing the folder(or any other app on the desktop/panel) takes you to the edit mode, where each folder gets a small green arrow to the top-right. Tapping this cycles you through the different possible views for the folder. Note that this applies to not just folders, but some widgets too which have different possible views, like the Calendar widget.
Another nifty feature in the edit mode is the use of the dock as a temporary place for some app. In stock android, moving an app from screen 1 to say screen 5 requires you to do either of the two:
1. Drag the app icon to the edge of the screen and hold it there waiting for Android to take you through screens 2, 3 & 4 sequentially; or
2. Delete the app icon from the first screen, flick quickly to the fifth screen, open the application tray and add the app icon to screen 5.
With SPB, its a lot easier. You drag the app icon to the dock, flick over to the fifth screen and drag the app icon back from the dock on to the panel.
The application tray in SPB is very straightforward. Performance-wise, it is extremely smooth to scroll through – a far cry from Samsungs Touchwiz and from some of the custom launchers I’ve tried like Go Launcher, LauncherPro & ADW. It also adds a few nice touches. Any app that has a shortcut on any panel, is highlighted with a small Home icon. Tapping the Home icon, takes you to the panel it is on(I think it is this feature, that allows you to have only one app shortcut at a time ie. you cannot have the same app placed on two panels at a time). From the application tray you can even uninstall third party apps, which is also a nice feature.
One aspect that SPB sorely lacks in, is its ability to be customized. There are very few options or settings to choose from for SPB – you cannot, for example, choose to skip all the gratuitous animations while swiping panels. Neither can you disable the rubberband effect while scrolling the application tray. This lack of options extends itself to the widgets also, like in the Gallery widget where it is not possible to select the folder from which to show photographs from. It is also not possible to change the Font used in SPB – this is important because the default Android font is completely different. It makes the overall experience inconsistent.
Another minor gripe of mine is that although SPB looks great, its UI is not consistent with a lot of the already existing Android apps. Admittedly, this is not something that is SPBs fault, but it is nevertheless jarring to open an app with solid, bright colors from a slick transparent UI.
SPB while running takes between 6-9MB of RAM, which is quite impressive considering all the graphics. Also, though not a problem for me personally, it is not possible to move SPB to the SD card as of now. People with mobiles having small internal memories might want to factor this in before they decide.
Lastly, the price. At $14.95 it is expensive; is it worth it? I ve been running SPB now for over a week and the boost it brought to my phone justified the cost. I would give SPB Shell 3D 8 out of 10 overall with the expectation that some of my quibbles with it will be sorted out with future updates.