SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 – Initial Review

SPB was the first company to introduce gesture navigation for the Windows Mobile after the launch of the iPhone application. The iPhone caused a massive paradigm shift in the mobile world when it intuitively thought that a mobile device was much more usable by navigating using your fingers rather than using a stylus. It was one of the most frustrating things using a stylus such that when HTC introduced the Tytn, the fact that you could do most of your navigation via either the scroll wheel on the side or the d-pad, it instantly became the most popular Windows Mobile device of it’s time.

HTC then introduced TouchFlo 3D with the Touch line of devices (i.e. Touch Diamond, Touch Pro) and it became the interface of choice. HTC did a decent job but the reality is that it is better known as a hardware company rather than a software company. The features are actually awesome on TouchFlo 3D. However, I found it extremely unstable. One of the first things I noticed right after I got the Fuze was that it would crash Manilla (the application name for TouchFlo 3D) and cause annoyances. It was frequent enough that it caused me to start looking for ROMs to ease some of the frustrations.

Enter SPB Mobile Shell 3.0. I had purchased 2.0 earlier but stopped using it because of TouchFlo 3D. After finding the Energy ROM, I was pretty happy with TouchFlo. However, being someone who enjoys tinkering, I couldn’t help but want to install Spb Mobile Shell as soon as it was publicly released. And after 3 days, I have to say it is a great piece of software.

While there are 13 screens, the application is actually broken down into a few major sections. There is the home screens which summarizes your information, there is the phone screens which manages things like phone profile and dialer, contacts screens helps manage your quick dial information and the address book, the programs and settings screen, and lastly the weather section that gives you weather information.

The software impresses right away. On first load, Spb Mobile Shell takes about 10% less RAM then TouchFlo 3D. Other things that I really like are contact integration with Facebook. I also like how I can easily switch between professional layout to info layout at a flick of a finger. With some minor hacking, you can have more than 3 info screens. The nice thing about the info layout screen is that they are completely customizable. The idea is that in the future is to enable third-party widgets to be built. Another thing that impressed me as well is the seamless transition from portrait to landscape mode. It works exactly either way (for the most part) without any rendering issues.

One of the things I would have liked is to have better integration with existing SPB Products like Wireless Monitor and Phone Suite. One of the really nice things that I liked about the previous version of this product was that I could embed the Today screen plug-ins as a tab. I think it would be reasonable to have more SPB products generate new screens. I really like the Facebook integration and would love to see the functionality extend to more than just downloading of photos but also of contact information such as email and phone numbers. This is more minor. When I added all of the icons I wanted for a particular screen in portait mode and then flipped to landscape mode, there were some minor misalignments that I could fix. Once it was fixed, it remembered the settings.

Overall, this has been an impressive product. There were no issues that made me even once consider going back to using HTC’s Touch Flo. For me this is the killer UI that I’ve been waiting for.

Reasons as to why I buy HTC devices

https://i1.wp.com/www.tarekesber.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/HTC-Logo.jpg?w=525

Whenever I purchase a Windows Mobile device, I almost always buy an HTC product. I have regretted every non-HTC device I have bought. Although the HTC brand is relatively new, the company and products have been around for a very long time. The first ever HTC device I ever picked up was the Compaq Ipaq 3600 series. Back then, HTC used to make devices for companies such as Compaq, O2, IMate and Dopod just to name a few. It wasn’t until a few years ago (I think it was 2006) when it started to brand under it’s own name.

In general, the devices are well built and is considered a premium product. Whenever I can afford an upgrade, it is always worth it to spend the premium that comes with the HTC. However, what makes the HTC great is really the developer community that is out there. In some ways, mobile devices are a very different beast from the PC. Mobile devices are essentially souped up phones. What you see is what you get. Every so often, a manufacturer will release a firmware upgrade but that is really rare. In other ways, mobile devices are very much like PCs. To get them to work with any Operating System, you require the concept of drivers for software to talk to the hardware.

The most active community is called XDA Developers after the O2 XDA phones which is an HTC device. I’m not completely certain about the how the site came about or how they discovered that you could “crack” the O2 XDA. But today, you can always go to the site, look up your phone and look for what is termed as “cooked” ROMS. Typically what happens is that someone will take a ROM, strip it to its bare minimum and then install critical software. The reason why there are so many cooked ROMS is because every different “cook” has his or her version of essential software. More importantly, the community will find ways to update the devices with the latest drivers or software updates to HTC software from other HTC devices. Ultimately, the purpose of the community is to find ways to make the phones more stable.

In my case, I bought an HTC Fuze, which is an AT&T product, from someone on Howard Forums late last year. The problem with the Fuze was that the default ROM was bloated with a lot of software that I don’t need or care for. Second problem is that for the life of me, I can rarely get an AT&T Windows Mobile phone to work properly on Rogers. I typically prefer to get a native HTC ROM. I was able to locate one quickly on the site and I flashed the ROM. The problem was that the keyboard layout for the HTC Touch Pro (native phone) and the HTC Fuze is different. Fortunately, I found a link from xda-developers that gave me a link to fix the keyboard along with other fixes as well. Another major reason why I like HTC is that even if HTC itself doesn’t release an OS ROM upgrade for one of their devices. It’s quite likely that someone from XDA Developers would release a ROM for it. For instance, there’s been a WM 7 released for the Touch Pro and my Dopod Star Trek is already on WM 6.1 when WM 5 was the last official release for that particular device.

An HTC device gets me a phone that is closest to an open-source phone as you can get. Yes, the Windows Mobile is a closed operating system but at least there’s a user community that will help me tweak the daylights out of my phone.

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HTC Touch Pro – TouchFlo 3D

While one of the main reasons why I got a Windows Mobile devices is that I can fully customize it, the default set of software that came with the HTC Touch Pro is definitely above and beyond what HTC has previously released with. The three that come to mind are TouchFlo 3D, Opera 9.5 and YouTube.

Let’s face it – while the Windows Mobile platform is extremely pragmatic, it is just plain old boring. It looks, feels and acts like the Windows desktop. To give Microsoft some credit, it was the differentiator between Palm and itself. The strategy was to bring a subset of the desktop to a mobile platform. The end result is what we have here. Along comes iPhone to change the mobile space altogether. So this is where TouchFlo 3D comes in.

TouchFlo 3D is a very slick implementation of a dashboard. At the bottom of the screen, you have a menu bar which you scroll around with by pressing your finger down and sliding across with it. Some people love it and some hate it. I am in the former camp. It has a total of 11 modules; each with it’s own gesture and animation.


You start at the Home module with your time, missed calls and next appointment. It’s a simple view of what’s going on now. With a flick upwards, the clock gets smaller and you see more appointments. Usually around 3.


Next is the Favorite Contacts module. It is basically a speed dial and looks like a Rolodex. Flicking up and down basically flips the Rolodex. Pictures are added automatically if your contact is associated with a photo in the addressbook. Unfortunately, the photo stored by Pocket Outlook is very small and gets grainy when it gets displayed by TouchFlo. Apparently the workaround is to associate it with a local photo instead.


The messages module gives you access to your sms messages. The flick up and down lets you flow through your incoming texts. Tapping on a message brings you to the threaded text message view in native Windows Mobile 6.1. I like the fact that through the menu screen, I can reply and delete messages right from there. To me, this is one of the more complete modules in TouchFlo 3D.


It’s a completely different story for the E-mail module. I like the envelope and that it only gives a summary of the message. There are tabs on the right hand side that you can select the appropriate account and flicking the email up and down scrolls through your messages. What makes no sense for me is that the interactivity expected is to create more e-mail accounts. I would have expected that you would provide the most frequently used functions at this level. Creating new email accounts just isn’t it. When you click on the email, it takes you back to the email but you can’t really delete it. To delete an email, you click on the Inbox and then delete it from there.


I love the fact th
at they have integrated Opera directly into the Today TouchFlo 3D modules.


The music module is another frustrating implementation. It’s pretty but does not work the way I would have expected it to. It lists all of the music on your device by default which makes
sense. I would have expected it to limit my view to only music on my playlist once it’s been selected. It doesn’t seem to do  that.


The picture module is well thought out for me. It lists all of your photos, you flick through them to scan them and clicking on it takes you    to the full screen version on your photo. What’s neat about the photo is that moving your finger around the circle zooms in and out of the photo. Definitely full featured and intuitive in my books.


The weather module is simple and elegant. It is the one module that shows off how gorgeous the screen on the TouchPro really is. The gestures are simple – flick up and down to sroll through cities you’ve selected. The animation is very slick. My favorite is the rainy day one. It starts off with your screen looking like it’s been splashed with rain drops followed by a wiper wiping the screen. It’s just something you have to see in person.


Settings screen is not particularly interesting. Only thing I really use it for is to access the the comm manager and the program launcher launches programs. The program launcher is limited to 18 applications which is plenty. You can further access other programs by hitting the soft key that says All Programs.

For the Windows platform, TouchFlo 3D is phoenomenal. Yes, it can be gimicky but so is the iPhone. TouchFlo 3D is by far the best looking interface to date for Windows. What it suffers from is that it is a layer on top of the native Windows UI so it suffers from some overhead to load it up when it first starts. It also comes down to a crushing reality when you have to launch other Windows apps when
TouchFlo 3D is implemented as a Today Screen plug-in. Once Windows Mobile launches, it then loads TouchFlo 3D making it a very long boot up.

TouchFlo also seems fragile to me. I tried playing with the tweaks that I found on the web and kept running into “manila.exe” failures often. I then decided to re-flash the ROM and it’s been more stable ever since. I have only run into problems with Dashwire with TouchFlo. The failure for the most part is not catastrophic but it is annoying. For some reason after it crashes, it kicks in the home screen whenever you have to type something in a text box.

Many people have said that after a while, I would get rid of TouchFlo. Assuming that it doesn’t crash as often as it has been doing, I like the interface. It is actually intuitive and simple to use.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

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Finally got my Touch Pro

After weeks of searching, I finally got my hands on a North American version of the Touch Pro, also known as the HTC Fuze which is sold by AT&T. The search was extremely tough and after 3 failed attempts I finally have one in my hands. After much pursuit, I finally was able to swing a deal with mitsubishiman of Howard Forums. The deal itself was relatively straight forward and was completed in one night.

There’s actually much to write about the Touch Pro even though the device is very similiar to my Tytn II which I still really enjoy using. Because of that, I am going to split this blog entry into multiple posts as not to bore people to tears with the length of the post. Even with the same form factor, I am still adjusting to the Touch Pro and I’m not quite as proficient with it as I would like.

With every iteration of HTC devices, the product gets smaller and feels better built. It is definitely no where as heavy as the Tytn II. It is both thinner and narrower than the Tytn II although it is also slightly thinner. Because of that, the Touch Pro actually looks like a small brick. I don’t love the dimensions of it and personally as a whole, I think it looks very awkward. Since this is modeled after the Touch Diamond, it has the uneven cuts at the back. Personally, it does nothing for me but I’ve had at least one postive comment on that aspect. The casing is very shiny and plastic making it smudge frequently. I actually miss the rubberize feel of the Tytn II. That being said, it feels like a solidly built device.

The major reason for the upgrade to the Touch Pro is the screen from specification. The one thing that bothered me about the Tytn II was that it didn’t have the fully flush screen and that impeded my ability to use it as a one-handed device. Tapping at keys at the edge was very inprecise. The other thing that I looked forward to was to have a VGA screen on my mobile device again. I have to say that I was elated with the implementation of the screen. Not only is it completely flush and VGA, the display is crisp and clear. The only way to describe the screen is gorgeous.

One of the design decisions on the Touch series is to make the devices as touch friendly as possible. By doing so, they have also reduced the number of buttons on the device. In fact, there is only one programmable button. They have also removed the soft buttons as well. It takes a bit of getting used to and the flushed screen makes it easier for it to work. I have to admit that I do miss the soft buttons, the “ok” button and the jog wheel.

The layout is different and the keys are smaller. Fortunately, it is not so small that it is hard to type. But it is different enough that i still feel clumsy on it. For instance, I keep hitting the ok button on the lower left corner expecting the shift button. I don’t like the fact that the spacebar key is almost miniscule and that you can no longer hit the function key and spacebar combination to cycle through to get to the appropriate symbol. Instead, you press function and space and then select the appropriate symbol on the screen. That’s a bit awkward. Fortunately though, the majority of the symbols that are required for my daily use are available on the keyboard.

All in all, I love the physical aspects of the device. It is a beautiful phone to behold. Even with the pictures, it is hard to describe how beautiful the device is. More on the other aspects of the device in the next set of blogs.

[Had to recover this blog post from old emails to myself]

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro