There is a huge range of custom launchers on the Android Market, many of which we’ve covered here. SPB Shell 3D is different. It certainly looks the part and boasts some pretty impressive graphics and features, however most people will wince when they see the price: it’s $14.95.
Is it really worth it? Can it beat popular launchers such as ADW Launcher? Let’s have a look to see what $15 buys you.
SPB Shell 3D runs on Android 2.1 and above, is designed to replace your stock home screen (such as HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz), and has the same basic features as most other Android launchers, such as scrollable home screens and the ability to drop widgets onto the desktop. It is very simple to use so anyone switching to it from other launchers won’t find it too difficult to get used to.
The default home screen looks pretty much the same as on all launchers. You have the option of creating shortcuts to your favourite applications and the ability to drop widgets (both Android and SPB Shell’s own) onto the desktop. Certain widgets, such as the weather widget featured in the screenshot below, are full-screen and display more information than other weather widgets, for example a four-day forecast and the current wind speed, pressure, and humidity.
The default home screen on SPB Shell 3D along with the full-screen weather widget
The clock widget is also full-screen and displays plenty of information including, curiously, the moon phase. Unless you’re a keen astronomer, or a werewolf, I don’t really see the point of this. The clock is skinnable and you’ve got around 60 themes to choose from.
The full-screen clock widget and a list of the available skins for it
You also have a selection of home screens to choose from, which can be selected in a cool, carousel-style way (more on this later). SPB Shell 3D comes with several “themed” screens, which not only feature widgets that match the theme but it also places shortcuts to relevant applications. The “Travel” screen, as demonstrated below, has a useful world clock widget and features shortcuts to Google Latitude, Google Navigation and Google Places (though Google Maps, in my opinion the key application for travelling, is missing).
The Flickr widget and a themed "Travel" screen, featuring a world clock widget along with shortcuts to relevant travel applications
But one of the best features of SPB Shell 3D (and presumably its namesake) is a slick, buttery-smooth, intuitive 3D interface. To select your home screen, instead of having them tiled out in front you, SPB Shell 3D displays them in a carousel, which you can spin to select. Certain widgets, such as the messaging widget, also display this property.
The SMS widget, showing all of your SMS in a conversation view, along with the carousel selection tool
The animation is extremely smooth (as tested on my Desire HD) and there is no juddering or jerkiness at all when spinning the carousel. You can choose which “themed” screens are included in your stack and you also have the ability, of course, to create new ones. The 3D interface kicks in again here, with your home screens displayed billboard-style (see the screenshot below) which you can flick through.
Selecting which screen you want along with a list of items that can be added to the home screen
There is a nod towards iOS in SPB Shell 3D as well, as the app allows you to create folders on your home screen, keeping it not only neat and tidy but also allowing you to categorize your applications by type.
The various items you can add to the home screen along with an example of application folders
The first application that you drop into the folder will determine the folder’s name, though you can change this later.
So, how well do all these features marry up? The answer is: perfectly. I love SPB Shell 3D. It’s a perfect example of a well-thought out and well-designed application and is a strong candidate for replacing the default launcher on your phone, especially if you are using a ‘vanilla’ version of Android, on which the launcher can seem a little bland.
The only elephant in the room is the price – it is very expensive for an Android application and I can fully understand your reluctance to buy this program. But I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s necessary to splash out on something expensive now and again and SPB Shell 3D is certainly a luxury launcher (if such a term exists).
The developers do not, unfortunately, offer a trial version, which I would consider vital for an expensive application — but remember you’ve always got a 15 minute refund window to try out the application (assuming you buy it from the Market).
SPB Shell 3D demonstrates the fact that eye-candy can also find its home on the Android platform as well as iOS. For anyone wanting to replace the stock launcher, or anyone wanting to give their phone a makeover, SPB Shell 3D is well worth considering as a well-designed, feature-rich program. Just don’t look at the price too much.