Late in the year, Walker Themes did the Holiday act of offering several of their premium themes for free. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I snagged one that looked appealing to me with a plan to use it after Christmas (I had a Christmas theme that would not be replaced!)
Themes boil down to two areas as I see it: form and functionality. Form, how it looks; and functionality; how it works- for me. Remember that just as every phone won’t work for every person, every theme will not work for every person either. The unfortunate part with themes is that once purchased, the money’s gone. It’s hard to demo a theme for the user. When they are free, however, there’s obviously no risk.
I’m a functionality over form kind of guy. It doesn’t have to look the best; it has to work for me. Quick access to my most used apps is the key which is why the panes on OS6 are a no-go. If it happens to be wallpaper friendly, great. Animations often slow down the whole experience and I can do without them. My favorite part of any theme is shortcuts. I want shortcuts to everything I use.
So with that in mind, here’s how I find XAPIRE Dark for my 9780.
It’s a gorgeous theme. I like the color, the animations are nicely done and are the basis for the theme. The theme can be very wallpaper friendly by hiding all app docks. The clock, which moves from the top to the bottom of the screen when the main dock is hidden, is large and centered left to right which is great for me as I often am just checking the time. Underneath the clock is the date; a bit small but easy enough to find with a quick glance. The date and time sit atop the main app dock which, when shown, sits in the center of the screen. It’s a 2 row, 4 column set of customizable apps. These are apps 5-12 in your all apps screen. They are centered and encased by a rounded corner box and each app is located in a slightly different shaded box of its own making it easy to see the separation.
Outside the centered box, which is hidden and shown by clicking a double arrow at the bottom of the screen, are 4 corner apps contained in quarter circles. These are also user designated and are relative to apps 1-4 in the main app screen. They can be hidden by pressing the back key, leaving the main dock in the center. However, I haven’t found a way to bring them back without hiding and showing the main dock. So if those four apps are of great use to you you’ll have to keep them displayed as you are able to hide just the main dock. When you bring the main dock back up though, the animation kicks in and the corner apps disappear and slide back in as if they had been hidden. I’ve seen this in many themes and I’m sure it’s part of Theme Builder and how it uses animations, I just don’t care for it. The animations also are slightly slow, but I don’t know if it’s the theme or the hardware.
When the box is hidden, even with the corner apps showing, the theme is wallpaper friendly and it comes with a nice background reminiscent to the PlayBook opening sequences. Different sizes of spheres that have a soft rainbow of color from left to right. It’s a great looking background and I’ve kept it as I feel it screams BlackBerry and elegance. It might be well suited for a crossbar theme as well as it doesn’t extend top to bottom but rather runs in a row in the center of the screen. The colors reverberate out across the whole screen and that makes it very nice to look at.
At the very bottom of the screen, left to right, are the signal meter, which is comprised of 5 circles each getting slightly larger from left to right, the BIS/BES icon, the WiFi icon, the double arrow for hiding the box dock and showing both corner and box docks, then the Bluetooth icon and finally the battery meter. The battery meter is a mirror image to the signal meter which adds some very nice balance to the overall look.
When an app in the box is selected, there is a blue rectangle beneath it and the icon bounces. I’m always happy to have as much notification as possible to let me know which icon I just landed on; it makes a faster recognition for me of where I am on the screen so I can quickly move to where I want. On the corner apps, the icon lights up with a purple, blinking, star-like shape. Very recognizable and easy to locate. The double arrow turns blue when selected and the signal meter becomes encased in a blue rectangle. The ability to quickly locate where my cursor currently is is a must for me. Walker theme has done a solid job in that area on XAPIRE Dark.
In general, I really like the look of the theme. There’s a lot of balance there. The colors are beautiful and it’s one to show off. But look is only part of the whole. Let’s look at functionality.
Again, I’m a functionality guy. I need to be able to quickly get around to the icon I want. Here’s how it works on XAPIRE Dark.
Scrolling all the way down lands you on the signal meter, which is also a shortcut. You can click on it and you will be taken to the Manage Connections page. This is solid. I’m often changing my connections and need a quick way to get there. My only nit-picking issue here is that I feel that scrolling all the way down should land you on the double arrow to open and close the box and corner apps. I often find myself scrolling all the way down and then readjusting back up and down until I land on the double arrow. That is time and attention consuming. I want to be able to “feel” my theme. In other words, I want to be able to use it without looking. Even after days of use, I still have to check to see where my cursor is. That doesn’t work for me.
With the corners hidden, In the box, the cursor works as expected, you can scroll left to right, right to left , up, down, whatever to select any of the 8 apps. Of course if you go too far down you land on the double arrow, or the signal meter. But the cursor moves quickly and it’s not much of an annoyance. With the corner apps shown, however, it gets a bit more complicated. Try to follow:
From either of the upper left two apps in the box, an upward motion take you to the upper left corner, same with upper right, lower right and lower left. Also from the top left app in the box, a left motion will take you to the upper left corner app and the same with the others respectively. Here’s the odd part: With the box open, to get from the upper left corner app to the bottom left corner app, you have to go through the box. You can only jump from a bottom corner to a top corner, not from top to bottom- with the box open. You can scroll corner to corner if you have just the corners open and the box hidden. With the box open though except from bottom corner to top corner, everything goes though the box. Even when the cursor is at the signal meter, which is almost touching the bottom left corner app, you have to go up to the box and then left. Also, when entering the box from corner apps, the cursor goes to some strange positions.
From the upper left corner app with the box open, either a right or a down motion will take you to the upper left box app. Makes sense. From the upper right corner app, a left motion will take you to the upper right corner app, but a down motion will take you to the third app from left in the box. Even if you access the upper right corner app with an upward motion from the upper right box app, a downward motion will not return you there, but rather to the third box app from the left. Strange.
From the bottom left of the box, you can access the bottom left corner app with a leftward motion., but not a downward one. A downward motion takes you to the double arrow and then to the signal meter. Same on the bottom right of the box; a right motion takes you to the corner app, a downward motion takes you to the double arrow. For consistency’s sake, I would have removed the option to access the upper corner app with an upward motion. It makes me think I should be able to access the bottom corners with a downward motion from the box. That whole ordeal to me is a killer. It takes time and attention to figure out where the cursor is going and that doesn’t work for me.
Shortcuts are included. All of your typical ones are there; B for browser, U for calculator, etc. A couple I found that I like, W for BeWeather (not sure if it works for all weather apps); and S for search. I don’t use search as I like to have everything where I know it is, but I find that a handy shortcut just in case.
This is my review. These are my thoughts. It’s about how I use my device. I wouldn’t be able to use the theme as a daily driver. There’s too much not knowing where the cursor is going without thought. I’ve proved that I can use it over days’ time, but it definitely takes more time and attention than my typically used theme. It’s a visually striking theme and that’s what some people want, but not for me. I found myself using the all apps screen far more than the theme apps which to me begs the question, why use the theme?
You can find XAPIRE and XAPIRE Dark in BlackBerry App World. Dark is currently still free as of this writing. Walker decided to expand the Freemium deal until January 3rd, 2012. Standard XAPIRE is set at $3.99. Thank you to Walker Themes for offering out premium themes for free. Acts of charity never go unnoticed.