Ask anyone who's ever used a Windows Mobile smartphone about whether they enjoyed the experience and you'll probably get a mixed answer. "The phone's great," they'll probably say, "but it's not very easy to use." It's a response I sympathise with, having owned and used a TyTN II in anger for the past five months.
I love the keyboard, the push email, the GPS and the Exchange Server synchronisation - they help me keep in touch with work at all times, but I yearn for an interface that's a little more intuitive. And it's not just the fiddly menus that grate. It's the small things too, like the fact that the main contact search doesn't search the full database properly, and that the phone number fields in contacts don't default to numbers. It looks pretty dull too, in comparison to the iPhone's fantastically slick OS.
But Windows Mobile does have one major strength - and that's the sheer number and breadth of applications available for the platform. As well as stand alone titles such as TomTom or CoPilot and a plethora of handy utilities, there are programs such as this - Spb's Mobile Shell 2.0 - which are aimed at giving the interface a lick of paint.
I first came across Spb Mobile shell on a Glofiish phone last year. That was a cut down version that simply added an extra menu to the Today screen, but this version is much more powerful.
You still get the same basic plug-in as on the Glofiish phone - it's the most basic of Mobile Shell's enhancements, but a useful one nonetheless. This installs a tabbed menu, just below the time and date display, which provides quick access - via finger-sized buttons - to a program launcher, a world time and next alarm display, a five-day weather forecast and a quick dial panel where you can store your five favourite contacts.
The impressive thing about this, quite apart from the extra features and usability it adds to the otherwise fiddly, stylus-focused Today screen, is that it's highly configurable. You can add tabs, and have the tab content auto-hide or remain on display as you see fit. This part of the Mobile Shell also allows the two soft buttons at the bottom of the Windows Mobile screen to be changed - not something you can do without getting your hands dirty and tweaking the registry in the standard version.