And there's more. In addition to the Now screen there are two further elements to Mobile Shell: the SPB Menu and Contacts screens. These can be accessed directly from the Today screen in a number of ways: using the drag-down finger gesture and then moving your finger left or right to select between screens (very slick); by clicking one of the shortcut buttons that run along the bottom of the Now screen; or by using a finger gesture to 'turn the page' between each screen.
SPB Menu is essentially an application launcher, designed to replace the awkward Windows Mobile Start menu. In this view a list of 12 buttons run along the top of the screen allowing access to the 12 most recent applications, and below it six larger icons link you through to a series of sub-screens, with swish animated transitions (new to this version along with the gesture-driven navigation) accompanying each change of screen. The menu is completely configurable too: as well as turning options on or off, you can also add your own menus and sub-menus screens, links to applications and even files.
It sounds simple, but it completely changes the way you navigate through Windows Mobile, though alas once you finally click a button to launch an application, you have to drop back into the Windows Mobile way of doing things. Mobile Shell isn't that clever.
The Contacts view is essentially a quick dial pad with fifteen slots for your favourite numbers. Tap one of these and up pops a screen complete with large buttons that allow you to choose between calling the contact at home, work, on their mobile or sending a text - a lovely touch. A bit more digging, however, reveals the Contacts part of Mobile Shell to be its weakest area. It provides you with an on-screen number pad, for instance, that allows you to use T9 text entry to quickly search through contacts names or numbers, but this keypad doesn't replace the Windows Mobile one - you can't dial numbers that aren't in your contacts list, for instance.
It's a measure of the success of Mobile Shell in other areas, however, that I'm perfectly happy to overlook this small omission (the phone part of Windows Mobile is, after all, one of its easier to use elements) and recommend that anyone using a Windows Mobile smartphone with a touch-screen give this brilliant piece of software a whirl.
It costs a paltry £15 and offers an extremely effective and flexible way of transforming Windows Mobile from clunky beast into something a lot more usable. If it had the option to permanently replace the Windows Mobile Today page with its fantastic Now screen, I'd take it up on its offer without hesitation.