Ruttensoft Homescreen Designer for Smartphone v1.3.2

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INTRODUCTION

    The ability to customize
the homescreen is one of the more interesting features
of a Windows Smartphone.  The only problem is
that without a fair knowledge of XML and a good
understanding of the commands to display certain
values it is fairly difficult to create a new
homescreen on your own.  It can even be a task
sometimes to edit an existing homescreen to add
something or even change a minor thing.
    To
each would be homescreen designer comes the aid of
Ruttensoft’s Homescreen Designer.  Can it
really be the solution to the XML coding woes or
will it just create a whole new area of confusion?  Read on to find out.

WHAT’S HOT

    This marks the third version (version
1.3.2) of Homescreen
Designer.  Ruttensoft has added many new
features and fixed a few bugs this time.  Most
importantly is that the program can now be used with
Smartphone 2002.  They also included support
for a few new plugins including Oxios ToDo List.

SETUP

    Just run the install file like a typical
program, but you must have

.NET Framework 1.1
installed to use the program.  The
Smartphone does not need to be connected during the installation, just to upload the homescreen.

PROGRAM FEATURES

    When you start the program you’ll be
treated to a pop up bubble telling you the program
is loading and then to a load screen and an icon
will appear in the system tray.  Oddly enough
this icon appears to do absolutely nothing. 
Left or right clicking on it has no effect at all.

(all images link to
higher resolution)


This is the default screen you’ll
see when you load the software.  From here can
you select which section you want to design. 
The default is the homescreen design where you can
control what plugins that are used.  The other
boxes along the left side will have the general
settings for how the file will be saved, information
relevant to what actions are currently going on
(such as alerting you that a plugin can not be on
the same line as another), the support/thanks
section, a multiple selection which I personally
could never get anything to appear in at all. 
You will also notice a bug where the support/thanks
and the multiple selection boxes are displayed yet
again for some unknown reason.

The standard plugins are the
iconbar (what sits at the top and is the only one on
by default), MRU (most recently used programs),
Time, Date, Carrier (T-Mobile for example), Profile,
Message, All day event, and the Missed Call
notification screen.  A brief example of each
is to follow.

The 3rd party plugins are Fizz
Traveler (for weather), Oxios Tasks (From Oxios ToDo
List – a more advanced version of Tasks), Slideshow
plugin, Media player plugin, Analog Clock, and the
alarm plugin.  One nice thing is that Homescreen
Designer will automatically install these on your
device for you.

This
is the MRUS plugin.  The size of the icons and
the number of items in the MRU list can be changed
along with the position.


A very nice touch is that it is
possible to use the mouse to actually drag the
location of the plugins around the screen with your
mouse to help you position them.


The time plugin.  You can
choose either military time (22:00) or regular time
(10:00 pm).  This comes in handy in editing an
existing homescreen.  As with the rest of the
plugins you can choose the color of the text. 
You can do this individually or using the general
setting at the top right to set all the text colors
the same.


Next
up is the date plugin.  The date can be
displayed in short or long format. 
The format (DD.MM.YY, MM/DD/YY) is determined by the
regional settings on the phone itself.


Now
we can move on to the carrier plugin.  The
default prefix is "Carrier:" but this could changed
to anything or just flat out be removed to allow for
more space.


The profile plugin. 
As with the carrier plugin the prefix text can be set
and the width of the display can also be set to
control the amount of room to allow for the display.


Now
lets look at the message plugin.  From
here you can choose to have SMS, MMS, and/or E-mail
amounts displayed on the screen.  Something to note at this point is that as you put plugins in the
program will automatically fit them to where there
is space for them.


With
the calendar plugin
you can control how much of the calendar information is
displayed on the screen.



Another calendar plugin is the all day plugin to
display all day events.  It
behaves very similarly to the profile plugin.


The
final standard plugin is one of the most overlooked
in designing a theme, the missed call screen. 
It’s always very nice to have one of these and adds
something special to any homescreen design. 
From here you
can control only the color and size of the text as
well as using a special background separate from the
regular homescreen background.

The 3rd party plugins function
very much in the same way.  The media player
plugin has problems on some devices (such as my
Audiovox SMT5600) that will require a reboot of the
device if they’re used at all.  This would be a
nice way to add one of these third party plugins to
a homescreen you already use since that isn’t a
simple task to undertake without more background
knowledge.


This is the change color menu. 
From here you can change the colors of the display
in every way possible for the general screens as
well as customize the colors of the start menu. 
One very nice thing with this as with the homescreen
menu is that it actively displays a sample of what
you’re doing so it’s very easy to determine if a
theme will work together.  One thing of note is
the fact that there are two background left and
background right.  One controls the top and the
other the bottom of each line.



Another all too missed aspect of a theme design are
the shutdown and startup screens.  From here you can choose the images to display at
startup and shutdown of the device.  Each
screen is a different box on the right side of the
screen and rolling over the box will show you a
sample of what it will look like.



Furthering the control of how every screen is
displayed is the system screen menu.  Here
you can control the all the screen’s use of images. 
The colors are set back in the color control window.


From the submit menu
you can upload your creation to MoDaCo.com or to
Ruttensoft’s board to share it other Smartphone
users.  Sharing is good.


Here is the program
with the "What do you want to design?" box not
hidden.  It was hidden for most of the review
because of sizing issues.


This is the settings
menu that controls the language, skin, and theme of
the program.


Here is an example of
a different theme and skin just for an example.


And one more example
but this time in German.


For an example of what
you can whip up here is a homescreen I designed
while using the program.


And the color settings
of my unfinished project.  This is just to give
you an idea of the 4 color background option for the
start menu.


While using this
program I had a heck of a time with the size of the
window.  I use 1024 x 768, which according to
Ruttensoft is the minimum requirement, and the
program was just too long as can be seen in the
screen capture.  This along with the dynamic
horizontal size of the window was probably the most
annoying thing about the program.  It works
very well and allows a great deal of detail and
customization but the user interface for the program
is just poor.



HELP SUPPORT

    In a new trend for support
the program has no in program help.  Instead it
turns you to two websites.  The first is

Ruttensoft’s own message board
in which you can
report bugs/flaws to the developers and get help
from them, as well as other users, on problems. 
Then there is 
PocketPC.ch
which appears to be almost entirely in German and
doesn’t provide as much help as their own site from
what I could figure out.  While I applaud the
idea of a forum to get feedback on a product and to
get help it shouldn’t be the only form of help
available.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    To use Homescreen Designer you need a
computer with .NET Framework with a display of at
least 1024×768 at 96DPI, although from my experience
you need more than this, and a Smartphone using
Windows Mobile 2003 or Smartphone 2002 to upload the
homescreens to.

BUGS AND WISHES

   

My main wish would be for a better user interface. 
It’s just bad and needs some work.  The general
layout is fine but it needs to be improved upon. 
I’d like to see some usable templates or some nice
images included with the download.  All the
while I was testing this software I kept thinking
how great it would be if I had some good art to work
with.  The dimensions of a Smartphone’s screen
aren’t very accommodating to a lot of the images
found on the net.  The other thing I wanted to
see was a color select tool, much like what is found
in a lot of art/photo software, to select a color
from an image in order to match colors between
things such as the background and the menu or text.

PURCHASING

   
Homescreen Designer can be purchased from

Ruttensoft’s website
or

smartphone.net
for $12.  Try it before you
buy it by downloading the trial version

here
.

PROS

  • Can create
    an impressive homescreen without XML/Smartphone
    knowledege
  • WYSIWYG
    editing
  • Price is
    very reasonable

CONS

  • The user
    interface falls short in some areas
  • Lack of any support or
    help other than a forum
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    When I was presented the opportunity to
use this program I was very excited about it. 
I have at least two dozen homescreens on my phone
and I rotate through them regularly.  The idea
that I could sit down and customize some of the
homescreens I used and even make my own was just
outstanding.  It was fairly easy and intuitive
after spending a few minutes with it.  The only
area I had any confusion on was in regards to saving
and uploading the file to my Smartphone but I
figured it out.  The interface needs work and
I’d like to see some help in addition to the
forum.
    Ruttensoft set out to deliver a product to
make homescreen designing easier for everyone, to
remove the confusion and hassle of editing XML code. 
They also managed to remove the need for extensive
testing by having it show you what you’re making as
opposed to having to upload it to a Smartphone to
see if it worked.  They accomplished this goal
very well in my opinion.  Ruttensoft’s
Homescreen Designer has made it easier for everyone
to create a good and rich homescreen without needing
to learn XML and the codes for the Smartphone.

 

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