There are more custom skins out in the wild for Android than I care to count. From HTC’s Sense to Samsung’s TouchWiz, consumers have an absolutely massive amount of choice. The only problem? All of these custom interfaces are only available with certain phones. If you’re running stock TouchWiz, you can’t simply switch to HTC Sense, as this is only available on HTC devices such as the HTC Desire. What do you do, therefore, when you want a change of scenery?
*Spark for Android will run on most Android devices, and offers a completely different home screen option for users who want a change. It’s free to download from the market, and has certainly tempted me, so let’s take a look at it and see if it offers a better experience, or whether the grass is simply greener when something brand new is introduced.
When you open Spark, you’ll be presented with an all new home screen layout for your phone. You will have a weather information pane at the top of the screen that uses your current location to give you the latest weather for where you are, and a few application shortcuts below this. By default, there are links to your messaging application, as well as your email and calendar.
The main difference between Spark and the default Android home screen is that you have only one screen, not several, although you can scroll down to view more information. Underneath your application shortcuts, you will find both the latest news, which can be expanded so you can view the latest stories, and social network information as well. More on this in a second!
At the bottom of the screen, you have quick access to your phone app, the app draw, and web browser through a pretty nice looking launcher.
I mentioned a little bit on social network information in the last paragraph, and it’s a point that deserves expanding on, because it’s one of my favourite features of the Spark home screen. In normal use, I have two social widgets: one for Twitter and another for Facebook. Although this is fine, when it comes to updating my status, I tend to paste the same status in to both widgets to update, which is more time consuming than it should be.
With Spark installed, you can select the “Post your status…” pane, and update your social status for both Twitter and Facebook at the same time. If you don’t want to update your status on one, simply unselect the necessary button at the top, and only the one remaining highlighted will be updated. Couldn’t be simpler, and it’s a lot more convenient than it is otherwise.
In principle, Spark is full of great ideas. It offers a new GUI for your home screen with useful links directly available to you, but is it usable as a full time home screen? Right now, I would have to say no. Whilst testing on a Nexus One, the interface seemed really sticky and sluggish when I was trying to scroll up and down, or left and right between my applications in the app drawer.
I had to move my finger across the screen slowly from right to left or top to bottom for my gestures to be understood by the application, otherwise I would end up selecting something I didn’t want or need, and after 10 minutes, things got a little tiresome.
You have to keep in mind that *Spark Home Screen App for Android is still in Beta, so bugs are to be expected. In principal, I love the ideas that the developers are bringing with this application, but they need to do some serious work refining the user’s experience in getting around all of those ideas. Give it 6 months, and I’m sure we’ll have a killer app on our hands, and one capable of replacing the stock home screen launcher.
If you want to check out *Spark for yourself, you can search for it on the Android Market or scan the QR code (square barcode) below and download it for free.