Customize your Windows Mobile SmartPhone home screen and Start Menu

My Smartphone (Cingular 2125) died the other day: actually the phone was fine: the SIM card needed replacing. In the old days, if your phone died you could get help 24 hours a day. Nowadays you have to wait til their service center is open. On the trusty landline phone, they told me to swap SIM cards with my wife's phone to help diagnose the problem, and then told me to go visit the local cell phone store to get a new SIM card.

At the store, I was told I could upgrade my phone quite inexpensively and get a much faster data connection rate for $3/month more. So I got a $50 Samsung Blackjack phone (Microsoft discount), and indeed the data rates seemed quite a bit faster.

The home screen on your SmartPhone (or Pocket PC) can be customized. I didn't like the content or the order that items were displayed. There are items for the Wireless Provider and Date/Time, email, appointments, call in progress, etc.

Because of the limited number of horizontal lines available, each time I wanted to check for email, I'd have to turn on the phone, then scroll down to the email item. There was an ad for email that always showed up, but I didn't want it taking up valuable home screen real estate.

I wanted to put the email and appointments at the top, and remove the ad for the provider's mail service. I also wanted to change the font of the provider and the date/time, so that I could see more on the screen.

From Start->Settings->Display->Home Screen, you can choose from amongst some pre-provided home screen layouts. These are actually just files in a folder on your phone.

Connect your SmartPhone via ActiveSync, then from ActiveSync, choose Tools->Explore->Smartphone to open an Explorer window showing the contents of your SmartPhone. You can navigate the content of your phone's folders, copy files, etc.

Go to \Application Data\Home (You might have to go into "My Windows Mobile-Based Device") to see the XML files that you can customize. I copied them all into a new folder on my PC.

Now, in the PC folder, just make a copy of the scheme you'd like to modify. I called mine "Calvin's Phone.xml". Edit that XML file using any text editor. Visual Studio's editor is nice, due to intellisense and syntax coloring.

Look at the XML of the various schemes to get ideas of what can be customized.

After editing, copy the modified one back to the phone (drag & drop from Explorer on the PC to Explorer on the Phone)

On the phone, you might have to switch color scheme too to get the home display to change immediately, but I didn't have to reset the phone to see the changes.

You can also create shortcuts that will show up on your phone's Start Menu. Navigate to the desired target, click Copy, then paste into \Windows\Start Menu folder. You can rename it as you like. You might have to soft reset the phone to see the change.

Don't forget you can set Speed Dial to access any application quickly with a single button push.

You can change the order of the items in your Start Menu, as well as change the way it's viewed.

Start Menu->Visual Studio 2008->Remote Tools\Remote Registry Editor (also note Remote Process Viewer, Remote File Viewer (also in VS 2005))

Start Remote Registry Editor and go to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Shell\StartMenu and change the Order value.

The items listed in this value will appear in the order you specify and before all other items.

If you get a storage card (highly recommended) you might put you’re "My Documents" there, so you don't use up your device's precious memory.

You can change the location of "My Documents" to the storage card using 2 methods:

  1. HKLM\System\StorageManager\Profiles\SDMemory and change the value of "Folder" to "My Documents" Then soft reset.
  2. HKLM\System\Explorer\Shell Folders\My Documents and change the value of "My Documents" from "\My Documents" to "\Storage Card\My Documents"

The first method calls the entire storage card "My Documents", so you can't put a "Program Files" on the card that's outside of "My Documents"

The second is supposed to map just "My Documents" to \Storage Card\My Documents", so you can still have other folders "like Program Files" on the Storage Card that are not in "My Documents".

Beware: Some applications use the hard coded "\My Documents" rather than ask Window for the location of the current user's Documents folder.

See also:

Customizing the Microsoft Smartphone 2002 Home Screen

Creating your own web browser for your SmartPhone

Windows SmartPhone can run my Web Apps