MotionApps Classic is an emulator that allows webOS-based devices like the Palm Pre to run legacy Palm OS software. This brings two benefits: more software, and it lets those who aren’t ready to give up on the Palm OS to hold on a bit longer.
A Palm Inside Your Pre
There will be no more Palm OS devices, but I know there are some who aren’t ready to let go yet. I know that many in this group are curious if this emulator will let them have the best of both worlds — Palm OS and webOS.
The short answer is yes… mostly.
Classic creates a virtual Palm on the webOS device. This acts like a separate PDA inside the Pre — one that Palm OS users will immediately recognize. Truly, the emulated Palm looks and acts like a real one.
Of course, there are a few obvious differences. The Palm Pre lacks hardware buttons and a D-pad, so these have to appear on screen. Also, all the Internet-related applications have been stripped out — there’s no web browser or email software. Frankly, I don’t miss them. Blazer was terrible browser, while the default email app was just tolerable.
More importantly, all the PIM (personal information management) software is still there, and MotionApps makes transferring your data to Classic a snap. It took me about 5 minutes to have all my Palm OS contacts, calendar entries, and memos running on my Pre.
If you don’t want to use the webOS calendar, and keep depending on the Palm OS one, you can. You’ll be notified of your events, even if Classic isn’t running. When an alarm goes off, the app launches itself, and you get a notification window, just as if you were using a Tungsten E.
Unfortunately, there is a missing feature in this setup. The address book acts like it is on a PDA, not a smartphone; this means that you can’t easily call a phone number from it. Instead, you have to manually enter the phone number in the webOS dialing app.
This brings up an important point: the webOS smartphone and the Palm OS PDA don’t directly share calendar or contacts information, nor is there be a way to directly synchronize these databases.
In addition, HotSync is also not a part of Classic, so it isn’t possible for the virtual Palm to synchronize with the Palm Desktop running on a PC.
UPDATE: MotionApps has announced plans to add HotSync support to this emulator. Naturally, I’m not able to test this, as this feature isn’t available yet.
In addition, Palm OS software running in Classic is able to access the Internet through the Pre’s connection. This means that it is possible to indirectly sync calendar and contacts information. I have to admit, though, I haven’t tried this.
The most significant disadvantage of introducing a new operating system is that there’s very little software available at the launch, and the webOS is no exception. The catalog of apps is growing, but it will be a long time before it rivals what available for the Palm OS now.
MotionApps Classic helps close this gap, especially when it comes to gaming. At this point, the selection of webOS games is pathetic, but a wide array of emulated Palm OS games is available.
I tried out Astraware Bejeweled 2 — one of the most popular games of all time — and I have no complaints. This emulator offers impressive performance, at least as good as that offered by any physical device.
To test this, I tried out something a bit more demanding: Astraware’s My Little Tank. This ran quite well, though it did bring to light something you should be aware of. As I said earlier, the Palm Pre lacks the physical keys many games depend on, and the on-screen ones are much harder to use in a fast-paced game. When playing MLT, I had a tendency to accidentally hit the Home button every few minutes, booting me out of the game.
There another potential problem you should be aware of, too. Palm OS software was generally written to be controlled with a stylus, while the Pre has no stylus, instead depending on fingertip control. This means that there are sometimes elements on the screen you need to select that are too small for your fingers. Fortunately, Classic lets you enlarge portions of the screen, so you can easily tap on even the tiniest checkbox.
I don’t mean to give the impression that the only kind of Palm OS software that MotionApps Classic offers is games — there’s actually a wide variety. If you go to the Brighthand Software Store and look at apps for the Palm Pre, you’ll see a list of titles that have either been tested or certified by MotionApps to run in Classic. This includes well-known products like Agendus, HanDBase, BugMe!, and Laridian MyBible. But don’t think these are the only apps that will run in this emulator — none of the Astraware games I tried out appear on this list, and they all ran fine.
There are a few categories that you won’t find, most notably video players. Classic currently doesn’t support this type of software.
Installing Palm OS apps onto the emulated Palm is relatively simple, but it does require you to use a separate Windows/Mac/Linux PC.
I think of MotionApps Classic as a transitional aid. It will help long-time Palm OS users switch to the webOS, and help Palm, Inc. get the webOS off the ground.
What it’s not going to do is turn a Palm Pre into a Treo. At the very least, you’re still going to need to use the webOS’s email software and web browser, and I’d suggest everyone who gets a Pre get accustomed to their device’s default user interface. I promise, before you know it, you’ll wonder what you ever saw in the Palm OS.
For gamers with a Palm Pre, Classic looks like a no-brainer to me — $30 seems like a bargain to convert your smartphone into a decent gaming platform, even if you never use any of the PIM features.
If you tried this app out in the first month after it’s release and were unhappy with it, I don’t blame you — the earliest versions weren’t very good. But the company reset all the trial periods, so you can test it out again, which I highly recommend.