* Prices may differ from that shownMore Offers
Have you ever been out walking at night and wondered what that bright star is in the sky or what that little cluster of light is called? If so, then Star Walk is the app for you.
It's one of those clever little apps that makes novel use of a standard iPhone feature - in this case the GPS function. Using this, Star Walk works out where you are in the world and the location of the stars in relation to you. It can then provide you with details of the stars that you can see in the night sky above you, identifying them and, in some cases giving you information about them.
The app works in a very simple way. Using the iPhone's screen as a viewfinder, you simply hold the phone up to the night sky. It will then present you with an image of the stars that you should be able to see, together with their names and the names of the surrounding constellations. It even tells you the location of things you won't be able to see with the naked eye (such as Pluto or very different planets) and points out the location of various satellites or other pieces of space equipment (such as the location of the Hubble Telescope).
Where stars are grouped together to form part of a constellation (such as Orion or The Plough) the app will highlight the stars that belong to that group and join them up with a solid white line so that you can see the shape that gives them their name. The images coming through the phone are sharp and clear and it's really easy to match up what you see on the screen with the stars above you. Even if you have no knowledge of astronomy, this app makes it easy to identify a fixed point that you are sure about (the moon, for example) and then slowly fan out to work out what the stars around it must be.
As you might expect from an app that is centred on images, sound is relatively limited. There are a couple of beeps to confirm button presses, but that is all. There used to be a slightly superfluous tune played constantly in the background but, thankfully, recent updates have dropped that. This isn't an app that needs flashy aural presentation, though, and the excellent sky maps more than make up for any lack of sound.
I have to confess, I've never really been interested in astronomy that much and beyond the main constellations that everyone knows couldn't tell one star from another. Going outside at night with a book and a torch to try and identify them just seemed too clumsy and boring to me, so I've never really done learned what was above me.
This app has given me a genuine interest in what's around me and it's useful to be able to grab your phone, point it at the sky and confirm that yet, indeed; that slightly pink, tiny blob just above you is, indeed, Mars. Whether you are a keen astronomer or a casual observer, this is a great app to have. It's a real pleasure to use and is instantly accessible to anyone, since it essentially operates like a point and click camera that uses the viewfinder to map the stars. You can move around this map of the heavens either by simply moving the phone (in which case it will update your position via GPS) or dragging your fingers across the screen to rotate the image. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into making this app as simple as possible to operate.
For most people this will be more than enough. However, if you are more serious about your astronomy, there are plenty of advanced features. There's information on the elevation of the various planets, for example, or the current "fullness" of the moon. You can search for individual constellations or pull up information about them as well as applying various filters to the images (X-Ray, Gamma Ray) to improve the visibility of more distant stars (on the screen, obviously; not in real life!)
To be honest, I don't really understand most of these more advanced settings do or why you might want to apply them (and I suspect that this will be the case for most people). Even so, I don't feel cheated. For the price (£1.99) the app is great even when only used at a very basic level.
There are a few downsides which stop it from being the perfect app - some minor, some a little more serious.
First of all, as with many apps, one of the first things the app does is ask your permission to send you messages, updates etc. Normally with this sort of app, I'm happy to say "yes", secure in the knowledge I can change my mind later on. Not so with this app. It sends through pictures taken by astronomers of various celestial bodies on a fairly regular basis. Although these are pretty, they don't really interest me, since I don't know what I'm looking at. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, there is no way you can stop them coming through, either within the app itself or via the iPhone's Settings menu. Worse, the only way to clear the update notification is to go into the app and actually view any new pictures which is annoying.
A slightly more serious issue is caused by the weather. Most of the time, this app is highly accurate. A few times, however, (particularly in high winds), this accuracy has suffered. The image on the iPhone has been a little shaky out by about half a centimetre or so. This might not sound like a lot, but when you are trying to identify one tiny star from amongst a cluster of dozens of others, it can be problematic
Finally, a potentially big issue is data usage. Since it is permanently using the GPS feature to calculate both your position and the position of the stars around you, it is very bandwidth hungry. If you are on a limited data contract, you might find you have to limit your use of this app to avoid going over your data allowance. Of course, if you have access to a wireless internet connection, this is less of an issue, since you can use that instead.
At just £1.99, this really is a cracking buy, whether you are a keen amateur astronomer or just have a mild curiosity in the layout of the night sky. I never thought I would be that interested in stars, but since I bought this app, I've frequently found myself looking up and wondering "what is that cluster of stars". Now I can find out immediately.
© copyright SWSt 2012
Astronomy/star identitficaiton app for the iPhone.