Educational Value Rating:
Condensing the Solar System into a 3.5" display is a tall order - even with the iPhone 4's generous 326ppi display or the iPad's 9.5" display. This didn't stop the space enthusiasts at Vito Technology, it just made their task a little more challenging.
Solar Walk is a universal application, meaning it now works for both iPhone and iPad. The iPad's A4 processor takes on the application with zero trouble, and the bigger screen makes all the difference. The iPhone version works well and satisfies the space experience momentarily, but the iPad's screen just never ceases to amaze you. You've got the whole world in your hands.
When you first open Solar Walk, you're greeted with music (by Astropilot) that Neil Armstrong himself probably expected to hear as he took those first steps on the moon some forty-one years ago. A melancholy flow of notes immerses you into the solar system and you realize that this application is like no other. Witnessing the orbiting of planets in real time is an unearthing experience, one that makes you both more appreciative and more knowledgeable. No screenshot can capture either the music or video. The official video, available in HD, reveals all:
In short, Solar Walk offers 3D model of the Solar System with an educational purpose. There are two main sections to the application:
Orbital Patterns & Time
Fully comprehend what Galileo discovered in 1610 by viewing the orbital patterns of the planets and moons in our Solar System. Solar Walk pieces together each planet in real time and real location to give a fully accurate view of where things are, where things have been and where things are going in space. Simply tap on the planet that you wish to explore closer up. If the planet has moons, you'll also see their exact orbit pattern against the planet you've selected.
You can both fast forward and rewind time with a simple flick, or manually choose the date and time to the second. Throughout all of this, the planets continue to orbit and rotate at their correct speeds. Simply drag your finger from left to right to move where you see. One example of just how detailed this application is can be seen in the planets themselves. All planets have accurate lightness and darkness against the sun, and both craters and clouds are visible from planets that have them. The design and modelling are impressive.
Every planet contains a rich amount of information. General information on the planet followed by a number of facts and figures make for interesting reading. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 91 pounds on Venus. A day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus (243 days and 224.7 days respectively) compared to the Earth. The facts are both scientific and fun to read (astronomers would say there isn't a difference). See the screenshots provided for more information.
Diving deeper, an additional two areas of information are provided: internal structure and some missions. The internal structure section removes a segment of the planet to show how it looks inside, and then explains what layer is made up of what property. Comparisons to Earth are frequent in order to grasp just how similar or different planets are. The missions section explains - with pictures - a number of launches from Earth to the planet in question. A brief overview of the mission is provided.
[caption id="attachment_40500" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="iPhone 3G on the left, iPhone 4 on the right."]
There are differences between the app on an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4. For instance, note how on the iPhone 4 (right) there are city lights and darker colours on the dark side of Earth, whereas on the iPhone 3G it merely looks like a shadow has been cast. It runs a little slow on the iPhone 3G, but on the 3GS and iPhone 4 it's as smooth as - well - I can't think of anything smooth in space, but there's no hiccups or jerkiness to complain of. The loading times are to be expected: on the 3G it took some 28 seconds, but this was cut to just 5 seconds on the iPhone 4. The iPad clocked in at 9 seconds.
The best part about Solar Walk is its 3D capability. Wearing 3D glasses immerses you in a way that makes you never want to put it down. Some darker planets don't work that well, but the Earth in particular is something special to see. If the iPad wasn't so thin, I'd be trying to reach round and touch Earth from behind. 3D glasses are not provided with the iPad, but as more and more applications (Flight Control now has a 3D level) make generous use of the display's size and 3D technology, they are a purchase all iPad users should consider buying.
For $2.99 (£1.79) Solar Walk is excellent value for money, particularly if you own an iPad. The application's only shortfall is its content. Whilst everything is visually pleasing, this application is filed under Education. There is no general information on the Solar System itself, nothing is to be found on the likes of the ozone layer of the Earth and objects like the Asteroid Belt are missing. Despite all my searching - I couldn't find Pluto. The existing areas of content could be enhanced with links to more information, or even explanatory videos found on YouTube. Nonetheless, for £1.79, it contains an impressive amount of workmanship. What Solar Walk lacks in content it more than makes up for in design. And for that alone, it's worth the price tag.
The photos below are taken from various devices. The first nine are from an iPad, the next six from an iPhone 3G. The penultimate photo is from an iPhone 4, and the final photo (seen above also) highlights the differences.