Version Reviewed: 1.5
Graphics / Sound [rating:5/5]
iPhone Integration [rating:4/5]
User Interface [rating:4/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:4/5]
As a young boy, like many others, I was obsessed with space. In spite of great enthusiasm, my efforts with telescopes and encyclopedias were usually less than stellar. Star Walk is truly beautiful stargazing application that provides a less frustrating entry to the world of astronomy. It's also a handy reference for those who have already been initiated. When embarking on your Star Walk, you are greeted by a soft blanket of stars and the shimmer of the Milky Way. With a simple pinch or swipe the stars loom closer and dance about with abandon. Constellation shapes and lens glare from the bright light of the sun add to the lovely portrayal of nature that is provided by this application. These first impressions, easily attained, are really what gives the app its vitality.
Navigating the Interface
Beyond the simulated view of the stars, each corner of the application contains a control icon to further extend the application. These control the settings, activate search, provide additional info about any object and and change the time.
The time icon allows you to extend their control of star viewing into the past and future. Once activated, a panel drops down and you can flip through years, months, days and time easily. In most applications I'd prefer to use a standard iphone rotary interface, but in this one the interface is transparent and allows you to watch the sky smoothly change as you rapidly flip through time.
The info button pops up when you select any object in the sky. Tapping the upper-left corner exposes an enlarged view and a short description. If your curiosity extends further, another click launches mobile Safari and sends you to Wikipedia.
Searching for a star, planet, constellation, meteor shower, or deep-sky object is accomplished precisely as would be expected on the platform. Tapping on a magnifying glass icon at the bottom left will bring up a search menu. Filling the search form or selecting from a list will orient the screen to the object in question.
The settings allow for some simple, but useful, customization. A nighttime setting shifts the graphics to red tones, to save your night vision. Constellations and sounds can be turned off, and the stars displayed can be filtered by their brightness in the night sky. Your location can be selected from a list or found by GPS (if you have an iPhone 3G). You can also save bookmarks of any time and place to recall memorable views of the night sky.
There are astronomy applications on the App Store that are geared towards serious amateur and professional astronomers. Some of those have larger libraries of stellar objects and can do things like simulating optics of telescopes. What Star Walk does well is provide a robust experience to those who aren't as serious. There are many little things that it does well. I loved the fact that active meteor showers glitter on the interface, showing you precisely where to watch for falling stars. Little touches like this provide a richness that makes you want to explore the application. I will definitely be sharing this with my six year-old nephew.
My only criticism would be that the application launches Safari to access Wikipedia. This means relaunching Star Walk each time. I'd rather stay within the application whenever possible. As always, cost will be a factor for some. However, this is one of the most reasonable astronomy apps in the store. I've included an older video, that gives a good impression of the visuals:
Anyone who grew up loving the stars or anyone with a little one they'd like to inspire should really make the purchase. A lot of work obviously went into the project and it brilliantly communicates the love its creator has for stargazing. The graphics and smooth performance provide an immersive experience that transcends what one expects of an entry in the Education category. It's great tool to have with you when night finally falls.