The app stores these days are no stranger to astronomy and star-gazing apps. There are almost too many to choose from, with premium and free-to-download apps weighing in about equally in number. Star Walk – Astronomy Guide has quite a bit to do to differentiate itself from the many other star-gazing apps, then, and this review’s purpose is to look at whether the app does this, if at all. This review covers the app’s main features – from its augmented-reality functionality to the content it provides its users – as well as peeking at its interface, design, and features distinguishing it from the many other astronomy apps in existence today.
A Fairly Standard Astronomy App
As far as paid-for astronomy apps go, Star Walk is pretty hard to criticise harshly. Its interface isn’t anything new – you’re essentially presented with a map of the various objects in the night’s sky when you open up the app. Star Walk provides an accurate rendering of the many objects – stars, nebula, planets, and satellites – that exist in the night’s sky. It does this by utilising the GPS and compass of your mobile device. It also has an augmented reality feature whereby you can merge live footage from your camera with the app’s presentation of the night’s sky, effectively overlaying reality with more information than you could ever get with the naked eye alone, and with more facts at your disposal than using a telescope.
This kind of functionality isn’t ground-breaking, however. This kind of augmented-reality overlay has become a standard expectation in astronomy apps these days, particularly ones that cost money up front. Moreover, if you own Star Walk 2, then this original has less to offer you in terms of content and also design/interface. It’s still a great app, however, with features that make it very useful to budding astronomers and those with a light interest in what goes on in the night sky.
Your biggest interaction with the app will be through the main screen, which is a standard, non-augmented-reality presentation of the objects sitting in the night’s sky. Move your mobile device around, and the app will calculate the device’s orientation and also your GPS location, so it can provide you with an accurate presentation of the arrangement of stars, planets, and other celestial bodies in the sky.
There are several options available to you that make the app a little more fun to use. Firstly, you can toggle which objects are visible on the star map, such as constellations and satellites. Being able to toggle these items means that you can focus more on what you wish to observe rather than have a cluttered star map in front of you. Each of the Zodiac constellations are also overlaid with visually-pleasing artwork to make them easier to see, too (see EarthSky’s “What Is the Zodiac?” for more information on the nature of the 12 widely-known constellations in the night’s sky).
Further functionality is quite sparse compared with rival apps like Stellarium or Mobile Observatory, but other welcome features include Night mode, which bathes the interface in a red glow in order to preserve your night vision should you be standing in the dark, and also the ability to view the arrangement of the sky at any given moment in time.
One of the most unique aspects of the app, and one that isn’t featured as standard in many astronomy apps, is the ability to change the colour of the display to represent various kinds of radiation: gamma, X-Ray, visible spectrum, Infrared, and Radio are among those available for your selection.
A Great App, Though Comparatively Light on Features
The main features of Star Walk aren’t going to differentiate it from its competition. The Picture of the Day feature – akin to having a glance at the beautiful shots often found in Astronomy Now magazine – is a nice bonus however. Otherwise, Star Walk is fairly standard as far as astronomy apps go: augmented reality and star-map overlays are, after all, nothing new. However, it’s still a solid app offering plenty of information on the various celestial bodies in the night sky. Its interface is fairly polished (though the font used isn’t the easiest to read or the most professional-looking by a long way), and there is only a small amount of lag and general stuttering when adjusting the star map on your screen.
Truth be told, Star Walk has been surpassed by its sequel, Star Walk 2, but one thing that has to be said about it is that it’s a solid astronomy app with desirable features and an up-front cost. This is in contrast to the further transactions offered in Star Walk 2, though said app is comparatively heavier in features and superior in its design.