There are countless apps available these days that attempt to piece together regular functions with an augmented reality feature, and this is almost always done for the sake of novelty whilst serving no real or functional purpose. Star Chart, a mobile app from Escapist Games, is a bit different: its augmented reality functionality is central not only to the app’s design, but also its very purpose in the first place.
Star Chart is an ideal tool for anyone with even a remote fascination of the night’s sky and the objects in the deep expanses of space. GPS technology allows the app to present its user with an accurately-calculated, 3D representation of the objects that comprise the night’s sky. There are many apps with this functionality, though, so this review looks at why Star Chart is worth considering over the stiff competition it faces from other talented app developers.
A Map of the Heavens In App Form
Star Chart’s unique selling point is its hyper-polished representation of the night’s sky. Of course its functionality isn’t unique – Mobile Observatory has a similar interface and extreme depth in its star-gazing content, while SkySafari 4 offers an extremely technical (and expensive) solution for professional astronomers– but Star Chart’s high level of detail and polish when it comes to depicting the night sky is paralleled only by Stellarium, and even that’s up for debate since the level of polish in both apps is so incredible high.
Furthermore, there are upgrades in Star Chart that can be applied to the expand the content you’re able to access, but even the free-to-use features make the app a pretty serious contender for one of the most realistic and immersive star-mapping/star-gazing apps available today.
The interface around which the app is built consists of an Augmented Reality experience where your precise location is discerned by the app (or denoted by the user) and used project an accurate mapping of the night’s sky on your screen, and one that moves according to where you’re pointing your device. You can choose to scroll manually, of course, but the real selling point of the app is that it’s effectively a window to the stars, and indeed to increased knowledge about various objects lighting up the night’s sky.
Though there are in-app purchases to be activated here, the most visually impressive aspect of the app is free to experience. This involves the overlaying of wonderful constellation art atop the actual line-connected constellations beneath. The free features of the app also include the ability to tap on objects in order to bring up statistics about them including their distance and positioning on the standardized grid overlay of the night’s sky.
Now we come to the premium features. Developers Escapist Games have slapped a price tag on some of the more technical content of the app. This leaves amateur/novice astronomers to enjoy the basic information about the night’s sky, whilst those looking for more detail can choose to upgrade the features that they receive. The upgrades are comprised of different categories: Extended Solar System, Meteor Showers, Enhanced Constellations, Enhances Messier Catalogue, and the Extended Star Catalogue. Each can be purchased individually, and offer more depth to the Star Chart experience. The Comets enhancement, for example, allows for alerting and tracking of Comets in the night’s sky, while the Enhanced Solar System expands the sky map in order to include more objects. There’s no annoying pop-up ads or pushy alerts to encourage you to upgrade though, so the purchases don’t get in the way of the free parts of the app in any way.
Design and Interface
The app’s design feels very modern, with simple menus that slide in and out of view very smoothly. Each section of the functionality has its own icon, too, adding further polish to the design. Its interface is simple to use, but more importantly, it isn’t glitchy, and it also doesn’t stutter very often, even when you’re using the AR navigation mode and pointing your device between different objects in the sky in quick succession.
Star Chart’s functionality and high-polish design puts it on par with the wonderful Stellarium in most respects. It’s a great app for beginners, and advanced astronomers will benefit greatly from the paid-for upgrades offered through app’s menus. It would be more appealing if there was a one-off charge for the app, however, rather than multiple upgrades. This is the approach used by Distant Suns, which is arguably a better app in terms of both content and in its one-off, up-front payment.