Review: Star Chart
Having all these maps and navigation applications is all well and good if the sun is up or you are on a road, but what happens when you want to get off the beaten track? When you want to do less 'over there' and more 'out there'. When you look up into the star filled night sky, why not look up with Escape Velocity's Star Chart.
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11
The advantage of using your smartphone instead of a regular map or star-chart is the sensors built into your phone. Take a detailed map of the night sky, assume that the time is right on the smartphone (syncing your time with the network is always advised), have the GPS work out exactly where you are on the Earth's surface, and finally the accelerometers and gyro can work out where you are pointing your phone... and you get an annotated screen of exactly what you are looking it.
It's the same technology as the augmented reality of Nokia's City Lens, but I suspect I'm going to be using Star Chart a lot more than City Lens.
Star Chart is very fluid, and one of the easiest ways to see this is by placing my Lumia 820 onto a flat surface. Thanks to the slight bevel in the back casing for the QI wireless charging hardware, my 820 spins on the spot. And if I spin round the Windows Phone when Star Chart is running, the display keeps up with the rotation (in essence, the stars 'under the floor' stay in the same relative place according to my eye, even though the phone and screen is spinning at around 60 rpm.
In terms of accuracy and interpretation of the sensor data, Star Chart is as good as any effort I've seen on all three major mobile OS platforms.
Star Chart also has a good range of data, with over 5000 stars in its database, the major planets of the Solar System, the 88 main constellations (and the gorgeous artwork based on Johannes Hevelius that is instantly recognisable), and the deep sky objects of the Messier collection.
Not sure what something is? Tap it and look up the database to find out more. Want to find Venus? Use the search box and you'll be guided to it. Star Chart may not have a wealth of options to tweak (and those that it does have are listed on one handy settings screen) but for someone curious about the night sky it does all that it needs to do, does it well, and does it smoothly. And there's a handy red tint mode to preserve your night vision as well!
Something for the professionals? Nope, they're all busy with radio telescopes and never leave their monitors and look up, so catering for the eager amateur is a much better space to be in for this application.
It also looks wonderful, with smooth gradients of colour, the fading in and out of the artwork, and little touches such as the text always staying aligned to the horizon, no matter where you point your phone - which makes for some interestingly angled screenshots but works well in the real world.
Perhaps the only disconcerting point about Star Chart is that the trial version is more of a rolling demo than an actual trial. It steps through all the different viewing modes of Star Chart, allowing you to see the star chart, the constellations, the Messier objects, and so on, in sequence. What it won't let you do is try out any of these functions out of sequence, or pause the transitions so you can do a little more exploring on your own.
It does make sense from a developer's point of view. You want to convert as many people from trials to full price as possible. I would love to see the numbers on Star Chart's conversion to the full price $2.49/£1.99 and how they relate to other less restrictive trial versions of applications.
Star Chart is a great choice if you need to navigate around the night sky. As for directions, the app won't help you with any turn by turn routing, but I can help you out with that. Point Star Chart up at the sky. Star on the left. Head out there, and turn left in the morning.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at