Google’s Project Glass still seems light years away, and while there are many other augmented reality mobile apps out there, most fall short on the promise of a helpful heads-up display experience. Vito Technology’s Star Walk for iPad is a refreshing exception in this field. After playing with it for about a week, it is now my new favorite star-gazing app as well as the new go-to app when I want to show off what the iPad is capable of.
The Star Walk app is full of cool features, yet easy to navigate. It launches with a comprehensive ‘Sky Live’ screen which shows the sunrise and sunset times, phases of the Moon, and visibility and elevation angles of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. You can change the current date to the previous or next day with the arrow buttons, and as you cycle through the days, you can see the Moon phases and the information for the other objects featured on the screen change as well. Once you close this view, the app takes you right to the beautiful live sky view synchronized to your location and time of day.
The live augmented reality view adds color-coded labels next to nearly all visible stars, galaxies and nebulae, and identifies major constellations and over 8,000 satellites as you point your iPad at them. You can drag and move the sky around manually and zoom in and out with a pinch of your fingers, or tilt and turn the iPad itself to have the screen view follow your line of sight using iPad’s gyroscopes and compass. The graphics quality is outstanding, and there are many intricate visual details that hint at how much work went into making of this app. For example, when one object crosses over or near another, it actually casts a shadow on it. The Sun itself casts a halo or rays and realistic concentric lens flairs which move and change as you move the iPad, a beautiful touch. But the two features that made this app stand out from other similar offerings are the Night Mode and the Detailed Info view.
The Night Mode is priceless when you are trying to locate any dim object in the dark sky while looking down at the iPad’s brightly lit screen. With the Night Mode turned on, the entire interface turns dark monochrome red, making it a lot easier for the eyes to adjust to the low light conditions. The Detailed Info is another feature sorely missing from other astronomy apps, and it allows you to pull up a detailed fact sheet about any star, satellite, nebula or galaxy by simply tapping on it on the screen, providing a link to a Wikipedia article with more information.
Other useful features include a Twitter-based ‘Star Walkers’ community, a Calendar of upcoming significant astronomical events, and an ability to save as Bookmarks any of the celestial objects you locate with the app. Overall, Star Walk is a visually gorgeous, simple and powerful application that will provide hours of educational fun for any amateur astronomer, and is well worth the $4.99 price.