After being given a code to download Starmap Pro, I thought I would play around with it for an hour or two and then write up a quick review with some observations and opinions about this iPhone app. But after opening Starmap for the first time, it quickly became apparent that Starmap is incredibly deep in both its feature set and functionality and I would need to spend some real time getting to understand what this program was capable of.
Starmap comes in two varieties: the Pro version, which I review here, and a simplified standard version, as well. Simply put, Starmap is a pocket planetarium that takes advantage of some of the 3GS features to help you get the most out of stargazing – whether you’re using a telescope, binoculars or are just looking up with your plain old eyeballs.
Like the Mariana Trench, this application is incredibly deep. The Pro version of Starmap boasts a full SAO, Tycho-2 catalog of 2.5 million stars. Nearly 9,000 of these come with detailed information. Also included are all 110 Messier objects, and the full NGC & IC catalogs. New to the updated version are comet updates via the web.
But that’s just the beginning. Let’s take a look at what you can actually do with Starmap …
In its default view after startup, you have a nice sky map that shows you all of the stars and planets visible to your location. You can swipe, pinch and zoom to move around and zoom in and out of the map. Plus, the map – like virtually every other aspect of the application – is customizable. Want to add grids? Telrad targets? Turn the horizon on or off? Starmap lets you affect these changes and a whole lot more.
When you’re ready for more information, tap an object and you’re instantly rewarded with detail about that constellation, planet or star. Dig a little deeper and you can quickly locate any object visible in your night sky. With a swipe or two, Skymap will tell you when the object is visible and what altitude it will be at different times of the night.
If you don’t have a plan for what to look at or you just want to see the evening’s highlights, touch the “Tonight” button and you’re greeted with the planets, galaxies, clusters or nebulae that will be visible via telescope, binoculars or naked eye (all filterable). Tap any of the available choices and you’re instantly taken to a screen with more information on this object, when and where to see it … and several options for easily finding it.
All this just scratches the surface of what Starmap is capable of. There are, literally, dozens of ways to customize the app. Want to preserve your night vision? Switch the display to night vision mode and everything is shown in a friendly red display. Lost a cap on the ground? Starmap has a built in flashlight (also available in night vision red). Want to jot down some notes? It has a logbook. You can change the colors of the display to fit your liking and the sky map’s brightness can be adjusted to reflect your location’s light pollution and star brightness. Curious what the sky will look like in a couple hours? There’s a time slider that allows you to know when Saturn will be higher in the sky. And to make sure you won’t forget, you can set an alarm to remind you.
There are a variety of built-in managers that allow you to catalog your photos, camera, telescopes, Barlows, optics, finder scopes, focal reducers and more. And once you have provided the app with your outfit, pinching and zooming in map mode will recommend the best eyepiece for that object.
And these are just the options. Searching for – and locating – a star, planet or galaxy is so simple in Starmap, it feels like second nature. Like any good application, there are several ways to accomplish the goal, each well thought out for different amateur astronomer approaches.
After several hours of use, I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface. At this point, I can’t imagine there’s a feature that I want that isn’t already addressed in the Pro version. (Although I’m sure I’ll think of something – just give me time.)
I liked the fact that – despite the app’s appeal to serious amateur astronomers, it still retains an ability to appeal to beginners. If you went no further than the opening default screen, you could still look up in the sky and quickly identify constellations, planets and important stars.
The programming is intuitive, as well. After zooming very deep into the sky map to find a star, SAO176439, I was unsure how to zoom out quickly. Just guessing, I double-tapped the screen and was instantly taken all the way out to the map’s default view — brilliant!
And Starmap Pro has an innovative approach to delivering menus with the iPhone’s limited real estate. Starmap uses a five-slot configuration similar to the menu items at the bottom of the iPhone’s iPod screen. But where the iPod uses its “More” button to link to nested menus, Starmap delivers eight alternative menus that – when selected – take the place of the default menus at the bottom of the screen. This approach allows you to quickly access menus related to settings, telescopes and optics, polar directions and more.
I’m eager to see what Matt has to say about Sky Voyager, but I’ve been completely blown away by Starmap Pro, that I think it will be very tough to beat. If you like looking up the stars, run out and grab a copy right away.
Wired: An incredibly deep feature set, huge catalog and is easy to pick up and use right away. Plus, it’s loaded with features for even the most obsessive astronomers.
Tired: At first, the price for the Pro version – $18.99 – may cause you to choke. But for what you get, the price actually seems like a pretty good deal. Learning the app has a steep learning curve, but an online manual is in the works.
Starmap Pro (iTunes link), $18.99, 59.5 MB