Review: Star Tracker for the iPhone by Shen Ji Pan
Star Tracker for the iPhone, by Shen Ji Pan
• Smooth use of motion sensors
• Many settings to fine tune your experience
• No additional information included; can’t “tap” for details
If you live in the right areas, star gazing is a great pastime. With the iPhone, stargazing can be brought to whole new levels by using the built in GPS and motion sensing to get a real time view of the night sky. Star Tracker is an app that does just that, although it does have a few flaws in it’s design.
Figure 1 - Star Tracker helps you identify what you are looking at in the sky, including constellations.
Using Star Tracker is simple – open it up, select your location (manually or automatically) and then aim it at the night sky. It will automatically use the gyroscope and motion sensors to track your movement, and show you a “clear” vision of what you are seeing in the night sky. It is very fluid in movement – as I rotated around or aimed the phone up and down (iPhone 5S), the app smoothly rotated the view. There is even a compass that you can use to identify how flat (or not) your view is.
Figure 2 - You can decide what is on the screen, including planets, constellations, and deep sky objects.
There are many settings to fine tune your experience – a row of buttons on the right side (when holding the phone vertically) allows you to adjust the use of grids, night vision mode, text (names of the objects), how many stars you can see (to represent level of light pollution), presence of deep sky objects, and more. There is even a cool “zoom” mode which will automatically start to zoom in on an object if you hold the phone still.
Figure 3 - A configuration bar (which can vanish if you want) allows you to adjust a wide variety of settings (and the phone can move between veritcal and landscape mode).
The visual field is well desgined, although if you aren’t aware of some design features, it may be a little confusing. Planets are very large in the field of view, so they are not to scale (otherwise we would be able to see the rings of Saturn with the naked eye). The size is presumably to make it easier to find them. Constellations also appear automatically, in a light grey/blue color, so you can easily see what stars make up the image (or light red in night vision mode). If all the buttons get in the way, you can make them disappear for the clean view of the sky as well.
Figure 4 - Night mode is in red to eliminate and distracting light.
The search and lookup features are sorted by type of object (solar system, deep sky, constellation, etc.). One great feature about the search is that rather than just move to the object, an arrow appear telling you which way to rotate to find the object. Of course, sometimes you may end up looking straight at the ground, indicating the object you are looking for is visible on the other side of the planet! Another nice feature is that you can send an image of what you are looking at via text, email, to twitter or facebook, or airdrop. Although this feature seems limited, since it is really just a picture of what your iPhone is showing you.
Figure 5 - Search will allow you to find planets, stars, constellations, and deep sky objects - pointing you in the right direction.
The information provided by the app is limited, however. Beyond the name of an object or constellation, you don’t have any information. You can’t find out any details by tapping on it, so you are out of luck if you want to know more. I also wish things like satellites and meteor showers were included.
Another problem I had with the app was that while you could adjust the star field view, it didn’t relate that to what you SHOULD be able to see. That is, I can’t put in the kind of city or the lighting in the area to have it automatically adjust. It would be nice to be able to have the app tell me what the star field view setting should be, to indicate what I should be able to see.
All in all, Star Tracker for the iPhone is a nice stargazing companion. It isn’t an encyclopedic reference, but merely designed as a tool to aid your stargazing – mostly to help you find things rather than learn about them. There are some nice customization features, and the fluidity of the app is very nice. For $2.99, the app is reasonably priced, although I do wish they at least included the option to look up information on Wikipedia about certain sky object. Four out of five stars.
* = No redeeming qualities or features, probably not worth it even if it is free
** = Few redeeming qualities, or is simply isn't worth the price
*** = Some good features but also some clear flaws.
**** = A solid app, worth the money if interested, a few flaws or problems or slightly overpriced
***** = Top of the line app, no problems or drawbacks.
Price is factored into the ratings. Ratings are lowered if I feel the price of the app outweighs the benefits/enjoyment/features it provides. Likewise, an app that is a good value for the money will have a higher rating. Please comment on these reviews. All opinions expressed in this review are precisely that – opinions. You may agree or disagree. If you own the app, tell me what your opinion is. If the review prompted you to buy (or not buy) the app, let me know why. If you want more information about the app, go ahead and ask.