Review: Grand Tour


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Jul 5, 2008
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Grand Tour, by First Light
$3.99, ***1/2

  • Explore the solar system
  • Nice images of each planet

  • Lack of animation when viewing planet
  • "Flying around the solar system" is a let down

Grand Tour is an app designed to help people learn about the solar system. It allows a user to "fly" between the different planets and the moons, and then view the various celestial bodies from different angles. It is described in the app description as "Ever wanted to soar over Saturn?s rings, or wheel around through the moons of Jupiter?".

Unfortunately, while that description may be technically accurate, I feel it is also a little misleading. I head images in my head of nice animations looking at the whole solar system, "flying down" for a closer view of some planets or moons, zooming back out for a larger view...well, you get the idea.

In practice, the application is a little more Mundane. When you start, you are presented with a view of the Earth (I was shown the darkside of the earth, but you would think they could use location services to focus on the area where you are). You can use pinching motions to zoom in or out of your view, and as you zoom farther out, you see other labels for celestial objects (including stars and constellations, which can be turned off if you like). However, because of the vast distances between the planets, you only really see the name off in the distance. You can also swipe to rotate your view of the earth.

Unfortunately, you can't manullay control your "flight" in the solar system. To move to a new planet or moon, you use the menu to select what you want (you have the option of including Pluto or not). When you select it, the app will orient in the direction of the new object, and then "fly" towards it. Again, because of the distances between the objects (represented realistically relative to each other in the app) you aren't "whizzing by the moons of Jupieter on the way to see Saturn" or anything like that. Basically, you see empty space until Saturn starts to enlarge in your field of view.

This is both good and bad. It is nice that it is realistic, showing people who some of these vast distances are really like (plus the fact that planets aren't all really lined up in a row). However, in practice it is a big letdown when flying between the planets.

You can't really do any sort of "top down view" of the solar system, to see the planets relative position to each other, you can't do any "side view" to see, so you are really only left with either seeing a single planet or seeing empty space. I would have really liked to have seen more of an effort put into the animation when moving between the planets, I think that could be a huge attraction.

In the preferences, you can choose if you wants stars shown, Pluto included as a planet, outlines of constellations. You can also choose to "jump to planets", completely disabling the "flying motion" between the planets - which seems entirely counter intuitive to the app itself, but okay.

The graphics of the planets are nicely down. They are shown in what I assume to be real time position, so you see a dark side (facing away from the sun) and a light side. One problem with this is that you can only see half of the planet - so I was unable to find the red spot on Jupieter because presumably it is in the dark now. There should be an option to turn the sun on or off. There is also no animation when looking at the planets. While we certainly couldn't see the planets rotating in real life, it would be nice to be able to show how the planets rotate.

The planets are also in the correct position relative to each other, as are the moons. You don't get any information about the planets themselves - some sort of "fact sheet" would be great (something that includes size, length of day, length of know, basic facts that would be fun to have at your finger tips).

All in all, this is an okay app, but I feel it could be made into a stellar app (heh heh) with a little bit of work. Improving the "flying movement", adding some additional features or options would really make this app stand out among the other star-map type apps. As it stands, it is okay, but only for people who really are into astronomy (or who have kids who are into it). At $3.99, it isn't too much of a hit on the wallet, but I really would like to see better animation for that. Three and a half out of five stars., mostly because I feel it doesn't live up to its billing.

Rating scale:

* = 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.
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