Choosing an astronomy app to use for tablets and smartphones can be a really daunting challenge. When searching the the App store for an stargazing application, the available options are so plentiful and overwhelming. Some applications are platform specific, only iOS or Android; moreover, there is a lack of centralized review when choosing an app other than the reviews, screenshots, cost, and maybe word of moth. It is hard to find a good third party review of smartphone and tablet stargazing applications. Therefore, we have come up with a rubric to provide some help to users who are looking for some good applications.
It is important to note that there are many applications for the platforms with varying functionality and everybody has their own favorites. Please provide feedback about thoughts and additional apps to review in the future. There are many apps to review and it makes sense to start somewhere. The apps that we will consider include Sputnik!, StarChart, and Google Sky Map with the consideration of the following categories including the application developer, available platforms, cost, available features, and ease of use.
StarChart – iOS and Android
- Application Developer: Escapist Games Limited
- Device Compatibility: Android and iOS
- Initial Cost: Free, but there are In-App Purchases
StarChart is an app that works on iOS and Android. The basic features are more than enough to do basic astronomy and the paid features are for adding adding additional stars from several thousand stars to several million stars. It has an expanded features include being able to tell what different historical events happened on certain days, turn to a shade of red to assist in better vision at night, and work in manual and automatic mode. Plus, there are ways to search different objects in the sky.
This app is very helpful as it provides rise and set times for the different planets in the solar system, as well as information about stars, Messier Objects, and Constellations. The only issue that I have with this app is that when one selects locations, my options are limited about where I can choose. Note, I am using an older iPad with wifi, so maybe if I was using it on a mobile device connected to LTE, it might be different. Overall, I love this app and find it as the gold standard for my own use.
- Application Developer: Google
- Device Compatibility: Android
- Cost: Free
Sputnik! is not an application for finding stars, but rather an app that allows for finding satellites that are flying overhead. This app is free, but does have advertisements. Benefits to using the app include being able to look into the future for the next 1 or 7 days, the past 24 hours, as well as saving potential sightings that have been made. Once a user clicks on a satellite, the app provides data such as where to look, magnitude of the satellite and time as well. Although this isn’t a star chart app, it is a great and simple app that allows for specifically finding Iridium satellites and the ISS. Negatives are the ads and that there could be additional satellites added into the database.
Google Sky Map
- Application Developer: Google
- Device Compatibility: Android Only
- Cost: Free
Google Sky Map is just like other Google Products, free and easy to use. This tool is great because it is free and is available to everybody with an Android phone. Negatives include the lack of an iOS app and the ability to scroll in Automatic Mode. But it is easy to use and everything can be found and is labeled in an easy to use way. What I like about Google Sky Map is that unlike some of the other apps that I have tried and used, the tool is easy for kids and everybody to use and doesn’t have any premium features. Everything is there with the free app and has great functionality. The reason I use Star Chart is only because of the added functionality that StarChart to use, but for its simplicity, Google Sky Map takes the cake!
There are many apps to review. This is a start that might become an reoccurring series and something that we will continue into the future. We have come to the point in which smartphone users have the options and availability for many free and paid apps that provide amazing functionality for stargazing. Everybody has their own personal favorite apps and these are some of our own.