When you think about it, using a geeky smartphone and astronomy go together. They both require an enquiring mind, exploration, and deep thought about how things work together. It’s no surprise then that there are quite a few astronomical applications on Symbian. Some are 'all singing and dancing' augmented reality applications; others are simpler, just letting you identify the basics. SkyMap is one of the latter, and in our review we look at whether it’s best for a beginner or whether pro-amateur astronomers might be able to make use of it too.
Version Reviewed: 1.02
SkyMap’s loading screen.
SkyMap’s approach to overlaying information is to keep things simple. Graphics are shown for our local planets, and major constellation lines are included, but everything else is text based against the azimuth grid. This is in contrast to competing products that show constellation artwork and display Hubble images of objects once you zoom in closely enough. This simplistic approach is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows you to concentrate on the content rather than being lost in all the frills. It also keeps the program running smoothly, unlike other titles in this genre.
Constellations, solar system objects, Messier objects, Azimuth grid are some of the options available in SkyMap.
SkyMap allows you to set your position by either selecting a known city, or using GPS to gain a more accurate location. However, I suspect that much of SkyMap’s use will be done at home where GPS signals are hard to acquire. In contemporary astronomical applications, automatic positioning is accompanied by use of the phone’s digital compass and accelerometer so that a viewing direction can be determined to provide an augmented reality view. SkyMap forgoes this, and the viewing direction is changed by dragging across the screen. Zooming is done in a non-standard way too – instead of a multi-touch gesture, you have to bring up a zoom indicator by a long press, then you have to move your finger up and down without losing contact. I know there are still some legacy resistive screen devices out there, but in 2012 SkyMap should really be supporting the standard gestures.
SkyMap can set location from GPS or a database of cities.
Again, the lack of an augmented reality mode sounds like a disadvantage, and in some ways it is. However, the problem with augmented reality views is that they tend to jump around a lot as they react to sensor noise. So having a manually adjusted view helps to keep things steady. If you’re using SkyMap outdoors, you should be able to align with the compass headings shown around the horizon line on the azimuth grid, as long as you have a rough idea of where north is. Talking of night time viewing – any self-respecting astronomy application must have a monochrome red view. Fortunately, SkyMap does and so your natural night vision won’t be wiped out.
Viewing the night sky in normal mode.
Viewing the night sky in night mode.
There’s a strong educational element with SkyMap. From the main menu, there’s a gallery of popular astronomical objects, including everything from galaxies to the moon. Tapping any of them brings up a page with a high quality image and a paragraph of factoids. The menu on that page gives options to view the object on the sky map, or to view its Wikipedia page. However, if you opt for Wikipedia, you’ll land on an intermediate page at the developer’s website, which I assume has been done for analytic purposes.
Finally, if you want to find something not included in the gallery, you can use the search box to enter either the object’s official designation or trivial name. Tapping on a search result returns you to the map which quickly pans around to show a cross-hair locked on to the object of interest.
Locked onto Jupiter!
SkyMap costs £3.00 in the Nokia Store, which puts it between Astroller (free with ads or £1.50), and Stellarium (£4.00). In terms of functionality, I have to rate both applications above SkyMap and so I can’t really justify the price. However, there is a question of personal taste for the different user interfaces. SkyMap is much cleaner than Astroller, even if it provides less information to the user. Therefore, based on screenshots, you may prefer the more polished user interface on SkyMap.
David Gilson, 24th March 2012.
Reviewed by David Gilson at