Starmap (for iPhone) review

Starmap (for iPhone) shows fainter stars than most similar apps and brings a lot to the table for its price.
Photo of Starmap (for iPhone)

Starmap (for iPhone) offers a visually appealing and detailed view of the night sky. It shows relatively faint stars, and reveals images of, and basic data about, deep-sky objects when you tap on them. It lacks some features of the Editors’ Choice app SkySafari 3 (for iPhone), including detailed descriptions of objects and the ability to locate comets and artificial satellites, but it shows fainter stars and brings a lot to the table for its price.

Like other iPhone planetarium apps, StarMap shows you a view of the starry sky, even in the daytime, when the Sun is also shown in its proper position in relation to the constellations. Thanks to GPS and your iPhone’s internal compass, the app should reveal the stars in the direction you’re holding the phone on your screen. If you point the phone in another direction, the stars will shift to reflect your new position. Sometimes it balks if something interferes with the compass, and you’ll get a message to move your phone in a figure 8; usually that will correctly reorient the sky.

I tested Starmap on an iPhone 5
. It also works with earlier iPhones, iPads, and iPods touch, provided they run iOS 4.3 or later.

Starmap Features
When you hold the phone in portrait orientation, you’ll see at the bottom of the screen a bar with 5 icons: Find; Tonight; Help; Extras; and Settings. Touching Find lets you choose between 8 searches: Planets; Stars; Constellations; Deep sky; Meteors [showers]; Catalogue; Internet images; and Find Again. The first four entries provide drop-down lists of objects; objects below the horizon are listed in lighter-face type. Touching an object won’t actually take you to its position; instead, a yellow arrow appears, pointing towards it. Often, if you’re in a narrow-field view, you have to swipe the screen a number of times to reach the object you’ve selected. For Catalogue, you can enter any name from the other lists, and the object should pop up. Internet images from other Starmap users are available through Starmap Share, though the server is often unreachable (or else no new images are available).

The Planets search includes not only planets but the six dwarf planets (Pluto is included among them), 10 additional dwarf planet candidates, plus 24 of the brighter asteroids. Tapping on any of these objects brings up the yellow arrow to guide you to it. The major planets are all shown at roughly the same size, and even in the wide-field view they’re shown as small disks rather than points of light. Touching one of the disks shows a thumbnail photo of the planet, and some basic data including brightness (magnitude).

A Sky Teeming with Stars
StarMap shows a lot of stars, as many as you’d see with a small telescope from a reasonably dark sky, but only the brightest are identified. The Editors’ Choice SkySafari 3 (for iPhone) doesn’t go quite as faint, showing only a third as many stars, but all those stars are identified by designation if you tap on them, and you can call up data about them. GoSkyWatch Planetarium (for iPhone) is less stelliferous, only showing stars visible to the unaided eye. Galaxies are shown as little ovals; clicking one will call up a thumbnail image and some basic data. The outlines of nebulae are shown to scale.

The Tonight button gives you a graph showing the hours that various stars, planets, galaxies, and star clusters are visible. Clicking on an object’s name puts a yellow arrow on screen to help you navigate to it. Tonight also lets you sort objects for type for help in developing an observing program for the night. The Help section describes different aspects of the app and how to use them. The section is comprehensive, and includes video tutorials (for them, you’ll need a Web connection).

The Extras section gives you functions like sliders to control sky and star brightness; a button for night vision mode (red screen); a lamp; a Photo button; Horizon (which will either show the normal horizon or remove it, showing the whole dome of the sky). The function of some items took some figuring out, even after referring to the Help menu, but I got them all up and running eventually.

Settings lets you set and change location (which is otherwise chosen by GPS); add or remove various lines or grids; set the limiting magnitude of stars; alter how constellations are shown or labeled; and more.

A Starmap for Every Level
A version of the app geared to advanced amateurs, Starmap Pro ($16.99), is also available. It shows 3.5 million stars, down to magnitude 16, about 40 times fainter than the faintest (magnitude 12) of Starmap’s “mere” 350,000. You can control a telescope with Starmap Pro over WiFi, and it has other advanced features. But for many more casual observers, Starmap is more than enough. The free Starmap Lite has fewer stars than “Starmap standard” and lacks the ability to adjust many of the settings. One caveat: Don’t confuse Starmap with the similarly named “Star Map – see into space” app, also sold on the iTunes store.

StarMap 3 (for iPhone) is one of the better planetarium programs, not quite as full-featured as the Editors’ Choice SkySafari 3 (for iPhone) but showing slightly more and fainter stars. It’s easy to recommend for both beginning and intermediate astronomy buffs.

Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Starmap (for iPhone) shows fainter stars than most similar apps and brings a lot to the table for its price.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc