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Oh starry, starry night…

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When SEAN BACHER downloads SkyView, the application teaches him more about planets and stars in a few days than he ever learned in five years of Geography.

With the recent lunar eclipse that had the world in awe, I was in a rather celestial mood. So I went searching for something around the topic in the various app stores. After some probing and prodding around what looked like a host of dubious applications, I found something promising in the Apple App Store. I paid my $0.99 and waited just a few seconds before I had SkyView sitting on my iPhone and ready to launch.

SkyView lets you view planets, star constellations and satellites around the earth. On top of this, literally, it uses augmented reality, letting you point your iPhone’s camera at the various planets and stars in the sky, select them and get real-time information such as their orbit and the next time they will be visible.

We put SkyView through the Gadget 5 Question User test to see if it shines as brightly as the Southern Cross or if it gives up the ghost like a red dwarf.

1. Is it ready to use?

Once downloaded and launched you simply need to make sure your location is correctly set. You can do this manually or set it to automatic. After that, you need to calibrate the application and your phone by waving your iPhone in a sideways figure 8 pattern. It may feel like you’re waving a magic wand, and that is the effect too, as the app confirms you’re ready to explore.

2. Is it easy to use?

When you first launch the application, you will see a host of stars, star constellations and planets, and behind this you will see what object your iPhone camera is pointed at. Rather confusing, but once you go outside and point the phone at the sky, things start to look a lot clearer.

The phone uses your exact location and orientation to figure out what you may be seeing ‚ even in broad daylight or a cloudy night.

I found SkyView worked best at night, as the stars and planets you see with your naked eye are shown on SkyView and through the camera. Once you’ve found a star or planet on which you want more info, simply click on the image and SkyView will tell you exactly what you are seeing.

The first time I used the application, I aimed for the moon, clicked on it and was told that I was looking at the moon. No surprises there. However, what did intrigue me was that, when I returned to portrait mode, I was shown some interesting facts about the moon, such as what phase it is in and at what speed it rotates ‚ 16km/h versus Earth’s 1 600km/h.

This gets more and more interesting as you find other, more exotic planets like Saturn and Neptune.

You don’t have to be outside on a frigid winter’s night to enjoy all this either. SkyView incorporates a search feature that is broken up into solar systems, stars, constellations and satellites. Under each one of these you will find every documented star, planet and solar system. Click on the category and scroll to find the topic you want more information on. Once you select it, you will be taken back to the main screen and shown where it is in the sky at that moment. You will then be able to view information on the selected planet or star.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

Terminal Eleven, the publishers of SkyView, categorise the application as educational. I must agree with them. I have learned much more from this little application than I ever learned in my Geography classes at school. The main reason for this is that it is interactive. You are not being bombarded with slide after slide on what the sun is, how hot it is or how big it is. Instead, you can see in real-time where the sun is and, if you want, can get some more information about it. If not, you can skip to the next planet or even navigate to one of the satellites up there, such as the International Space Station.

4. Is it innovative?

Being able to point your phone up into the sky and see in real-time what our solar systems, stars and planets are doing is certainly a novel idea. However, Google has a similar application called Google Sky and there are many similar apps available in the Apple App store and the Android Marketplace. So its not really innovative.

5. Is it value for money?

For an application that is fun and at the same time educational, a Dollar is negligible.

In conclusion:

SkyView is a great addition to your application arsenal. It is one of those applications with which you will never get bored and is a great educational time-killer whenever you’re waiting for meetings to start.

Gadget App Rating:

SkyView scores a 2 on the Gadget Mobile App Rating scale. It is a nice to have application, but is still an application you can live without.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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