For budding sky watchers, this much simplified version of the StarWalk apps offers quick doses of selected astronomical basics plus tantalizing leads to more.
As ethereal background music plays, users explore the visible sky. They have the option of seeing a matched cartoon rendition of any portion of the current nighttime sky to which the tablet’s back points, changing the speed of the sky’s apparent rotation, or selecting a different view by pinching or dragging. Tapping small but recognizable images of the sun, moon, planets (including Pluto), the Hubble and the International Space Station activates a printed label, an audio identification (except, oddly, for Pluto) and assorted facts (“Aries…is a porpoise in the Marshall Islands. Isn’t that fun?”). A select few come with a short animated history or description. Sixteen major stars and 49 constellations receive similar treatment, though only 24 of the latter have any audio element. All of the above can be found quickly using a visual index accessible from any screen. Less usefully, tapping hundreds of other, unindexed stars reveals their names but no further information. The Milky Way, visible nebulae and the Andromeda Galaxy are not included. Refreshingly, there are no ads, in-app purchases or links to social media.
This guide to the heavens is cool for browsing, but it is too unsystematic for sustained research. (Requires iOS 7 and above.) (iPad informational app. 6-8)