Tuesday, August 14, 2018
AR AppsAugmented RealityMobile AR Apps

Augmented Reality Apps Offer a Whole New Way to Look at the Stars

The night sky has fewer secrets when viewed through a good augmented reality app.

For thousands of years, humans have looked at the stars. We have used calculators and almanacs to try to understand the workings of the heavens, and have used images and models to try to put the universe on our tables. Now augmented reality apps are trying to help us do that same thing in a whole new way.

 

Solar System – Space Museum

Solar System - Space Museum augmented reality app

This free augmented reality app is available on Google Play and The App Store. It only takes up 32 MB of memory, which isn’t bad considering it doesn’t require any stickers or tags to work — a feature that I always appreciate.

This app is pretty fun, but it’s not as educational as some of the other augmented reality apps reviewed here, nor as interactive. The app calls itself an augmented reality app because it superimposes 3D images of the planets revolving around the sun over a live camera feed. That’s about where the magic ends, however. Moving around holding your device or moving the device around doesn’t navigate to what you’re looking at, rather the limited controls are navigated by touching an icon in the corner of the screen. You also can’t change the zoom, and being in a larger or smaller space doesn’t change the size of the images.

If you don’t want to use the app as an augmented reality app, there are also features that allow you to use it as just a 3D app — which is less impressive but also less distracting — or as an virtual reality app. I didn’t try the app in virtual reality but users online pointed out that you can’t use the controls in the VR setting because the controls are all screen-based.

While this app does have its downsides, it is the only free, tagless solar system model app that I found, and it also has a neet little asteroids style arcade game as well.

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Sol-AR System

This augmented reality app by Vizitech has a trial mode that you can download for free, as well as a full mode that costs $1.99. The free mode takes 35 MB and the full version only takes up 2 extra MB. The apps are available on Google Play and The App Store.

Sol-AR System Augmented reality app

The free mode works with a tag that displays the whole solar system, while the full mode works with a whole lot of tags including one for the solar system, one for each planet, and some other tags that allow activities to learn about concepts like gravity (printable tags found here). The full augmented reality app also has some neat bells and whistles that make the AR experience more fun, as well as more informational content rather than just something neat to look at and play with.

Vizitech is an education company, so the full app and its extra content is meant for educational activities that children can do together. Some extra resources from the company (the same document that contains the tags, linked above) mention things like using the individual planet tags together to place the planets in the correct order. There are also additional lesson plans and content that you can buy from the company if you want to use it to teach classes.

The app still has some negative reviews left over from before a patch was installed, but since then most of the reviews have been positive. Sometimes people still have problems with the app crashing, but I had it on my device and didn’t have any problems with it.

All in all, the free mode is kind of fun but not too useful for a casual learner, while the full mode has a lot of good information even though that information is presented in a way that’s really more suited for a children’s class than as a sort of easy reference.

 

Augmented Reality Solar System

Augmented Reality Solar System AR app

This app by LunarEX Games didn’t impress me in a lot of ways. The app is free on The App Store, where it’s actually called myARgalaxy – Solar System Augmented Reality, and Google Play, and a sample card can be downloaded from the company’s website, but after that you need to buy additional cards for the AR features to work.

The app does have an “Observation Mode” that lets you view planets and the sun as 3D models without using AR, but the models aren’t very impressive. You can rotate them and zoom in and out, but the resolution isn’t very good and the mechanics are kind of buggy. There’s a whole tab labeled “Solar System Info” but when you select on the solar system info for a planet it just closes the app and brings you to a wikipedia page.

The app also takes up a pretty monstrous 80 MB. Because the augmented reality app uses cards and all of the real information is on the internet rather than in the app, I can only guess that all of that space is taken up by the fact that the app can record voice and video for some reason.

 

Star Chart

This app by Escapist Games Limited is kind of an augmented reality app, kind of a virtual reality app, and also has some tools that don’t require aspects of a modified reality app at all.

Star Chart astronomy AR app

The augmented reality app uses your location to show you where stars, planets, and constellations are with reference to where you’re standing and looking. It’s supposed to work with the GPS in your mobile device, but some user-reviews say that that feature doesn’t always work. I don’t like to have my GPS on anyway, so I looked up my town’s coordinates on my favorite search engine and put them in manually and it worked just fine.

I’m a little confused on what to call this app because it works and kind of looks like a virtual reality app in that it doesn’t use your device’s camera like I’m used to augmented reality apps doing. It’s cool that it doesn’t use your camera because you can play with the app easier during the day time too, but I also think that it missed a good opportunity to use more typical AR features.

The app is free from Google Play and The App Store and only takes up about 28 MB. You get a warning about in-app purchases, but I played around with the app for two nights and never ran into them so, whatever they are, you can use the app just fine without them.

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Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance writer specializing in Technology and Health. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife and cat.