Spoiler alert! Solar Walk is about as nifty as an educational app can get. The graphics are nothing short of spectacular and the content provides students with a great way to brush up on the basics of the solar system. Best Buy.
When I was a kid, I loved astronomy. Or at least reading about astronomy and watching movies about astronauts. My dad was about as likely to cough up the money for a telescope as a lobster is to leap into a boiling pot on its own. So all I had was books, and astronaut movies on TV, because I didn't get to go to movies either.
Of course, the movies about space were in black and white and with lots of snow because we didn't have color TV or cable. And I had to wait until they showed up on Saturday afternoons or late Saturday nights. And science fiction movies weren't exactly reliable sources of information since the operative word is “fiction.”
It turned out that green women in bathing suits didn't live on Venus, and scaly monsters in rubber suits don't wander around Mars. But I had to read the books to learn that. And I had to check those out from the library because my dad was only slightly less likely to cough up for an astronomy book as he was for a telescope. So I had to settle for those dime astronomy books with the cheap cardboard covers you could buy from the bookshelf at TG&Y1
I was a kid, though, and I didn't understand any of this. I just liked astronomy books because the pictures of the planets were so cool. They were so cool I wanted to go into space myself. This was pretty much the response of a lot of kids, and it will be again when they download Solar Walk.
So let's get my petty gripes out of the way first. It's clearly a best buy at the current discount price of $1. When it jumps back to $4, I would like to see a little more content. Hopefully that will come in future updates. Still, compared to similar apps I've explored at more than twice that price, Solar Walk does an excellent job.
Nor should this book replace real astronomy books. But it should be good enough to get students interested and playing with models of the solar system.
The main interface is a fully rolling reproduction of the earth that you can spin on it's axis. As you follow the horizon line you will see the other planets in the solar system (this includes the sun and the recently declared faux planet Pluto). From this vantage point you can leap to the other celestial bodies, and continue to leap from planet to planet.
Solar Walk allows you to explore any planet and see the rest of the solar system from their vantage point. This view looks over Mars to its moon, the sun and several other planets. You can tap on any planet and jump to that location.
The interface allows you to read about different aspects of the planet, including space explorations, to explore its moons and cut away to the planet core to see its composition. (You can also jump to planets from a convenient popup menu). In addition, the app provides several subtitled videos exploring such phenomena as eclipses, tidal forces and phases of the moon.
These videos are far from the usual boring talking head videos. Rather, they contain detailed animations to illustrate the concepts. You may find more thorough information elsewhere, but rarely have I seen them presented in a manner so engaging and appealing.
You can explore each planet in detail and read about geography and even past space explorations. You can study the moons or cut away to the planet's core.
The model may not take your breath away, but it took away mine. The planets and moons are beautifully rendered, as good as any in the Star Wars movies, and the navigation is smooth and seamless. I had no problems exploring the model without even looking at the help files.
Far too often I find myself wanting more from an interactive educational app. Solar Walk leaves me wanting more, however, because it's just so good. If your kids have any interest in the solar system, Solar Walk is a great place for them to start. And if they can't remember anything from their textbooks, this could be a great aid too.
Jenny Manytoes rates Solar Walk
Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over Solar Walk. The model is so stunningly rendered she just wants to get in and knock those planets around, maybe even cart one off her mouth and hide it under the couch with all the other toys we can no longer find.
Fortunately, she can't. Best Buy.
The Jenny Manytoes Rating System