Smartphone apps & binocular "push-to" capability
Posted 28 January 2013 - 03:10 AM
This experience left me wanting more. Earlier in the week, I'd remembered seeing a smartphone holder at Orion's website. So I went back to look more carefully and sure enough this clever little device is designed to solve exactly the problem I was having. You sandwich this thing between the tripod bracket and the 1/4"-20 threaded hole on the binocular, or just mount it directly to the binocular for handheld viewing. Put your phone in it, fire up an astronomy app, and use it to guide you through the sky. Cool! So I placed my order for two of these. I'll report back after I get it and the rest of my binocular setup.
Then I spent the rest of the evening trying out additional astronomy apps on the iOS platform (besides Star Walk, which I've had for awhile and like). I found two that are now my favorites: GoSkyWatch planetarium, and SkySafari3 (I got the plus version of SkySafari, in anticipation of using it to control a future telescope).
The $4 GoSkyWatch Planetarium app is a fairly simple, but powerful app that has two main functions. The first function, unique among astronomy apps at this point, is always active and allows you to "surf" through the sky and figure out what you are looking at without touching the screen to select an object. The stars and DSOs displayed (and therefore available for identification) can be filtered with a magnitude slider, to match your sky. Additionally, a separate setting allows you to display all DSOs if you wish to go hunting for those specifically. Galaxies are indicated as small red ellipses, clusters are indicated as a yellow reticle, and nebulae are indicated by a different, green reticle. As you pan through the sky with the iPhone, any displayed object that falls under the gray circle in the center of the screen is automatically selected with a blue crosshair and identified by name, magnitude, etc. Very useful! The second function is a "push-to" capability. Tapping the search button at the top left allows you to search a database of thousands of constellations and objects. Selecting one and pressing "goto" takes you back to the sky, with an arrow pointing in the direction of the object you selected. Simply aim your device in the direction of the arrow until you locate the object. "Push-to" capability for binocular astronomy!
More on SkySafari3 another time...
Posted 28 January 2013 - 03:17 AM
Posted 28 January 2013 - 04:33 AM
If using Android phone; then use SKYEYE free software which is quite amazing software. Although, I also have Google Sky but I prefer the above software as I mentioned.
Posted 28 January 2013 - 06:22 AM
Posted 28 January 2013 - 11:10 AM
Posted 28 January 2013 - 01:21 PM
I shopped at a Verizon store yesterday. I do not have a cell phone, nor any real need for one at this time. Even without a cell contract, the smartphones and tablets are $$$.
I look at Stellarium nearly every day on a desktop.
It would be useful to have a lightweight smartphone, or a gyro and compass equipped non-phone equivalent, as a mounted pointing aid for push-to, with a nearby large screened laptop connected to it for detailed reference.
Posted 28 January 2013 - 03:21 PM
Regarding expense, any of these apps I mentioned here should run on an iPod touch. Although the touch might not have a built-in GPS so I'm guessing you'd have to manually supply your latitude and longitude to the apps? An iPod can be had for relatively little $$ used. Although I will warn that in particular the SkySafari3 app is pretty resource hungry so you couldn't buy a device more than 1 or 2 generations old to adequately run that one. The graphics really bogged down on my iPhone4 when I turned on too many of the features at once (comets & asteroids, plus orbits).
And as Jawaid pointed out above, there are comparable apps (and in fact SkySafari itself) that run on the Android platform. Android devices can be had even more inexpensively.
Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:23 AM
By the way, for those with iPads, GoSkyWatch is free on it! Its use of colored symbols for different DSOs is a model others should copy.
My only wish is that they would provide users an option to turn off the always-on, centered cross-hairs. That's a distraction. The pop up info is great, but it's a nuisance having to slide the sky to the cross-hairs rather than tap on an object of interest. It also ends up being akin to a video game, continuously updating depending on what gets centered.
Gordon, check out an iPod Touch--used or new. Much less expensive than a smartphone + contract, which, as you wrote, involves quite a bit of $$$. Watch for one on Astromart or here-- or even ebay if you select someone with lots of consistently positive ratings.
Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:27 AM
Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:08 PM
Jarrod, many other astro apps do the automatic "surfing" the sky biz--showing you what's there depending on where you're pointing the device--Distant Suns, Star Walk, StarMap Pro, Pocket Universe, and even Sky Safari itself.
I wasn't clear enough. I meant that the "touchless" aspect of automatically displaying object info for what is under the "cursor". That feature is what makes GoSkyWatch unique. I don't think any other app does that. There's at least two ways to think of using these apps:
1) I'm panning the actual sky through my binoculars. I want to know about the object I'm looking at.
2) I'm panning the virtual sky through the app. I want to know about an onscreen object and then have the app guide my binoculars to it.
GoSkyWatch excels at #1. It's really more suited to exploration and less suited to #2 - guiding you to a specific object that you select (though it can guide you to a specific object if you know its name). By removing the requirement of having to touch the screen to get object info, you can quickly "surf" the sky with your binoculars and get instant feedback on what you see. Definitely a different mode of interaction, but I think nice to have a different option.
Still waiting for Orion to ship...oh well, the moon is bright and we've had cloudy skies anyway.
Posted 14 February 2013 - 02:04 PM
Posted 16 February 2013 - 10:48 AM
Have you received the Orion Smartphone Bino mount yet?
I have. I was waiting for more clear skies before posting my opinion but I can give you an initial reaction.
Although mostly plastic (except for the slotted support/mounting arm) it's a good-quality device. As I alluded to, unfortunately we've had about 10 minutes of clear, dark sky since I've had it, so I've only been able to do limited testing with the smartphone apps. I'd say the gyro on my iPhone4 is accurate to about 2*. After calibrating to a known object and enabling gyro mode in SkySafari3, the object I had centered in the 3* software telrad circle would appear in the 3* FOV of my binocular about 75% of the time. More use is needed to confirm, however. (I feel sure that the compass mode is NOT accurate enough for this purpose, which may limit the usefulness of other apps besides SkySafari. Again I've only had about 10-15 minutes of initial tests. In any case, it BEATS THE HECK out of holding the phone up with one hand while you manipulate the binoculars with the other...
Here are a couple of pics that show how I mounted this device up to my Zhumell 25x100.
Atom clamp with ratcheting lock nut (it has 3/8"-16 and 1/4"-20 threaded holes on top), and mini-ball head from B&H:
Assembled and mounted to the center bar of the binocular - works great:
Posted 16 February 2013 - 01:04 PM
Posted 17 February 2013 - 01:29 AM