Google seems to have no apparent plans to release its Maps or Sky Maps app for Windows 8, but fret not! You can still get your hands on various alternative services and third-party solutions available in the Store, such as our previously covered G Maps. And if you thought your Sky Maps cravings was still left in dust, you’d be delighted to learn about the newly released SkyMap app. After enjoying critical acclaim on Windows Phone, the app has finally landed on the Windows 8 platform in form of a Modern UI Windows Store app. It lets you gaze over all those ancient constellations in a full 3D virtual planetarium, all in real-time. It also makes full use of Microsoft Surface’s built-in GPS and accelerometer, meaning you can point the device to the sky to precisely locate any star, planet, heavenly bodies, and other deep-space objects exactly where they are. How does it compare with big G’s Sky Maps? Let’s find out!
SkyMap can be downloaded from Windows Store. Simply open the Store app from Start Screen and type the app’s name in Search Charm. Afterwards, click or tap the Install button to begin the installation.
SkyMap exposes a huge collection of celestial bodies (110,000 in all) that are scattered around the Milky Way galaxy. It runs in full screen mode, so you don’t get distracted by any UI elements. You can use the mouse scroll wheel for zooming in and out, while the same can be done with pinch to zoom gestures on Windows RT devices. Clicking or tapping an object provides further information about that planet or star such as its magnitude, distance from Earth, rise & set times etc. Those who want to dig deeper can always use the integrated Wikipedia link.
I also couldn’t wait to try the app on Microsoft Surface to see its GPS and accelerometer-enabled functionality. The app felt quite lacking when compared to Google Sky Maps on my Android device though, and the relatively inferior hardware of the Surface compared to most high-end Android devices could be the cuplrit here. The app automatically determines your current location for drawing the sky maps, but you can also manually change it via location settings by entering the right longitude and latitude coordinates. You can also change the view according to time, but that feature is disabled in the free variant.
Display settings of the maps can also be changed according to your preferences. You can show or hide various celestial objects such as Moon, Sun, planets, stars, constellations etc. Similarly, the Display bar also allows enabling night mode, which gives a clear vision of the planets. You can toggle several map layers as well.
Overall, SkyMap is a wonderful app. Even though Google’s variant may win on other platforms by a country mile, SkyMap is currently the best 3D planetarium app available on Windows Store. It works on Windows RT as well as both 32 and 64-bit editions of Windows 8.