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Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe Review: A Fresh Look at the Cosmos

Armchair astronomers all over have already expressed an interest in the App Store and it’s wealth of stargazing apps. But Brian Cox of the BBC thought he could deliver an even more engaging way to explore the cosmos on an iOS device–and thus we have the Wonders of the Universe Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe - HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Words will probably fall short when trying to describe the immersive experience found here, just as they do when scientists try to describe the immensity and grandeur of the universe… So, well you might not leave Wonders of the Universe with a thorough knowledge of everything that’s going on up there, you can be sure that you’ll have an enjoyable trip through the heavens and probably learn a lot along the way.

It’s clear right away when you launch the Wonders of the Universe that you’re in for a self-guided trip full of amazing sights and facts. After reading a brief introduction and going through a few navigation demonstrations, the app pretty much leaves you to it… So what do you do when you’re staring at the entire universe on a 9-inch screen? Well, pinch to zoom of course… You could spend a lot of time free styling through the stars as you tap to drag and move in and out, but that would be to ignore a whole lot of information that’s served up by Cox in quite an engaging way. For that reason, it’s definitely worth pulling up the menus and bringing a bit of structure to your exploration.

I could try and recap the information presented in Wonders of the Universe, but I have a feeling you have other things to do in the next few years. Cox and his team have gone to great lengths to use text, photos, and videos to teach us the most stimulating and educational tidbits culled from the sub-atomic level to a universal scale. Whether it’s the Milky Way you’re investigating or the complexity of black holes, you can bet that Cox’s time as a BBC presenter has made him more than qualified to act as your instructor… The information itself interacts seamlessly with the deep-space background. Occupying just the center of the screen, text moves from bottom to top and is interspersed with photos and videos. Whenever an image gallery or video clip comes up, you can navigate by swiping right or left, and then move on by continuing to scroll up. It’s a great system that never gets in the way of your continued travels through space. Even so, I recommend not getting bogged down for too long, cause there’s just too much to see here.

While Wonders does an incredible job of confirming how mind-bendingly big the universe is and delivering salient facts along the way, there are just a few hiccups. Whenever Wonders leaves the rails, it’s usually because of slightly clunky navigational commands. The pinch-to-zoom control is adequate, as are the menus for calling up specific sections or levels of space, but you’re always just a few taps away from getting completely disoriented and turned around–or maybe it’s just me and my lack of base knowledge to begin with.

Another possible area of improvement for Wonders would be a bit more of a hand-holding for people like me. There are two “tours” available in the app, and that’s an area I’d definitely like to see expanded in the future. In addition, some quiz material would be great for sending us off on quests through the cosmos that are less aimless when you don’t know what to do next.

But these are small complaints. You can purchase Wonders of the Universe knowing that Cox will adequately blow your mind with what’s inside. For all the success he’s had in television and other mediums, Cox didn’t phone this one in, and it’s not a half-baked tie-in project for anything else he’s got going on. Instead, Wonders stands as a marvelous example of how the iPad can be used as an educational tool. Long gone are the days of staring at astronomy textbooks (or they should be long gone, anyway). This is an immensely entertaining way to flit through space, and yeah, you can expect to learn a ton along the way.

Our Score: 4.5 Out of 5

Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe - HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

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