Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Atlas by Collins: Pretty but Plodding

Atlas by Collins is an Earth-view app by Harper Collins Publishers. It is available for US$6.99 at the iOS App Store.

Atlas by Collins Two of the globes available on Atlas by CollinsAtlas by Collins is a globe-view app similar in concept to Google Earth. Similar, that is, in appearance, but if you really want a robust Earth-view app, don't bother spending the money on this one.

To begin with, you can't zoom past about the 30,000-foot view without encountering a serious lag in the data loading. That means if you have Los Angeles centered on your screen, you'll also see the entire Antelope Valley and Orange and Ventura counties. Bakersfield falls just above the edge of the screen. Try to zoom past that point, and you get grid pattern and an error message that says, "Search is unavailable in Apple Maps." Eventually, the map data loads, but I really do mean eventually -- and I was using it on WiFi.

At $6.99, you'll really want to have a reason to download it. Oddly enough, however, be glad you waited until now, because a week ago when I first looked at the listing for this app, it was listed at an introductory price of $9.99.

The app works on iPhones later than the 3GS, and iPads generation two and above. Sadly, I can't view it on my old clunker of an iPad 1, because I bet it looks pretty on the larger screen.

The app really has a problem running without hanging up. Loading a new globe or trying to conduct a search or switching the overlay on the globe you're viewing can lead to an endless spinning pinwheel.

Navigation is less than intuitive at times. At one point, I went into the settings and turned on the gyroscope function, which moves the globe image around based on how you tilt the phone. It's nice for a little while, but I wanted to get back to regular navigation. I had trouble figuring out how to turn it off. After a little frustration, I learned that you have to choose one of three compass modes: Lock to North, Free Rotation or Gyroscope.

There are three categories of globe: Atlas Essentials, People and Power, and Living Earth. Each contains one or more globes you can download and view at no charge. You'll need a WiFi connection, though, because the files are large and take time to download. I timed one and it took seven minutes to download and install over my home WiFi connection.

Only one globe, the Satellite View, comes preloaded with the app.

The Environment globe, part of the Living Earth collection, shows the natural world and humans' impact on it. There are different overlays that can be accessed by swiping the bottom of the screen. They include fresh water resources, carbon dioxide emissions and environmental threats and hotspots. Some of the hotspots listed include a battery-smelting plant, a chemical manufacturer and a gigantic metal recycler. While the overlays are interesting, they lagged significantly on my iPhone 4. Perhaps the faster processors of later versions can load them faster.

Tap in the button labeled with an "i" for a popup window and more information is displayed, in encyclopedic format -- a combination of text, charts and photos. Sometimes this information is rich and dense, and sometimes it's hardly worth the effort to tap the button.

Ultimately, if you're looking for a powerful, content-rich Earth-view app for your iPhone or iPad, there's no reason to spend the extra money when the free product does the job just fine. If you have a device with more powerful specs than the minimum required, Atlas by Collins might serve a need, but in the end this app needs a little more cooking time and a weight-loss program.

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