Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe

Following on from the success of the popular BBC television series of the same name, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe sees the popular scientist, lecturer, and former pop star present an app which makes use of both his typical style of breaking down complex scientific matters into simple stories and beautiful, immersive graphics which really shine on the last two versions of iPad (the app is not compatible with first gen iPads, unfortunately).

Wonders of the Universe contains over two hundred interactive articles and some two and a half hours of video taken from Cox’s two popular BBC TV series, Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe. With no further ado, let’s take a look at how this promising app stacks up! 


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Stunning Visuals

Wonders of the Universe sports stunning visuals

Wonders of the Universe sports stunning visuals.

The first thing that one notices when launching Wonders of the Universe are the app’s stunning visuals, which can’t fully translate to the computer screen via the use of screenshots. Frankly, I felt that Wonders of the Universe does indeed approach that much-hyped ‘magic’ user experience which was promised on the iPad’s launch.

After a few moments gazing at a galaxy, the unobtrusive user interface which Wonders makes use of encouraged me to explore and I thus got introduced to the app by zipping around at Solar System, Galaxy and Universe levels of space before ultimately reading the instructions and getting stuck in to the app itself.

Seven Levels of Scale

Wonders of the Universe comes with a novel form of separating the content on offer by making use of seven layers of scale. In order of size from small to large, the seven are as follows:

  • Sub Atomic
  • Atomic
  • Solar System
  • Stars
  • Milky Way
  • Galaxies
  • Universe

Choosing one of those seven categories causes the camera’s perspective to shift accordingly and the user is treated to a series of beautiful animations which will zoom-in or pan out accordingly. Once within the chosen level of scale, there is a wealth of information in the form of short video excerpts and articles with excellent images too. 

Wonders of the Universe abounds with compelling images and text

Wonders of the Universe abounds with compelling images and text.

Above is a screenshot taken from the first article in the Sub Atomic section and this is complemented by several videos of Cox detailing whichever particular scientific principle he is attempting to explain at that time.

This variation of media format makes for a much more intuitive, fluid learning experience than could be offered from text alone and ensures that even taking in all the principles, facts and statistics never feels like an effort.

One small annoyance is that the videos are streamed and thus dependent on a strong internet connection – this is presumably in order to cut down on the Wonders of the Universe’s overall size, or perhaps due to BBC licensing requirements. Whatever the cause, it would certainly be preferable to have the option to download and save all videos locally at once, thus enabling the app to be used on a long flight or drive as the perfect scientific companion. 

For Newcomers and Enthusiasts Alike

The great strength of Wonders of the Universe is its accessibility

The great strength of Wonders of the Universe is its accessibility.

Whether you’re an enthusiastic fan of all things related to science and space, like myself, or a more casual user with just a passing interest on the topics in general, Wonders provides a compelling and easily understood narrative to ensure that one is imparted with some really important and interesting knowledge. For example, most readers will have some idea of how the universe was created and be familiar with The Big Bang, but Wonders lays it out in a fashion which gives a deeper knowledge of the fundamentals and from this foundation, we can then confidently go looking elsewhere for more detailed and advanced information. 

The lion’s share of credit for this easily understood narrative must go to Dr Brian Cox himself, but the award winning scientist and researcher is given the tools to deliver his understated and engaging style of teaching with the aid of a robust and useful app, and this makes all the difference – rather than feeling like a mere framework tacked-on in order to allow easy navigation of Cox’s work, Wonders of the Universe gives the impression of an app carefully designed from the beginning as something unique. 

Conclusion

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe could have been such a letdown and indeed, before trying out the app I did wonder whether it could possibly live up to the brilliance of the original TV series. But, thanks to Cox’s own skill as a narrator and teacher, the hard work put into making such beautiful graphics and perhaps even the very form of the iPad itself, Wonders more than lives up to its bigger screened cousin. 

Sold at an introductory price of $6.99, Wonders of the Universe cannot be called an either an overly cheap or expensive app, but one which offers good value considering how much time and work went into its creation. A couple of minor issues such as the inability to watch videos offline and the very good but occasionally confusing UI may slightly mar the overall experience, but these cannot detract from the fact that Wonders of the Universe is a truly outstanding app and makes full use of the iPad’s form to both dazzle and educate. 


Summary

An app as informative as it is entertaining, Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe should offer plenty of mileage for existing fans of the BBC series and those unfamiliar with the scientist's previous work.

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