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Celestial (Free|$1.99, £1.49, AU$2.49) is an ambient noise app that claims to help you relax or focus, and it has a timer so you can listen while you fall asleep. Note that the free version comes with three sounds, and you can unlock three more via an in-app purchase, but if you buy the paid version you can skip this step.
The full version gives you six different ambient soundscapes that were recorded at real locations around the globe. Launch the app, select a sound type, press Play and melt away into your work or thoughts. Some design missteps that make the interface a bit confusing, but the sounds are of high quality, making the app worth your while.
Launching the app for the first time gives you the option to view a quick tutorial with a swipe to the left, or tap a button to dive right in.
The tutorial walks you through the basic premise of the app and how to navigate its various screens. It also recommends listening using headphones for the full effect.
After the tutorial, you're taken to a very minimalistic main screen -- a list of six different sounds, each with a photo to represent the sound's origin and a text label.
For example, the Focus listing has a picture of a highway full of fast-moving cars. Relax is accompanied by a photo of the ocean. The sounds range from white noise to "wind recorded during a Canadian winter," according to the App Store listing.
For me (and your experience will likely be different), the sounds all had the same effect -- they made me want to go to sleep. I didn't find one sound that made me more productive than another, which I admit says more about my lack of quality sleep than it does the app's ability to motivate me.
There's one feature in the app that seems out of place. When you're listening to a given sound, you'll notice the background picture moves as you move your phone. Pan to the right and the background moves with you. Move it to the left and the same thing happens in reverse.
I assume the goal here is to help someone relax by listening to the sound and feeling like he or she has been transported into a more soothing location.
But in practice, I fail to find the utility of such a feature. Holding your phone up and moving it around does nothing but take away from the experience. There is a button to lock the background from moving, but I would love to see the option to turn off the backgrounds altogether.
When you select one of the six options from the list, you're taken to its respective screen (the same one where the panoramic background moves around). Sitting just above the bottom of the screen is a series of buttons and text. The biggest button on the left is the Play button, which begins playing the sound once you press it.
To the right of that are the words "Timer" and "Sounds," and just below that are a volume slider and the button that locks the background from moving.
The problem is, the way the text and the buttons are lined up, the first impression I had was that the slider was actually a means for adjusting the timer. I discovered this wasn't the case when I attempted to slide it all the way to the right in order to increase the timer, resulting in my headphone volume going from low to extremely loud.
Similarly, the text "Sounds" is sitting right above the motion lock button -- an icon of a smartphone, with two arrows to indicate rotation -- confusing me as to what the button's purpose was. After some trial and error, I figured out that Sounds is a separate button that takes you to the main menu
In other words, it took me a few minutes to realize the words Timer and Sounds are actually buttons, and not text labels. By adding a bit of space between the buttons, this confusion could have been prevented (and my ears spared a blast of imaginary rain).
Celestial does exactly what it's supposed to do. It plays soothing sounds without presenting you with too many features or unnecessary options. You simply launch it, select the sound category and tap Play.
The Play screen would benefit from a redesign, as the current layout is confusing. Also, the panoramas that accompany the sounds are nice to look at once, but it seems like this app should be more about the sounds than the sights.
Still, if you're looking for an app to help you concentrate on a task, or fall asleep and stay asleep, Celestial is worth a shot. And the advantage of there being both a paid and free version is you can try before you buy.