When it comes to go-to telescopes for beginners that cost less than $500, the iOptron SmartStar-R80 may stand out most because it is one of the few that also falls under the $250 price point. You do have to sacrifice light-gathering power to get there, but for some beginners, this unit may be a good fit. The small aperture of this scope (80mm) means that you will not see many dim, deep-sky objects. Its relatively low-cost optics didn’t provide the crystal-clear views of star clusters and comets we found with some of the other telescopes we tested, but the optics are functional enough that you'll be able to really enjoy exploring the planets and the surface of the moon.

The iOptron brand may give a few folks with even a little experience pause, especially since it is sold by Wal-Mart, among other retailers. However, we give iOptron credit for making fully go-to telescopes that are fun and easy to use, and the company's Cube mount has deservedly won praise, and we found it easy to use. Because it’s a refractor-type model, this little starter scope offers both celestial and terrestrial views. We always like to see that. The built-in, go-to feature was straight forward, and we were able to find the section of sky we wanted easily.

Plus, it does not get any better than the iOptron in terms of easy set up. We did not even spend a full five minutes putting this starter telescope together, and this was one of the first go-to scopes we attempted to assemble. You will be amazed at how fast this scope goes from box to backyard. As such, it’s a great first telescope for budding astronomers.

The whole set also is very light and easy to transport. We just threw it in the back seat, but it would even fit in the trunk of a small sedan. Portability is important for most budding astronomers, and this is a very portable telescope for beginners.

The customer support iOptron provides is far from ideal, however. When we called to ask questions over the phone, we got a recording – even during normal business hours. The company's website is pretty uninformative compared to the sites of other telescope vendors. This may seem like a minor detail, but customer service really matters when you have a problem, and you are more likely to have a problem when you are new to astronomy. One bright spot to its customer support is the speed of email responses. We heard back quickly from the iOptron staff when we submitted our inquiries.

iOptron SmartStar R80 Summary:

The iOptron SmartStar-R80 is easy to set up and use. Finding a specific star cluster or planet should be relatively easy. The drawback to this instrument is its relatively small aperture. This will keep you from seeing some of the more spectacular views in the night sky. However, iOptron SmartStar-R80 is an extremely portable beginner telescope, and it is offered at a very reasonable price.


iOptron SmartStar R80 9802

The built-in, go-to feature is easy to use, and you’ll easily find the area of sky you're looking for.

The SmartStar-R80's low aperture gives a limited view of the night sky.

The Verdict:

This scope is petite, portable and affordable. Setup takes only a few minutes, but you have less aperture for gathering light to view celestial objects.