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 smaller aperture of this scope (80mm) means that you will not see many dim deep-sky objects. Its relatively low-cost optics won’t give you crystal-clear views of star clusters and comets, but they 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 been winning praise from various sources for some time. Because it’s a refractor-type model, this little starter scope offers both celestial and terrestrial views. We always like to see that.
It does not get any better than this 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 goes from box to backyard.
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 vendors of telescopes for beginners. 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 that way.
The drawback to this instrument is its relatively small aperture. That 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 that is easy to set up, and it is offered at a very reasonable price.
This telescope is extremely portable and affordable. Set-up takes only a few minutes.
The SmartStar-R80's lower aperture means that the views of the night sky you'll see are less spectacular than the views you can see with telescopes that have larger apertures.
This scope is petite and portable, but you will have less aperture for gathering light to view celestial objects.