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Laboratory-quality optics run deep in Meade’s DNA, and this scope got a good measure of those genetics. As a refractor, this model uses a large objective lens as its primary light-collection device. It is built with an achromatic (two-element) lens that will reduce (but not completely eliminate) the artificial color effects that lenses can paint on the edges of planets and the moon.
With 4 inches of aperture, this unit is going to pull in some significant sights from around the universe. Expect to get clear views of all major planets, including Saturn and its rings, the cloud belts of Jupiter, the phases of Venus (and perhaps Mercury) and some of the features on Mars. This starter scope also offers nicely detailed views of the moon and all of the variety on its surface – craters, valleys, mountain ranges and more. It’s not that great for viewing deep-space objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters, although it will do a credible job of separating binary stars.
And the great views can continue during the daytime. This versatile scope also offers applications like bird watching and other nature observations.
The StarNavigator is both computerized and motorized, so it will find and track objects in the nighttime sky for you once you perform a short alignment process. An internal battery pack ensures that you will not have to struggle with cord wrap, no matter how long you track an object. However, the 102’s lightweight, single-fork mount and small stepper motors are not beefy enough to track objects accurately for astro-photography with a heavy camera mounted at the end of the optical tube.
We love the StarNavigator for beginners because it is so easy to use. Not only does this telescope point itself at objects in the sky, but it also tells you about them. This is not available for the entire library – there are more than 30,000 objects and just 500 of them have associated audio files – but having the option at all is a wonderful feature for all types of budding astronomers, including children. You don't have to listen to your telescope if you don't want to. Just switch that feature off and you will still be able to read about the object you are seeing in your eyepiece on the keypad's screen.
One possible weakness with this instrument is that its assembly is not quite as easy as some of the others products we considered. There will be tools involved, but at least you will never have to collimate the optics. That can be an intimidating process for a beginning user. We also like the oversized declination dial for quick alignment set up.
Meade customer support is not our favorite, but the company will still do a fairly good job for new astronomers. Its website is not as well organized and informative as some of its competitors' sites, and we could not find any videos about this telescope. Those can make a big difference if you are stuck on assembly or anything else. Meade's warranty is not as long as the warranties for some of the other products in our lineup either. Also, longer customer service hours would be nice, but the company does have friendly and helpful people on the other end of the line during many hours of the day. Also, the manuals are easy to find online if you lose yours.
This unit compares very favorably to other telescopes for beginners in most categories. You give up a little bit in terms of customer support and ease of use compared to our favorite telescopes for beginners, but we love the high-quality optics on the Meade StarNavigator 102 Refractor and the included audio tour of the skies.
Expect to see quite a bit of detail on the surface of the moon as well as the cloud belts of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and more.
Meade customer support is weak in some areas.
This go-to telescope will find celestial objects and describe them to you in a recorded voice.