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This review is for anyone who is thinking of purchasing his or her first telescope and has limited knowledge of astronomy and telescope because I was that person when I got this.
About half a year ago in the summer of 2009, I bought my first telescope, the Meade ETX-80AT. I decided to buy this because it was within my price range and has AutoStar. AutoStar will automatically point the telescope to the many objects in the sky. I wanted this feature because I heard that new astronomers often get too frustrated and quit because they cannot manually find what they are looking for in the sky.
When I got the scope, I was very excited. I love how the item came with a tripod bag. The bag even has a pouch to hold accessories. It does not come with a case for the telescope, which I already knew. However, I just use the cardboard box that came with the packaging to hold the telescope as you can see in the bottom left picture.
Since I do not have a place in my yard to view the sky, I have to drive to a location. I just put my telescope in the cardboard box, place everything in my car off I go. The telescope is small and light which makes this very easy.
Once I am in the perfect viewing location, I set the telescope and tripod down. First I have to auto align the telescope before it will automatically point objects. This can be frustrating and it does take a lot of patience. The first few times you auto align the telescope, there is a lot of room for making a mistake which requires redoing everything. But once it is set up, it is ready to be used.
So what is it like using the telescope? It is really cool! You can see the bands of Jupiter and you can even see the four moons of Jupiter as very clear dots!! This is probably the coolest thing that I saw. If you show your friends and family, they will all be quite impressed as well, of course unless they own a bigger telescope than you. The moon was extremely sharp and clear and the best way to describe it is like looking at the moon in high definition. I live in the suburbs of DC metropolitan area so there is light pollution, which hurts my ability to see fainter objects. I have been able to see other objects in the sky like galaxies and clusters but they show up as very fuzzy blurs. It is faint but it is still amazing nonetheless.
One thing you have to know is that the motor is LOUD! The first time I powered up the telescope, the sound of the motor startled me. I had read a review before about the loud motor and I thought the person was exaggerating. However, when it is late at night and very quiet, the sound of the motor is quite loud. It is almost as loud as an idling car. The good news is that it is only loud when the motor is moving at high speeds. It only moves quickly when it is pointing to a new object in the sky or when it is aligning so it is not loud the whole time you are using it.
The quality of some of the parts is not the best. However, this is expected considering this is a starter telescope and the relatively low price. This is not to say you should not get it but I am just putting it out there so you know what you are getting. Some of the moving parts feel flimsy. For example, moving the motor is not very accurate. It is hard to describe but trying to center an object exactly can be hard because the motor is not very sensitive at times.
The telescope will not work well with lithium AA batteries because those batteries do not have enough voltage. You either have to buy a big pack of AA batteries, which is inexpensive at Home Depot or invest in a 12V rechargeable battery pack.
Focusing the telescope can be a pain because it takes getting use to. Switching the eyepiece requires refocusing which is not too hard however if you use the built-in Barlow, refocusing becomes very hard because objects becomes very out of focus and you have to find the focus point which involves many many twists of the focusing knob. If you spin it too fast, you might accidentally pass the focus point without even knowing it.
If you plan to not use the AutoStar feature and want to just manually point to objects in the sky, then you will have to purchase a finderscope. Without the finderscope, you have no idea where the telescope is pointing to in the sky because you have to eyeball everything which makes manually pointing to objects (other than the Moon and other bright objects like Jupitor and Vega) next to impossible.
If you have a low budget, this is a great scope. However, there is a learning curve and requires some getting used to. But in my opinion this is the best telescope with auto pointing feature in this price range. If you are just starting astronomy and you have a limited budget, definitely consider this telescope.