Well I've decided I was hitting too many speed bumps, one step forward, two steps back, etc. I surrender.
I had the cheapie Meade OTA and picked up the AZ-GTI to replace the DOA Meade drive. I was pretty happy with it for a day. Then on day two, the AZ-GTI decided to just spin the RA axis indefinitely when it got a command to move. It wasn't showing any feedback on the encoder. Well, that's it - it's going back.
I figured I am probably a bit atypical compared to the average customer because I deal with sensitive and precision equipment pretty much all day long every day, so I know how to treat a little device like this without hurting it. It oughtta be more durable than to act up after just powering it up on its second day of operation. Also, not a big deal but both axes were a bit tight, which I guess is pretty typical.
So that's a two-for-two QC problem in my case. I hope everybody else is doing much better with theirs.
Anyway, long story short, I decided to punt and just buy something decent and see how that goes. I was attracted to Astronomics just in general as a store, so ended up buying from them. Today I ordered a little Astrotech AT72EDII OTA because I figured the little Meade would just look plain stupid on the mount I also ordered, which is an Ioptron CEM25P. I know some of you guys will still not be happy that I didn't spend 5K on a massive GEM, but I still want portability and I've read several complimentary comments about the CEM25P on this forum and it does seem pretty decent. I did consider something larger, but I really just don't want to have to lug a heavy mount around - I won't get it out of the house. I figure the CEM25P will be as heavy as I want to go and not have the weight talk me out of taking it outside for a spin.
It's nasty weather here anyway for a while, so I guess the week or two for both pieces to arrive won't hurt too bad. I hope this is a good start.
Gimme a couple weeks and I'll report back some kinda first impressions post.