Technology continues to increase and seep into every facet of our lives. From smart refrigerators to smart cars and smart ovens, computerized tech has exploded recently creating dozens of new smart devices. This expansion of new 21st-century technology has not spared the astronomy community and the rise of smart telescopes and computerized telescopes have seen a sharp rise in popularity and prevalence online.
IN A HURRY? HERE’S OUR TOP PICKS…
This is the next frontier of amateur astronomy and it is coming quickly. Before long, fully manual telescopes are going to seem archaic and only used by people who enjoy the grit and feel of old technology. Similar to how stick shift cars are today. If you want to get in on the newest phase of backyard astronomy, computerized telescopes are the place to be and these are some of the best models available today.
Terms To Know
Before we jump right into the thick of things, there are a couple of terms we need to nail down before continuing. Some unclear naming habits have left users confused in the past and knowing the difference between these few key terms can ensure that you are equipped with the most up to date knowledge before making a potentially sizeable purchase.
SLT stands for star locating telescope and is a shorthand way of designating a computerized telescope. Many SLT telescopes feature large databases and GoTo mounts but not all of them do. If you see a telescope with SLT in the name or claiming to be an SLT telescope, you can safely assume that this telescope has some computerized functions. However, you always need to double check the features before buying to figure out what kind and what extent these computerized features reach.
A GoTo mount or goto mount is a new electronic mounting system that will move the telescope’s optical tube for you. Make note that telescopes that do not have a goto mount will not automatically move into place. A goto mount is separate from a computerized telescope in terms of definition. You can find computerized telescopes with databases that do not feature goto mounts. Make sure that if you are looking for a fully automatic telescope that it features a motorized goto mount system.
Further still, some goto mounts will locate stars for you but do not feature automatic tracking technology. That means it will be able to find a specific object in the night sky but it might not be able to track it over the course of a viewing session. That would leave the fine-tuning and micro-adjustments up to you, the user.
Lastly, know that the star database is the computer that runs the computerized telescopes. At the end of the day, this is what makes a telescope computerized or not. These databases are not always pretty or very intuitive in their presentation. Some of them are merely catalogs that tell you the type of object and a name, nothing more. Some require the use of companion software or a companion app to give you more information. These databases are not a flashy encyclopedia of knowledge but rather a set of utilitarian information that will help run the computerized features of your telescope.
Now that those important definitions are out of the way, here are our picks for best computerized telescopes in 2020.
Best Overall: Celestron NexStar 8SE
It would not be a list of the best computerized telescopes available without the inclusion of a NexStar model by Celestron. This is the first of two NexStar telescopes that make this list but the Celestron NexStar 8SE Computerized Telescope is by far the best computerized telescope on the market today.
Celestron was one of the first manufacturers to blaze a trail into the computerized telescope space and their innovations and design choices are still set the bar for good computerized technology today. Their SE line of telescopes takes the best of their optical acumen and combines it with their groundbreaking technology to give you an unrivaled telescope experience. It really is that cool.
- Type: Schmidt-Cassegrain
- Aperture: 8 inches
- Focal ratio: f/10
- Highest theoretical magnification: 480x
- Assembled Weight: 33lbs
- Database Size: 40,000+
Instead of going with a standard reflector or bulky Dobsonian base, they have opted to use the compact and clear Schmidt-Cassegrain design. This gives higher focal ratios to their telescopes, f/10 and above, which helps to bring out the contrast of objects better. This means that it can better view things such as Mars and Jupiter and Saturn’s rings than many of the other, wide-angle, telescopes on this list.
This design decision ensures that more of their massive database will be able to be viewed in a clear manner.
Their database has over 40,000 objects to choose from which means that the possibilities are almost endless. Combined with the truly large 8” primary aperture and magnifying power of 480x this scope can truly probe the depths of the universe without breaking a sweat.
One of the best parts of the Schmidt-Cassegrain design is that it is far smaller and more compact than some of the other telescopes on this list. It only weighs 33 pounds and has a super easy to use flat-bottom base. This means you can set this telescope on a table, or another flat surface, or attach it to a tripod. This simply adds to the ultimate flexibility and versatility of design that is present here.
If you are sitting there thinking to yourself that you don’t have the time or the skills to find and track 40,000 deep space objects, you are not alone. That is why Celestron pioneered their SkyAlign technology which allows you to manually triangulate the position of your telescope. Once it knows where it is, it will do all of the finding and tracking for you.
Not only that but once you integrate your telescope with Celestron’s app and the included Starry Night software, those smudges of light and interesting globules that appear in your eyepiece will be able to be identified. The app and Starry Night will flood you with unique and interesting facts and knowledge about every object in the database. This adds a layer of character to this telescope that some other models just don’t feature.
This telescope is the complete package. A large aperture telescope that comes in a compact and manageable size. It has a massive database of objects and a goto mount that can find and track them all for you. It has included software that will be able to flesh out those points of data with real and fun information.
The only downside to this telescope is the price, which can be a little steep for some. But considering everything you are getting, the price is more than fair. If you are looking for the most complete, most advanced, and best images on the market in the computerized telescope space today, you have to get the Celestron NexStar 8SE.
If you do not want to pay the price for the full 8 inch model, you can also get one of the plethora of other available models. The Celestron NexStar SE lineup of advanced telescopes is so popular they made a model in almost every size imaginable. The 8 inch is simply the biggest one available at the moment and unlocks the full potential of the database. You can also get the four inch, five inch or six inch variation. Each smaller size is going to offer a lot less in the way of light gathering ability but still comes with the same technology included.
Whatever size you choose, you will not be disappointed by the quality and performance of the SE telescopes by Celestron.Check Latest Price
Best Portable: SkyWatcher S11800 GoTo Collapsible Dobsonian
Many Dobsonian telescopes claim to be portable and tend to be very literal with their definition. Technically, all Dobsonians can be moved and thus are portable. That is their logic but they never tell you how easy it actually is to move these massive telescopes. Most of the time, it’s a pain.
In the case of the SkyWatcher S11800 Flextube Dobsonian, it actually is portable. If you want a telescope that can, actually, be taken along for the ride in a way that won’t make you pull your hair out then this is the telescope for you.
There are other telescopes that are lighter and easier to collapse on this list but they do not have the raw power and complete features of this telescope. Rarely, if ever, do you get a full-fledged Dobsonian, with a massive star database, goto mount, and automatic alignment software in a package that is actually able to be moved easily from place to place.
- Type: Dobsonian
- Aperture: 8 inches
- Focal ratio: f/5.9
- Highest theoretical magnification: 405x
- Assembled Weight: 85lbs
- Database size: 42,000
This is possible due to SkyWatcher’s innovative flextube technology which takes the normally obtuse optical tube of a classic Dobsonian and makes it so it will easily collapse down into a more manageable size. The base then detaches from the collapsed tube and the whole thing is ready to be put into a car, truck, or SUV with ease.
Unlike other Dobsonians this makes the process of deconstructing or moving this scope actually doable by real people. Though the weight is still quite high at 85lbs, it’s not going to be easy to lug long distances but for putting into the car and taking on the road, it will do the job just fine.
On top of the innovative optical tube design, you also get a whole host of top notch technology that makes this telescope a true dream. At eight inches, it has a huge aperture that can make use of an equally huge database. With over 42,000 programmed objects onboard, this telescope has the chops to keep you busy for years to come.
It has a fully automatic goto mount and a super easy to use two star alignment system. That means you just have to find two bright objects in the sky, say Polaris and Sirius, or any combination of two stars that you are familiar with, tell the telescope which ones you are pointing to, and it will be able to locate itself in minutes. This unlocks the full potential of the database and before you know it you will be zooming around the night sky with a few keystrokes. Two stars is a full star less than most alignment systems require. Most of these automatic alignment systems require a triangulation process meaning three objects.
Even if you are not interested in the super cool Flextube technology, this is a great computerized Dobsonian that stands on its own.
This telescope makes the list for the abundance of innovative features, on top of the innovative computer, that it offers without sacrificing in terms of power or image quality. Finding a portable Dobsonian telescope is hard enough, but one with computerized features? That is a true white whale.Check Latest Price
Best On A Budget: Celestron NexStar 130SLT
If you like the idea of a computerized telescope but have been scared off by sticker shock, you are not alone. Some of these complicated and large telescopes come with equally complicated and large price tags. However, there is now an increasing number of SLT telescopes that are hitting the market at more and more affordable prices.
While you are still likely going to have to pay slightly more than a similar model that does not have computerized features, you no longer have to worry about dropping a grand or more on the latest and greatest tech. The Celestron NexStar 130SLT comes with all of the same technology packages that make the other NexStar telescopes tick, a great reflector telescope, and even some accessories at a price that is half that of other computerized telescopes on the market.
If you have to have a computerized telescope but you don’t want to drop the huge amounts that some require, this is a perfect entry point to the computerized telescope world. You will be able to learn, play with, and try out things such as StarAlign, the Celestron app, the NexStar database, and controller all for a price that will surprise you.
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 130mm
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Highest theoretical magnification: 305x
- Assembled Weight: 18lbs
- Database Size: 40,000
At the end of the day, this is a great mashup from the minds of the engineers at Celestron. They have taken their wildly popular 130mm Newtonian reflector and kitted it out with all of their equally popular NexStar technology. The result is a user-friendly reflector that straddles the line between complex and easy to use quite nicely.
With a low focal ratio of f/5, a magnification ceiling of 305, and the large 130mm (5”) aperture, you get everything you could want out of a solid, wide-angle reflector. Add in the SkyAlign feature, which allows this telescope to locate itself based on three common night sky objects. Once you have it dialed in, 40,000 objects are just a button press away.
This telescope is going to struggle to give you high quality, high contrast views of things such as the planets and moons of our solar system, but luckily that only accounts for about a dozen objects. The rest will come from the super expansive database of deep sky galaxies, nebulas, and more.
With the Celestron 130SLT Computerized Telescope, you get a reflector telescope that can easily stand on its own as one of the best in the business, a bevy of included accessories, Celestron’s massive database, a motorized goto mount, all for less than five hundred dollars. Whew, if that isn’t a good deal, I don’t know what is.
The fact that it is fun to use, easy to use, and super powerful is just a bonus. Perfect for the budget conscious and beginner alike.Check Latest Price
Best Refractor: StarNavigator NG 102mm Achromatic Refractor Telescope
The vast majority of computerized telescopes on the market are reflectors. Newtonian reflectors, Dobsonian reflectors, its mirrors everywhere you look. If you like reflectors or are comfortable with reflectors, that is all fine and dandy but for those of us out there who prefer the classic look and feel of a good refractor telescope, the options can feel slim.
Do not worry, there are computerized refractors out there and this happens to be the very best. Not only do you get the unbeatable customization and accessory lineup of a good refractor, but you also get super powerful computerized tools that take this telescope to the next level. It has everything you love about a medium-sized refractor plus all of the features you have been jealous of from the reflector models.
- Type: Refractor
- Aperture: 102mm
- Focal ratio: f/6.5
- Highest theoretical magnification: Eyepiece dependent
- Assembled Weight: 14lbs
- Database Size: 30,000
The StarNavigator NG 102 Achromatic Refractor is a lovely telescope that is going to feel familiar to any refractor lovers out there. It is lightweight, easy to pack up and store, comes with an accessory tray, tripod, and a whole host of accessories.
Accessories are often some of the best parts of refractors and this one comes with a bunch including a compass for easy alignment, a red dot sight, two eyepieces, and a 90-degree imaging prism.
Plus you get all of the computerized features as well. The goto mount is an innovative construct that runs off a single dovetail style arm which makes removing the optical tube assembly super easy. It also allows you to easily adjust and focus your tube with a dial on the side of the arm so you can see exactly where you are pointed at any given time. This is far superior to a simple altazimuth mount sitting on top of a tripod. The information and control you get from this unique setup is next level.
In addition to the automatic goto mount, you also get four hours of night sky audio tours. That means your telescope will show itself around the sky and give you a fully voiced guided tour of your favorite night sky objects. This is a perfect way to get acquainted with how all of the computerized features work and will give you an up close seat to some of the best parts of this setup.
Don’t feel left out anymore. The reflectors don’t get to have all of the fun. This is the best computerized refractor out there giving you everything you love about your favorite OTAs with all of the most recent tech present as well.Check Latest Price
Best Dobsonian: Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10g Computerized GoTo Dobsonian
If you love big apertures and cannot lie, you are going to love this telescope. The Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10 is a phenomenal combination of size, power, functionality, and price that is borderline unbeatable. If you have been interested in upgrading to a computerized telescope but did not want to give up your large Dobsonian, do not fear. This telescope gives you everything you love about wide aperture Dobsonians while seamlessly integrating the most recent computerized technology.
The aperture of this telescope is a full 10” in diameter and boasts upper level magnification of 500x or more. The focal ratio is f/4.7 meaning this is a true to form light bucket that is ready to drink in the faintest light available to you.
- Type: Dobsonian
- Aperture: 10”
- Focal ratio: f/4.7
- Highest theoretical magnification: 500x
- Assembled Weight: 68lbs
- Database Size: 42,000
When I said this telescope seamlessly integrates the best computerized features, I meant it. Some Dobsonians have been content to literally bolt on the computerized extras to the side of the base and call it a day. Not so with this model. Orion has ensured that the servo motors and the most delicate parts of the goto mount and controller are fully built into the base. This gives you maximum efficiency and protection of the new parts.
Not only does it feature a fully automated goto mount but it also comes with automatic tracking equipped as well. Not only will this telescope be able to seek out and find any of the 42,000 objects in its database, but once it has a good lock on it, it will do its best to keep it in the eyepiece for you as long as possible. That means no more fiddling or adjusting during a view session, you simply have to enjoy the sights.
And you are going to get some great sights!
If you are into deep space viewing and love the sight of bright star clusters, nebulas, galaxies, and more, then this telescope is going to knock your socks off. You could spend weeks on end simply picking out distant objects from the database and see what shows up in the eyepiece. That is because this telescope has the power required to really grasp some of these distant and unknown objects.
This takes top billing as the best Dobsonian on the list for its great combination of aperture size, ease of use, and integrated technology package. Everything feels seamless and everything just works. If you prefer an 8” or 12” model instead, those are available but I think the 10” splits the middle pretty well.Check Latest Price
Possible Upgrades And Final Thoughts
Some of these telescopes, or any telescope, that include powerful goto servo motors in the mount will require an external power supply. That means a cord that you plug into the wall. Sometimes these power sources are included, but many times, they are not. Make sure you check the power requirements of each telescope before you buy it. You might want to plan on investing in a good power source anyways because some of these computers can drain batteries like it is there job.
Another upgrade available to some of these models is a GPS unit that will be able to track and locate your telescope from anywhere on Earth. You won’t have to use SkyAlign or any other night sky alignment tricks to get your scope up and running. You will be able to power on the GPS unit and immediately have your telescope know where it is. This is a recent development in computerized telescopes and is still quite expensive but could be worth it to the right buyer.
Whether you are tired of moving your refractor by hand to Jupiter every night, are too busy to fully learn how to align a telescope properly or want a Dobsonian that can trawl the deepest regions of space for interesting views, there is a computerized telescope out there for you. For budgets of five hundred or less or a thousand or more. Aperture sizes that range from 4” to 10”. There is a telescope for everyone on this list, no matter what your goal or preferences are.
These are the top five computerized telescopes available today in 2021.