PROS / No beginner telescope is more portable than this one. You can carry it all on your back.
CONS / Its lower aperture means views will not be as sharp, especially in deep space.
VERDICT / This unit is terribly convenient, but it won't give you the kinds of views that higher-aperture scopes offer.
Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information.
The Meade ETX-80AT-TC refractor with backpack used to really stand out in the field of telescopes for beginners based on its go-to capability and extreme portability. The go-to field has become a bit more crowded over the years, but this starter scope still has some noteworthy plusses.
This is still one of the best beginner telescopes for eliminating excuses. There's no awkward bulk since it tucks into a backpack; hauling it to dark skies will not be an issue. Wrestling star charts to find targets is also not an issue with this product. The go-to functionality will guide you to your targets. Astronomy is not known for being an especially affordable hobby, even at the beginner level, but it is worth noting that this set costs less than $300 and is well equipped to offer some amazing views of the universe.
We like this unit for its versatility as well. It is a great tool for bird watching or for viewing any other terrestrial targets. Use it for that all day and for astronomy all night. This scope will be at the ready.
If you were only allowed one telescope in your life, a short-tube 80mm refractor like the Meade ETX-80BB would be a good choice. It’s small enough to pack, well, into a backpack. It’s light enough to take anywhere. Its aperture is wide enough to grab plenty of photons. And its 160x magnification can bring many invisible bits of the universe into your field of view.
Research-grade optics are in Meade’s DNA, and this instrument benefits from that heritage. The scope comes with two so-called Super-Plossl eyepieces, which successfully overcome the main disadvantage of Georg Plossl’s original 1860 design — that users often find plain Plossls to only come into focus uncomfortably close to their eyeballs.
This scope is not good for astrophotography, except for very short exposures of very bright objects. The Alt-Az mount would make a blurry, wandering, rotated image of any dime object, and the fork mount could easily damage any but the tiniest cameras attached to the tube if the scope swung too far vertically.
The set includes a Meade AutoStar Handbox, an internal time chip and the AutoStar Astronomer edition software and instructional DVD. If this software did nothing else but catalog information about more than 19 million stellar objects identified throughout centuries of research, it would already be pretty cool. The fact that it can tell your telescope to point at any of these objects at a given moment is even more exciting.
You can also set up custom catalogs based on certain types of items – such as Messier objects, for example. Select one of your catalogs for a night of viewing, and the Meade ETX-80BB will do the rest.
Although an unlikely request from a beginner, you can even set AutoStar to move your telescope remotely. You can control your scope set up in the backyard from the comfort of your den, or even control a telescope in another country using just AutoStar and the internet.
If you’re not sure what you want to see, or what might be visible on a given clear night, let AutoStar handle it. Just select a Tonight’s Best tour, and the controller will point the telescope toward the planets, stars and nebulae that are in the best viewing positions. The internal time chip keeps a factory-calibrated time and date, so your scope knows what looks best and when.
An LCD screen will teach you about what you can see through the scope with information on distance, temperature, mass and history.
The built-in Barlow lens flips into position when needed to provide more power when you're studying lunar and planetary surface features. An included internal battery pack is designed for six AA batteries (to be provided by the user). You’ll get about 20 hours of battery time out of each set.
Two Plossl eyepieces, 9.7 mm and 26 mm, are designed to offer comfortable, long eye-relief and a good basic choice between low-power and higher-power magnification.
The backpack will store your ultra-portable telescope, tripod and accessories, including an image-erecting prism, dew shield and compass/bubble level.
This backpack observatory has a one-year warranty, and coming from a respected manufacturer like Meade, that really means something. Meade also stands behind its products with a place on its website for emailed questions and customer-service telephone contacts.
Meade has produced a nice group of videos that are specific to its various product lines. The set of videos on the ETX series contains nearly 20 helpful clips to get you started. A separate set of 13 videos is specifically regarding the Backpack Observatory group.
The Meade ETX-80AT still stands out among telescopes for beginners. It will fulfill the needs of a wide range of new astronomers, many of whom are looking for a first instrument that they can take hiking or to the beach. They want a telescope that provides gorgeous views of the craters on the moon, Saturn’s rings and more. They want all of this for a great price. This all-in-one go-to telescope from Meade fits the bill.