Your ultimate guide to the best new smart telescopes

Expert independent advice and in-depth reviews to help you choose the best smart telescope

Credit: Unistellar

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Welcome to SmartTelescopeReviews.com

The only place you’ll find every smart telescope reviewed and rated by the world’s leading authority on this exciting new way to explore the night sky. 

Smart telescopes are revolutionizing astronomy – and all you need to be part of this exciting new movement is a smartphone or tablet.

You’ve seen the images from Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but did you know you can produce your own images of galaxies, nebulae, and other deep-sky objects from the comfort of your own backyard, garden, or even a balcony? 

With a smart telescope, you don’t have to stand outside in the cold. You can even sit inside in the comfort of your favorite armchair as the images it creates appear on your smartphone or tablet. And no messy setup is needed because they align automatically and work autonomously – just like JWST and professional robotic telescopes on the world’s highest mountains that smart telescopes are modeled on.

Smart telescopes don’t even have an eyepiece, instead producing images that show only within a special app that also makes them ready to share to social media. Perhaps best of all, the way smart telescopes work means they can be used even in light-polluted towns and cities where amateur astronomers now struggle to see anything but very bright objects. However, smart telescopes also come with backpacks so you can take them with you when you travel to dark skies – and create even better astronomical images.  

Smart telescopes: the contenders

telescope at astroshop

A smart telescope will change the way you think about the universe we live in, but what’s the best one for you? 

Buying any telescope is no small investment yet most gather dust in a spare room. You want to do your research and buy the right product for your price point. And you want it to be easy to set up and produce excellent results. 

This is why SmartTelescopeReviews.com exists. 

About me

I’m Jamie Carter, a science journalist, Senior Contributor on Forbes.com, author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners, Editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and writer of smart telescope reviews for Space.com, BBC Sky At Night, AstroGear Today, T3.com and Digital Camera World. I’ve seen and reviewed every smart telescope ever manufactured and sold.

Here’s everything you need to know about smart telescopes

Are you ready to re-think what a telescope is? Whether you live in an apartment in the center of a busy, light-polluted city or you want to observe the night sky from a rural location, in this article you’ll learn all about every aspect of smart telescopes and how to choose the best one for you:

Contents:

  1. Understanding smart telescopes
  2. Pros and cons of smart telescopes
  3. Buying a smart telescope
  4. Using a smart telescope
  5. Astrophotography with a smart telescope
  6. Traveling with a smart telescope
  7. Smart telescopes: the future

1. Understanding smart telescopes

A clever combination of telescope, camera, computer and motor makes smart telescopes unique

Credit: Unistellar

1. Understanding smart telescopes

What is a smart telescope?

A smart telescope changes how we observe the night sky. They have a built-in camera and link to smartphones and tablets so you see through the telescope on a screen, rather than through an eyepiece. A smart telescope creates digital images of the night sky. That sounds more like a camera than a telescope, right? Sure, but smart telescopes work in the same way to optical telescopes by first collecting light from the night sky. What makes them smart is that that light is focused on to camera sensors. Smart telescopes are controlled using an app on a smartphone, which is also where the user can see and share images of distant galaxies, nebula and star clusters. Some smart telescopes also show solar system objects – the moon and planets – but not all.

How do smart telescopes work?

Smart telescopes use advanced GoTo technology to automatically self-align with the night sky. The user then chooses targets from within an app and the telescope slews to them. It then focuses the light onto an image sensor instead of into an eyepiece. This electronic view is visible on the app, but it improves with time. That’s because a computer inside the smart telescope digitally stacks lots of short exposures. Each object in its database comes with predetermined settings for exposure times and ISO, so all you really have to do is wait (though you can also enter your own settings if you want).

Do smart telescopes have eyepieces?

Smart telescopes do not need an eyepiece because they send images directly to a connected smartphone or tablet. They have an image sensor inside their optical engines where the light is focused, creating electronic images. Since some people like to look through an eyepiece to experience the night sky while being outdoors, some smart telescopes do have an eyepiece on the side of their optical tube. However, these eyepieces are electronic so will show the same images that are sent to a smartphone or tablet.

How do smart telescopes remove light pollution?

What smart telescopes can do that no other manual telescope match is to filter out light that’s dimmer than starlight. Smart telescopes can therefore resolve images that don’t contain the effects of light pollution, as well as digitally enhancing the color and detail of deep sky objects. The effect is incredible. What a smart telescope allows you to see from the center of a city far outperforms what any optical telescope achieves. However, it’s still the case that a really dark sky will give you the very best images – just as with any kind of telescope. For example, Unistellar’s eVScopes can show objects at a limiting stellar magnitude of +16 for urban areas and +18 for rural areas, so it sees slightly more when under darker skies 

Expert tip: Smart telescopes are essentially miniaturized versions of the giant robotic professional telescopes on the world’s highest mountains in Chile, Hawaii and the Canary Islands.

Credit: ESO/M. Zamani

2. Pros and cons of smart telescopes

They can see through light pollution and produce mesmerizing images, but are smart telescopes ‘cheating’?

Credit: Vaonis

2. Pros and cons of smart telescopes

What’s so good about smart telescopes?

The best thing about smart telescopes for anyone that lives in a city is that they remove the effect of light pollution. Stargazers and amateur astronomers living in cities find it increasingly difficult to see any deep sky objects – such as galaxies, nebula and star clusters – because of sky glow created by artificial light. 

Smart telescopes are periodically updated with new firmware that adds new features, which makes them the world’s only telescopes that can be upgraded even many years after they were purchased.

Is a smart telescope for you?

Smart telescopes can easily be used by anyone familiar with smartphone apps, but they’re particularly well-suited to people who: 

  • live in a city under light-polluted skies and can’t see many stars
  • want to take spectacular color images of galaxies, nebula and more with minimum effort then share them on social media
  • hate the thought of aligning and setting up a telescope
  • don’t want to stay outside for hours in the cold fiddling with a telescope

Smart vs computerized vs motorized telescopes

Although the term “smart telescope” is used to describe this new category of telescope, it’s perhaps better to think of them as digital telescopes. A smart telescope has an onboard computer and a mount that includes a motor. It autonomously aligns with the night sky and automatically slews to any object you choose from a catalog in a smartphone app. 

Don’t confuse a smart telescope with a computerized or a motorized telescope. If a telescope is described purely as computerized or motorized then it’s simply an old-fashioned optical telescope with an eyepiece that you have to look through to see objects in the night sky. These GoTo telescopes often have computers and motors, but they are not smart telescopes because they do not integrate with smartphones and they do not produce images of the night sky. All they really do is slew to objects selected from a database using a wired handset. Hardly cutting edge!

telescope at astroshop

eVscope 2 Orion nebula

Expert tip: Smart telescopes produce images in near-HD quality that can be instantly shared on social media and messaging apps complete with captions and pre-formatted sizes. This image of the Orion Nebula (M42) was taken using a Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2.

Credit: Unistellar/SmartTelescopeReviews.com

3. Buying a smart telescope

We’ve done the market research to make it easy for you to choose the best smart telescope for your needs

Credit: Unistellar

3. Buying a smart telescope

What companies make smart telescopes? 

The two main companies that produce smart telescopes are Unistellar and Vaonis. Both are based in Marseille, France. A challenger brand from China called DwarfLabs became the third smart telescope producer in 2022. However, traditional telescope maker Celestron also sells its StarSense Explorer products that use a smartphone app for finding objects, so can only loosely be defined as ‘smart’. 

What is the best smart telescope? 

The best smart telescope for you would depend on your budget and your exact needs, but as a general rule, the two flagship smart telescopes available – both of which are hugely expensive – are the Unistellar eVscope 2 the Vaonis Stellina. Thankfully, both brands make more affordable versions, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 and the Vaonis Vespera

How many smart telescopes are there?

There are seven smart telescopes on sale, some of which are upgrades of earlier models that are still available: 

What size and type of telescopes are smart telescopes?

Although smart telescopes are very different to purely optical telescopes in the way they work, at their core they’re still optical telescopes. There are three main optical designs of telescope – refractor, reflector and catadioptric – two of which are represented in smart telescopes: 

What makes one smart telescope better than another? 

What sets apart one smart telescope from another is the user experience and the smartphone app that controls it, but most of all it’s down to the algorithms and image sensors used to create the images. When you see a new smart telescope newly launched by Unistellar or Vaonis it will typically include the latest and greatest example of Sony’s high-performance IMX-Series CMOS camera sensors. It’s largely a matter of megapixels, with the latest CMOS sensors promising more detail, but also increased contrast and less ISO image noise. However, don’t obsess about the sensor because each smart telescope is different in terms of its field of view.

Do Celestron and Meade make smart telescopes? 

Celestron and Meade are two of the biggest brands in optical telescopes for amateur astronomers, but neither brand produces smart telescopes. However, Celestron does have a category of telescope marketed StarSense Explorer that do involve a very clever smartphone app. 

What are Celestron StarSense Explorer telescopes?

Introduced in 2020, these telescopes come with a smartphone mount on the side of the optical tube. That amount includes a mirror, which, when used in conjunction with a smartphone’s camera, allows an app to align the telescope automatically with the night sky. The app then acts as a guide, showing the user where to manually point their telescope to have an object in the center of its field of view. The StarSense Explorer app is like having a sat-nav for your telescope.

StarSense Explorer is a very smart concept and the telescopes that use it are hugely enjoyable to use, though, since the current technology is available on a range of different telescopes at different price points, the quality hugely varies. 

Celestron’s StarSense Explorer telescopes can’t be described purely as smart telescopes because they do not take images of the night sky, but since they are something of a hybrid product we do include short reviews of them on this website. 

Celestron makes eight StarSense Explorer telescopes:

4. Using a smart telescope

Smart telescopes automatically align with the stars and work autonomously. All you need is a smartphone!

Credit: Vaonis

4. Using a smart telescope

Are smart telescopes easy to set up?

Yes! All smart telescopes autonomously align with the night sky. Called Autonomous Field Detection by Unistellar and Star Pattern Recognition by Vaonis, this process involves plate-solving. Smart telescopes do this by comparing the stars in the sky with a database on their onboard computer. If the sky is clear and it can see stars – however faint – it’s ready to use within a few minutes.

Are smart telescopes good for families?

Smart telescopes are expensive, but they’re an ideal investment for parents looking to nurture an interest in the night sky in their kids. Typically, children who show any interest in the stars, the moon and the planets are immediately given a tiny manual telescope. It’s the worst decision. Fiddly, hard to use and not able to produce views with an instant wow-factor, it’s very often a quick way to kill off the hobby. Until, that is, the smart telescope was born. Set up in minutes and entirely operated by a smartphone, they automatically align to the stars. Observations can be shared. Light pollution makes no difference. Smart telescopes use new technology to make the night sky more easily accessible – and much more impressive. 

Can multiple smartphones and tablets link to a smart telescope?

Yes! Between five and 20 people, each with a smartphone or tablet, can link to a smart telescope and watch its images as they appear and improve over time. The number of possible connected devices depends on the product. All each user needs to do is to download an app specific to the smart telescope – such as the Unistellar app the and Vaonis app, Singularity. So smart telescopes can be a good educational tool because their observations can be shared by many people. 

Are smart telescopes slow? 

Smart telescopes are very quick to slew to new targets and give almost instant results, but their images tend to improve with time. Sometimes a bright nebula or galaxy will take a few seconds to be visible and look its very best with just a few minutes of short exposures. For fainter objects, it’s wise to let a smart telescope take as long as an hour’s worth of exposure to build up a better image. At any point, the user can download the image to their smartphone or tablet for instant sharing on social media. It’s also possible to save lossless images as raw TIFF, FITS and PNG files for post-processing later.

Vespera Outdoors

Expert tip: Smart telescopes are great for sharing. Since up to 20 smartphones and tablets can be linked they’re ideal for families, friends and astronomy clubs.

Credit: Vaonis

5. Astrophotography with a smart telescope

Unlike normal telescopes, smart telescopes produce beautiful colorful images that can be shared on social media or saved in high-resolution

Credit: Vaonis

5. Astrophotography with a smart telescope

Don’t smart telescopes just show you space photos from the internet?

Are smart telescopes an expensive fraud? Are they merely pretending to do something clever and then just downloading images from Hubble or JWST and showing you them on your smartphone? Of course not! It’s understandable to be skeptical about new technology – especially in an age of fake news and deepfake videos – but all smart telescopes are doing is what professional telescopes have been doing for decades. And the science of astronomy is doing just fine without eyepieces! You can actually watch a smart telescope’s in-app image improve every five seconds as each new image is stacked on top of the last one and, with a slight wiggle, digitally aligned. This is real-time astronomy – just like JWST, but completely automated. 

How good are the images from a smart telescope?

The images that come from a smart telescope differ, according to which model you use, but generally speaking, they are high on contrast and color and relatively low on sharpness. Some dedicated astrophotographers are vocally critical of smart telescopes, perhaps because they remove all the hassle and complexity astrophotographers have spent many years mastering. You may not win any astrophotography competitions, but the images you create using a smart telescope will – for most people – be far better than anything you could achieve with your own set-up … and with zero hassle or post-processing. As an all-in-one astrophotography tool for those of us for whom our time is too valuable to waste on dull and time-consuming tasks, a smart telescope is impossible to beat. 

Can smart telescopes image galaxies, nebulae, globular clusters and star clusters? 

Yes. In fact, smart telescopes are designed primarily to image deep sky objects, such as distant galaxies, faint nebulae, globular clusters and open clusters of stars. It’s precisely these kinds of objects that are very difficult to see if you live in an area with high light pollution, such as all cities and most towns in the world. Consequently, if you use an optical telescope, you’re going to struggle to see anything, except for the moon and planets from most locations. A smart telescope essentially fills the gap by adding deep sky visibility to an amateur astronomer’s repertoire. So, arguably, the keen amateur astronomer should have both an optical telescope and a smart telescope.

Can smart telescopes image planets? 

As of 2023, smart telescopes can image planets. Thanks to a firmware update to all of its smart telescopes both old and new, Unistellar’s entire eVscope range of products now has a dedicated ‘planet mode’. The trouble with taking images of planets is that they are extremely bright, relative to everything else in the night sky, and they’re so close that clear views of them are easily interrupted by unstable conditions in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Unistellar uses a tried-and-tested astrophotography technique called ‘lucky imaging’, which means lots of short exposures are taken in the hope that some images are taken in the split second that the atmosphere settles momentarily. It works reasonably well, but expect souvenir images rather than incredibly detailed close-ups.

Can smart telescopes image double stars?

Although it’s very tempting to point a smart telescope at distant galaxies and colorful nebula, smart telescopes are very good at revealing double stars. There are many examples in the night sky, many of which a smart telescope can produce an excellent image of, such as: 

  • Albireo in Cygnus
  • Almach in Andromeda
  • Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major
  • Epsilon Lyrae in Lyra (the so-called ‘Double-Double’)
  • Theta Tauri in Taurus

Can smart telescopes image the Moon?

At the time of writing, no smart telescope has a specialized ‘Moon mode’. However, it looks likely that one will be introduced during 2023 or 2024. That’s because all of the latest smart telescopes now have a slightly wider field of view around the same angular size as the moon. Future firmware updates will probably make this a standard feature on all smart telescopes.

Can smart telescopes image comets? 

Smart telescopes are very effective at capturing comets. The very nature of these icy visitors from the edge of the solar system is that they are visible for only a short time and move quickly against the background of stars. However, since the apps that control smart telescopes are frequently updated, the coordinates and orbit of comets are usually available, so they can be imaged fairly easily.

Can smart telescopes be used for science? 

In conjunction with scientists at NASA and SETI, Unistellar’s eVscope smart telescopes are increasingly being used for crowdsourcing astronomical observations around the clock from around the world. One notable example is the confirmation of NASA’s DART planetary defense mission, where over thirty eVscope users worldwide observed the impact of DART on asteroid Dimorphos and its subsequent behavior. These observations were crowdsourced from the telescopes, and the users were credited as co-authors in a Nature journal article published in March 2023. The new Unistellar app for smartphones now focuses on scientific observations and allows users to attempt to capture an asteroid occultation, confirm exoplanet transits spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and observe passing comets. The app takes users to Unistellar’s website, which finds specific events or targets, provides the observation time, and transfers the coordinates back into the smart telescope. Vaonis smart telescopes do not have this dimension.

6. Traveling with a smart telescope

All smart telescopes are designed to travel, with compact designs and custom-made backpacks

Credit: Unistellar

6. Traveling with a smart telescope

Are smart telescopes travel-friendly? 

For the most part, smart telescopes are designed to be easy to travel with. That’s despite them being designed primarily for overcoming light pollution, something that makes them ideal for using in an urban backyard or even on a balcony. Both of the major brands of smart telescopes offer backpacks to go with their products.

Here’s what you need to know about how easy it is to travel with smart telescopes, from how much they weigh to whether a backpack is included in the box: 

Vaonis Vespera in bag

Expert tip: You don’t need to travel with a smart telescope. In fact, you’ll get mind-blowing images even from a busy light-polluted city. However, if you do decide to take your smart telescope to rural skies your images will be noticeably blacker – and you’ll get brighter and more colorful images, particularly faint nebulae.

Credit: Vaonis

7. Smart telescopes: the future

How networked telescopes could change professional as well as amateur astronomy

Credit: Vaonis

7. Smart telescopes: the future

Will smart telescopes replace old manual telescopes? 

Smart telescopes are best thought of as an exciting new tool for amateur astronomy. Some amateur astronomers think the lack of an eyepiece on smart telescopes is a problem because the photons from distant objects are not hitting their retinas. Instead, you see only a digital image. However, this is how professional astronomers have been observing for many decades, and it’s also how the likes of JWST and Hubble work, as well as all robotic telescopes on mountaintops around the world. However, smart telescopes are not particularly good at imaging, planets or the Moon, something small backyard telescopes can excel at. So if you want the best of both worlds, get an optical telescope to complement your smart telescope.

The citizen science telescope network

Over 10,000 people now have a smart telescope, which means there’s an ever-increasing network of these products making observations while being connected to the Internet. Now citizen science campaigns are being offered by the makers of smart telescopes it now seems likely that scientists will soon be able to access data on the night sky that was previously impossible.

For example, have you heard about the exoplanets being discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)? It’s so incredibly busy that it only has time to make quick observations of stars to see if there are planets in orbit around them. It doesn’t have time to confirm its findings and, consequently, there’s a huge demand for telescope time in professional observatories on Earth for follow-up observations to confirm transiting exoplanets. New campaigns in the Unistellar app allow users to point their smart telescopes at these candidate planets to see if they really exist. What’s more, several smart telescopes at different locations around the world can be used to create a 24/7 observation campaign. So, if an alien planet passes in front of its star once every 32 hours, one of the smart telescopes pointed at it will find it. This kind of always-on astronomy will likely lead to many discoveries by amateur and professional astronomers. 

It’s exactly this kind of citizen science that makes smart telescopes such a fascinating development for the future of astronomy.

The age of the smart telescope has arrived – and we’re all invited! 

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