Most of the cost of StarNavigator 102 NG goes to its expensive, well-built GoTo computer.
I have to start off by saying that StarNavigator 102 NG is a well-built telescope. It has a great optical tube. But the cost of the computer is so high Meade had to lower the quality of the tripod and the accessories.
At StarNavigator NG 102’s price range, there are 8″ Dobsonian’s waiting for their new owners. The optical power difference between the StarNavigator NG 102 and those will be vast. Or, you can get a 6″ Dobsonian for a lower price and upgrade it with phenomenal accessories.
These are the options you are giving up for a computerized telescope. In the end, it is a matter of preference.
StarNavigator NG 102 is an f/6.5, 102mm refractor. In short, it will provide all-round optical performance. You will get above-average performance with Solar System and deep space objects.
The advantage of a refractor is that it doesn’t require any kind of maintenance.
The disadvantage of a refractor is chromatic aberration, which is a ghostly, colorful halo around bright images. Some people don’t notice them, and for some, it is a deal-breaker. StarNavigator 102 NG has mid-level chromatic aberration. I think it is tolerable.
Chromatic Aberration is at mid-levels.
Jupiter’s stripes, 4 Galilean Moon’s, and The Great Red Spot are easy targets with StarNavigator NG 102. Rings of Saturn and The Cassini Division are also easy to observe, with its largest moon Titan in orbit.
Mars will appear as a red disk with black and white stains barely visible on the surface.
Phases of Venus are observable with its unique yellowish color.
Uranus, Neptune, and Mercury will appear as colorful tiny dots.
With the 9mm eyepiece that comes with the telescope, expect half of the performance StarNavigator 102 NG can provide. It is not adequate for this telescope.
Deep Space Performance
Deep Space performance is better than planetary since chromatic aberration is not a huge problem with deep space objects.
On ideal conditions, meaning as dark as possible, %70-80 of the Messier Catalog is observable. The GoTo mount will also find any object you want to observe, even Black Holes, but don’t expect to really “see” them.
Deep space performance, like the planetary, is above-average. As I’ve mentioned, StarNavigator 102 NG is an all-rounder.
The mount of StarNavigator 102 NG is well-built. It is rock-solid, and there is not a single part that feels cheap. The locks, bearings, motors; all feel reliable.
The tripod is flimsy.
The problem is the tripod. It is simply not enough for the weight that comes with a motorized mount. I would change it as soon as possible.
GoTo and AutoStar
What are you getting with a GoTo mount? Here is what all the fuss is about. It has thousands of space objects saved to its database and will point to any object on command. It will also calculate Earth’s rotation speed and follow the object automatically. It also gives information about the object with text on the screen and audio, but this is completely unnecessary in the information age. You can find any info on the web immediately, without hearing the weird, recorded audio.
There is a kind of annoying sound that the motors make when pointing to an object. It may ruin a quiet, dark night, but some don’t mind it. It works quietly on auto-tracking mode, which is absolutely appreciated.
Some astronomers(including myself) love the enjoyment of locating an object in the sky and observing it by hand. It really is a different feeling. But the auto-tracking feature is appreciated by anyone. You can point to Saturn, go inside, make a coffee, come back, and Saturn will still be in your vision.
Auto-tracking is delightful.
I would “suggest” getting a manual telescope for a beginner. Learning the night-sky and doing everything yourself develops a feeling that the ancient sailors and astronomers had thousands of years ago. But of course, it is your decision. A GoTo computer will show you any object in a breeze, and doesn’t have a learning curve.
The accessories that come with StarNavigator 102 NG are simply low-quality. Meade tried to lower the cost, but at this price range, anyone would expect better.
The eyepieces have 9mm and 26mm apertures. They are budget Kellner’s and provide below-average views. They will be adequate for the beginning but should be changed as soon as possible.
The red dot finder is not a bad choice. It is cheap and useful, and with a GoTo mount, you won’t need to use it that much.
The amici diagonal lowers the image quality quite a bit. It also should be changed, maybe with a star diagonal.
The focuser is a 1.25″ rack-and-pinion. It is almost completely plastic. This would be OK if it was able to handle heavy eyepieces, but it can’t.
Overall, there is not a single accessory that is worth praise.
The wobbly tripod and cheap accessories pull the package down.
Chromatic aberration is a problem with bright objects.
The focuser is mostly plastic.
As long as Meade doesn’t lower StarNavigator 102 NG’s price, it is impossible to recommend it. The additional accessories and a new tripod will increase the cost a lot, perhaps around 200-250$.
StarNavigator 102 NG won’t disappoint you with its computerized mount and optics, but there are vastly better options at its price range.