For many years now, the Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p tabletop Dobsonian reflector (and its clones) has been a mainstay of many “recommended” lists for beginning astronomers. It’s simple, easy to use, and inexpensive.
Now the Heritage 130p ($275) gets an upgrade with a new “Goto” package in Sky-Watcher’s “Virtuoso” line. There are two reflector versions as of this writing – a 130mm f/5 unit at $435 and a 150mm f/5 at $470. Like the manual versions, the Virtuoso line comes with a red dot reflex sight, and 25mm (26X) and 10mm (65X) eyepieces. The truss poles collapse for easy storage. Unlike the manual versions, a “Goto” telescope will move by itself to various objects in the sky, saving the user from having to memorize the locations of various targets. Should you still get the manual version of the scope, or spring for this new “Goto” variant? Read on to find out which one is right for you.
First, the user need not use the “Goto” function at all. Leave the telescope powered off, loosen the axis clutches, and you can use the scope just like the manual version. I did that myself the first few nights I had the scope. With the 25mm (26X) eyepiece in place, I found the summer/fall showpiece objects like the Dumbbell Nebula, globular clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules, and the Andromeda Galaxy.
To start using the electronics, either purchase the hard-wired SynScan controller ($155) or download the SynScan app to your phone. I used the phone app for my testing. The app’s manual is available via download at: https://www.skywatcher.com/download/manual/synscan-hand-control-and-synscan-app/.
Turn on the telescope by flipping the red rocker switch and the scope activates Wi-Fi. Log in, start the SynScan app, hit “Connect”, and you are ready to go. The SynScan manual remains my biggest gripe. While all the information you need is there, it’s buried in text and tables, and there are no screen shots, which I feel are crucial. The user could read and understand the entire manual and still be stymied when starting the app. Also, a quick start guide would be a nice addition.
I had good luck with the 2-Star North Level Alignment and the 3-Star Alignment. If you’ve initialized other electronic telescopes, there are no big surprises here, but beginners may make a mistake or two before getting it right, as some of the functions are not labeled. For example, the tiny “left” and “right” arrows (in white) in the upper corners of the big arrow keys set the motor speed, and the number in the center (“5” in this case) indicates the motor speed on a scale from 1 to 9.
Select from the list of stars and the scope will start moving towards them, one by one. The scope’s pointing will not be perfect (especially on the first alignment star) so you will need to make minor adjustments to center it in the eyepiece. Use the 25mm eyepiece (26X) for casual alignment, or use the 10mm eyepiece (65X) if you want to be more precise.
A sample list of available stars is shown above. After centering the final alignment star, the scope will tell you if you’ve achieved success and will begin tracking. From this point on, the sky is your playground.
This should be self-explanatory. One quirk – the moon and planets are under the “Star” category. I found the scope would put objects within the field of view of the 25mm (26X) eyepiece. I looked at M13, M92, M27, M15, the double star Albireo, M31, M8, M17, M10, M12, Saturn, Jupiter, the Moon, and more. With the 10mm (65X) eyepiece in place, the perceived accuracy went down a bit. Objects would sometimes be near the edge of the field, or occasionally just outside the field. A nudge with the arrow keys solved the problem. This is normal for electronic telescopes, especially one at a low price point. There are remedial measures you can take to improve accuracy, which I found modestly successful. Experienced astronomers know this happens, but beginners may get confused. I recommend beginners stay with the low power eyepiece until they are comfortable with how the scope works.
Things to consider
There are a few other considerations. In my review of the Heritage 150p ($310) I urged users to set the scope on the sturdiest platform possible. You need something strong and steady, with 360-degree access around the scope. A small, solid end table will work. This is even more important with a “Goto” telescope, as any random bump (easy to do in the dark) will knock the scope out of alignment, requiring you to do the alignment procedure all over again. Also, the open-truss design exposes the secondary mirror to dew and glare. Even the glare from your phone will wash out the view, making adjustments difficult. To combat this, I fashioned a cheap shroud out of construction paper. Also, while a traditional hand controller has raised buttons you can feel in the dark, your phone’s smooth surface makes it difficult to look through the eyepiece and make adjustments at the same time. One other minor gripe – the “Reset Alignment” button is too close to the arrow keys on the alignment screen. I hit it by accident a few times. Finally, the manual has a section on astrophotography, which probably shouldn’t be there. This is a beginner’s visual telescope, not a serious astrophotography tool.
With these considerations in mind, the new Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p Virtuoso GTi (and its bigger brother, the 150p) represent good values for the money for beginners looking to get started in astronomy. You could also opt for the manual Heritage 130p version if you prefer to find objects yourself. The choice is yours!
Watch Ed Ting’s video review of this telescope at https://youtu.be/yluyRF_7PoE
MSRP: 130mm version: $435; 150mm version: $475