- Skill Level
- Time with Product
Aug 23, 2010
- User Notes:
Easy To Use GoTo MountPros:
Accurate, intuitive handset interface, easy set up, firmware upgradable, reasonably priced, good customer supportCons:
Software may be glitchy, no accessory tray, noisy when slewing, loud handset indicator beepsComments:
The introduction of GoTo telescope mounts removed the need to hunt for things in the night sky. Computerized mounts have software and motors that allow a mount to seek and find celestial objects with the push of a few buttons. iOptron sells an affordable line of Altazimuth GoTo mounts. I recently purchased their MiniTower mount and tripod which sells for $799.00.
Like their other alt-az mounts, the “Cube” and the “SmartStar,” the MiniTower is a simple rectangular unit which sits on a circular base mounted atop a tripod. The rectangular mount has a standard Vixen-style dovetail saddle on one side just opposite an altitude lock knob. What sets the MiniTower apart from the other iOptron mounts is a set of three leveling screws and a counterweight with a shaft that fits into the altitude knob. This gives the MiniTower a weight capacity of up to 25 pounds (11.34 kg).
The MiniTower comes shipped in two cartons. One contains the tripod and counterweight. The other contains a really nice aluminum carrying case containing the mount, hand-controller, counterweight shaft and all the wires and adapters needed to use the mount immediately.
The tripod has adjustable stainless steel legs with a spreader that keeps the legs fairly stable and three leveling screws at the disk-shaped top. The mount then rests on the leveling screws and the spreader has a long bolt that extend up through the tripod top and screws into the bottom of the mount. (My MiniTower came with three round leveling screws – newer models come with larger star-shaped screws that are easier to turn.) While sturdy enough for smaller scopes, the tripod may not be sturdy enough for scopes 15 pounds (6.80kg) or heavier. The tripod also lacks an accessory tray.
iOptron provides power options for the MiniTower, making it usable in any location. It comes with an AC adapter for use with 110V household current. It also comes with a car adapter, allowing it to be plugged into any car's 12V power receptacle. When these options are not available, the mount has an internal battery holder which takes eight AA batteries with an operation time of “a couple of hours to tens of hours” depending on how the mount is used. The GOTONOVA hand controller is similar to other hand controllers for GoTo mounts. It has a numerical keypad, directional arrow keys and keys for navigating the GoTo menu (and even a little red LED flashlight).
Setting up the MiniTower is easy. Once the mount and tripod are assembled and the power cord and hand controller are connected, your scope of choice is attached to the mount via the dovetail saddle. For scopes heavier than 10 pounds (4.54 kg), the 10 pound counterweight needs to be used. The counterweight shaft is easily screwed and locked into the Altitude lock knob (although once in position, the lock knob becomes difficult to tighten). The mount is then to be placed in the “Parked” position with the mount aligned to true North/South and the scope aimed at Zenith. The mount can then be powered up.
The mount also comes with an extra dovetail saddle which can be mounted at the end of the counterweight shaft. With this in place, a second telescope can be mounted on the MiniTower instead of the counterweight.
It takes up to 2 minutes for the MiniTower's GPS to lock onto a satellite signal. The mount is then ready to go. The GOTONOVA controller is menu based and very intuitive. If aligned properly, I noticed that the mount was accurate to well within a degree even without aligning to any star or planet. Using the mount's one or two object alignment helps increase accuracy. Tracking is accurate, even at high powers.
Problems with iOptron's MiniTower are few. I did find the software to be a bit glitchy. From the parked position after starting up the mount, alignment may be off by some tens of degrees, pointing the scope at the completely incorrect portion of the sky. Putting the mount back in the Park position and rebooting the unit will correct this. I also noticed that sometimes at high power, the tracking is all over the place with the object moving around the field of view like a fish slowly swimming around a fishbowl. Both are these issues are very intermittent and can be fixed by upgrading the controller's firmware, which is very easy to do with included software. Unfortunately, this software is compatible with WindowsXP only, not later versions or Mac OSs.
Other problems are minor. The MiniTower is very noisy when slewing to an object. Also noisy is the loud beeping the hand controller makes when pressing the keys though this can be turned off. What can't be turned off is the “Found It” beep the mount makes when it's finished slewing to an object.
In conclusion, I highly recommend iOptron's MiniTower. It has few real problems, most of which can be corrected or overlooked. With its performance and ease of use, it's an excellent GoTo mount for the price.
As an addendum to this review, within 3 months of purchasing my MiniTower, I ran into a technical problem. Any time the scope would start to slew in Altitude, whether from my selecting an object from the menu or using the keypad's arrow keys, the mount would stop and the handset would reboot.
I contacted iOptron by email and also left a voicemail on their toll-free line. An email response came the next business day. I was given some troubleshooting instructions that didn't help and a then follow-up email recommending that I return the scope to their headquarters outside of Boston. A phone call came soon after with authorization and information for the return.
iOptron returned the mount in full working order one week after I shipped it out. There was no communication from them after the return authorization and no paperwork returned with the mount. A brief note about the issue and fix would have been nice but given the speed and efficiency of iOptron's Customer Service, I'm willing to give them a pass.
So far my MiniTower has performed well but any further issues will surely be reported here.Sort by