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Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Tabletop Dobsonian Review: Recommended Product

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is a nice telescope, but it doesn’t really justify its own existence given the price and lack of features to explain such a markup over comparable instruments.
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When you read one of my reviews at TelescopicWatch, you can trust that not only have I gotten to use the product, but I’ve compared it to numerous others and tinkered with it down to the literal nuts and bolts. When I'm not writing reviews, I'm out under the night sky with my own homemade or modified telescopes, with over 7 years of hands-on experience in astronomy, having owned 430 telescopes myself, of which 20 I built entirely.

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The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is essentially a repackaged version of the Zhumell Z130, featuring a 130mm f/5 Newtonian optical tube atop a tabletop Dobsonian mount. The only difference whatsoever is the inclusion of Celestron’s StarSense Explorer technology.

Unlike many small, inexpensive reflecting telescopes (including much of Celestron’s lineup) that unfortunately opt for sub-par optics, this one comes with a high-quality parabolic primary mirror that can be collimated, a sturdy mount, and acceptable quality eyepieces. These set it apart from many beginner-oriented models, including Celestron’s own AstroMaster 130, which has a spherical primary mirror incapable of providing sharp images alongside a shoddy mount and useless eyepieces.

Despite its appealing attributes, I’m not convinced that the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian represents the ultimate value proposition for every stargazer. Its 130mm f/5 optics, shared across telescopes from other brands like Zhumell, Vixen, Sky-Watcher, and Celestron, facilitate a remarkably expansive field of view thanks to the resulting short 650mm focal length. This enables a generous allowance for manual aiming errors; with the stock low-power eyepiece, you get a field five times the apparent diameter of the full moon. 

As such, the simplicity and the large field of view of this telescope render computerized pointing assistance somewhat redundant, even under conditions of significant light pollution. A manual 130mm or 150mm tabletop scope might be a better bargain. For this price, you could also get the fully motorized/tracking 150mm and 130mm Virtuoso GTi tabletop Dobsonians from Sky-Watcher, the similar fully autonomous Celestron Astro Fi 130, or a free-standing 6-8” Dobsonian from one of the numerous brands offering them.

Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Tabletop Dobsonian telescope

How It Stacks Up

Ranks #9 of 22 ~$450 telescopes





Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Tabletop Dobsonian


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Best Similar Featured Alternative: Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 130P

What We Like

  • Great optics
  • Decent accessories
  • Simple to use
  • Fairly compact/portable

What We Don't Like

  • No additional features/accessories provided to justify high price other than StarSense Explorer technology
  • Slightly annoying collimation adjustments which require tools
  • Somewhat heavy 
  • Cheap plastic focuser is fragile and will only accept 1.25” eyepieces
Recommended Product Badge

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is, quite literally, the same telescope as the Zhumell Z130 with a StarSense Explorer bracket bolted to the side. There is no other difference – internal, external, or when it comes to accessories – between these telescopes. Considering that the Virtuoso GTi 130mm and 150mm models from Sky-Watcher feature full GoTo at a lower price and the availability of the 2”-focuser-equipped DX 130mm at the same price from Celestron as the 130mm Dobsonian, we would probably recommend you go with one of those instead, in spite of the excellent features of this telescope.

The Optical Tube

The optical tube of the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian aligns with the design of most 130mm f/5 Newtonians available on the market. These telescopes generally feature commendable parabolic primary mirrors, and their 5.1″ aperture provides a solid starting point for serious explorations of the deep sky as well as lunar and planetary viewing. The f/5 focal ratio of the StarSense Explorer 130mm lends itself to an appreciably maximum broad field of view: 2.1 degrees (equivalent to over four full moons across) with the bundled 25mm Kellner eyepiece, extending to over 2.5 degrees with a 1.25″ wide-field eyepiece.

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian, for reasons not explicitly defined and unlike its 130mm DX cousin, opts for a simplified mirror cell, drawing inspiration from traditional Japanese-made reflectors. This is identical to the cell used in the Zhumell Z130.

Collimating this telescope necessitates the removal of an unnecessary metal backplate with a screwdriver (it’s purely cosmetic; you can discard it) and then adjusting three pairs of push-pull screws, which can easily strip. The silver lining with this design is its remarkable collimation retention, which seldom ever needs adjustment. However, the downside is the requirement of tools, and the possibility of stripping screws outdoors can potentially derail your stargazing plans if there’s no late-night hardware store nearby. It can also be difficult to develop the finesse to fine-tune the screws accurately enough for good collimation.

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian employs a 1.25″ plastic rack-and-pinion focuser, a common feature in many beginner scopes. Some other 130mm f/5s use a 2” focuser, offering a wider maximum field of view, including the StarSense Explorer DX 130mm. The secondary mirror of these telescopes is plenty big to illuminate the field of a 2” eyepiece and coma corrector. The cheap 1.25” rack-and-pinion unit employed on this scope wobbles and isn’t the most durable or precise; it’s certainly a bottleneck, and at this price, it’s a shame Celestron didn’t opt to use a 2” focuser with at least a partially metal construction.

An unusual attribute (and another shared with the Zhumell Z130) adopted by the StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is the manner in which its optical tube is attached to the mount, utilizing a pair of tube rings. While this may seem excessive, this arrangement offers the flexibility to rotate and slide the tube for optimal balancing and eyepiece positioning. It also promises compatibility with nearly any other telescope mount without needing extra tools or hardware apart from an aftermarket Vixen-style dovetail bar. This feature proves to be an enormous advantage, saving significant effort and expense if you ever decide to use your StarSense Explorer 130mm optical tube on an aftermarket equatorial or alt-azimuth mount and tripod.


The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian comes bundled with two Kellner eyepieces and a red dot finder. Specifically, it includes a 25mm (26x) and a 10mm (65x) eyepiece. These eyepieces are metal in construction and feature coated glass optics, but no rubber eyecups. There’s some edge-of-field chromatic aberration and glare, and the 10mm is rather short on eye relief, but they’ll do the job.

The included red dot finder is more than adequate for aiming this scope whether you are using the StarSense Explorer phone dock or not, and it attaches to the optical tube with a standard Vixen/Synta-style bracket. This telescope also features an eyepiece rack with three slots, which attaches to the mount’s side, though it won’t work with wider-bodied eyepieces and is usually not worth bothering with.

A collimation cap is included with the StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian, and with this telescope’s f/5 focal ratio, this simple tool is more than enough to accurately align this scope’s optics.


The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is secured to its tabletop Dobsonian mount via its Vixen-style dovetail and rings. Though this mount more closely resembles a single-armed fork than a “Dobsonian”, we don’t need to get entangled in terminologies. You can adjust the balance of the tube for different-weight eyepices/accessories by sliding it within its rings. As for tweaking the friction on the mount, the altitude is regulated by the large knob on the side affixed to the StarSense phone dock, while azimuth adjustment requires you to obtain two wrenches or pliers to loosen or tighten the center bolt and lock nut.

Apart from featuring the eyepiece rack previously mentioned, the mount of the StarSense Explorer 130mm includes cutouts designed as handles. These contribute to the easier transportation of this somewhat hefty scope in a single piece.

The StarSense Explorer 130mm is promoted as a tabletop scope. However, finding tables that can stably hold it, particularly during high-magnification viewing or manual tracking, may prove challenging. It’s also a tad too high for convenient use on a table while seated. Placing it on unstable surfaces such as a bar stool or a car hood is not advisable. We’d instead recommend using a milk crate or creating a homemade wooden stand for more stable positioning. Celestron does offer a tripod for use with this telescope, but it is extremely expensive for what you actually get, which further drives up the price of this already-pricey setup.

Celestron’s StarSense Explorer Technology

In essence, the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian utilizes a form of technology that isn’t exactly new: plate-solving. This technique involves taking a snapshot of the night sky and using advanced computer algorithms alongside celestial maps to determine the telescope’s exact alignment. This methodology is traditionally used in astrophotography to sidestep the laborious task of GoTo alignment and is typically employed to locate a single astronomical object.

At its core, the technology behind the StarSense Explorer system essentially transforms your phone into an advanced guidance system for your telescope. The system involves aligning a small mirror with the telescope mount, then utilizing the camera and computational capabilities of your smartphone to execute the process of plate-solving. Setting up the phone dock that comes with the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian is quite a simple process, and operating the accompanying Celestron StarSense Explorer app is intuitive. After you go through a brief alignment procedure, the app assists you in locating thousands of deep-sky objects.

The application achieves this by continuously monitoring and displaying where your telescope is pointed in real-time, utilizing the camera and gyroscope data from your smartphone. The level of precision achievable hinges on the quality of your smartphone, but it can reach an accuracy of around a quarter of a degree, roughly equivalent to half the width of a full moon. Celestron has considerably upgraded the app for their Dobsonian range of telescopes, equipping it with a significantly larger database. This expanded database is a substantial improvement over the previous version, which limited the effectiveness of the StarSense Explorer technology to finding only the brightest and most conspicuous targets in the night sky.

Since the precision of the StarSense Explorer system peaks at just over 0.25 degrees, about half the width of a full moon, it does not match the exactness of a true GoTo system or encoder-based digital setting circles. Nevertheless, it offers ample accuracy for identifying most deep-sky objects.

Should I buy a Used Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian?

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian stands as a splendid investment, especially if purchased second-hand. Given the model’s recent launch, you’ll find it rare to encounter one with degraded mirror coatings. However, bear in mind that buying a StarSense Explorer 130mm with damaged mirrors is not a cost-effective decision, as the expense of recoating usually exceeds that of a brand-new telescope. You also need to be sure that the StarSense phone dock is still included. Celestron will generally provide additional unlock codes if you ask them to, but the hardware itself is often removed from these telescopes for use with third-party setups.

Alternative Recommendations (USA)

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian is far from the top of our rankings in its price range. We’ve picked out a few Dobsonian and tripod-mounted telescopes below, which we strongly recommend you consider instead:

Under $550

  • The Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 150P is a step up from the StarSense Explorer 130mm, with more aperture and a fully motorized mount with GoTo, controlled via your smartphone or tablet. The additional aperture delivers brighter and sharper views, and the telescope can be manually moved without losing its star alignment, unlike the StarSense Explorer. The collapsible tube and tabletop Dobsonian mount make it easily portable and quick to set up. Its manual version, the Heritage 150P, is identical in terms of features, performance, and accessories, with the exception of the stripped-off electronics, rendering it a fully manual tabletop Dobsonian.
  • The Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 130P houses the same optics as the StarSense Explorer 130mm but features a collapsible tube like the 150P and is mounted on a GoTo tabletop Dobsonian mount. The less expensive Heritage 130P offers the same functionality, minus the GoTo and motorized tracking capabilities.
  • The Celestron Astro Fi 130 has the same optics as the StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian but atop a fully motorized, tracking GoTo mount controlled via your smartphone. This scope also has a 2” focuser and tool-free primary mirror collimation adjustments, unlike the StarSense 130mm Dobsonian. Otherwise, however, the views and included eyepieces are basically the same.
  • The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130mm uses the same optical tube as the Astro Fi 130 and thus inherits its focuser and primary mirror cell, which are better than those of the StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian. However, it is otherwise very similar; the provided features/accessories are the same, while the lightweight aluminum mount/tripod this telescope rides atop is not exactly the sturdiest or most well-made but certainly does the job.


  • The Apertura AD8/Zhumell Z8/Orion SkyLine 8 boasts 2.5 times the light-gathering capacity of the StarSense Explorer 130mm and 60% more resolving power. This enables them to transform faint celestial objects into recognized, detailed wonders and reveal fine details on Mars, Jupiter, and the faint ice giant planets. Other features, like the dual-speed focuser, included eyepieces, built-in cooling fan, and adjustable bearings for balance, provide excellent value.
  • The Celestron StarSense Explorer 8″ Dobsonian is a simple telescope in terms of its features and accessories. It comes with a single eyepiece, a single-speed 2″ Crayford focuser, and a red dot finder. However, it, of course, boasts Celestron’s StarSense Explorer technology and a compact and lightweight Dobsonian base, which means a significant improvement in portability over most competing 8” models.
  • The Explore Scientific 10” Hybrid Dobsonian offers four times the light-gathering power and twice the resolving power compared to the StarSense Explorer 130mm. Despite having a larger aperture, it can collapse into a compact cube, making it almost as portable and storable as the StarSense Explorer. However, the quality of the included accessories and the complexity of assembly leave room for improvement.
  • The Orion SkyQuest XT8 is a budget-friendly alternative for an 8” Dob, offering views as bright and clear as the AD8 and its counterparts. However, it lacks additional features and accessories and is only marginally less expensive.
  • The Sky-Watcher 8″ FlexTube Dobsonian comes with a collapsible tube to enhance portability, although it doesn’t significantly reduce weight. Performance-wise, it aligns closely with other 8″ Dobsonians on our list, albeit without any premium features. The included eyepieces are both 1.25″, the focuser is a single-speed, and the finder is a straight-through rather than a right-angle unit. Despite these differences, thanks to its much larger aperture, it easily outshines the smaller Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian, while arguably being easier and quicker to set up and use due to the simplicity of the manual Dobsonian mount.

Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations

You’ll find that the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian is capable of handling up to 200–250x magnification thanks to its 5.1″ aperture and sharp optics. However, the real-world benefits might start tapering off beyond 150–200x, as increasing the magnification further often leads to a hard-to-focus or dim view. Eyepieces such as the frequently recommended 6mm “redline” or “goldline” can offer 108x magnification with this telescope, while a specialized 4mm planetary eyepiece can provide up to 163x. The higher magnification levels are particularly useful for viewing planetary details, globular star clusters, planetary nebulae, and for splitting closely situated double or triple stars.

We would also recommend you replace the StarSense Explorer’s provided 10mm Kellner eyepiece with a 9mm redline or goldline ocular (72x), which offers a sharper, wider view with longer eye relief than the cheap Kellner design. Additional medium- and high-power oculars may be of some benefit, but you can select the focal lengths and make/model at your discretion for these.

A 27mm BST Flat-Field eyepiece (24x), a 24mm Celestron Ultima Edge (27x), or a 24mm Explore Scientific 68-degree eyepiece makes for an ideal low-power ocular for the StarSense Explorer 130mm Dobsonian, providing a field of view of 2.5 degrees, or about 5 times the angular diameter of the Moon in the sky. Any of these eyepieces is more immersive and displays sharper stars across the periphery of the field of view than the stock 25mm Kellner ocular.

A UHC, or Ultra-High Contrast, filter can significantly improve your views of emission nebulae with the StarSense Explorer 130mm by increasing their contrast against the background sky. While this does not substitute for the experience under truly dark skies, it can still augment the viewing even under dark conditions as the natural sky background isn’t entirely dark anyway. A good nebula filter also helps to bring out tiny planetary nebulae at low magnification by preserving and highlighting their brightness while dimming surrounding star fields.

What can you see with the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian?

The Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm tabletop Dobsonian telescope sits on the precipice of being capable of offering truly fascinating views of the moon, planets, and deep-sky objects, far beyond being just a beginner’s tool that you’d quickly outgrow.

With the StarSense Explorer 130mm, you’ll be able to discern globular clusters like M13 and M22, albeit minimally, and under truly dark skies, the spiral arms and dust lanes of bright galaxies like M51, M106, and M33 can become visible. Bear in mind that without genuinely dark skies where the Milky Way dominates overhead, these galaxies may seem like faint patches or become completely invisible.

Planetary nebulae, which generally appear as unexciting grayish smudges in smaller instruments, take on more character and detail with the StarSense Explorer 130mm, beginning to reveal various shades of blue and green and intricate fine detail on a steady night. The multitude of emission nebulae, such as Orion, along with countless brilliant open clusters and intriguing colorful double and variable stars, are sure to keep you occupied for a while, especially if you are fortunate enough to possess dark skies and/or a good UHC nebula filter.

Within our solar system, the StarSense Explorer 130mm effortlessly exhibits the phases of Venus and Mercury. Lunar details just a few miles/kilometers across become visible. You could dedicate a lifetime to moongazing and continually discover something new, especially if you adjust your viewing times to catch the less frequently observed details during the waning phase past full.

Venturing further into our solar system, Mars and its polar ice caps are within the reach of the Celestron StarSense Explorer 130mm. Visible dust storms not only mask the other Martian details but also impart a beige-orange hue to the planet. During the period of opposition, prominent dark features on Mars, such as Syrtis Major, can be easily identified. For the seasoned observer with good timing, the Martian moon Deimos can be spotted by placing Mars and its glare outside the field of view.

The gas giant Jupiter is a spectacle to behold through the StarSense Explorer 130mm, with its cloud bands, swirls, festoons, and the iconic Great Red Spot visible on a calm, clear night. Jupiter’s moons transform from mere specks of light into distinct celestial bodies, their tiny discs becoming evident particularly during their transit across the planet, casting shadows behind them.

Saturn, with its stunning ring system, is readily visible with the StarSense Explorer 130mm, including the gap within the rings known as the Cassini Division. You’ll also spot a number of Saturn’s moons and some cloud bands on the planet itself. Observing Uranus is fairly straightforward at high magnification, although its moons are too faint to discern. Neptune and its moon Triton present more of a challenge, with Triton barely within the StarSense Explorer 130mm’s capabilities—definitely worth a try, but success is not assured.

Zane Landers

An amateur astronomer and telescope maker from Connecticut who has been featured on TIME magazineNational GeographicLa Vanguardia, and Clarin, The Guardian, The Arizona Daily Star, and Astronomy Technology Today and had won the Stellafane 1st and 3rd place Junior Awards in the 2018 Convention. Zane has owned over 425 telescopes, of which around 400 he has actually gotten to take out under the stars. These range from the stuff we review on TelescopicWatch to homemade or antique telescopes; the oldest he has owned or worked on so far was an Emil Busch refractor made shortly before the outbreak of World War I. Many of these are telescopes that he repaired or built.

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