Evolution…a natural transformation over the course of time produced by an organism’s efforts to respond to its environment. The aptly named Celestron NexStar Evolution embodies what a telescope should be in 2014; a self-powered instrument with built-in WiFi that can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet, and have the ability to tour the Universe at the tap of a finger. But does the Evolution work as advertised; and what about the SkyPortal app, does it combine with the telescope to provide a seamless, exploratory experience?
I have a telescope business in Orange County, California, and was chomping at the bit to test-drive a NexStar Evolution telescope for the first time. I received an 8" model, and on the first clear night, set it up and took it for a spin. Here are my thoughts about the experience, and trust me, multiple smiley faces wouldn't even begin to convey the excitement I felt as I used the Celestron NexStar Evolution for the first time!
Let’s start with the proverbial heart of any telescope... it’s optics. The NexStar Evolution telescope comes in three sizes - Amazing, Wow and Incredible! (aka 6", 8" and 9.25”, respectively). Celestron invented the Schmidt-Cassegrain manufacturing process and has been perfecting it since 1960. The Evolution comes with their modern diffraction- limited optics with patented Starbright XLT coatings (seriously, what an amazing difference this makes!), Celestron’s superior smooth bearing focus, designed to eliminate image shift, and don't even get me started with the inclusion of FASTAR Optics capability, where, with an optional accessory, you can adapt this telescope to shoot deep sky images in mere seconds at f/2! However, you will promptly forget all this the first time you look at the Moon, Saturn or the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules with this amazing telescope; Celestron has done as much of the hard work as possible so you can just sit back and enjoy the spectacular view!
Legendary optical quality with all the newest features will give you not only the brightest sharpest image but unbelievable imaging capabilities. Using industry standard V series dovetail plates, you're only limited by your imagination as what you may want to mount if your astrophotographic interests expand.
No matter how central the heart is to a system, it is useless without supporting characters; optics alone do not a telescope make. The NexStar Evolution mount, electronics, and tripod support the optical system to produce a sturdy, smart computerized telescope!
The Nexstar Evolution comes with built-in WiFi, which makes it a surprising, useful and immersive telescope. With the help of WiFi you can improve the functionality of your telescope if you own any Android or iPhone smartphone or tablet. The motorized mount can be easily connected and controlled with the help of your smartphone or tablet once you have loaded the free Celestron app, SkyPortal, onto your device. After you connect the telescope to your smartphone or tablet using the Evolution’s Sky Link WiFi, you will be able to control it by just tapping on the screen.
Integrated WiFi control of the Evolution telescope from your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet brings a visually immersive experience to the user. Once paired with your handheld device, your personal window to the universe allows you to interact with the night sky. The Celestron app is correctly named SkyPortal; I felt like I was stepping into a brave new world!
Check out my YouTube videos for more information on setting up the Evolution telescope, as well as pairing a smart device to the telescope and doing a quick alignment.
Pick three stars, any three stars. You don’t have to know their names ahead of time, and it doesn’t matter if they are stars or planets. Once you have followed the simple alignment instructions with those three objects, the Evolution mount will, like a CSI investigator looking for loops and whorls in a fingerprint, search the whole freaking universe until it figures out where on Earth you must be for those stars to look as they do. Now, the Evolution will be able to not only find anything in its 120,200 database but also tell you the names of the three points you chose. It is like a magic trick!
By simply holding your SkyPortal up to the sky, you can navigate to any part of the Universe with accuracy, and may I say, finesse! Your SkyPortal app has a visually interactive star chart that will easily allow you to find and center any object that interests you with a tap of the screen. In fact, the SkyPortal app is loaded with over four hours of celestial information, and so you can even listen to detailed descriptions of what you are looking at while you are looking at it!
Evolution Mount and Tripod
The single fork arm of the Evolution Mount is sturdy and accepts a standard Vixen-style dovetail for mounting the optical tube assembly. Manual clutches have been thoughtfully included in the design, so the telescope can be used without power. This seems like a small thing, but if you’ve ever had to call it a night because you lost power to your telescope and had no options for manual use, you’ll be smiling right now.
(left) There are many new features on the Evolution series of telescopes, but the one I appreciate the most when I am moving it, is the Handle!
(right) Night vision safe red LED illumination for your eyepieces or star charts! Eyepieces can be nestled safely in rubberized 1.25-inch holders. More handles make moving and setup a breeze.
The Evolution mount base was designed with storage space for eyepieces in two locations, and one even has a night-vision safe red LED illuminator so you can find just the eyepiece you need! However, one of the most innovative (and welcome) upgrades to the Evolution mount is the built-in lithium ion battery. As far as I know, the Celestron NexStar Evolution is the only telescope made today with this feature. When the battery is fully charged, it will give you about ten (10) hours of power, which is wonderful.
Recessed under the mount arm, left to right, you will find the power port for charging the battery, then Aux 3 and Aux 4 ports under the Powered USB port for charging your phone or tablet. Finally, on the right, lies the On/Off switch. You can also see the built-in level on the tripod (the round yellow bump on the lower right).
The portable yet heavy duty tripod comes with adjustable height legs that have calibrated silver and black rings around them to make leveling your tripod easy. Even the built-in level has been offset from the top of the tripod so you can see it once the mount has been affixed to the tripod. The top of the tripod has recessed captured set screws and a center pin, so that once the mount is centered on the pin you can smoothly rotate it until the base feet drop with a comforting “click” into their respective recesses, making setup a breeze.
The level of integration, sophistication, detail, fun, ease-of-use and information the Nexstar Evolution telescope, and SkyPortal app offers is flatly unprecedented. I venture to say that this will be Celestron’s best selling telescope… ever…and I don’t say that lightly. I have been an amateur astronomer for over 24 years, and after having used the 8” Evolution telescope for a week, it has rekindled my love for astronomy!
Why? First of all, it is just a joy to use, whether I do a quick set-up to show the kids Saturn, or I am putting it through its paces on a night of observing.
Secondly, the SkyPortal app is not only visually stunning and intuitive to use, but has precise controls and even audio tours to tell me more about the objects I’m observing while I’m observing them!
Last but definitely not least, I love sharing the night sky with my friends and neighbors. Wow, does this make an impression on people! I think this is the telescope everyone expects when you tell them you have a computerized telescope today! The Celestron NexStar Evolution has the technology that people have come to expect these days, but it performs so effortlessly and beautifully that it does not take anything away from the shock people have when they view Saturn for the first time, their awe is just magnified to the next level.
Everyone I have shown this telescope to cannot believe the price of the 6” model is $1199. It’s not that nearly $1200 is not a lot of money, but that buys you a wireless, networked, computerized, robotic, diffraction-limited telescope that comes with a rechargeable battery, free wireless application, Fastar compatible optics, brass worm gears, a portable tripod, two eyepieces and a red dot finder!
I highly recommend the Celestron Evolution telescopes to beginners and seasoned amateur astronomers alike. Using one sure put a smile on my face, and I work with telescopes every day! I bet a NexStar Evolution will put a smile on your face, too.
To learn more about the Celestron Evolution, check out the following videos: