As of November, 2010, the price of the Galileoscope has increased to $49.95. At that price, we feel that better options are available for people who want an off-the-shelf telescope. However, the Galileoscope is still a superb educational kit, highly recommended for people who want to understand the inner workings of telescopes.
Sky & Telescope has reviewed innumerable telescopes, and only a handful of the ones that we've tried and liked cost less than $200. Now we're going to recommend a telescope that's selling for $20, and your response is going to be "you're kidding, right?" No, we're not!
It's largely a matter of design goals. The typical cheap scope sold in department stores has one very clear goal in mind — to separate you from your money. The fact that these scopes are totally unable to deliver on the 486× that they promise is beside the point. The Galileoscope has a completely different purpose: to provide a usable telescope at a price that anybody can afford. It's a brain-child of IYA2009, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first paradigm-shattering astronomical discoveries.
S&T Editor Emeritus Rick Fienberg, a key organizer of the IYA, has always insisted that one of its primary goals should be to get as many people as possible to look through a telescope. Public star parties are one great way to achieve that goal, but they can only serve a modest fraction of the population. Harnessing people's curiosity and pride of ownership by marketing a genuinely inexpensive telescope is likely to reach far more people. And if the IYA can recover the development and production cost for this telescope, so much the better.
How good is the Galileoscope? This little 25x50 scope has very good optics, but no 50-mm scope can match the performance of our favorite $100 3-inch reflector, the cheapest scope that we've ever recommended before. On the other hand, it's far better than Galileo's own scope — and look how much he accomplished with that!
The scope's biggest limitation is that it has no mount, so you will either have to attach it to a good photo tripod or jury-rig your own mount. That's harder than it might be, because the scope lacks the 90-degree diagonal supplied with most refractors. The straight-through viewing angle requres that the scope be mounted higher than your head.