Until recently, all our roundups of inexpensive telescopes ended up with two 4.5-inch reflectors head and shoulders above the rest: the SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic and the StarBlast 4.5 Astro, both by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars.
This year we added a third contender to the list, when Edmund Scientific introduced an updated version of its venerable 4.25-inch Astroscan. Edmund left the tried-and-true basic design untouched but added a dew shield, a red-dot finder, and upgraded eyepieces.
Which of these three scopes is best for you? It's not an easy choice! Both the XT4.5 and the StarBlast 4.5 are great general-purpose scopes. The XT4.5 is arguably better for the Moon and planets because of its long focal ratio, which makes it easier to collimate and easier to focus at high magnifications. The StarBlast is arguably better for deep-sky observing because of its fantastic low-power, wide-field capability.
As for the Astroscan, though its optics and focuser aren't quite a match for the other two scopes, its unique ball-and-socket mount gives unparalleled freedom for browsing the night sky.
For more details, click on one of the scopes below to download our review in PDF form: