Meade mySky --vs-- Celestron Sky Scout

The Celestron SkyScout became widely available in 2006.  Meade countered with the mySky in 2007. 

Winter 2012 - Meade no longer sells or supports the mySky.  Celestron still has the Sky Scout and support.   However, my I Pad and Android based devices have really neat planetarium apps that include using their accelerometers and electronic compass to guide you around the sky.  They work much better, and are more versatile, than either of these two units.  Some will work away from a cell signal, others require a signal to function.

Non-functional Units

Dad purchased a SkyScout as soon as they were available.  Out of the four units the dealer received, three didn't work.  Celestron had major issues getting working units out to the dealers; the majority had bad GPS units that would never get a fix.  They seem to have that solved and if you pick one up today, it will probably work out of the box.

I picked up a mySky when Meade cut the price in the spring 2008.  Mine worked out of the box, until I ran mySky Updater to load some user objects.  Meade’s website refused the connection and it installed old firmware that would not work with 2008 dates.  It took a couple days to resolve that issue and it has since operated flawlessly.  You can bet I have a new firmware version stashed away where it is safe and sound for future Meade snafus.  Numerous people on the mySky forums were hit with that gotcha.

Most common suggestion given on the various forums to folks considering either one of these is to buy through a dealer that will test it prior to shipping it to you.

Location

A little information for those who know nothing about how a GPS receiver works. GPS satellites are not in geosynchronous orbits, in other words, they are moving around relative to our location on Earth.  A GPS receiver has to know which satellites it is receiving and where they are located in order to properly translate the signals into an accurate Earth based position.  A usable signal is required from 3 satellites to get a 2-D fix (longitude and latitude), 4 or more satellites can give a 3-D fix (altitude, longitude and latitude).  The satellites constantly broadcast a current almanac, a database of what satellites are where and when. Until your GPS receiver gets a current almanac it cannot generate a location.  Almanacs can take several minutes to download.  Frequent use of the receiver will keep the almanac updated.  Moving several miles with the receiver turned off, or not using it in several days, will require a new almanac to be downloaded.

The Meade can require several attempts to get a first fix. It times out at 6 minutes, so if it is not getting good strong satellite signals it will require several restarts to get an entire almanac.  With a good almanac it gets a fix in less than a minute.  Future startups allow you to select your last location and bypass the GPS fix.  Changing batteries loses your location and apparently the almanac, the next GPS fix will take numerous retries before it is successful.  You can manually enter your location by city, state, and country.  You cannot put in latitude/longitude.  Stateside is pretty well covered, but foreign countries are rather sparse and you may have to wait for a GPS fix instead of plugging in your location manually.  GPS data is not viewable - carry a regular GPS receiver so you can set up other items, like, a planetarium program, a telescope, etc.

The Celestron requires a GPS fix every time it starts up, no saving of your location.  Same issues with getting an almanac, sometimes it just won't get one no matter what.  It does allow location to be manually entered as latitude/longitude, so it will work anywhere you can get coordinates for.  GPS data is viewable so you can program it into other items, like, a planetarium program, a telescope, etc.

Fortunately, you only need to be close with these devices - I find no real difference in accuracy up to 15 miles away from where I last got a GPS fix.  Why they both have so much trouble with obtaining a GPS fix is deeply hidden within the bowels of Meade and Celestron.  My guess is a full blown GPS receiver interferes with the magnetic/acceleration sensor system and other GPS units have an active (powered) antenna.  I think passive antennas and a severely downscaled GPS system are used in these units. 

Sensors

To know where they are pointing, these units use a combination of gravity sensors and accelerometers.  The gravity sensors are extremely sensitive and are affected by nearby metal objects.  Both manufactures recommend keeping the units at least 10 meters from any large metal object, such as a car.

The mySky requires you to set it down on a stable, level surface for a few moments after it gets a GPS fix to calibrate the sensors.  There is no indication of magnetic interference, instead you just will not be able to accurately locate objects.  I found that sitting in a wrought iron patio chair is enough to cause interference when pointing in some areas of the sky.  It is also absolutely critical to hold the unit as vertical as possible, a little slant will skew the aim.

The SkyScout goes right into operation after a GPS fix.  It displays an icon when there is magnetic interference.  The unit must be held as close to horizontal as possible for accurate aiming, but doesn't seem quite as critical as the mySky.

Impressions and Hints

SkyScout has a more rugged feel and a more serious look.  The mySky looks and feels like a cheap toy.  Numerous users have reported broken or failed buttons on the mySky, few reports are to be found on broken SkyScouts.

Handgun styling of the mySky is a turn-off to some folks, and it reportedly can draw the attention of law enforcement.  A practiced handgun shooter will feel right at home with the mySky and soon achieve very good results (Google pistol holds if you are not a shooter).  I think it is a simpler and superior system for sighting.  Two illuminated acrylic pegs on the back of the top strap and one on the front creates a crude, but very effective sight.  Brightness is adjustable, and they can be set to slowly blink on and off for finding those really faint fuzzies. 

The SkyScout requires you to look through a 1x scope and simultaneously focus on icons in the scope and the object you are attempting to locate.  Haze, light pollution, moon glare, and such, makes it even harder to see what’s in the scope.  I find it difficult to align everything so it works, and it is more challenging to get a steady hold.  It doesn’t work well close to your eye and at arms length I can’t see anything through the scope.  Midway between these two points is where it works best, right where it is hardest to hold steady. 

Both units require practice to learn how to use them for best results.  The practice will also uncover the quirks of your unit so you can learn what they are, what causes them and how to overcome the quirks.  Smooth, non-rapid movements are essential; otherwise they tend to point several degrees off.  Take your time.

SkyScout will locate objects below the horizon, mySky won’t (it says "Earth").  Why would you want to locate below the horizon you ask?  How about knowing where something will rise so you can set up a neat picture of an object coming up between an old barn and a dead oak tree?  Or whatever other reason you would want to know where something will rise.

Which is the better unit? 

Both have serious shortcomings.

SkyScout - short battery life, iffy GPS receiver, needs a location fix every startup, no cataloged locations if GPS won't get a fix

mySky - worse GPS receiver than the SkyScout, limited to cataloged locations when the GPS won't get a fix, loses location when the batteries are changed, no magnetic interference indicator, poor to no customer support, overall unit is somewhat fragile. 

Meade has extremely poor customer support, to include their software for updating the MySKY does not work properly and will set back your unit to be incompatible with dates past 2007.  They have an "update" on their website, but very few people can get it to work.  Do not, repeat, do not attempt to update your software until you have created a working backup SD card, then try to get their "update" to work.  I'll bet it doesn't.  I've tried it on XP and Vista, installed and ran as Administrator, turned off the firewall, etc., and still no go.  There is a user group on Yahoo, only a couple of posters have reported any success with Meade's "update" - http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/meade_mysky/

MySKY Plus is now out.  Reports are that it is essentially the same as the original, with no GPS.  Supposedly you can now enter your location manually.  The firmware supposedly also works in the original, disables the GPS, but doesn't allow manual location entry, instead keeping you restricted to the cataloged locations.

Strong points

SkyScout - manual latitude/longitude input if GPS won't get a fix, Field Guide included and additional programs available, more rugged than the mySky

mySky - better battery life, more objects than SkyScout, better graphic support, easier to hold steady and aim, cataloged locations when GPS won't get a fix

It seems to be about 50-50.  I tend to prefer the mySky, but I also enjoy using the SkyScout.

Both can give erroneous data.  I have used the mySky, pointed it at Mizar and had it tell me it was Cygnus.  Huh?  That ain't even close.  Dad frequently has the SkyScout do similar to him.  Seeing as both companies are aiming these primarily at novice astronomers they ought to be a wee bit more reliable.  When they start acting up something has skewed the calibration.  The only solution is to restart them as neither has a recalibrate function.

The ideal unit would be a more rugged version of the mySky, with the ability to manually enter latitude/longitude and the Field Guide/Sky Tour options of the SkyScout.  Non-volatile memory for location and time would be nice so you could swap out batteries without requiring a new GPS fix.  Below horizon operation, user selectable would also be very handy.  Additional weight would make a steady hold easier to achieve.

Both units are really fun and handy.

Specs

  Celestron SkyScout Meade mySky
Street Price $299 $399 – reduced fall 08 $199
Sighting 1x optical scope Pistol style illuminated sights
Display 240 x 80 monochrome
Line art and text
Red nightvision
480 x 234 color
Graphics and text
256 color or
Red nightvision
GPS Data Display Yes No
Magnetic Inference notification Yes – icon No
Manual Location Input Latitude/Longitude To nearest city in database,
(may be many miles away)
Saves Location No – new GPS fix or manually input location every start-up Yes – until batteries are changed
Scope Connection Nexstar type controller
slew + GPS
LX200 Classic and all Autostar slew + GPS
Tripod socket Yes No
Batteries 2 AA 4 AA
Battery Life ~3 hours ~6 hours
Weight - Ounces
without / with batteries
15.2 / 16.9 10.9 / 14.3
Warranty 2 year 1 year

Catalogs & Such

Objects 6000 + 30,000 +
Type Planet
Star
    Brightest 20
    Common Name
    Double Star
    Variable Star
    SAO
    Hipparcos
Constellation
    12 Zodiac
    All 88
Deep Sky
    Galaxies
    Common Name (Messier)
    Messier Objects
    Nebulae
    Planetary Nebula
    Globular Cluster
    Open Cluster
Asterism
Solar System
    Planets
    Moon
    Asteroids
    Comets
    Events
        Solar Eclipse
        Lunar Eclipse
        Satellites
        Meteors
Star
    Bright
    Double
    Named
    SAO
Constellation
Deep Sky
    Messier
    Caldwell
    NGC
    Named
Text Descriptions Yes Yes
Audio Descriptions Yes Yes
Graphics
(photo, constellation, movie, etc.)
No – limited to line art representations of some objects Yes
Sky Maps No Yes
Identify Mode Yes Yes
Find Mode Yes Yes
Tours Yes Yes
Trace Constellation Yes – includes major asterisms Yes – no asterisms
Field Guide Yes – Intro to Astronomy and several reference guides No
SD Card Sky Tour audio presentations Required for operation - operating system and catalogs are on it.
Below Horizon Yes No

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