feral pig wrote:
You can spend pretty much however much you want on a telescope. The more you spend, the bigger the lens, and therefore the more you see. For occasional, casual observing, an ETX 80 (or, better, an ETX 90) are pretty nice.
If you want to go up to say $1,000, you can get an ETX-125, The numbers refer to the size of the objective lens in mm. So a 125 is a little less than 5", and a 90 is roughly 3.5 inches.
Obviously, the bigger the objective, the more light it gathers, and more objects can be seen.
Regardless, don't expect to see awesome spiral galaxies like you see in pictures on the web - those are long-time exposures done with professional grade telescopes. At best, galaxies will appear as fuzzy little blobs of light on anything you might ever be tempted to buy.
Planets, on the other hand, are quite impressive. Take the girls out late some night and show them the rings of Saturn - by far the most impressive telescope object (well, maybe the Moon is right up there). Jupiter is pretty cool too - as well as it's 4 largest moons - easily visible in even small telescopes.
How about nebulas? My experience with my 'manual' one is exactly as you described: Saturn is king and the 11 moons (most I've counted) of Jupiter are badass too. Mars was disappointing. I like the moon simply because it's easiest for my kids to see. But the scopes you mention appear to be much easier to use. Which is impressive - it's not easy to track something manually with a telescope and a couple of X/Y-axis tuners (whatever the hell those knobs are that I turn in synch to 'track' planets as earth rotates).