If you are a beginner shopping for your first microscope or a parent or grandparent buying a microscope for your favorite beginner, you need to carefully match the microscope features with the intended level of use. The basic choice is between a toy microscope and a student microscope and if you choose a student microscope, you need to carefully check the features.
A toy microscope is not necessarily a bad thing (virtually all microscopes under $100 are toys, regardless of the advertising claims, especially claims regarding magnification). Toy microscopes can be useful if you want to foster an interest in microscopes / science and if a toy microscope accomplishes this, it may be money well spent. A toy microscope is also a good choice for a parent who simply wants to test the waters to see if a child has an interest in science. Good examples of toy microscopes include the Meade microscope 08019, the Konus microscope 5019, or the Celestron microscope 44100
However, if the student's interest grows beyond that initial spark, you are faced with buying another, more expensive microscope. Toy microscopes often make exaggerated claims as to magnification and performance, but, make no mistake, toy microscopes lack the features needed to learn all the basics of microscope use and toy microscopes do not have the durability needed for extended work. Product lifespan at this price is predictably short. As educational tools, a toy microscope will be a step below the features and quality of a microscope used in even an average elementary school classroom. If you are trying to duplicate what a student actually uses in school, a toy microscope is the wrong choice. You need to spend more and get a student grade microscope. Prices begin at $100 for a student microscope with the minimum recommended features and run up to $150-200 for a student microscope with all the recommended features.