Remember dive tables?
|Liberal vs. Conservative|
|November 2006: Digital Diving Chart (PDF--600k)|
After much therapy, neither do we. Gone are the days of being pushed around by a rectangular piece of plastic, of tracing your waterlogged fingers across row after row of numbers, flipping this way and that to see how long you could stay under on your next dive. Dive computers not only eliminate the drudge work of tables, but also constantly update your no-decompression limits (NDLs) during the dive. And if you manage to get yourself into a deco situation, either planned or unplanned, a dive computer will help you work your way out of it. A dive computer will also store all your dive data so you can come back to it in the future, either to review details, to learn lessons, or just to put yourself in a diving frame of mind at times when life conspires to keep you from actually getting wet.
After extensive testing, we are pleased to report that all of these computers perform their critical functions brilliantly and have earned our Testers' Choice rating. What makes them different is how they go about it and the features they offer. Size of screen, display design, methods for navigating through program modes, air integration (or not), nitrox capabilities, gas mix versatility, liberal or conservative algorithms-these are the features or functions that can make one computer perfect for you, and another, not so much.
In the following reviews, and using various performance and features charts, we've attempted to shed some light on this year's eight new computers. By focusing on the various features and functions that make these computers different, we hope to provide you, our readers and fellow divers, with enough information to help you find the computer of your diving dreams.
How We Test Computers
Over a period of approximately three months, a team of six divers strapped on each computer and then went about their normal diving lives. They carried waterproof score sheets strapped to underwater slates, and while they shot photographs or explored wrecks or cruised reefs, they marked their sheets and made notes about the ease of reading and understanding the screens, the efficiency of NDL bar graphs and ascent rate warnings, and how well the backlights worked. Between dives, they checked to see how well the computers displayed surface interval time, and how easy it was to access logbook information. And since these are, after all, computers, they also turned critical eyes to the owners' manuals and PC interface kits. For a complete list of the areas evaluated, turn to the ergonomic chart on p. 99.
When the real diving was complete, we took the computers to the USC hyperbaric chamber on Catalina Island and subjected them each to a four-dive profile designed to see if their algorithms trended either liberal or conservative. With all tests complete, we gathered the scores and notes, and compiled the following reviews.
This new single-gas air/nitrox dive computer is a real comer. It features a large display screen with big, bold numbers that are easy to see and understand. Two-color bar graphs monitor nitrogen and oxygen loading as well as ascent rate. All critical dive data can be found on the primary screen. Noncritical data is found on an alternate screen that's accessed by pressing one of the two function buttons. The computer logs 24 dives, is nitrox-compatible up to 50 percent and offers both visual and audible alarms. The wrist strap has a stylish Euro design, and it's plenty long enough to accommodate even a dry-suit arm. The Voyager comes with a waterproof prompt card. Also available is an optional lens guard.
Test divers found the Voyager one of the easiest units to use, thanks mainly to the large, easy-to-see numbers for both critical and noncritical data and their positioning on the screen. Underwater, depth and bottom time are shown in huge numbers; max depth and no-decompression limits are only slightly smaller. Switch to the alternate screen and you continue to see depth data, plus you get time of day and temperature. The bar graph pixels are easy to monitor, although the blue/red color scheme is not as intuitive as the traditional green/yellow/red. After a dive, the Voyager offers one of the most user-friendly surface screens. Without having to push any buttons you get surface interval time along with temperature and time of day. Maximum operating depth in computer mode is just short of 200 feet, which is substantially less than all other computers in this group, but more than enough for recreational diving.
The Voyager is one of the most liberal computers in this group. It doesn't offer a method for programming a safety cushion. Instead, to increase your margin of safety you just back off on the nitrogen bar loading.
Although Beuchat is a French company, it offers a standalone English version of its manual with excellent step-by-step instructions supported by good illustrations. Technical info and spec sheets are first-rate.
The download kit retails for $160, and includes software (requires Windows 98 or newer) and a USB cable.
Cressi-Sub Archimedes 2
Cressi-sub has taken its Archimedes air/nitrox computer, added the capability of programming in a second gas mixture, kicked up the nitrox percentage to 99, and added a programmable gauge mode. The result: the Archimedes 2, a full-featured, multi-function dual-gas computer with a big screen, big data digits and four-color bar graphs. The screen is divided into three orderly sections. A central Mode button flanked by A and C buttons lets you navigate through modes, access data, program functions and activate the backlight. Both audible and visual alarms are provided. The logbook stores up to 60 dives or 30 hours of diving. It comes with a long strap and screen guard.
Test divers found the Archimedes 2 a very easy computer to use, both at depth and on the surface. Numbers are large, easy to read, and navigating through the system via the three buttons is a snap. At the bottom of the screen there are mode prompts ("Time," "Dive," "Plan," "Log," etc.), so there's never a question of which mode you're in. At depth, the primary screen shows max depth and bottom time in the upper screen section, NDLs dominate the middle section, and in the bottom section you have your Dive mode designation. The green-white-orange-red bar graphs are relatively narrow and a bit hard to see at depth, but the loading pixels are easily visible. The surface screen was rated very good by test divers. Surface interval is shown along with time to fly and desaturation.
The Archimedes 2 is a conservative computer, even in its most liberal setting. A Safety Factor adjustment provides for an additional safety cushion.
The Archimedes 2 manual comes in five languages, which makes for a somewhat bulky package. The English section is easy to read, but instructions and explanations are not as clearly described or as straightforward as those found in some other manuals. A four-color foldout screen chart in the back of the manual is helpful. Technical and spec sheet information is minimal.
The download kit is optional. It includes software (Windows 98 and newer) and all the necessary hardware for data transfer. Runs about $90.
Mares M2 RGBM
The new Mares M2 RGBM wrist computer includes all the features of its predecessor, the M1 RGBM, plus offers some enhanced cosmetics, improved screen graphics, redesigned control buttons and updated operating software. The result is a user-friendly, single-gas, air/nitrox computer. It's the least expensive model in this go-round, and the only computer powered by AAA batteries, located in an easy-access watertight compartment. It's also the only computer that lets you keep your backlight on full-time if you want to. The M2 uses good-sized numbers relative to its screen size, all presented beneath scratchproof mineral glass, and a three-color ascent-rate bar graph. Headings at the top of the screen let you know what mode you're in. Deco stops are calculated down to 80 feet.
The super-simple battery system is a big plus with this computer. AAAs can be bought virtually anywhere, and a battery change can be done in seconds without tools, and without having to disassemble the computer. Compared to the other units in this review, the M2 has a small screen relative to its overall size. However, test divers found it very readable. Underwater, the primary screen is dominated by bottom time and no-decompression limits data. The M2 doesn't use an NDL loading bar, but the white/yellow/red ascent rate graph is very intuitive. The alternate screen shows max depth and temp. On the surface, a couple of button presses is required to show surface interval time. The M2 comes with a wrist strap long enough for both wetsuits and dry suits.
The M2 RGBM is one of the more conservative computers in this group, even at its most liberal setting. It also offers the option of programming in additional safety margins.
The M2 RGBM's owner's manual comes in 12 (no kidding) languages, so you have a lot of pages to wade through to get to the English pages. The typeface is also very small and the print is light, which makes it challenging to get the information you want. However, there is good spec/technical info and the navigation illustrations in the back of the manual are helpful.
The optional PC interface kit uses an infrared linkup called the IRIS (infrared interface system). Software requires Windows 98 or higher. The IRIS linkup retails for about $140.
Sherwood Scuba Insight
If you like to keep things simple, you're going to love the Sherwood Insight. This full-feature single-gas air/nitrox computer has taken the road less traveled when it comes to displaying dive data. Rather than load up a primary screen with lots of numbers, the Insight spreads its data among three screens-one primary and two alternate. This puts the most critical data on the primary screen, moderately critical data on the first alternate screen, and noncritical data on the second alternate screen. The computer uses green/yellow/red bar graphs for nitrogen loading, oxygen loading and ascent rate, and dual control buttons. The screen makes good use of graphics and icons to make information as easy to see and understand as possible. It comes with both audible and visual alarms and a screen guard.
The Insight has an old-fashioned feel to it, in that it's bulkier on your arm than other computers. The strap is a bit short, too. Dry suit wearers might have to stretch it a bit to make it fit. But operationally, this is one nice computer. Easy-to-see numbers are presented on well-laid-out screens. You can't get confused with your data because each screen offers only a few pieces of information. The main screen shows no-decompression limits and current depth, the first alternate screen shows bottom time, max depth and some oxygen data if you're diving nitrox, and the second alternate screen shows temp, time of day and more nitrox data. The three-color bar graphs are effective, especially the ascent-rate bar. In surface mode, the Insight is one of the best, giving you surface interval time on the primary screen so you don't have to go searching for it.
The Insight is one of the most liberal computers in this go-round and offers no programmable safety settings. To increase your DCS safety margin all you do is back off on the NDL loading bar.
The Insight's manual is one of the best around. It was rated excellent by test divers for its simplicity and straight-forward instructions for programming the computer and navigating through its various modes. It offers lots of technical info and the spec sheets are great.
The Insight's PC interface kit is scheduled for release Nov. 1, but was unavailable at the time of testing.
Uwatec Smart Z Complete
Last year Scubapro introduced the Smart TEC hoseless computer with three-gas capability, designed primarily for technical divers. This year Scubapro offers the Smart Z, a single-gas mix air/nitrox computer designed for recreational diving use. The Smart Z comes with many of the same features as the Smart TEC; most importantly, hoseless air integration that reads up to 4,350 psi, the ability to calculate remaining bottom time based on tank pressure, breathing rate, depth, temperature and ascent speed, and micro bubble suppression technology with six suppression levels to minimize micro bubble formation. Four contacts are used to navigate through the computer's modes. All Smart Zs have built-in 99-dive logbook capability and come with a hinged screen guard. The Smart Z Complete package includes the computer, one wireless transmitter, a padded storage bag, PC download software and a nice waterproof prompt card, all packed in a nifty hard case.
For such a big computer with such a big display, data digits are smaller than you might expect, but they're easy to see. Rated excellent by test divers for readability at depth, the Smart Z displays all its dive data on one screen. Depth is shown as the largest number, bottom time and NDLs are slightly smaller, oxygen percentage and tank pressure slightly smaller still and temperature reads the smallest. It's a very straightforward layout, without color accents or loading bars. Post-dive, the primary screen shows temperature, desat time and oxygen percentage but no surface interval-you have to go to an alternate screen for that. The hinged screen guard is a nice feature and the wrist strap is plenty long to accommodate all exposure suits. The backlight, however, can be difficult to activate. You're supposed to press a spot on the computer's case that can be hard to pinpoint. But once found, the screen lights up efficiently.
The Smart Z is middle of the road. But you can make it more conservative if you want to by programming in up to six micro bubble suppression levels.
The Smart Z manual comes in three languages. Its operating scheme requires a few minutes of study to get the hang of it. The manual provides lots of information on operation and on micro bubble technology, but it's a bit light on technical info compared to other manuals.
This download system uses an infrared PC interface and SmartTrak software for Windows 98 or higher. The software is free, so if your PC has an infrared reading device pre-installed you won't have to pay a dime to download. Otherwise, Scubapro dealers sell an infrared reading device for around $100. This is the only system we've come across that also offers software for use on MacIntosh systems. Called J-Trak, you can download it for free off the Scubapro web site.
Uwatec Aladin TEC 2G
The Aladin TEC 2G air/nitrox computer recently replaced the Aladin TEC. While identical to its predecessor in most functions and features, the TEC 2G stands out because it can juggle two gas mixes from 21 to 100 percent oxygen and allows the user to switch between them at depth. It also makes use of a green/yellow/red nitrogen loading bar and large, easy-to-see numbers. Plus, like the Smart Z, it uses micro bubble suppression technology. The Aladin TEC 2G also offers watch functions, with both 12- and 24-hour modes, a wake-up alarm and a time zone shift for traveling divers. The computer comes with a waterproof prompt card and a lens guard.
The Aladin TEC 2G proved to be a very good performer in all test categories. Divers found the screen easy to see and read, with both critical and noncritical data accessible and understandable. The primary screen shows depth, bottom time, no-decompression limits, oxygen level and water temperature. The data digits tend to be about the same size, but there are symbols and icons to help you differentiate between the data. The nitrogen bar graph also takes some getting used to. Most computer bar graphs load from bottom to top, but the TEC 2G's graph loads top to bottom. It's an intuitive design, though, with NDL pixels narrow in the green zone and growing progressively wider and bolder as they creep into the yellow and red zones. On the surface, the computer stays in dive mode for about five minutes, then switches to logbook mode with time, date and temperature displayed. In this mode, a press of the right button gives you surface interval time. The wrist strap is super long to accommodate all exposure suits.
The Aladin TEC 2G is middle of the road. But you can make it more conservative if you want to by programming in up to six micro bubble suppression levels.
The Aladin TEC 2G's manual is much more user-friendly than its predecessor's. Since the computer is so new we were only able to look at a rough draft, but the operating scheme is clearly easier to navigate through. Like the Smart Z's manual, this one provides lots of information on operation and on micro bubble technology, but is a bit light on technical info compared to other manuals.
Same system as what's found on the Smart Z.
The only true wristwatch-style dive computer in this year's go-round, the two-gas, air/nitrox D6 is very similar to Suunto's popular D9, but with fewer features and a lower price. It's still loaded with goodies, though. Featuring a stainless-steel housing, mineral crystal-glass display and four push-button controls, the D6 acts as either an attractive, full-function wristwatch on land, or as an advanced diving computer underwater. It allows you to program two different gas mixes from 21 to 99 percent oxygen and then switch between them during a dive. It also allows you to program one- or two-minute safety stops at much deeper depths than a traditional safety stop. The computer makes good use of bold numbers, icons and color bar graphs to communicate both critical and noncritical dive data. Also like the D9, the D6 offers an integrated digital compass that can be used both topside and at depth. It comes with a wrist strap extension to accommodate all types of exposure suits.
For a computer that's physically much smaller than the others in this group, the D6 can really hold its own when it comes to screen readability. Its bold black numbers leap off the screen, making even the smaller digits easy to see and understand. Underwater the primary screen displays depth predominantly, followed by no-decompression limits, which are followed by max depth and bottom time. A press of the top left button activates the digital compass, while each of the lower buttons calls up additional info like temperature and time of day. The NDL and ascent-rate loading bars are very effective. Once back on the dive boat, the D6 shows your surface interval for a few minutes, then reverts to wristwatch mode. A button press gets you back to surface interval mode and shows time-to-fly data.
The D6 is one of the more conservative computers of this year's group, plus offers a number of personal and altitude adjustments to even further increase your safety cushion.
At the time of these tests only a draft copy of the D6 manual was available, but it proved to be above average in terms of providing good instructions for setup, supporting illustrations and mode descriptions.
The optional download kit retails for about $90. It includes an interface cable, Windows 98 Suunto Dive Manager software and an instruction booklet.
Suunto VYTEC DS
The Vytec has been a favorite among technically oriented divers for years. This upgraded version, the Vytec DS, offers an all-black casing and Suunto's RGBM Deep Stop Algorithm. This algorithm provides the data to make one- or two-minute safety stops at greater depths rather than the traditional safety stop. The Vytec DS lets you switch between as many as three gas mixes (from 21 to 99 percent oxygen) while at depth, and offers users the option of wireless air integration. The wireless transmitter reads tank pressure to 4,000 psi and allows the computer to calculate remaining air time based on your air consumption rate. Three well-marked control buttons take you through the system, and screen prompts show you what mode you're in to simplify programming. The Vytec DS comes with both audible and visual alarms, a waterproof prompt card and a screen guard.
The Vytec DS was a favorite among this year's test divers, especially those who partake in more advanced diving. Earning more Excellent ergo ratings than any dive computer this year, at depth the Vytec DS displays a lot of critical dive data on a good-sized primary screen, supported by two easy-to-see white/gray/red bar graphs. The alternate screen is easy to access and displays noncritical data like time of day and temperature while still displaying the most important information from the primary screen. Numbers are big, bar graph pixels are bold, and the layout is simple and uncluttered. On the surface, you can monitor your interval time by shifting to the alternate screen. Two button presses give you no-fly data.
The Vytec DS is one of the more conservative computers of this year's group, with a number of personal and altitude adjustments to further increase your safety margin.
The Vytec DS ships with a very good English-only owner's manual. It's loaded with useful setup and operating instructions, as well as technical information.
The optional download kit retails for about $90. It includes an interface cable and Suunto's Dive Manager software and instruction booklet.
New, But Not Yet Reviewed
Although not available in time for our tests, here are more computers that should be in dive stores by the time you read this.
$949.95 with transmitter, $669.95 without.unveils its top-end VT3 wrist-mount dive computer with hoseless air integration, the ability to program up to three nitrox mixes to 100 percent and lots of other features for $949.95 or $669.95 without the transmitter. At the other end of the spectrum, Oceanic's entry-level VEO 100 Nx lets you program up to 50 percent nitrox and includes a number of other data-crunching features. The VEO 100 Nx ranges in price from $289.95 for the basic "hockey puck" module to $419.95 mounted in the NavCon three-gauge console. Also due out is the Oceanic Atom 2.0 wristwatch computer. The original Atom proved big things could come in a small package when it earned a Testers' Choice in our 2005 computer review. It offered eight different screens and the option of wireless air integration on up to three separate tanks. Nitrox-capable for mixes up to 100 percent, it also featured Oceanic's patented Air Time Remaining feature. The Atom 2.0 has been upgraded with twice the memory (it now stores up to 110 hours of dives), bigger display digits, a mineral-glass face and a unique Buddy Pressure Check feature that lets you keep tabs on another diver's air supply. Price:
$999 with transmitter, $599 for computer only.also has two new computers, both offering hoseless air integration. One is the wristwatch-style Epic that can program up to three nitrox mixes to 100 percent and includes a PC interface kit for $999 with a transmitter, $599 without. Or, if you prefer something a little bigger, Aeris offers its new Elite T3-with basically the same features as the Epic-but in a wrist-mount design with a larger screen, also for
|Liberal vs. Conservative|
Dive Computer Price/User Matrix
(In order from least expensive to most expensive)
(21 to at least 50%
nitrox, single gas)
(21 to 99% nitrox,
(21 to 99% nitrox,
at least 2 gas mixes)
2005 Testers' Choice Computers