Having a dive computer will free you from having to worry about calculations of your nitrogen levels using complicated dive tables.
Being able to monitor all the information you need on your wrist will give you the confidence to stop worrying and just enjoy the dive, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
The big problem with trying to choose the best diving computer for you is there are so many of them with all kinds of features.
So we tested and evaluated the 9 of the most popular models and narrowed them down to 5 to make your decision easy.
Lets take look at the dive computers, then we’ll talk about how to find the best one for you.
- Cressi Giotto Wrist Dive Computer
- Oceanic Geo 2.0 Air/Nitrox Dive Computer Watch
- Suunto ZOOP Wrist Unit Scuba Diving Computer
- Shearwater Research Petrel Dive Computer
- Mares Smart Wrist Dive Computer
Here is a feature overview of the dive computers with full reviews and our buying guide below.
The Best Dive Computers
Dive Computer Reviews
The Giotto dive watch/computer is Cressi’s latest offering in a long line of excellent quality dive watches. Cressi is one of the leading manufactures of diving equipment and has been around since the 40’s so they know something about diving equipment.
Air and Nitrox Compatible
The Giotto is fully compatible with Nitrox and the 3-button interface of this dive watch computer makes the functioning intuitive and effortless with three operating modes which are air, nitrox and gauge.
The Giotto’s wrist computer is one of the best diving computers on the market for a lot of reasons including its High Def screen offering excellent readability with the display of larger digits. Not only that, but the screen also displays battery life while the audible alarms providing the necessary information throughout the dive.
Giotto’s diving watch provides all the important information from the time and depth to the need of decompression and ascent rate.
All the intervals between every dive and the absorption and release of nitrogen is also constantly monitored by its advanced electronics.
All of this information can be viewed on the large screen of the dive wrist computer through the ‘Priority Compartment Digit Display’ (PCD). This system makes it simple for you to get the necessary information from the computer, making certain that you have a clear understanding of the data along with high readability at any time during the dive.
Features of the Cressi Giotto Wrist Computer:
- Backlight system for night or low light diving.
- Display the dive depth up to 393′ (120 meters)
- Altitude adjustable
- The batteries are replaceable (3-Volt CR2430 Battery)
- Gauge face guard
- Comes with a complete owner’s manual along with a 24 month warranty
- The software of the wrist computer has two different hyper-oxygenated mixtures
- The units of measurement can be switched from Metric (meters and C ) to Imperial (feet and F )
- Graphic CNS oxygen toxicity indicator
- Innate clock and calendar
- A 60 dive log book
- Option of saving the dive history
I found the Cressi Giotto to be the best all around dive computer, having plenty of features at bargain price. In my opinion this is the best dive computer for the money, and is our top pick.
The Oceanic Geo 2.0 Air/Nitrox Computer Watch is an excellent mid-range watch style dive computer created with dual algorithms of the Pelagic DSAT or Pelagic Z+.
This dive computer watch is the perfect choice when you are looking to upgrade your dive equipment or a beginner who doesn’t mind spending a bit more so they wont have to upgrade to a better watch in the future.
This computer watch is redesigned with a step back system which makes forward and backward navigation underwater easier for you with the help of intuitive and easy to use menus and settings.
The Oceanic 2.0 has a redesigned display screen that shows clearly visible large digits while being compact at the same time. The backlight of the screen is quite powerful allowing you to see it when visibility is poor. The watch also contains an audible alarm along with a small LED flash light which actually came in handy on several occasions for me.
Air and Nitrox Compatible
The Oceanic is naturally 100% compatible with both air and Nitrox and gas mixes and allows switching between them with no restrictions.
The Oceanic Geo 2.0 allows the transferring of data to your computer and has a capacity of 24 on-unit dive logs. Oceanic unfortunately did not include the USB transfer kit and it is an extra charge so be forewarned.
The Oceanic Geo 2.0 dive computer watch operates in four modes which are: Watch (Chrono, daily audible alarm, alternate time and countdown timer), Norm (for nitrox and air), Gauge (with a run timer) and Free (the free diving mode keep a track of the calculation so that the diver can switch between the modes, Free and Norm).
Features of the Oceanic Geo 2.0 Air/Nitrox Computer Watch:
- Deep stop option along with a countdown timer (for dives that are deeper than 80 ft. / 25m)
- A single button to display the ‘last dive’ data which includes the maximum depth and the bottom time of the dive
- It also has a feature of retaining the data and maintain the calculations forever even when the batteries are replaced
- The history mode of the computer watch contains information like the total number of dives, dive hours, maximum depth of the dive and the lowest temperature
- It has an optional interface to connect with the PC along with OceanLog download
- The redesigned Oceanic Geo 2.0 is now available with the metric system as well
- Stop times: 3 minutes
My only gripe with the Oceanic Geo 2.0 dive watch is the instructions are unnecessarily complex. Overall its a very high end, capable dive computer and with all the features, it is in my opinion the best dive computer under $500.
#3 Suunto ZOOP Dive Computer Watch Review
The Suunto ZOOP Watch Diving Computer is probably the best dive computer for beginners. It has all the features that you need in a dive computer while at the same time not overly complicated with a bunch of features the beginner or casual diver needs.
The screen of the Suunto has a little smaller display than the other 2 dive watches I reviewed and features super-bright phosphorescent LCD display giving it exception readability.
Like any modern dive computer it is multi-mode versatile with its two dive modes Air and Nitrox. It can be programmed for Nitrox mixtures of 21% to 50% oxygen and can be adjusted for oxygen partial pressure of between 1.2 and 1.6 bar. It offers flexible decompression using the the RGBM algorithm.
Suunto ZOOP Diving Watch offers optional software and a data transfer kit that is cheaper than other manufacturers of dive computers.
It allows you to download all of your dive data for further analysis and to maintain a detailed logbook featuring graphical representation of all your dives plus locations of using GPS coordinates.
Features of the Suunto ZOOP Wrist Unit Scuba Diving Computer:
In my opinion the Suunto Zoop is one of the best budget dive computers, it offers most of the features of more expensive dive computers in a simple to use watch that you won’t require you to spend hours trying to decipher the instruction manual.
Shearwater Research is a Canadian based company that does nothing but make quality dive computers. They are focused primarily on creating dive computers for intermediate and advanced level scuba divers.
The Shearwater Research Petrel Dive Computer is not what I would call a “small” dive computer like all the other watch size computers I have reviewed in this article.
The Petrel has a full size 2.4 inch screen that allows you to see all major functions without having to scroll through several screens to see your depth, temperature or other pertinent information that the watch size dive computers cannot display on one screen because they lack the screen real estate.
Of course not all information is on the main screen, you can easily access more detailed information by tapping the buttons that are easily access, even with gloves on.
Because of its larger size it does not use a watch strap, it uses 2 nylon straps that attach to your wrist with Velcro.
The first time you put on the Petrel it will feel large, especially if you have used a smaller watch size dive computer in the past.
It will seem awkward at first because its also thicker at about 1.3 inches. However, the awkwardness will quickly go away and you will grow comfortable with it.
You will also get to love the large screen that displays all the info you need in an easy to read layout. All information you need is available without having to squint. The Shearwater Research Petrel Dive Computer is powered by one standard size AA battery that provides 35 hours of dive time. If you use a SAFT LS14500 lithium you can get over 100 hours.
Features of the Shearwater Research Petrel Dive Computer:
- Air/Nitrox/Trimix capable
- Screen Resolution 320×240 QVGA
- Full colour LED LCD
- Battery Type – Single AA
- 3 axis, tilt compensated, digital compass
- Dive Log 1000 Hours
- Smart Ready Bluetooth Interface
Personally I like being able to use a standard AA battery it just eliminates the need to worry about recharging and the AA battery can be found most anywhere. The battery life is displayed on the home screen so you have no excuse for a dead battery.
The Shearwater Petrel works with all gases mixtures, from air to trimixes and even rebreathers. So no matter your diving ability the Petrel will definitely be able to handle it.
Perhaps my favorite feature is the Time To Surface reading on the main screen. This tells you how many minutes it will take to surface if you started your ascent right now. This includes safety stops that are mandatory and even the optional safety stops. This is to me is a very useful function allowing you to plan how much longer you can stay down much better than your pressure gauge.
The Petrel is a step up from most recreational dive computers and this is reflected in its price which is about double the cost. For that extra money you get all the functionality you will ever need no matter your diving abilities. Even if you are a beginning recreational diver this will be a good investment as you will never outgrow it.
The large full color screen gives you all necessary information at a glance and is the best dive computer for tech diving.
Mares is one of the better known makers of dive computers and have been making diving equipment since the 1940’s. Their line of dive computers is among the most complete available and the Smart Wrist is in my opinion one of their best.
The Mares Smart Wrist Dive Computer does not have the features of many of the more advanced dive computers but that wasn’t the goal when they designed it.
Mares philosophy is to do less but make sure you do it WELL. The display has been well designed to display the critical information you need at a glance, like depth, dive time, temperature. NDL (no-decompression limit) and an ascent rate indicator.
With a push of a button another dive screen will show other information like you max depth, average depth, gas mixture, time and even your oxygen-toxicity level. The 2 buttons of the Mares Smart Dive Computer are easy to use and operate, even with gloves on.
Features of the Mares Smart Wrist Dive Computer:
- 2 Gas Mixtures: Air/Nitrox
- Max Operational Depth – 150 meters
- 4 Dive Modes: Air/Nitrox/Gauge/Freedive
- RGBM Mares-Wienke Algorithm
- Scratch Resistant Mineral Glass Display
- EAN (NITROX) from 21% to 99%
If you are ascending too quickly the Mares computer will let you know with an audible alarm and a SLOW on the screen that you can’t miss. The screen is very sharp and HD like, this is especially apparent in full sun conditions where the screen is still easily readable.
The navigation of the menus was well thought out, the top button toggles the top row of data and the bottom button toggles the lower right information. Allowing you to keep the information that is important to you on the screen at all times while allowing you to see other pertinent information with the push of a button.
The Mares Smart Computer has compatibility for air and EAN (NITROX) from 21% to 99% and uses the RGBM Mares-Wienke algorithm. Once you surface you can adjust your nitrox settings and check out your dive log book.
The Mares Smart Wrist Computer is an all-around excellent dive computer that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the more advanced dive computers. It does have all the features you will need for recreational diving and does them very well.
How To Choose A Dive Computer
Originally dive watches were just that, an wrist watch created for underwater diving. An analogue dive watch is a depth rated watch which mainly performs the function of keeping track of the total time of the dive.
Some modern dive watches are created with helium valves, making the dive easier for those swimming down to immense watery depths for longer time periods.
However, a strictly “dive watch” has been outdated with the advent of a dive computer that shows real-time calculation of the decompression along with an automatic time function.
Dive computers were originally created in 1960s – they have evolved considerable in the following decades in terms of accuracy and compactness.
Today, professional divers don’t feel comfortable diving without a dive computer due to the functionality and countless benefits that come along the dive computers.
Why Use A Dive Computer
While a bit old, dive tables are still a common way to calculate Nitrogen levels and determine how long one needs as surface interval and how long you can be under water. The tables do work well the prevent Decompression Sickness they do have limitations.
The problem with the tables is they were designed for Navy use and not for recreational divers. The reason this is important is because recreational diving is not like a typical dive that a Navy person will do.
The Navy diver will dive to a certain depth remain there for a time then surface.
This is not what typical recreational diving is like, I know I dive down but then may bounce around different depths looking at various corral, fish etc. And if your wreck diving you will definitely be changing depths by quite a bit.
There is no way a simple dive table can do this and this is why a dive computer can be so helpful and increase our safety dramatically.
A dive computer is right there on our wrist letting us know how long we have been down and how much time we have left. One other feature is that most diving computers allow for user profiles allowing different diver risk factors to be calculated.
Technical Details of a Diving Computer
If you’re a scuba diver you probably already understand that Nitrogen is absorbed into the body under pressure. The rate of absorption is can vary depending on body weight and other factors. The greater the depth the more Nitrogen is absorbed into the body and te longer it takes for Nitrogen levels to decrease to a safe level before diving again.
The algorithms that calculate the absorption or release of Nitrogen is calculated in half-life intervals in minutes. So when your body releases 50% of Nitrogen this is a half-life. The diving computer algorithm groups the body structures that have the same half-life. Normally the half times are expressed in minutes like this: 2.5, 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60 etc.
As the starts his or her dive, the dive computer calculates the pressure and time of the dive and calculates the Nitrogen saturation to each body structure. The algorithm then use the programmed max ascent rate and percent of Nitrogen absorption that is considered safe.
To then calculate the max dive time and surface interval the computer the amount of off-gassing when the diver returns to the surface. The process is complex but the dive computer takes all the complexity out of the dive and just allows the diver to enjoy the dive.
Should You Buy or Rent A Scuba Diving Computer?
Assuming you use a diving computer correctly, you will be a safer diver. The problem is that “correctly” part. Some dive computers can be very complex to use and understand the functions. The computer features and how they display the data can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer and model.
This is critical to your using the dive computer properly. While the dive shop may give you some instructions on how the use the computer, you will most likely not get all the benefits from it.
If you are planning a dive trip on a live aboard, most of them require you to have your own, so you know how to safely use it. And because you are typically diving a lot, knowing your Nitrogen levels and surface intervals are critical. Even PADI and NAUI are going away from dive tables and recommending dive computers because they can assist the beginning diver dive safer.
Dive computers can vary greatly in price from the bargain priced Suunto Zoop Dive Computer to the much more expensive Shearwater Research Perdix Dive Computer. The features, use and display will vary quite a bit between them. If you are the casual diver, you can probably purchase a Suunto Zoop for the cost of renting one for a few days.
Another great reason for having your own dive computer is the ability to store and export your dive sites information, interval etc instead of using a log book that can be easily lost or ruined. Dive computers have been around for a while now and the technology is proven. You wuld be hard pressed to find an experienced diver without one.
Types of Dive Computers
The types and categories of dive computers are not limited by any means and divers get a variety of options to choose from according to their respective needs. Whereas the three main types of dive computers are:
- Wrist-mounted computers
- Console-mounted computers
- Mask computers
Although these are the three kinds of dive computers that are created to calculate a dive but here we will discuss about the most commonly used type of dive computer i.e.
The Wrist Watch Style Dive Computer
This category of dive computer is mostly preferred by the divers because it is easy to wear and use as compared to others. This dive computer looks just like a regular wrist watch but it actually allows divers to carry a mini computer on their wrist. A wrist-mounted dive computer uses wireless technology in order to examine the air consumption and the remaining pressure in the tank.
The style of the wristwatch makes it easier for the divers to view the screen of the small computer while swimming deep in the ocean. Although dive watches and dive computers are two different things, still, people who are unaware about the actual difference often refer dive computers as dive watches because they are created in the form of a watch.
Features of a Standard Dive Computer
A standard dive computer contains the following features which makes it preferable for all the scuba divers.
- It has a display which is easily readable however the color of the display depends on the style of the dive computer.
- The display of a dive computer shows important information such as the total time of the dive, depth of the dive, no stop limits, ascent rate, no stop time remaining, emergency decompression, low battery warning and all the information regarding the previous dive.
- A standard dive computer is also enhanced to be air and nitrox compatible.
Features of an Advanced Dive Computer
Listed below are some other advanced and optional features that are included in a dive computer
- Dive computers are air integrated to show the amount of remaining air in the tank
- A dive computer can be incorporated along with a digital dive watch, all in one unit
- They can be manually and automatically adjusted for diving above the sea level
- Dive computers have rechargeable and replaceable batteries
- They can be connected with computers to download all the data of the entire dive
- Built-in thermometers and digital compasses
- Self-adjusting decompression models
- Some dive computers also have dot matrix screens which allow the divers to play games at decompression and safety stops (just to pass the time if they want)
How to Select a Dive Computer
Dive watches and dive computers have made a very significant place in the life of every professional diver because these equipments have made deep sea diving experience better than ever before.
However choosing the right dive watch also plays a vital role in the learning process of a new diver. Therefore we have got a few essential points that you should look for in a dive watch.
1. Determine Your Level Of Experience
First and foremost, you need to determine your level of experience in diving as that is the best step to begin the dive watch selection process. Analyzing the experience level is very important to select the right dive watch because unqualified beginners have different requirements as compared to the professional divers.
That is why it is not necessary that a choice that is best for one diver might be suitable for another as well. You can determine your diving level by analyzing a few points like the type of diving you currently do or plan to do in the near future and what kind of dive watch will connect well with your current diving equipment.
2. Plan According To Your Budget
Before moving forward on selecting a dive watch, you must consider your budget as well. Feel free to invest in a good dive watch because it will surely be worth the money in the long term.
However, if you are someone who is venturing into professional diving just now, then you can go for the beginner level watches and computers that offer good durability and advanced features being economical at the same time. But if budget is not a problem then sky is the limit for you!
3. A Dive Watch Must be Readable
The next important feature that must be considered while selecting a dive computer watch is the screen display. Any diver would never be able to gauge the depth, time and other necessary calculations under the water if the screen of the watch is not readable enough.
So make sure that the dive watch must possess the feature of good readability even when the mask is on. So what makes the screen of a dive watch readable? Back lit display, wide angle color screen and bigger digits!
4. Check For Nitrox Compatibility
There’s one more element you need to look for while selecting a dive watch if you plan to dive with nitrox i.e. the nitrox compatibility. Look out for nitrox integrated watches and see if the dive watch is compatible enough to operate with nitrox or not.
A dive watch including nitrox helps the diver to choose the level of nitrox for diving. It also regulates the depth limit and the time of decompression according to the percentage of nitrox used during the dive.
5. A Data Transferring Option Is An Added Bonus
Many advanced dive watches are created with the feature of transferring the dive data to the computer. Divers can connect their computer watches with the regular computers and transfer all the data of their dives so that they can maintain a record of all the previous and future dives.
The data transfer system that is incorporated in the dive watch saves the dives in the form of graphs which shows the depth of the dive and the total time of each dive. Not only the time and depth but few modern dive watches can also download the ascent rate data, the percentage of nitrogen and the amount of air consumed by the diver.
6. Digital Compass
Although analogue compasses have their own beneficial features but the all the new age equipments are integrated with digital compasses including the dive watches. Now most of the dive computers and dive watches are made with digital compasses to calculate the time and depth of the dive and the percentage of air, gas and nitrox.
However adjusting the compass in the right manner is very important for smooth operation. Dive equipment manufacturers also recommend adjusting the compass every time it is exposed to any sort of magnet and also when the batteries are changed every time.
7. Batteries Must Be Replaceable
Digital compasses are no doubt a more advanced method of calculating all the dive data but we can’t deny the fact that digital compasses consume more battery power than the analogue compasses.
Not only this but all the highly advanced features incorporated in the new dive watches are prone to consuming more battery power. Many dive watches now comes with an option of replaceable or rechargeable batteries but that varies depending on different models.