Hunting for a dive computer is just like buying a home computer. Do I buy a Mac or PC? Once I choose my operating system, which model do I go with? I wish it were that simple in the diving industry. There are so many players to choose from which seems to complicate the selection process. I have found at least 5 operating systems among at least 16 brands and it seems that each has at least 2 – 15 models to choose from. Flat out, this is a time-consuming endeavour and I hope to peel the onion back to find out what considerations need to be made in purchasing the right dive computer for me and it is my hope that this helps you, too.
For those of you who are considering taking up the sport of diving, your first computer will be the same as ours. It is slick! This dive computer is paper-thin. Well, it pretty much is paper and processing speed in my model was terrible. Allow me to introduce the PADI Dive Table. While the PADI Dive Table is fundamental to safe diving and definitely works in a pinch, it limits you to fixed depths and dive times which has led us to consider an alternative.
Our next model was a larger model, and one that is especially used at dive resorts. It is an upgrade from the PADI dive table because it allows for multi-level dives and longer dive times. However, reliability was completely based on the “faith” algorithm, we like to call this the “Dive Master” Computer. The Dive Master watches us carefully as we follow his dive computer and he only has one rule: “Stay above me and you will be fine.” Obviously, this type of computer does not allow for independent multi-level diving and has inherent safety risks if the diver deviates from the plan. Even though we were successful with this model for about 25 dives, we knew we had to make the consideration for our own personal dive computer.
One year after getting into diving, Lana and I purchased 2 matching dive computers from our local dive store. We put a little thought into this purchase, but we basically asked the store clerk, “What is a simple dive computer for relatively new divers?” The diving pro was quick to show us the Aeris XR-1 and without hesitation, we made the purchase. It was the lowest priced computer at the time and, essentially, loaded with nothing. Now, stop your snickering because these computers have served us without fail on over 125 dives and continue to function well, aside from the periodic change of a battery, but, we need to make a change… Why? Primarily, the Aeris XR-1 is unable to compute Nitrox blends. Esther‘s previous article on Enriched Air has spurred us on to take the Nitrox course and advance our diving skill level. Also, just as in any other sport, we believe our skill level has improved enough to justify the upgrade. Therefore, we are looking to purchase a computer that matches our dive habits and commitment to the sport.
So, what and who influences our purchase? Obviously, like any other purchase, we listen, research and test. It is common to check out our peer’s scuba equipment and ask the normal questions about their experience with the equipment and it’s overall performance. We then sit down behind a computer and feverishly search the internet for hours as we read product reviews (a feature www.scubadiveadvisor.com will have once we are in full swing) and finally, we try to find some place we can look at these computers, play with them and hopefully make the best decision based on our needs.
Despite my conversations with friends, hours of online research, I feel like I am even more confused now than when we began our search. So the best thing for me to do is talk to someone I trust so I paid a visit to one of our local dive shops in Calgary to get some guidance. Thankfully, The Dive Shop‘s computer whiz, Colin, is there to help me out as we talk for almost an hour and a half and narrow down my options. Really, he is a computer programmer and technical diver. He truly understands the algorithms and features behind each brand (including the ones his shop does not sell) making him a valuable asset to the Dive Shop. Colin discussed the various computers available on the market and he steered the conversation in a different direction to figure out what may be the better options for Lana and I by interjecting the following questions (in no particular order):
- “How often do you dive?” – I dive between 30-60 dives per year.
- “What type of diver are you? Recreational or technical?” – An enthusiast as I stay within the “Recreational Diver” limits, but I like to occasionally have the ability to explore some wrecks at 50 metres.
- “Do you dive in cold water?” – Not yet! I have heard about the wonders of the West Coast of Canada but the cold has been a deterrent (Dry suit… Brrrr… I’m sure this will be a future blog post).
- “Are you familiar with the dive computer algorithms?” – Vaguely. I do know that some computers are more conservative than others.
- “What is your budget?” – Good question. I’d like to keep this purchase around $600-900 each, but you tell me. Is that realistic?
- “Are you looking for air integrated?” (This means the dive computer has a transmitter that reads your current tank air pressure) – I think so. It seems to be the next step. What do you think?
Colin asked questions I had already asked myself, but he also made me think of other factors I had not yet considered. These questions helped to identify which computer may be a good fit for my diving habits. A couple interesting notes that came up while talking with Colin is that sometimes the sleek little computers are not as handy during cold water dives because the small buttons are a little cumbersome to navigate when wearing 5mm gloves. Also, some computers tout multiple gases… Cool! But how does that benefit the recreational diver? It seldom does. This is a feature that appeals to technical divers and even so, most technical divers seem to opt for a non-air integrated VPM algorithm (complicated, right?). And this inevitably leads to the most important question: When am I buying too much computer? Are some of these features relevant enough for me to plan for in my diving future or should I just apply any savings to more diving or other equipment upgrades?
The list can be as specific as you want to make it, but the other factors we discussed included:
- Ability to change your own battery. This can be costly and inconvenient with some manufacturers.
- What type of backlighting is there for low visibility, dark conditions and night dives. OLED is a new and fantastic technology available only on technical computers.
- Do I make an online purchase or brick and mortar purchase. Yes we did discuss this and while he agreed that purchasing online may offer a lower price, the ability to service is an inverse relationship to that benefit. (Meaning: many stores may resist in helping to repair an item purchased online and you will have to send it back to the company yourself).
- Buying online is a good way to search out reviews and find price points, but you are unable to physically see and touch it.
So now that I have many of my own questions answered: Have I made the decision to purchase a computer? Yes! But have I decided which computer to purchase? I haven’t yet. But I have narrowed my search to consider the above factors and Colin is helping to research some computers that may be a fit for Lana and I. Therefore, during the next week, I’ve decided to listen to you, the reader, and get your opinions as well. Once I synthesize your comments, I’ll combine these with what I’ve learned online and from speaking with Colin, chew on it for a week and then make my decision. I’ll have an answer to everyone in two weeks. Follow us here on our blog (or Facebook & Twitter) for our first cliffhanger. To be continued…