These six best dive computers are just a handful of the data crunchers that hit the market this year. They cover the range from entry level to advanced, from wrist to console and from air integrated to hoseless. RDC test divers made multiple dives over a period of weeks getting to know these new computers. We found that not only are new computers getting more advanced there are also some new computers getting more basic and easier to use for the entry level diver. This trend offers more choices so you can get the right computer to fit your scuba diving style, whether it’s an occasional dive vacation or multi-gas tech adventure.
Recommended Best Dive Computers by RDC
What Pushes Your Buttons?
The new computers in this review have anywhere from one to four buttons. They each let you scroll through menus, change settings, and view alternate screens during a dive. Surprisingly RDC test divers were split on the configuration they liked best. Some liked the simplicity of the single button design, after all it leaves no doubt which button to press. With single button computers you just press and release to scroll and press and hold to select. The drawback is you can’t go backwards in the menu. The other favorite button configuration was the three button option. In most cases this design lets you move forward or backward with two buttons while the third button is used to select the setting or function.
It’s easy to get confused when reading the specs regarding the theoretical models used to calculate your deco status. Each computer is designed to reduce the risk of decompression illness. Some use a more conservative model, some are more liberal, and still others fall in the middle. Some of the newest computers can switch between two different algorithms like having two different operating systems on your laptop computer. Generally they can all be used more conservatively if you wish. Most have a Conservative Factor setting which reduces your No Deco Limit, and you can always add your own safety factor by making a safety stop and surfacing before reaching the limit.
Aeris A300 and A300 XT
The Aeris A300 and A300 XT computers are entry level friendly yet still have the features advanced divers want in a computer. The A300 offers three operating modes: Air/Nitrox, Gauge, and Free Dive, while the console version (A300 XT) drops the Free Dive mode but adds an SPG with a low air alarm and backlight, plus a compass. Both can switch between three Nitrox mixes up to 100-percent O2, and offer Dual Algorithm options with Deep Stop and Safety Stop functions.
What makes the A300 and A300XT easy to use is they can be set in a basic operating mode that has defaults for most settings making it “out of the box” simple for the new diver or used in “TEC” mode giving the advanced diver total control. The three-button interface is intuitive allowing you to easily navigate forward or backward through menus and settings, and return to the main screen from any page with the press of one button.
What makes the A300 and A300XT so easy to read are large numbers and bar graphs. Instead of overloading the screen with tons of data the A300 displays just the most important information: Depth, Dive Time Remaining, and bar graphs for tissue loading and ascent rate. This allows the numbers to be very large and the green, yellow, red bar graphs to stand out, allowing you to check your status easily at a glance while alternate screens fill in the details.
Test divers gave both the A300 and A300 XT high marks for ease of use and readability underwater with digit size rating excellent. Small icons required a little squinting but most felt this was a minor nit-pick. The Safety Stop display was considered excellent for it’s clarity and readability. The A300XT has a very bright backlight that lights up the SPG and computer module and was noticeable in less than dark conditions. The A300 computers come with a comprehensive user manual on CD and a handy Quick Start Guide. Both scored high for ease of use and understanding. The CD allows you to print out just the sections you want or the whole book, while the quick start guide gives you enough information to hit the water running.
The A300 and A300XT offer the ease of the best basic computers with the features of the most advanced computers. They are the perfect choice for a new diver who is planning to advance their skills or the advanced diver who wants Tec functions with an uncluttered display.
The A100 is the epitome of an entry-level computer and it is fall down simple to use. It uses a single control button to access menus and settings. The A100 is a single mode Air/Nitrox computer that can be set up to 50-percent O2. It features an easy to read display with large numbers and high-resolution color bar graphs to show tissue loading and variable ascent rate. It offers a Dual Algorithm calculation option with automatic Safety Stop countdown timer.
The A100 features large digits and green, yellow, red bar graphs for a quick and easy glimpse of your dive status. Only the most vital information is displayed. Depth is displayed above Dive Time Remaining with large color coded bar graphs depicting tissue loading and ascent rate on the sides. Press the button to access an alternate screen showing Max Depth and Bottom Time, press again to see PO2, FO2, and O2 accumulation when using Nitrox.
Underwater the A100 was found to be one of the easiest to read with large numbers and simple layout. With just two numbers (Depth and NDL) and two bar graphs it’s impossible to get confused. The Safety Stop function was also one of the easiest to read and understand.
They don’t make them any easier to use than the A100. You could learn to use it between the time you jump off the boat and hit the water. This is perfect for the new diver or the infrequent diver who forgets how to set their computer between vacations.
The Leonardo is a single gas, dual mode computer that is Nitrox programmable up to 50-percent O2, or can operate in Gauge mode. It runs on Cressi’s new 9-tissue RGBM algorithm developed by Bruce Wienke, and offers an optional Deep Stop function. There are settings for three personal safety factor levels and four altitude levels that can be used to add more conservatism. The Leonardo has visual and audible alarms plus a bright backlight display.
The Leonardo was one of our favorite data crunchers in this review. Although it’s a pretty basic computer it offers all the features and functions that beginning sport divers need. It is very user friendly with a screen layout that is easy to read and comprehend. Making changes to settings was not as intuitive as some other single button computers but after a few attempts we were able to program the Leonardo without using the manual.
In the water RDC test divers found the Leonardo was one of the easiest computers to read at a glance with more info than some but not so much that it clutters the screen. The top row shows Max Depth and Dive Time while the middle line has the largest numbers, showing the current Depth and No Deco Time remaining, and Temperature is at the bottom. Press the button to see an alternate screen with FO2 and PO2 info. The logbook stores 60 dives plus there is a dive history page.
The Leonardo is one of the best entry level computers we have used. The numbers are large and the screen is easy to read making it a good choice for new divers.
This new wrist-mount data cruncher from Hollis offers three operating modes (Air/Nitrox, Gauge with a timer function, and Free Dive), it is Nitrox capable up to 100 percent O2, and it will let you program up to three gas mixes. It will also track your gas pressure and Air Time Remaining with the optional transmitter. The DG03 uses the Pelagic Z+ algorithm with optional Deep Stop function.
Our test DG03 came packaged in a very cool plastic storage case with a foam cutout to cushion the unit and a place to store the transmitter if you decide to go that route. We were able to define the functions of the three control buttons and program all surface and dive parameters with minimal hassle without the help of the manual and with plenty of time to spare before the anchor dropped for the first dive of the day.
In the water the DG03 proved to be an easy computer to use and read. The digits are large and well-organized, alternate screen data is easy to access, and the alpha-numeric display radically increases screen comprehension. A large bar graph for nitrogen loading cuts across the center of the screen for a quick check on your deco status. Ascent rate is monitored with a graph on the right and O2 exposure with a graph on the left side. When used with the optional transmitter you also have a digital readout of your air pressure and calculated air time remaining.
The DG03 is a pretty nifty data cruncher for the advanced diver. Having the option to go air-integrated is cool, the storage box is a nice extra, the waterproof prompt card is full of good info and the price is pretty darn good.
The new Matrix gets its moniker from its high-resolution, full dot matrix display. As a watch the Matrix has all you need including some rugged good looks. It uses four control buttons to navigate through menus and settings. The operating system is an easy study with the Quick Start Guide provided. On the surface the Matrix offers two different watch displays. A digital compass can be accessed in the watch mode allowing you to set a bearing even before you suit up.
As a dive computer the Matrix offers two modes Air/Nitrox and Gauge. In Dive Mode the main information displayed is Depth, Dive Time, NDL plus a tissue loading bar graph. There is an alternate screen that offers a “Profile” graph with the current Depth and Dive Time displayed. The Matrix can track up to 3-gas mixes from 21% to 99%. It offers an automatic Safety Stop and Deep Stop function. The Matrix uses the RGBM Mares-Wienke decompression model of 10 compartments, plus you can set an additional Personal safety factor in the Dive Settings menu.
Underwater the display was bold and easy to read. Depth is seen at the top while NDL is displayed in the center with dive time and other selected data at the bottom. A large tissue loading bar graph on the side is easy to read at a quick glance. We liked that the compass stayed on when activated and remained on until we turned it off. This is one of the best displays we have seen in a “Watch” style computer. The compass graphic was intuitive and the reference bearing and symbols were easy to read.
The Matrix had all the functionality we needed and then some. We liked the size and clarity of the display and how the information was laid out. The compass was easy to read and functioned with the responsiveness of a traditional compass.
The XP-H is a compact air-integrated computer that strikes the perfect balance between what you want and what you need in a dive computer. Most divers will find all the features they need with this single gas, dual mode computer that’s not much larger than a traditional SPG. Nitrox can be set from 21% to 100% O2. In Gauge mode the XP-H tracks depth, dive time, PSI, and temp plus max and average depth without deco calculations, there is also a stopwatch function.
The XP-H uses the ZH-L8 ADT decompression model plus an optional 6-level Micro Bubble program for greater safety. You also have the option to turn on PDIS – Profile Dependent Intermediate Stops, similar to deep stops but based on your dive profile. Ascent rate is presented numerically and it offers visual and audible alarms plus a timer for safety stops.
The XP-H had a fast learning curve helped by the accompanying quick start guide and comprehensive user manual CD. The two-button design lets you scroll forward or backward through the main menu. Press and hold the right button to enter a sub-menu or select a setting. The left button takes you back one page and pressing both buttons takes you home.
Underwater we found the display to be clear. The numbers were large enough to read comfortably, especially after we bumped up the contrast setting of the LCD display. The sub-text icons were a bit small and required a little squinting for some of us older testers.
There are three lines of data on the screen. The top shows Depth and Dive Time. The middle shows NDL, and the bottom shows PSI and O2 exposure. This space also displays ascent rate. A very large nitrogen loading bar graph on the right side can’t be missed, and also functions as a battery level indicator. Alternate data such as max depth, temp, and time of day are accessed using the right button. The left button starts your safety stop timer and places a bookmark in your log profile.
One of our testers called the XP-H an “entry level” air-integrated computer but that’s due to the price and not performance. The XP-H gives you everything you need in one small package.
I’ve been a diving addict since my 14th birthday when my parents took me to the Bahamas and had my first scuba diving experience. I’ve been an active diver ever since but in the last few years my focus shifted on sharing my thoughts and experience on diving gear, writing product reviews and gave up on organizing dive tours.