(Pic: Charles Hood)
(Pic: Charles Hood)
Recently there has been a plethora of new dive computers hitting the marketplace. Over the past few months we have seen Seemann, Apeks and Mares enter this competitive arena. Now it is the turn of the big boys – this month Suunto and Uwatec (Scubapro) both launch their latest models.
The D9 from Suunto and the Aladin Prime are not direct competitors. They address two ends of the market. However, these ends are getting closer. At a price of more than £1,000, Suunto has gone for the ultimate in diver computer jewellery. Uwatec, on the other hand, has ditched its boxy look in favour of a large watch-style appearance. The company has also done away with the wet-contact method of adjusting the settings, making use of the infinitely easier to use push buttons. It appears that Scubapro (Uwatec) with its Prime and Tec is in catch-up mode and is targeting Suunto’s Gekko and Vyper models. Suunto, by contrast, has taken technology from other parts of the company and combined them into a superb looking dive computer with many new features.
At the heart of the Aladin Prime and Tec is SmartTRAK software. This allows the user to configure and transfer dive data to and from a computer via an infrared interface. The Tec is the grown-up version of the Prime and allows you to adjust and make use of more features. The D9 similarly uses Suunto’s Dive Manager 2.0 software to achieve this and connects via an USB PC interface. Both allow you to adjust virtually every setting you might want to change. We found a problem when we tried to understand the instructions. With only two buttons, the Scubapro computers have to make use of multiple pressing on one button. This is not intuitive and takes quite a bit of getting used to. I never did fathom out how to get the battery status to display. The Suunto D9 has four buttons. This makes selection and navigation a lot easier. However, Suunto’s instructions are less than perfect and took some working out.
What is new in both the Tec and D9 is the ability to change the way the decompression algorithm works. In effect, you can build in various safety factors. Suunto calls these ‘personal’ modes and there are three to choose from. Furthermore, the D9 offers experienced divers the opportunity to ‘detune’ the ‘gas bubble’ algorithm and make it less conservative (although Suunto does not recommend you do this). Scubapro’s approach is to allow you to choose between five levels of microbubble diving. The higher the level, the more stops you have to do on the ascent.
What does the D9 do for the extra £700?
Essentially three things. Firstly, it is air-integrated. It makes use of a wireless transmitter that is fitted to the HP port on the regulator’s first stage. This broadcasts the cylinder’s pressure to the computer which is shown on the display. The computer then calculates the estimated remaining air time, constantly updating itself depending upon your breathing rate and depth. The second difference is that the D9 can cater for three-gas nitrox mixes – the Prime and Tec are limited to one. These mixes are pre-programmed by the user before the dive. On the ascent, when you switch to a higher percentage nitrox mix, you select the corresponding mix on the computer and it will then recalculate your new decompression time. This takes all the hassle out of multi-nitrox diving (although a manual back-up should always be to hand). Lastly, and one of the sexiest of features, is the onboard compass. When activated, the compass temporarily replaces the middle part of the time or dive display and gives you an electronic compass rose display and the bearing in digits. Furthermore, a specific bearing can be entered and arrows will inform you of which direction you need to fin in to swim on your chosen course.
Who are these computers aimed at?
The Prime is targeted as an entry-level computer for the sports diver. It is feature-rich and has all the facilities that you are likely to require, including nitrox up to 50 per cent. What lets it down is that many of the settings are not adjustable. So, if you want to change, for example, depth and dive alarms, maximum partial pressure of oxygen (nitrox mode), water type, altitude and backlight illumination duration, you should go for the Tec version. The Tec also allows you to use nitrox up to 100 per cent, although with only one gas mix it is hard to imagine why you would want to go above the 50 per cent offered by the Prime.
At more than three times the price of the Tec, the D9 is aimed at the more technical diver or those who want the ultimate in computer jewellery.
I can see the Prime and Tec putting up a credible challenge against the Gekko and Vyper and there is little to differentiate them in terms of price. Does the D9 have any competitors? No – it’s way out in front.
Next month we report on how these computers perform in our test.