What we need is not necessarily what we want. Scuba diving is a sport that can get you lost in the overwhelming amount of gear available. Most of it is very much thought through and very clever. But what do you actually need?
What you need
You need a regulator, BCD, mask, fins, a tank filled with breathing gas, and some sort of protection suit (even swim shorts would do in certain environments – not to scare your buddy away). And then you need some way of knowing your current depth, a timer, and a pressure gauge in order to stay safely within the limits of whatever certification you have.
You could of course calculate no-decompression limits, ascend rates, and safety stops all from the top of your head and with the aid of diving tables. In this day and age, however, most scuba divers have a dive computer to do all that for them. They are much better at it (more precise), make no mistakes, and constantly adjust as your dive progresses.
It is my conviction that every dive computer you can buy today would be sufficient for any recreational diver. ‘Recreational’ is the key word here. Let’s define a recreational dive as a dive within no-decompression limits and no deeper than 18m/60ft (OWD) or 30m/100ft (AOWD). Even diving on Enriched Air (Nitrox) is a feature all entry-level dive computers have incorporated nowadays.
What we want
First off, there are all kinds of personal preferences that eliminate more than half of the possibilities in terms of what gear to choose. For instance, I want a mask that fits my face well (obviously). Since I don’t have a particularly small nose compared to my narrow-ish face, that means I need a mask with one glass (to reduce pressure on the bridge of my nose at depth). And of course, there are many items for which a good fit to your particular body shape limits the choice.
With dive computers, personal preferences are equally important. I, too, find a color screen very fancy. But I don’t need it. If I can read my computer underwater, can navigate it intuitively, understand what the numbers say – those are properties that actually impact the functionality of the device. If I get lost in all the options every time I push a button, then that’s no help, but a potential source of stress. Which you don’t want underwater.
I am sure there are dive computers around that can do all sorts of things that are nice. But do I need them? As a recreational diver (AOWD), I can do everything I need with the humble Mares Puck Pro. I can do anything with it my certifications allow me to do at this point (including Nitrox and switching gas). It comes at € 130 or so.
Of course, I could do the same stuff with – let’s say – the paragon of dive computers, the Shearwater Perdix. That comes in at around € 1000. No doubt a great product. Probably in some ways superior to my Puck Pro. But do I need it? No. What it would take for me to actually need something like the Perdix? Lots of training and learning new skills and going beyond the limits of recreational scuba diving. Which I might do at some point. But for now, I’ll just spend the difference in price point between these two computers on actual dives.