While there are many incredible high-end dive computers on the market today, many of us are casual divers that simply can’t justify spending that much on a dive computer.
I personally dive only while traveling a couple times a year, so budget computers make more sense for me.
All recreational computers will provide the adequate safety tools, and the vast majority today also support nitrox.
What will I sacrifice vs a $500 – $1000 dive computer?
While there are many advanced features out there, generally below $300 these are the features you won’t find that you would care about most:
- OLED or similar high contrast screen. Most computers in the sub $300 price range will be simple LCD segment (possibly matrix), with a simple backlight. The Atmos Mission ONE at $500 is the cheapest with an amazing screen, and after that you are talking $800+.
- Air integration with a transmitter
- Custom algorithms/gradient factors
If you’re looking for more advanced features, I’d suggest you take a look at our article on the best dive computers under $500 in 2020.
There are a LOT of options. How should I choose?
In general, when weeding out the budget options, my opinion is to avoid one-button (physical) computers which make navigation a huge pain in the butt. I also like to look at the standard dive screen. If depth and current NDL number aren’t prominent, then in my opinion they don’t make for a very good dive computer, because those two are by far the most important.
I’ve noticed that many brands keep depth large on the screen, but then NDL is small and the same size as something like water temp (?!?) or dive time, which arguably could be a bit more important since you may have agreed upon turn-around or return times.
Finally, I personally do weight brands that have been around a while without issues, and those that don’t have a significant amount of negative reviews elsewhere.
Who are the big names in the industry? Suunto (though they recently ran into algorithm issues, so i’m not a big fan), Aqua Lung, who recently acquired Oceanic that I was a big fan of, Mares, and Cressi are probably the biggest names.
Shearwater and Ratio, for example, make awesome computers, but those are in the $800+ range.
Finally, there are brands like Crest who makes the new CR-4 dive computer that is very interesting at around $180 USD, but it’s hard to find in the USA and is new to the market.
With that, let’s take a look at a reasonable list of computers, and why I like them:
1. Oceanic Geo 2.0
Ok, right off the bat we need to make a disclaimer: this model is now deprecated, since Oceanic was bought by Aqua Lung. The equivalent model is the i200, but at more than $100.
If you can stil find the Geo 2.0 on clearance, it’s a ton of computer for under $300.
- Watch-sized computer which often costs a lot of money
- Runs dual algorithms, both PZ+ (conservative) and DSAT (very aggressive, similar to a GF high of 95)
- Four physical buttons
- Long proven history since something like 2013
- Clear display with prominent depth and NDL
- For this price range, not much, but of course:
- No air integration
- Long in the tooth, support would be through Aqua Lung
2. Aqua Lung i300c
The new Aqua Lung i200c exceeds $300, so for this review set we look to the i300c. This model essentially replaced the old Oceanic Veo, offers two buttons and is a large puck style computer. In general these puck style computers tend to be cheaper than the watch style.
Additionally, one large appeal to this model is that, like the other “c” models in the Aqua Lung line, it offers bluetooth connection to download your dives. This will save you from buying a pricey cable later, which you will inevitably do.
- Proven dive computer in the industry
- Large screen
- i300c model offers
- Bluetooth connectivity built in
- Pricier than the more basic models. You’re mostly paying for the bluetooth here.
- Similar to the other oceanic models, it uses a simple LCD screen
- Single algorithm – some older Oceanics offered dual algorithm
- Two physical buttons is better than one, but still not four!
Aqua Lung I300c Wrist Dive Computer with Bluetooth Black/Blue
8 used & new available from $329.00
3. Cressi Giotto
Nothing too fancy here, but at under $300 this dive computer does pretty much everything the others do on this page but is another trusted brand.
I personally find the layout of the screen to be busy, but some people love these computers, so I’m including them on my list for this price point.
There are several other computers under $300 that I’ve left off this list. Here are some reasons why:
- Mares puck models < $200: They only have one physical button
- Suunto in general: Their have been lawsuits recently related to failing Suunto hardware and coverup stories. While I certainly don’t have all the details, I see no reason to look at them when there are other trusted brands out there. Additionally, their base model Zoop computer used to be very inexpensive, but has been replaced with a model nearly $120 more with basically no new features. Just not worth it.
- Other miscellaneous computers: I’m either just not familiar, or they had one physical button, or they slightly pushed past $300 (there are several in the $350 range, but IMO most of those only offer slightly better LCD matrix screens and aren’t really worth it). Plus, once you hit $350, you are awfully close to the $400ish range of the Atmos MissionOne which looks to be an amazing dive computer for the money.
Good luck with your search for a dive computer.
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