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Can the Apple Watch Ultra replace your dive computer?

However, until recently, taking an Apple Watch scuba diving was a sure-fire way to ensure that you’d return to the surface with an expensive paperweight strapped to your wrist: the hardware just isn’t designed to stand up to the pressures exerted on it at recreational diving levels—between 10 and 130 feet.

How well does it work compared to a conventional dive computer? As I’m the most qualified writer at Reviewed to find out, I decided to … find out.

I know diving and the equipment it takes to do it safely.

While the Ultra is tough enough to wear deep below the surface of the water, for extended periods of time, it’s not ready to be used as a dive computer right out of the box.

Oceanic has a solid reputation in the dive community, with decades of experience in producing tough, reliable dive computers. I currently own two dive computers, both made by Oceanic. My oldest, the Veo, is 14 years old. I literally trust them with my life. 

The one complaint I have about my Oceanic dive computers is, that while they work well under the water, they can be frustrating to use once you’ve resurfaced. Downloading the data that the computers record from each of my dives is a clunky process. The software is less than user-friendly, making it difficult, if not at times, seemingly impossible, to transfer my dive data from my Oceanic devices to my laptop.

The notion that the Oceanic+ app could take care of this drudgery—transferring my dive logs, automatically, from the Apple Watch Ultra to my iPhone—really excited me when I first heard about it.

Dive hardware needs to be tough, adjustable and comfortable—a complicated mix at the best of times. The Apple Watch Ultra checks off all of these boxes (and is a good-looking watch, too). My favorite feature the Ultra offers is something that, perhaps, many people might overlook: the Ultra’s Ocean Band.

This rubber, dive-oriented strap’s ingenious clasp system allows divers to custom fit the band’s hardware to accommodate what they’re wearing while they’re in the water, be it bare skin, a wetsuit for a bit of additional warmth, or a drysuit and undergarment. The strap’s hardware is easy to adjust and, once in place, stays put.

For someone who struggles to keep proper records of diving (which is important for taking further training or demonstrating experience for more challenging dive sites), the Ultra’s automatic recording feature is really appealing. After a dive, the last thing I want to do is find my logbook and pen or fiddle with cables and a laptop in order to transfer my computer’s data. That time should be reserved for recounting what you saw while you were under the water with your dive buddies.

With the Apple Watch Ultra and the Oceanic+ app, all the details of my test dives were recorded automatically and stored on the app. After a dive, the watch transfers the recorded dive data to the Oceanic+ app like the dive location, dive profile (a graph that shows time plotted against depth), time, ascent rate, max depth and minimum water temperature. If I want to add any comments about the dive or make notes about my gear, like the amount of weight I used on a dive, all I need is my iPhone.

For shore diving, having accurate information about dive conditions determines if the dive happens. Dive planning is simple with the app, giving you tide predictions and weather for the area you’re considering diving in.

While the prediction window provided by the app is small (only covering the next day or so,) the information the Oceanic+ app provided is detailed and as accurate as the data served up by the numerous weather and tide information apps and websites that I consult when setting up a shore dive. So long as I was looking for conditions information for the day of my dive or a dive coming up in the next 24 hours, I felt that the information provided by Ocenaic+ was accurate.

No one likes to continue to pay for something they own. While the Oceanic+ App is free to download and comes packing a number of free functions to use on your dives, such as dive depth/maximum depth, dive/activity time tracking, a limited logbook and the ability to look back on how the total number of dives you’ve taken using the app, you’ll need to invest in a subscription in order to access its dive computer functionality. 

Having a subscription to Oceanic+ unlocks important must-have metric tracking like decompression info, those 72-hour weather, temperature and tide forecasts I mentioned loving earlier, dive conditions reports and tissue loading, which provides a diver with an idea of how much nitrogen in is in their bodies—an important factor for avoiding decompression sickness. 

Having already paid to purchase an Apple Watch Ultra, some divers may find this additional cost stings like a Portuguese Man-of-War tentacle being dragged across your bare leg. Given that other dive computers, including those made by Oceanic, work just fine without a subscription, the app’s pay-to-play could be a turn-off for some divers.

That said, Oceanic tries to make paying hurt as little as possible by providing a number of different tiers of service to choose from. At the time that this review was written, the app offered several subscription options. For individuals: $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. For those with up to five divers in their Family Sharing group, it’s also possible to pick up an annual subscription for $129.

During testing, Oceanic+’s GPS logging accurately recorded my two snorkeling sessions, marking my shore entrance on a tidy map. However, my shore dive, which I started about two blocks down the road, did not record a GPS point, a surprise when I returned to my car to check the dive on my iPhone. I assume that this was a technical glitch and not the norm.

I would like to think, considering the interconnected world we live in, there would be a way to share dive log information with other divers—telling others about a great dive spot is one of the best ways to build community in our sport—or to add photos to a log. But, at the time that I tested the app, Oceanic+ did not appear to have this feature.

That said, these latter two points would be ‘nice-to-haves’, and not failures of the Oceanic+ app.

The Oceanic+ app clearly states it’s not comfortable with you using the Apple Watch Ultra as your only computer on a dive. It advises you need to wear a second device on your underwater adventure or, plan your dive using tables. While I, and most of the divers I know, only wear a single computer while on a dive (relying on the gauges attached to my tanks and my dive buddies’ computers as backups) I see where Apple and Oceanic are coming from. While the Apple Watch Ultra is a capable piece of hardware, it’s prone to failure, the same as any other electronic device. Having a backup to the Ultra, or being able to use the Ultra as a backup to a dedicated dive computer, adds another layer of safety that could help you safely ascend back to the surface in the wake of an emergency.

Since both Apple and Oceanic advise against using the Apple Watch Ultra and Oceanic+ app to serve as your sole dive computer, it’d be irresponsible and potentially dangerous for us to disagree. 

That said, with its excellent weather condition and tide tracking, automatic log syncing between the Ultra and the iPhone, and the dive metrics it starts providing as soon as you hit the water, using one to complement your existing dive computer’s capabilities is an absolute win. (It’s also a fabulous smartwatch top-side, to boot.)

If you’re a diver who already owns an Ultra, or are thinking about buying one, adding the Oceanic+ app to your digital tool kit, even with having to pay for a subscription, will likely make you happy.

Category: Technology

Source: USA Today Technology

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