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Garmin Descent MK2i Dive Computer Review


Garmin Descent MK2i Dive Computer Review

Garmin Descent MK2i Price (SRP: £1,399) and Descent T1 Price (SRP: £349.99)

Mark Evans: First off, this is a good-looking piece of kit. It is a fairly chunky size, but thanks to the titanium build, it is quite lightweight. I never actually dived the MK1 Descent, but after seeing them on the wrists of other divers, and at various dive shows, I wasn’t particularly taken with it, I have to say. The screen seemed quite small within the body, and I just didn’t like the look of it. That all changes with the MK2i. Garmin have really nailed the aesthetics this time around, and the display is much bigger and clearer – it seems to ‘fit’ the size of the watch. Since having the MK2i on my wrist, it has garnered lots of positive comments from divers and non-divers alike, so that is a big thumbs up for Garmin.

Talking of the screen, I have left it on the default watch-face setting as I find it nice and clean, but there are a whole host of different versions already in the MK2i for those who want to personalise their computer, and more can be downloaded. A neat feature for those who want to stand out from the crowd.

Right, let’s talk diving. To get started into the diving menu is simplicity itself – you just press the top right-hand button and it brings you on to the screen where you can select the type of diving you are going to be doing – so either single gas, multi-gas, closed-circuit rebreather, gauge mode, apnea, or apnea hunt for the spearos out there. There is also a dive planning option.

So far, I have only used it in the single-gas mode, so let’s focus on that. Another press of the top right-hand button gets you on to a screen where you can see what your nitrox mix is, what your maximum operating depth is, and what level of conservatism you have it set on. You can also see your surface interval.

If you need to edit your gas mix or conservatism level, you just press the bottom left button and it takes you to a screen where you can go in and change these. At any time, once you are done, pressing the bottom right-hand button takes you back a screen.

From that first dive screen, another press of the right-hand button takes you to a screen where it shows whether it is set for salt or fresh water, and what the safety stop timer is. Again, to edit you just press the bottom left-hand button.

A third press of the right-hand button takes you to the ‘dive screen’ itself. I found this nice and clear, and easy to understand during the dive. You can clearly see the nitrox mix, the water temperature, your NDL, your current depth, and your dive time. The display up the left-hand side of the screen goes from green, to orange, to red, and the hand rises as your NDL gets nearer to zero, so as well as the actual digit display, you get this handy visual graphic as well. The display on the right-hand side is rather neat. If you are hovering motionless in the water, the hand remains at the 3 o’clock position, and if you start to ascend, it goes up, and if you start to go too quickly, it warns you with orange, and then if it goes into red, the entire screen alerts you to the fact you are ascending too quickly. So, a rapid ascent warning, nothing new there. But what I liked was the fact that the hand can go the other way, to show when you are descending. This may seem pointless to some people, but I can imagine this being very useful if you were out in the blue looking for sharks, for instance, with no point of reference.

If you are at this stage and need to change your gas mix, you can just press the top right-hand button and it takes you to the gas select screen. As changing your gas mix is probably the most regular thing you will ever do, this makes it quick and easy to do.

When you enter the water, the MK2i vibrates to let you know it has logged your position on GPS, and a big green arrow pops up on screen just to confirm you are starting diving. When you surface, it vibrates again to let you know it is finishing the dive and logging your position once again. One feature I liked here was that when you initially surface, it states on the screen that the dive will end in 20 seconds – this is useful if you had got lost, or become separated from your buddy, and were just popping your head up to confirm your location/find your buddy and then descending to continue the dive. As long as you do it within that 20-second window, you remain on the one dive.

After diving, when you want to look at your logbook, you just press the bottom left-hand button and the first thing on the screen is the dive log. Top right-hand button press and you are into the log. On this first screen it gives you the time, depth and water temp of your last dive (and a scroll down goes back dive by dive). A further right-hand press, and after a quick loading screen, you get more details, including a graph of your profile alongside the time, depth and water temp info. This screen also appears on the MK2i when you first get out of the water and back on your boat/dry land.

Scroll down with the bottom left-hand button and you can get all the stats for your dive, including time in and out, average depth, etc. You can also click on the map function, and this will show your entry and exit points. You also get the opportunity to save the location, so if you have done an awesome dive, you can log the position, which is pretty damn cool. At this point you can also get a more-detailed graph of your depth profile, the temperature profile, and any gas switches.

I have mainly been diving on 32 percent nitrox, and have the Garmin set to low conservatism. I have been using it alongside my Shearwater Perdix and Teric, and the NDL was very close throughout the entire week on all of the dives. All three use the tried-and-tested Buhlmann ZHL-16c algorithm, so you would expect that to be the case.

Ah, the Teric. The Descent MK2i goes up against various other wristwatch-style dive computers, including the Suunto DX and the Scubapro A2, but it seems to be most often compared with the Teric, so how do we think it stacks up against the competition?

Well, let’s talk diving first. Both the Teric and the Descent MK2i are supremely capable dive computers, capable of multiple gas mixes, CCR, freedive and more, so when it comes down to the diving side of things, there is not a massive amount in it functionality-wise. Yes, the Garmin has the GPS ability, but actual diving, it is a pretty even match, in my opinion. Both have audible and vibration notification, and in both cases, the latter works very well – I could feel it through a 3mm wetsuit with no problem, and even though I was encased in a base layer, thick Fourth Element Halo 3D undersuit and my Otter Kevlar drysuit, I could still feel the vibration through my arm.

While we are talking drysuits, the Garmin has a neat feature where you can swap out the straps quickly and easily with a clip system (similar to the Suunto D5). This lets you change to different colours if you so wish, but it also means you can change out the standard strap for a longer version designed to go over a drysuited arm (this comes with the computer). Much neater than adding an extension strap to the existing strap. I was in my Otter Atlantic Kevlar drysuit, which is fitted with the KUBI DryGlove System, but I also took it for a spin wearing Fourth Element’s 4mm neoprene lobster mitts. In both instances, I had no trouble pressing the buttons on the Descent MK2i to navigate through the menu on the surface before the dives or scroll through the dive screens during the dives. However, I found that Garmin’s neat technology, which lets you cycle through the dive display simply by tapping on the screen, worked a treat in both pairs of gloves and was actually easier than using the buttons.

Both the Teric and the MK2i are air-integrated, and this is where the Garmin steals a march over the Teric. Underwater, the Descent T1 transmitter uses SubWave sonar technology rather than the tried-and-tested radiofrequency already on the market. This provides a solid connection between the computer and the transmitter once they are paired, but more importantly, it offers a much more impressive range – up to a staggering ten metres, according to Garmin. In reality, I think they are right on the money – we measured exactly ten metres before we lost the signal. It is phenomenal. On the surface, the Descent T1 pairs with the Descent MK2i using ANT wireless technology, which again is supposed to work up to ten metres apart, but I found I could be even further away and it was still picking up the tank pressure.

Descent T1 Transmitters

The Descent MK2i can be paired up with up to five Descent T1 transmitters. This obviously gives you plenty of flexibility – if you were diving sidemount, you could have a T1 on each cylinder. If you were diving in a twinset with two stages, you could have a T1 on each first stage so you could monitor all of your tanks. If you were teaching, you could mount a T1 on the first stage of your student, or students, and then you would be able to see how much gas they have got left before you even ask them to give you a reading. If it is just you and your buddy, you can put a T1 on their first stage and throughout the dive, you will be able to see, right alongside your pressure reading on your primary dive data screen, how much gas they have left. You can even put people’s names in so you know which transmitter refers to who.

Great functionality, but again, as with the clip system on the straps, Garmin are not the first to offer this feature. The venerable Scubapro Galileo Sol let you pair up to four transmitters, and while three of the tank designations were intended for use when you were diving with multiple cylinders, the fourth was assigned to a buddy, and you were able to see their tank pressure on your main screen throughout the dive. You were not able to customise the name – they were just ‘buddy’ on the screen – but still, the concept was there. And of course, if you were an instructor, there was nothing stopping you from putting two of the other transmitters on to student first stages as well. The Sol’s successor, the G2, can also pair with multiple transmitters in much the same way, but it can link with up to nine transmitters.

Similarly, the Suunto EON Steel is able to communicate with up to ten Tank Pods, as Suunto call their transmitters. And the EON Core can connect with up to 20 Tank Pods! So this is more than enough to cover most eventualities, be that multiple buddies, or a whole horde of students.

Where Garmin does stride out front is down to that SubWave technology. That ability to still be able to connect to a transmitter that is ten metres away from you is incredible, especially given that most normal radio frequency transmitters lose signal once you are two to three metres apart. OK, so if you are diving in a buddy team, you shouldn’t really be ten metres apart, but we know that in the real world, buddy pairs are often further apart than they should be, but with this technology, you should still be able to see their gas level even if they have strayed a little ways away from you. If you were an instructor, and you were working with students and a Divemaster, or another instructor, and were separated int two groups while running through some skills and drills, it would be handy to still be able to keep an eye on everyone’s gas consumption.

One thing I have seen commented on online is the screen of the Descent MK2i, and some people saying it is hard to read. Frankly, that is a load of rubbish. Topside, I found I could read the display even when the backlight was not on, but once it was on, it is very easy to see. While diving, I had the backlight set for on all the time, and it made the screen nice and clear, even in bright sunlight in the shallows during a safety stop. I didn’t really notice a massive difference in brightness once I took it over 60-70 percent, I have to say, but suffice to say you can easily see the display either in watch mode or while on a dive. We did a fluo night dive while in the Maldives, and the Descent MK2i was clearly legible even in the pitch black with the backlight on full. One feature I did like was the ability to set the backlight to come on with activity – so if I am sitting at the bar and turn my wrist to look at the screen, for example, the light comes on for a few seconds automatically.

However, there is no escaping the fact that the OLED display of the Teric is vastly brighter both in watch and dive mode. The downside to this technology is that it eats battery power, so while the Garmin did a full week without needing to see its charging cable, I was putting the Teric on charge every other night. So, there are pros and cons – the Teric is undoubtedly brighter, but requires more-regular charging; the Garmin is nowhere near as bright, but still easy to read, and it can go a good week or so before needing a charge.

On the subject of charging, the Teric sits in a cradle and recently it has become a bit of a chore getting it to sit in just the right position that it will charge. It could be that my cradle is on its way out – it used to just begin charging as soon as I sat the watch in it, so that could be the issue – but the Garmin method of charge, with a clamp system on to charging points on the back of the watch, is solid and secure.

Garmin Descent MK2i vs Fenix 6x Pro

Where the Descent MK2i wins hand’s down is with all of the other features it contains within its svelte body. I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of each, but suffice to say, if you are an active person, the Garmin has you covered! Being based on the tried-and-tested Fenix 6, it has functions for running, biking, hiking, golf, swimming (both pool and open water), kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, triathlon, yoga, cross-country skiing, even jumpmaster for those who like leaping out of planes!

It monitors your heart rate and your blood oxygen level (when it is directly on your wrist), calories burnt, the list goes on. And as a smartwatch, you also get your phone messages on the screen, and it can even handle your music choices, either from your phone or even stored in the unit itself. I have been playing with it since it arrived, and I still haven’t got to grips with all of the functionality yet!

Wherever you are in the world, the price point of the Descent MK2i is high, there is no getting away from that. But when you consider that it is only a few hundred pounds or dollars more than the Teric, but adds all of the functions of a smart/fitness watch into the mix, that price tag suddenly doesn’t look so bad. If you bought a top-of-the-line wristwatch dive computer and a smartwatch, you’d spend more combined than you would on the Descent MK2i. And I think this is going to be the clincher for many people. If you are an active person who does other sports, and you want a wristwatch that can handle a plethora of your activities including diving, then the Descent MK2i is the logical choice. The Shearwater Teric is an excellent dive computer, and people will still buy it for that famed Shearwater build quality, usability and that mega-bright screen, and not be bothered by the regular charging needed, but I think that Garmin have delivered, in the Descent MK2i, a top-flight all-rounder that satisfies many requirements all in one unit. And if it comes up in the bar on an evening whose dive computer has the most features, then you will win hand’s down!

Garmin Descent MK2i Specs

BATTERY LIFE: Dive mode with Descent T1: Up to 32 hours

STRAP MATERIAL: Silicone or Titanium

WATER RATING: Dive (100 meters)

DISPLAY TYPE: Sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)

Garmin Website

Check out our cold water review here.
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Picture of Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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