Why am I looking for the best dive computer watch under $300 if I’m a snorkeling enthusiast? Well, after more than 10 years of snorkeling we wanted to be closer to the sea life and experience their environment, and for longer periods of time.
But my search for a dive watch comes in later, because you have to dive a few times to know what it’s like and why a dive watch would be easier and a good investment.
For those of you who have time to read my detailed full review of the best dive watches under $300, you will find some great information below.
For those who are in a hurry, check out the best dive watches by clicking on the link below will show you the latest prices on Amazon.
Before I review the two best dive watches, let me share with you how we came to our decisions on the 2 Cressi models below. The Giotto and Leonardo.
Here’s Our Story
As a newbie to diving, and all the diving technology, my first question was, what do I look for? Reliability and performance, then a good deal, maybe even a great deal and easy to use. Since I’m a middle-school teacher, I like to document my processes so, the following is what we found out about regular diving watches verses computer diving watches.
Why A Dive Watch?
After buying each other diving lessons for Christmas, my wife and I finally got our PADI diving certificates only a few weeks before we had to leave for our paradise diving vacation. This had been our dream since honeymooning in Hawaii a few years ago, to do more than just snorkel, we wanted to dive! So the search began for all of the necessities new divers need.
We wanted the experience to be safe and we wanted to be comfortable with all the new gear too. Renting some of the equipment on the island would be fine, but there were a few things we new we wanted to eventually own. These were our own mask, fins and diving watch.
Having a dive planned out for us by a computer watch seemed it would take all the remembering and stress out of the dive. The dive charts, the depth, watching the ascension rate and the air time, my wife just felt safer with a computer to automatically do it all for her. We thought it would take a lot of the nervousness away from the actual time in the water. This was going to be an important investment for our new hobby.
Recommendations from Our PADI Instructor
Our PADI instructor suggested we start doing some research on gauges, dive watches and dive computers to learn the different features and pricing. Gauges are usually analog, some are digital now too, they are pretty bulky and may connect to your air hose, which is a nice feature but cumbersome.
Regular dive watches are a good way of tracking time below surface and air tank levels, they are usually a waterproof watch with a few adjustable outer rings to keep track. Then there are the dive computers, some come with basic features and alerts, all the way to over-the-top-way-too-much-information for most divers, and the price will show it.
From our research we decided to focus on a computer dive watch, it combines a dive gauge and a dive watch all into one computer interface. This would be good for us so we wouldn’t have to keep fumbling to check several instruments during the dive. So the first few questions we came up with were:
- What brand names are reliable?
- How do I make a good decision in a purchase?
- How much should I spend?
- What is the right dive watch for our needs?
- Since we’re new to diving what’s the best product?
Are Computer Dive Watches Superior to Standard Dive Watches?
Superior may not be the right word because they each provide different results. If you want all the bells and whistles, then a regular dive watch will not be specialized enough for you. Like in the comparison table above, a standard dive watch is just a water resistant watch telling you the basic information. We thought we needed a little more assistance with our critical real-time information.
A computer dive watch is a small underwater computer, which can come in a few forms, like a small hand-held gauge, a tablet or in a combination with an analog or digital gauge. The popular ones are the watch-type models looking like a large faced watch with a long wristband to accommodate a thick wetsuit.
What is the Best Dive Computer Watch?
It really depends on how much real-time and logged information you want about your dive. There are about 20 brands of computer dive watches out there. So finding the best dive computer watch became my total obsession.
I had to continually go back to my list of criteria to not get caught up in the best and most expensive, with technology that was probably over my head at this point. I was shocked to find the very top end computer dive watch can set you back over $3,000. That was definitely not in the running for us, but it was amusing to see what this watch could do, and gave me an idea of what type of technology is out there. I am sure this would be a great watch for Jacques Cousteau, but not his students.
Top Dive Watches
I faced no shortage of brands when looking for dive watches. Standard dive watches and computer dive watches are under the same search umbrella, but they may function in very different ways. I also found the names of these type of dive watches gets thrown around loosely. They can be referred to as a Wrist Computer, a Scuba Dive Computer Wrist Watch, a Dive Watch, a Waterproof Underwater Multi-Function Water Sports Watch, Air/Nitrox Computer Watch, and the list goes on.
You will see terms in the “Description” at the bottom of this review like, Haldane’s Model, RGBM factors, CNS Toxicity, Deep Stop, Ascent Rate Indicator and a few other terms since our PADI test. It’s good to know what they mean so you understand what you want or need when choosing the right dive watch.
Before sharing with you the information on “Description Terms For Dive Watches” and other important facts, our research revealed to us the 2 best dive watches under $300 that best suited our needs.
From our personal use and the recommendations from the PADI instructor we mentioned above, here are the 2 computer dive watches we recommend and now use ourselves.
Cressi Giotto Dive Computer Watch
The Giotto is Cressi’s latest model and our #1 recommendation. I chose this watch because it delivers all the important features that any diver, at any level needs, and at an affordable price!
Cressi named their newest product the Giotto, after the famous 13-century Italian artist known for creating the perfect simple circle by hand. Unlike the one button of the Cressi Leonardo, the Giotto has three buttons. This allows for an easier switching between modes, especially the Nitrox, Air and Gauge modes.
This new model is the first mixed-gas computer dive watch entirely built by Cressi, which are made only in Italy. It also features a new programmed algorithm created by Bruce Wienke and the Cressi Company. The algorithm is a combination of the Haldane model and the RGBM, the two most respected and widely used dive charts used for safe decompression.
- SIZE Diameter: 64.2mm – Height: 24.4mm – Weight: 135g
- CR 2430 3 Volt Battery
- 20-second data acquisition interval
- Improved features include extremely tough glass that will maintain its shape to 1,640 feet of depth
- The protective plastic is made with new technology to be extremely elastic, lighter and impact resistant
- This improvement gives more room for the computer hardware and has a larger display compared to the Leonardo, but they are both still the same size
- It minimizes energy usage giving it a longer battery life. Also with more interior room, three buttons were able to be designed
- With three buttons you move through the menus and windows faster than with the Leonardo\
- The operative range for the depth gauge is 393 feet
How To Use The Cressi Giotto Dive Watch?
Cressi makes it easy to get comfortable with the Giotto by using their 21 page User Manual. After we went over this straight forward manual we had a good understanding of the options and features.
Using the ‘Quick Reference Card’ as our go-to information. The 20 page reference card is clearly illustrated with the watch-face and how it will appear in each mode. This was very handy and helped answer all our questions.
Here is an example of the “Alarm” mode.
How Does The Computer Control Panel Work?
It’s as simple as the Leonardo model we review below, except it has two more buttons. But it is quicker and easier to scroll through the display windows with the addition of these buttons.
Pros and Cons of the Cressi Giotto Computer Dive Watch
- Three buttons make it quicker to flip between screens
- All critical information is easy to see and read on the screen (high-definition)
- Dive Planning mode takes the worry away from diving too deep and decompression
- Large screen and backlight makes underwater viewing comfortable
- Easy to see CNS toxicity display in real-time
- The PO2 alarm won’t let you dive farther than your mixture will allow
- The Giotto will signal a safety stop if exceeding 10 meters at a time in decompression
- Ascent Rate signal will audibly sound and display the word SLOW
- Software interface lets you keep your dive history and profile
- Visual and Auditory alarm alerts to tell you if it is safe to dive again without decompression time
- Alerts to tell you if it is safe to travel to higher altitude without decompression time
- Alerts to tell you if it is safe to make other sudden altitude changes without decompression time
- The indicator for battery life is clearly and visible distinct audible alarms deliver critical information
- Long strap fits with a 7mil wetsuit and gloves (fits all size writs)
- Face is big enough to see without prescription glasses (larger numerical displays)
- No option to integrate an air monitor
- Didn’t have a bag to carry it in
- Previously used a dive table, watch and pencil and never thought about a computer, so glad I did
- Computer connect is sold separately
Overview On The Cressi Giotto
Cressi Giotto Price
The best price we could find was on Amazon, the Cressi, Giotto came in at just under $300, and have 9 colors available. We got the fast shipping and felt comfortable ordering with this site because of the guarantee and the hassle-free returns. If you have Prime shipping with Amazon you can get the one or two day fast free shipping too.
During our first few dives we decided to rent a dive watch and a dive computer watch. We were at the mercy of the dive shop for brand selections, not owning any, but it did show us what options, features and brands we liked. It seems we kept comparing what Cressi’s watches featured as our point of reference at each dive.
The Cressi brand beat out the competition when compared on real dives during our vacations. It was a learning experience, each watch had a different interface and learning curve, so we found ourselves using up dive time just to figure out how to use each new rental watch.
At one point we couldn’t help but think that we could have already owned our own Cressi’s for the price of a few rentals, but we’re glad we could compare them and make the right buying decision.
The Giotto was the one I decided on for me, and with the great prices for each, my wife could buy hers too!
Cressi Leonardo Scuba Dive Computer Watch
The Leonardo model made by Cressi is our 2nd recommendation. The Leonardo was a perfect fit for my wife. She really liked the one button control and the simple design. The Leonardo was on sale for about a hundred dollars cheaper so my wife used her ‘extra money’ to get a new wetsuit. These were our reasons, personal and practical, for our choices in choosing the Cressi Leonardo and the Giotto for me.
- The Leonardo has an easy one button control and has basic easy choices for the beginner
- Air, Gauge, and Nitrox modes
- The operative range for the depth gauge is 393 feet
- Backlit display
- Easy to see battery charge indicator
- Battery and is easily replaced by the owner, not a dive shop
- Computer interface
- Calendar and clock
- SIZE Diameter: 67mm – Height: 27mm – Weight: 135g
- Ascent Rate Alarms at every 10 Meters
- Log Book hold 75 Hours of information or about 60 dives
How To Use The Cressi Leonardo Dive Watch?
As with the Giotto, my wife and I read the instruction manual that came with the watch. It is 84 pages, but don’t let that put you off it goes pretty fast. The Quick Reference Card is great to quickly refer back to at any time. Each mode is illustrated with a picture of the screen and how each mode scrolls and displays. It’s easy to compare it side-by-side as you program your watch.
How Does The Computer Control Panel Work?
Very simply you just scroll through the menus by pushing the one and only button on the face of the watch. The manual will have a nice representation of the screens that will be accessed when you press or press and hold the button. As you press through the modes, the option will flash so you will know you are in that menu and at that option. You then wait 3 seconds to clear out of that certain mode or press again to change the settings. It really is just that simple.
Pros and Cons of the Leonardo Computer Dive Watch
- Auto start triggered by depth and water
- The Key information is always displayed on the screen
- Does everything that three individual gauges would do
- It has an altitude setting for high altitude dives for mountain lakes
- Strap length is perfect for use over a 7mil wetsuit or great on a forearm without a wetsuit
- Single button control
- Great design that won’t let the lens fog up
- It is made with no wet contacts so it won’t rust
- Nice large viewing area, easy to see underwater
- Does not have a way to change gasses while diving
- Does not connect with your air tank
- Ascent Rate alarm is very sensitive and the Safety Stop displays minutes not seconds
- Does not have four-gas switching
- Does not have a color display
What Customers Had To Say In Their Reviews on Amazon
- One of the best dive watches I have used, great entry level computer
- Too basic for a professional diver
- A great basic computer for the recreational Air or Nitrox diver. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive computers, but it does what it needs to do, and it does it very well
- You can easily see the number of remaining minutes
- I feel more secure and comfortable diving with it on
- The strap is long enough to easily go over a 7 mil wetsuit and gloves, a bit long for bare skin but usable
- All the features I’d hoped for – in depth tracking (max and current), basic dive planning, dive time tracking and the temperature of the water
- I normally wear glasses and I can see the face just fine underwater without them on
Cressi Leonardo Price
The best price we could find for the Leonardo came in at just under $200. This is an great price for a computer dive watch. This was the model my wife opted for and we ordered it through Amazon and got it the next day. We really like the idea of easy returns with Amazon’s no-hassle returns too.
After a few dive trips, and trying several different brands that we rented, we just kept going back to the Cressi features and missing them. So the Leonardo was the perfect simple dive computer watch for my wife, and at a great price! This model is our 2nd recommendation.
What’s In A Dive Watch Brand Name?
So think Citizen or Seiko, you instantly think watch right? What about Cressi? If you’re a seasoned diver it’s just as familiar of a brand. If you are new to the dive scene you may not be instantly familiar, but the company has been around for over 70 years, leading the way in manufacturing diving and snorkeling gear for many years.
However, Citizen and Seiko are not specialists in diving, at the same time Cressi is not in the computer business. But Cressi is in the diving business and is trusted for providing diving enthusiasts quality innovative products that make diving safe, comfortable and more fun.They have researched and developed their computer products with the same integrity and commitment that has made the Cressi name synonymous with fun and trusted dive accessories worldwide.
How To Use The Cressi Giotto And Leonardo Dive Watch?
Although both of us avoid the instruction manuals, the Cressi directions are straight forward and have easy to follow step-by-step visual instructions. In each mode setting example will have a ‘watch-face’ picture to view, and this applies to both the Leonardo and the Giotto, and what changes can be programmed or what to look for in that particular mode.
Here’s My List Of Criteria I Mentioned Above
They are not in any order of importance.
- Not over $300 price range
- Easy to see and use, not a lot of downtime to learn
- Audible underwater alerts
- Water activated computer, so I can’t forget to turn it on
- Water temperature displayed
- Records the dive history and downloadable too
- Easily replaceable battery
- Backlit display
Best Dive Watches Under $300
While Seiko and Citizen have a few good dive watches under the $300 mark, Cressi is the only brand I found that’s in this price range but offers computer interface capabilities too. Remember, a computer dive watch is not the same as a regular dive watch.
A standard dive watch is capable of only a few tasks since it is a watch with water resistance and a few options to mark your start time and the length of your air supply. Remember, for the capabilities of what you get with a computer dive watch you would also need to carry other equipment on your dive using a regular one.
Why Are Cressi The Best Dive Computer Watches Under $300?
They really stand out in their own category and deliver on performance providing what divers are looking for in a dive watch. If you are interested watch the videos from the Cressi company above to get an idea of quality and commitment to their product. For decades, Cressi has been dedicated to divers and designed products for divers, by divers.
When searching for a dive computer watch, for under $300, I was actually able to find a great deal on the Leonardo for my wife too. She opted for the Leonardo because of the one button, she felt it was a shorter learning curve for her.
Using the three button feature on the Giotto gives me more control and faster access to each mode. I like the upgraded algorithm and the lighter feel to the face. The face is slightly bigger, without it increasing in size from the Leonardo because of the new high tech stronger yet thinner plastic and glass. This is one of the reasons they could design it with three button.
We felt like we both got a good deal, both in quality and cost, with a great name in diving behind the product.
What Makes Cressi The Best Dive Computer Watch?
After weeks of research, I kept coming back to the trusted name of Cressi. My PADI instructor had nothing but good things to say about the Cressi name.
When you weigh out the cost, convenience, and simple user interface. The Cressi was a win-win for us as the best dive computer watch. The fact that it gave us peace of mind, that we would be safer with the alerts and measurements, was another big factor in buying these watches.
The Description Terms Of The Cressi Giotto And Leonardo
Plan and Gauge Modes
The Plan Mode is what it sounds like, you enter in your dive plan and parameters for safety when diving with either Nitrox or air, the Giotto has a mixture calculation.
The Gauge Mode provides depth and dive time, no other features are available in this setting and are best used when free diving.
Ascent Rate Indicator
The built-in algorithms keep track of the depths you’ve been at on the dive. If the ascent rate needs monitoring, to avoid decompression sickness (DCS), also know as the bends, it will indicate on the watch face graphically how fast or slow to ascend. In the Cressi dive computer watches the center of the watch face you will see three arrowheads strobing. The alarm will sound and the word SLOW will graphically appear if your accent is too fast. A lifesaving feature!
Methodologies in diving are many, based on tests and concepts. Deep Stop decompression profile warns the diver and sounds an alarm according to the dive plan. The Leonardo and the Giotto are factory set to a Deep Stop based on the Haldane and RGBM dive charts but can be disabled. This alarm is required by some manufacturers and not by others.
Central Nervous System toxicity level which is a combined calculation of the length of the dive and your PO2. The computer will display this level for you.
PO2 And FO2
PO2 is Partial Oxygen Pressure, FO2 is Full Setting of Oxygen. Avoiding dangerous oxygen toxicity by alerting you to not go deeper than the mixture you’ve set will allow. As a diver you will set the PO2 level in bars in a range from 1.2 to 1.6, the pre-set default is usually 1.4 bar which corresponds to about 188 feet.
The full percentage of oxygen is set between 21% and 50%. This sounds complicated but is not a problem with the Cressi algorithms.
Air, Nitrox and Free Dive Modes
Each of these modes is programmable while in the Plan Your Dive mode, on most planning capable dive computers.
The Safety Factor Setting. It can be set to SFO/SF1/SF2. You set a higher safety factor of SF1 or SF2 when conditions are high risk for decompression sickness. These settings make the decompression times shorter and the dive time more conservative. The factory setting is SFO which disables these settings.
This is Reduced Gradient Bubble Model. An algorithm developed by Dr. Wienke to understand Stops needed for a safe decompression. The model gets pretty complicated, but simply it’s the assumed occurrence of bubbles growing in the tissues of the body, according to present conditions. This is a great safety feature in computer dive watches.
Not all will have RGBM since it is proprietary but the Cressi, Suunto, Aqwary and some other companies will use this algorithm table software in their top dive watches.
Haldane’s Decompression Model
This is another decompression model table some dive watches use. Developed by Dr. Haldane in 1908, while testing goats at depths of 165 feet below the ocean, proved his ‘staged decompression’ table was safer than the previous “uniform decompression” tables at preventing decompression sickness.
Some watches use a modified combination of both the Haldane and the RGBM dive tables.
Surface Interval Times
We thought this was a pretty cool feature. When at the surface, the dive computer takes all the info from the dive and tells you if it’s safe to travel to a higher altitude like a flight back home or up a mountain. Or it will tell you how long to stay at surface level before you dive again. It also keeps track of the times between dives after you are 4′ feet above the surface, like in the dive boat or back on land for more than two minutes it will be considered a new dive and logs the last dive historically.
Conclusion Of The Cressi Giotto And Leonardo Dive Watches
Given the choice between a dive watch for under $300 or a computer dive watch, I would chose the computer watch every time. Are the Giotto, costing just under $300 or the Leonardo costing just under $200 the very top of the line? No. However, it comes down to the decision of what enhances your dive and gives you peace of mind.
To dive with confidence that even if you lose track of time or get distracted by the underwater beauty and tranquility, you will be safe. Decompression sickness can be a tragic end to a beautiful time.
So if you are interested I recommend these two Cressi models the Giotto and Leonardo with Free Shipping at Amazon. You have peace of mind ordering from Amazon. Their A-Z guarantee assures the buyer of a good experience and a hassle-free return every time. So there isn’t anything to lose and so much to gain if the Cressi Dive Watches work as great for you as they did for us.