★ Review: Scubapro Meridian Dive Watch

I'm a bitch for Scubapro's recent design language. Luckily, after a period of really bad and dangerous faults in their hardware, they have produced good scuba diving equipment again for many years now. So good, in fact, that Halcyon now sells re-branded Scubapro regulators to their tech diving customers. I'm really happy with my Scubapro regulators, the MK17/A700.

It's no big surprise then that I was drawn to Scubapro's dive watch, the Meridian. My purchase was emotional, I admit it. While I needed something to replace my Suunto Zoop (which is great, but doesn't do deep stops or gauge mode), a sensible choice would have been (and will be?) something like the Liquivision Koan or the OSTC. More functionality, and mounted with bungees rather than a strap. 

Scubapro Meridian dive computer on my wrist

Scubapro Meridian dive computer on my wrist

The Meridian looks great, though, if you like a simple, rugged and big watch. (Another reviewer said it looks like the watch of a tank commander.) It's very unlike the expensive but visually crowded pseudo pilot watches you can buy at the jeweller's, that's for sure.

Even though I bought it as a watch even more than a dive computer, it should perform under water. Here goes my opinion. 

Build quality

The body of the watch is made from SS 316, or so-called marine-grade stainless steel. It's the most corrosion-resistant steel that exists. Whether that's enough to keep it from rusting… time will tell. It does scratch easily, which in my opinion only adds to its rugged charm. The body is massive and heavy. It sits high on your wrist, even though the diameter is not that wide compared to non-watch dive computers or large men's watches.

The lower part is made from a matte steel, the upper ring is brushed steel. The buttons are steel and have a surprisingly spring-y feel to them. I really like it, but there's much more spring and give to them than you'd expect knowing other dive watches. The back is brushed and engraved steel and has insets on the outside edge to accommodate Scubapro's proprietary tool for opening the watch and replacing the battery. Yes, you need to send it in to change the battery because they're afraid you screw it up and let water into your watch. Even my local dealer doesn't want to open it himself.

The strap is rubbery plastic which feels solid, but light. A nylon strap is available, but I heard it's crap. There's also a nylon extension strap which I needed for wearing the thing over both my 7/5mm Everflex wet suit and my Santi dry suit.

The screen is a standard alphanumeric type, not a dot-matrix one. That makes it quaint and charming (and probably keeps the costs down), but it also limits what can be displayed and creates a little confusion in the beginning. The screen is protected by sapphire glass. Between the glass and the screen is a black ring with the Scubapro logo and button labels.

Overall the watch feels solid and well-made. And it has a unique look which I really like.

Handling

The water sensor is very sensitive – even sweat can set it off –, so I switched the auto-activation off for wearing it as a watch. This means the computer will only activate at around 2m below the surface when diving. The pressure sensor works above the surface as well (if less precisely) and automatically sets the right adjustment for altitude.

The display is surprisingly crisp and easy to read under water in good to medium light conditions. This is probably due to sapphire crystal glass and a high-contrast display. In dark environments, the computer is actually somewhat impractical: You need the other hand to activate the backlight, and shining your dive light on the computer creates so much glare that it's hard to see anything. In twilight, the display is tricky: it might be too dark to read the display properly, but too light to make use of the backlight. 

The background light looks cool: Only the symbols are illuminated. The effect is not noticeably during most light conditions; it has to be really dark for you to see.

Donning the Meridian is easy when worn as a watch and impractical when used as a dive computer. For both my dry and wet suits the regular strap is too short. Scubapro sells a nylon extension strap to make it work, but it's quite flimsy, not too easy to don with one hand and doesn't instill confidence that it will hold.

Somewhat surprisingly the buttons work well under water, even with my dry gloves on. As with any instrument, soaking and rinsing the computer with fresh water is important. Since it's a watch, this is easy to forget. After some snorkeling without fresh water handy, only a half-jammed button reminded me of rinsing the Meridian thoroughly.

User interface

You navigate the user interface with three of the four buttons on the watch. It's a select/exit and up & down approach. It's easy to get used to after a few times. Displayed information is sometimes hard to understand without looking back to the manual, especially when it comes to deep stops ("1: 12m 8" means a current 1 minute deep stop at 12m with a total ascent time of 8 minutes). Despite that, I haven't run into any screw-ups that would be annoying. I do like Suunto's approach to where information sits a little bit better.

By default, the Meridian beeps at the press of a button. Thankfully, this can be switched off. Some reviewers led me to believe that this also deactivates dive alarms – in my experience that is not the case.

The log is easy to access, but returning from additional infos for a dive (like temperature) kicks you back to the beginning of the log for some reason. It's good to know that dives are counted backwards (most recent is number one) and apnea sessions are shown with maximum depth and session length.

Functionality

The Meridian is mostly your standard nitrox dive computer, meaning that it handles air and nitrox (up to 100%) for the advanced recreational diver. You can do some gas switching (main plus deco), but no trimix. It employs an adjusted Buhlmann algorithm and offers optional deep stops. 

The algorithm is lax compared to Suunto's models – I had about 5-10 minutes more bottom time with the Meridian than with my Suunto Zoop. If you choose to pre-set a more conservative level, you have the option to let it switch down to less conservative levels while underwater in order to extend your dive. It's important to note, however, that there is no way to make the Meridian behave like the Suunto. Switching to more conservative microbubble levels will penalize deep diving even more than the Suunto algorithm. This can be a small issue when diving with others who have Suunto computers (and, let's be honest, almost every recreational diver does), since you'll never have the same no decompression time.

One of my reasons (or rather, excuses) for buying the Meridian was that it understands deep stops. More precisely, it does Scubapro's variation called profile-dependent intermediate stops (PDIS). Based on your dive profile, the Meridian calculates deep stops. Unfortunately, this is a less-than-perfect implementation in practice because the suggested depth for the stops is not predictable. Deep stops are often foreign to recreational divers, and spontaneous deep stops at varying levels are hard to communicate. I find it better to agree on deep stops for fun dives at 12m and 9m beforehand, no matter what my computer says.

It's interesting that the Meridian has separate warnings for high altitude and flying. My no-fly-time was over much more quickly than my altitude warning. Apparently it assumes I'm flying in a pressurized cabin with a higher ambient pressure than if I were hiking in the mountains. 

The apnea mode is for free diving, the gauge mode for use as technical diving instrument with pre-calculated dive plans. Both modes incur a 48h scuba shut-off penalty to take into account that nitrogen levels were not tracked. (You can override it at your own risk). In apnea mode, depth is tracked more often and there is a dive count for the current session.

If you fancy so, you can wear a standard Polaris RF heart rate strap on your chest that will integrate with the Meridian. The computer will include your exertion level in the calculations. Interesting idea, but very few people have done it.

As with most dive computers, there's only half-hearted digital integration. While you can buy the appropriate interface and software (for a ridiculous amount of money), the file format is proprietary, the functionality of the software lacking and the iOS integration non-existant. I haven't tested it. I think we will see a lot of innovation here in the next few years – "above the water" accessories already communicate over Bluetooth Low Energy to iPhones equipped with beautiful and versatile apps.

Conclusion

The Scubapro Meridian is a great computer for recreational divers who are in the market for a watch-style dive computer. It is meant to be worn on a naked wrist or a thin wetsuit and its broad functionality for different kinds of diving makes it a good companion. It's cheap compared to Suunto's dive watches and looks unique even when only worn as a watch.

As a diver with ambitions towards technical diving, the Meridian cannot serve as my main computer. I need bungee-style mounting and a big display with good visibility in any light condition. I'll wear it as a watch and as a secondary dive computer when I'm diving in warm waters.

The Good

  • Nice design and very good build quality (stainless steel, sapphire glass)
  • Versatile dive computer (2 gases, deep stops, on-the-fly fallback to less conservative micro-bubble level, apnea and gauge modes)
  • Pretty backlight feature
  • Buttons are easy to press even under water
  • Generally decent user interface
  • Separat warnings for high altitude and flying

The Bad

  • As with any dive watch, the strap-mounting is inferior to bungee-mounting – the nylon extension strap is especially flimsy
  • Display hard to read in twilight; backlight requires button press
  • Altitude warning blinks – this really annoys me
  • Costly USB+Software solution; no iOS integration
  • Battery is said to drain quickly and is practically not user-replaceable

Disclaimer: I tested the computer in fresh and salt water to a depth of around 30m. I was not asked to write this review and I have received nothing for doing so (Ha, I wish). I bought my Meridian like everybody else. Furthermore, I'm not a scuba diving professional. Consult your manuals and talk to a good instructor if you're unsure about anything I write.