I recently had the opportunity to try out Suunto's high-end dive watch, the D5. A slightly larger display than previous models, rechargeable battery, Bluetooth compatible, tank pod compatible, and a colorful LED screen to record freediving and scuba diving (gauge, air, and nitrox) stats. With a starting price of over $900 I was hoping that such an expensive watch would really stand out, but sadly I was slightly under-impressed.
Suunto D5 freediving options
Multiple dive notifications are a huge plus, the D4 only lets you pick one notification and one depth alarm. Having multiple is a big advantage in training depth (D4i also lets you pick up to 5). A bright display with a colored screen is very aesthetic. There is the option to customize the screens to show you data like the number of dives, ascent speed, descent speed, time, temperature, surface interval, and more. The ability to see descent and ascent speeds all on the watch face while training is a very nice feature. For most watches, this is not accessible until after uploading the data to your phone.
I was so happy to see that the watch also had a vibration notification feature. However, it is wildly underpowered. With the watch over my wetsuit, I couldn’t feel a thing. Even with the watch on my bare skin, I felt like I had to focus so much on the point of contact to feel the slight pulse of the alarm. Features like this are great for spearfishing when you want silent notifications to not scare fish. Vibrating alarms are also good while depth training so you're not having to tuck your watch inside the hood of your wetsuit to properly hear your alarms. But with such a weak vibration it is unusable.
Post-diving I love to see stats and review training sessions or scuba dives. With the Suunto app, this was made very easy and stood out compared to the D4(i) watch.
Let's look at the scuba options on the Suunto D5
I was very pleased to see that this watch lets you change the personal parameters of your diving abilities - more conservative, conservative, default, aggressive, and more aggressive. Suunto has always been known to be extremely conservative, which for most people is an amazing safety feature. But for some aggressive divers, it's too conservative. The watch also has a digital compass which is another nice safety feature. The alarms are loud and the display is clean and organized to understand what each data set is displaying.
The watch itself
Just okay. The battery life is horrible. I feel like I am constantly having to put it on the charger. The buttons often get pressed against my wrist as I climb back onto a boat. I'll look at the watch and it's somewhere deep inside the settings menu. I also prefer watches that aren't so large. The size of the D5 is a bit clunky on my wrist. I love the compatibility with my phone and reviewing dives inside the app. The multiple alarms are a big plus as well!
My thoughts on the D4(I)
To clarify, the D4 and D4i are slightly different watches. A few upgrades to the D4i make it worth spending a little more for the additional features - more alarms while diving, an apnea timer, better algorithms, and updates to the software. This watch has an amazing battery life, easy-to-navigate buttons, and an easy-to-read display. The battery on my used D4 lasted me over two years of consistent use. The only complaint I have with this watch is I wish it had a better stopwatch and some control over the scuba diving parameters (conservative vs aggressive). Apart from that, this has always been my go-to watch for price and features.
My thoughts on the Garmin Mk2S
Yes, this watch has crazy features! Options to track just about every daily activity. But for nearly all the functions, the watch falls short. I was so excited to have one watch to rule them all. Something to track all the different activities I do - running, freediving, scuba diving, spearfishing, climbing, surfing, swimming, smartwatch features, etc. But the more and more I used the watch, the more flaws I found.
The running feature - is not so great. The HR was so far off from reality and the distance was never accurate.
Don’t even get me started on the surfing feature. It once clocked me going 104MPH and usually would say I caught 40-60 waves in a one-hour session (I’m not that great at surfing =o ).
Climbing feature - unusable.
Swimming - not great.
Freediving has the potential to be the best but still, some features are silly on the watch. Trying to change the alarms, especially mid-training is so frustrating. You have to back out and save your progress and start from zero to change features (This was just recently fixed in October 2022). There is also certain data you cant see while freediving like the number of dives or ascent speed. In most of the activities, you have a lot of control over what data was displayed on the screen but for whatever reason freediving you had the least control over it. The HR feature was also incredibly inaccurate while freediving.
Scuba diving seemed to be the best feature. The ability to change the personal parameters to very aggressive was excellent! Also, the feature to tag your location while diving was spectacular, especially while spearfishing, if you found a nice zone but couldn’t make it to your phone, all you had to do was simply raise your hand out of the water for a few seconds and wait for the satellite to connect.
The watch also had no option to turn off the water features. Meaning anytime your wrist was wet and under 1.6M of water, it would start tracking data. This made it so frustrating teaching courses in confined water or doing simple dynamics. The entire session the watch kept beeping at me, wasting the battery, tagging my location, and tracking very unnecessary things. The watch tried to be smart and track your “body battery” or “stress levels”. The climbing feature was so bad I wouldn't track my climbing progress. Yet, the watch would record me working out and having a high HR outside of a set activity and then try to tell me I needed to rest and recover.
All these little things may sound silly. But if I’m spending 1K on a watch, I want it to be excellent and able to keep up with my activities. The Mk2s just didn't meet that standard.
To wrap things up
The Mk2(s) just isn't worth it. Yes, a one-stop watch sounds great but it's just not there yet, especially for the price. The D5 is pretty but also falls very short. For the price, it just doesn’t offer enough to stand out.
The D4i is still at the top of my list for dive watches. For the price, ease of use, size of the watch, battery life, and functionality, it will continue to be my go-to watch.