summer worsley
Summer Worsley, Dive Instructor

PRODUCT REVIEW

Garmin Descent MK1

The Descent MK1 has made a splash in the dive industry. Garmin, a company dedicated to precision outdoor and marine technical equipment, released the MK1, its first dive computer, at DEMA to rave reviews.

The computer is designed to look like an everyday watch but packs a punch in terms of features and functionality. Suitable for freediving and both recreational and technical scuba diving, the Descent MK1 may not be the cheapest dive computer on the market but it does perform.

Garmin has taken its knowledge of environmental measuring tools and combined that with an all-in-one, full-featured dive computer. The company has even included elements of wearable tech by including a heart-rate monitor.

garmin descent mk1

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garmin descent mk1

Garmin Descent MK1 on the go!

Photograph from gearjunkie.com

Shearwater Teric Dive Computer: Key Specifications

  • Full in-computer plan mode for both recreational and technical dives
  • Six diving modes (single-gas, multi-gas, apnea, apnea hunt, gauge, and plan)
  • Multi-gas decompression dive planner
  • GPS functionality on the surface
  • Topography mapping
  • Metric or imperial
  • Adjustable salinity settings
  • Nitrox, Trimix and 100% O2 compatible
  • Gas switch compatible (1 bottom gas and 5 additional gasses)
  • Up to six gas mixture on a single dive
  • Depth rated to 100m/328ft
  • Smartwatch features including text message capability
  • Buhlmann ZHL-16C decompression model
  • 3-axis compass
  • The computer saves the diver’s entry and exit locations
  • Adjustable gradient factors
  • Adjustable conservative dive settings
  • Automatic altitude adjustments
  • Full-color, high-contrast display panel
  • Optional missed deco lockout function
  • Logbook function, stores info for 200 dives
  • Ascent rate indication bar
  • Watch and stopwatch functions
  • Surface interval information display
  • In-built heart-rate monitor (when worn directly on the wrist)

Which is Better, the Garmin Descent MK1 or the Shearwater Teric?

Both are excellent dive computers but, in our opinion, there’s a clear distinction to be made between them: the Teric is designed specifically for diving while the Descent MK1 is a smartwatch that does double duty as a dive computer.

Purists may initially be put off by the Descent MK1’s perceived moonlighting but there’s no doubt about it, this dive computer performs its job as a precision diving device very well. In many ways, it represents a new concept; smartwatch, daily timepiece, and dive computer in one.

What’s interesting is that instead of integrating a computer that’s geared toward recreational diving, the Descent MK1 features technical-diving compatible functionality. For instance, divers can plan a decompression dive with up to six gas changes including Nitrox, Trimix and 100% O2. The Teric, on the other hand, can handle five gas switches.

A plus-one for the Descent until we consider a few of the Terics other, dive-specific features — it is 200m/656ft crush-proof and supports wireless air integration. On the latter point, it seems slightly odd that a device geared toward high-level divers doesn’t have air integration but perhaps Garmin will address this in the future.

The Garmin Descent MK1’s 3-axis compass and GPS system, which tracks and maps diver entry and exit points, are nifty tools that tech-savvy divers will love.

It can also track the wearers heart-rate and is a useful device for runners, cyclists, hikers, swimmers, and more. No wonder since at its core, the Descent MK1 is a Fenix 5X that has been leveled-up for diving.

Overall, we think the Shearwater Teric is the preferential dive computer for technical diving. For the recreational diver who dabbles in tech and is involved in a multitude of other sports, the Garmin Descent MK1 might be the better choice. Plus, with a price tag slightly under that of the Teric, it’s a more affordable choice, too.

Garmin Descent MK1 a feature-packed smartwatch built for divers

Photograph from Gadgetsandwearables.com

garmin descent mk1

What You Need to Know About the Garmin Descent MK1

Here’s a round-up of some of the Garmin Descent MK1’s most interesting features. Because this computer is capable of doing so much, we’ve picked out the bits that impressed us the most.

Multi-Sport Functionality

The Descent MK1 is not just a dive computer, it’s a watch with the capability to track and monitor performance in several sports too. For example, golfers will find that they have access to around 40,000 preprogrammed golf courses. Skiers will find their runs automatically timed and runners can even be notified if they’re favoring one foot over the other.

This is a watch that can go diving, and do it well, but has a wide range of sporting pursuits in mind.

Compass

The compass function on this computer is excellent. Headings can be set by pointing the compass’ lubber line where you want to travel then pressing a button. Reciprocal headings are just as easy. Most impressive is that decompression info is still displayed on the screen when a diver is in compass mode, something other computer compasses have neglected.

On the surface, the computer automatically tracks your entry and exit points thanks to its GPS functionality.

Touch Screen

Garmin has avoided the pitfall of difficult menu navigation, which many high-performance computers fall into, by making the screen touch compatible. Bored with buttons? Just tap the screen to scroll through the menu and functions.

Deco Lockout

For the life of us, we’ll never understand why some computers, which are obviously geared toward technical diving, feature a deco lockout function (cough cough, Suunto) that cannot be turned off.

Garmin Descent MK1 does have a deco lockout, which is activated if you do not follow the computer’s deco instructions, but users can turn it off. Should it be there in the first place? That’s debatable but we’re glad Garmin has left this option up to divers.

Six Diving Modes

Five of the Garmin descent’s six dive modes are standard (single-gas, multi-gas, apnea, gauge, and plan) but the sixth, apnea hunt, is a little unusual. This mode is designed with spearfishing in mind. Upon descent, the computer automatically starts tracking and ends the dive upon reaching the surface.

Heart-Rate Monitor

Ever wished you could take your Fitbit diving? Garmin has solved that for you by including a heart-rate monitor in the Descent MK1. Of course, this feature is useful on land too where the computer can analyze your running performance and allows you to operate within pre-defined heart-rate zones, which, as serious sportspeople know, is one of the best ways to train your heart.

Smartwatch Capabilities

Like any smartwatch, the Garmin Descent MK1 allows users to check emails, text messages, online apps and much more. You can think of it as an Apple Watch with added diving functionality. With the upcoming launch of both Google and Apple smartwatch app stores, techies and reccies with tech-savvy will enjoy being able to choose apps for their dive computer.

garmin descent mk1
Garmin Descent MK1 with the garmin Connect Mobile app. Photograph from Oceanhunter.co.nz

The Garmin Descent MK1’s Decompression Model

The Descent MK1 runs the Bühlmann ZHL-16C algorithm and includes the modern gradient factors approach, which was developed by Erik Baker.

Bühlmann’s model is tissue-based and uses compartments to represent the tissues in the body. In this case, it uses 16 compartments (the ‘16’ in the algorithm’s name). Each compartment on and off-gases at different rates to the others and it is the speed of the off-gassing that determines how deep and how long each stop should be.

Bühlmann controls each compartment with an M-value, which is the maximum tolerable inert gas tension in a tissue compartment at any point during the dive (or upon surfacing for a recreational dive).

The gradient factors are a way to alter how much tissue tension is acceptable by only allowing the algorithm to use a percentage of the M-value, therefore making the stops at different depths or different lengths than the standard Bülhmann algorithm recommends.

What Does This Mean for the Diver?

The Bühlmann algorithm is a tried and tested model that’s been in use for over 30 years. The added ability to customize it by applying gradient factors uses the latest research to allow you to configure the stops where you want them to be.

This gives you the option to have deeper first deco stops and longer — and therefore more conservative — shallow stops. There is a lot of debate about which gradient factors are acceptable and how you choose what to use.

You can find more information about deep stops here and here.

Recreational divers and divers who do not understand gradient factors well will find that the preset algorithm and three adjustable conservatism settings more than suffice for safe diving.

Garmin’s After Sales and Servicing Support

Unfortunately, Garmin’s reputation for support is not unsullied. A quick glance at TrustPilot reveals that 75% of reviewers (at the time of writing) were not satisfied with the company.

That said, after speaking to several Descent MK1 owners, this reviewer found that owners had received OK to good service when they contacted Garmin for help and advice. Disappointingly, none of the divers noted excellent customer service.

Garmin’s online support center contains FAQs and troubleshooting guides.

Garmin Descent Mk1 Dive Computer – Designed for the deeply curious

Any Ongoing Maintenance?

Like all precision instruments, users should avoid keeping their Garmin Descent MK1 in extreme temperatures and should take care to avoid harsh chemicals. Rinse the computer in freshwater after each dive and make sure it’s dried thoroughly before connecting it to a PC.

Updates, such as the recent CCR add-on, can be downloaded from Garmin’s website.

For full info, check the Garmin Descent MK1’s user manual.

Summary

The Garmin Descent MK1 is a full-featured smartwatch come dive computer that will appeal to avid sportspeople. Looking for just the takeaways from our review? You’ll find those below.

Manufacturer’s Specs and Features:

  • Full in-computer plan mode for both recreational and technical dives
  • Six diving modes (single-gas, multi-gas, apnea, apnea hunt, gauge, and plan)
  • Multi-gas decompression dive planner
  • GPS functionality
  • Gyroscope
  • Topography mapping
  • Metric or imperial
  • Adjustable salinity settings
  • Nitrox, Trimix and 100% O2 compatible
  • Gas switch compatible (1 bottom gas and 5 additional gasses)
  • Up to six gas mixture on a single dive
  • Depth rated to 100m/328ft
  • Smartwatch features including text message capability
  • Buhlmann ZHL-16c decompression model
  • 3-axis compass
  • The computer saves the diver’s entry and exit locations
  • Adjustable gradient factors
  • Adjustable conservative dive settings
  • Automatic altitude adjustments
  • Full-color, high-contrast display panel
  • Optional missed deco lockout function
  • Logbook function, stores info for 200 dives
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Ascent rate indication bar
  • Watch and stopwatch functions
  • Surface interval information display
  • In-built heart-rate monitor (when worn directly on the wrist)
  • Multi-sport capabilities

What We Like:

  • Smartwatch capabilities
  • The accompanying app is excellent and very user-friendly
  • Suitable for freediving, recreational and technical diving
  • The compass works very well and the computer tracks entry and exit points
  • GPS compatible
  • Customizable gradient factors
  • The heart-rate monitor works underwater
  • Sleek and swish looking, a perfect daily timepiece
  • Vibration alerts
  • The quick-fit bands allow divers to easily change between having the computer on their wrist directly or over the top of a wetsuit or drysuit
  • The battery lasts up to 19 days in watch mode and 40 hours in dive modes, given the features, this is commendable

What We Don’t Like:

  • No air-integration feature
  • CCR compatible only with the recent software update
  • Experienced tech divers may be limited by the 100m/328ft depth rating
  • Technical divers have to turn off the deco violation lockout

Buy This Computer If:

You’re looking for a new innovation in dive computers and a device that can take you from mountain to track to an underwater cavern. And you’d like to check your emails and monitor your heart rate along the way!

We have a feeling that the future will see many more dive computers that integrate other sporting or daily life pursuits and tap into the ever-growing wearable tech trend. The Descent MK1 represents the beginning — and an impressive one at that.

garmin descent mk1
Garmin Descent MK1 in the box. Photograph from Thedivejunkie.com

Where to Buy:

We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Garmin Descent MK1:

Our recommendations:

Do you use this computer or have any questions about it? We’d love to hear what you think, please drop us a comment below and let us know your thoughts.


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