Blog posts from Gareth, Imogen and Neil
The XDeep is a bottom timer, not a computer. However, there is a significant number of recreational and technical divers not using computers, so XDeep must figure the market is big enough. However, just in case, they are selling the concept of the unit being upgradable from a bottom timer to a nitrox computer and ultimately to a trimix computer, although these elements are still in development.
So, before I begin, I should address the question of WHY I felt the need to get one. I have a Liquivision Xen, which is an awesome bit of kit. However, when the XDeep came out I happened to see a picture of one and go "oooh, shiny" and the next thing I knew one of my awesome students had bought me one as a thank you.
First up, XDeep had some production issues. I waited a month for mine to arrive. I'm sort of ok with that because mine was one of the first to arrive in the country and you expect a company to struggle a little as they get up to speed with a new product, especially in an international market. I am informed that as time goes on production is being scaled up so these issues should disappear. I hope so, because a month wait time is unacceptable in this day and age. This immediately put the review on a back foot, as several trips I had expected to review the xdeep on passed before it eventually arrived and I found myself becoming annoyed. However, when it finally arrived I tried to put that to one side.
As a web app developer, there's a a couple of things that sell me on the timer even before it arrives. Their website doesn't look like the normal dive industry amateur hour nonsense. It looks like a professional website. The second thing is that they do an excellent job of presenting the specifications of both the hardware and software of the unit. This suggests to me that the software in the unit is going to be equally well developed and presented. That would be a welcome change, as even high end units seem to have software that looks like it was written around the same time the original Tron movie was released.
Ok, so it arrives in a fancy little box very much packaged like a GoPro camera. I would very much like to have shown you a picture of the packaging but unfortunately my kitten ate it. I'm not kidding.
Inside the box there are a few bits and bobs. Not much of a manual, but then this is the 21st century and all the information you need is on the web in multiple languages. Thank god for modern companies. There's also the charging / uploading cable.
Then we get to the main event, the unit itself.
Visually, it's very pretty. A sturdy bit of kit. When I first looked at it, I thought "it feels a bit plasticky". After googling "polyacetal" it turns out the reason for this is because it's made of plastic. Oops. Still, it's a very tough feeling bit of kit, and made from a single piece of polyacetal to be robust. It's also allegedly tested repeatedly to 200m so should be more than enough for most non-commerical divers.
Charging / Battery
Charging is easy. Plug one end of the supplied cable into the unit and the other end into a pc or usb wall plug. It charges in a few hours. The battery life, hmmm. When the Liquivision Xen came out you had to look at the gauge on the way down the shot line because it would probably have run out by the time you got to the seabed. Liquivision sorted this out though, through a combination of efficiencies in the software, and more powerful batteries.
I think the XDeep may already have been through some of that learning curve. I put two hours of time through the unit in 14 degree water and it dropped 10%. This gives me a very rough estimate of 20 hours battery life, although for those two hours I was doing nothing with the unit. I suspect it will drop significantly quicker if the unit is delivering full screen colour alarms etc. So realistically we are talking about a unit that has will probably need charged at least once one a week long trip. That's fine for liveaboards etc., but for some of the crazy GUE types doing extreme length cave dives in the middle of nowhere, you'll need to have a solar charger of some description. For your typical diver doing weekend dives, it is more than adequate. One nice feature is that there is no battery compartment, removing a huge failure point in other units.
Two buttons a la VR3. In all honesty it's easy to use in the water. In fact it's a little too easy. My buddy and I had one of these each in the water, and both of us reported the same issue - your elbow or your wrist will actually press the buttons when you are doing valve drills or bending your arm for whatever reason. This means when you look at the unit it is suddenly displaying settings, or worst case scenario changing them. The solution to this is that the unit needs to be in precisely the right place half way up your arm so that nothing pushes the buttons in.
Personally, I don't like the short press long press nonsense anyway. I find the Liquivision Xen far more efficient to use in the water in terms of control. For example, the control for resetting the stopwatch, something I do at the start of every ascent, and sometimes on the way up, goes something like: short left to bring up the menu, short right, short right to select the option "reset timer", and then long right to set it. I'm sure in some designer's head this is the quintessentially efficient solution, but to my brain it seems bananas. Compare that with the Xen, where you just tap 4 times without looking at it, and it seems very complicated indeed. It should be a no brainer, but it feels like having to learn morse code. I was having horrific flash-backs of typing in VR3 pin numbers. In contrast on one horrifically task loaded training dive with my hands full of stages I managed to find myself without a spare hand to reset my timer so did it with my forehead. That's simplicity.
The screen is very pretty indeed. It's the same screen as units like the Xen, but the trick is that the software has clearly been written by developers that have been trained in, or have knowledge of, user experience. It looks lovely. It's colourful, the fonts and images are large and easy on the eye. There are options for simplifying the display to give you critical information, or making it more complicated for those who like lots of flashing numbers. The alarm feature is awesome. The entire screen has flash a specified colour. If you are not capable of stopping at your planned depth the unit will do everything possible to tell you about it short of actually electrocuting you. This makes it a great unit for relatively new divers, or people who like their units to help guide them through the dive. It's worth noting that the screen is not remotely scratch proof, so I recommend buying a Zagg invisible shield screen something like an ipod nano and cutting it down to size sooner rather than later.
XDeep have not messed about when adding functionality to the unit. There are two flagship bits of functionality as far as I am concerned. The first is the VSI, or vertical speed indicator. This gives you a graphical and numeric indication of your ascent or descent speed. I can see this being a big winner with people. Personally, it annoyed me. I tend to move between 3 metre stops at about 12-15 metres per minute. The VSI just can't keep up. By the time I have moved and re-established neutral buoyancy at the next step, it is still showing me ascending at 10 metres per minute. Then I just sit and watch it go back to zero. I imagine this is perfect for people that like to stare at their unit all the way through a long ascent, but I tend to slap people who do that and prefer to calculate my ascent rate myself. However, I appreciate that's a personal diving style and some people will love this.
The second bit of functionality worth shouting about is the compass. This is very nice in all honesty. I can see me using the XDeep as a digital compass. I thought it would be a gimmick but it's actually a joy to use. The waypoint functionality is simple but clever, and for someone as useless as me at underwater navigation provides a nice "that way back" functionality which whilst not replacing lining off from a shotline will certainly reassure you that you are heading in the right direction. The compass is easy to switch to and out of, and looks great, so this is a solid bit of functionality. For the GUE type diver, the required functionality is there. Depth and time. The "nice to have's" are also present, in terms of resettable average depth, and a resettable stopwatch. Another nice feature is the ability to display a depth graph underwater. I actually really liked this. So plenty of pretty, useful things to look at.
This is where the XDeep falls down a bit, but it's also a very strong point for them. I think they have an air gap behind the screen. I'm guessing at that, but the end result is that if you turn your arm approximately 45 degrees away from your eyes the screen display vanishes completely. I spotted this testing it in the kitchen sink, but figured it wouldn't be an issue in the water. Unfortunately it's one of those things that once you notice it you can't stop noticing it. It's not a big deal, but does provide an annoyance.
Despite this problem, I found the display very, very clear throughout a dive and ascent, and the display was easy to understand. This, in a nutshell, is the big selling point of the unit. It looks very nice, both in and out of the water. The display, combined with the software, means it just looks professional. It looks like something you'd expect in the real world. In the diving world, it seems that budget goes on hardware and software is an afterthought. This is not the case with the xdeep.
Cack. I mean, just rubbish. Seriously, guys??? A piece of elastic with a cheap plastic clip. On a £200 timer?? Apparently they are now shipping with a length of bungee, which is what they should have shipped with in the first place. I don't overly criticise XDeep for this, because the hallmark of a good supplier is to change when the market spots things that need improving. I threw it to my kitten and she turned her nose up rather than chew it.
XDeep have done something cool in this area. Rather than have proprietary software which looks crap because the budget has been clearly spent on the unit rather than the software (take note Liquvision!), XDeep have configured their timer so that when you connect it to a pc or mac it behaves like any other USB drive, and you can just drag log files off the unit. The files come off in UDDF format. Now this all sounds great except that I have no idea which software supports UDDF and works on a mac, so a recommendation or partnership with a software developer would not be a bad idea. I downloaded a couple of apps but failed in the time I had to produce a graph for you.
This is an awesome bit of kit for the price. Its significantly cheaper than the Liquivision Xen, who it clearly wants to competes with. It has a superb display. The display looks like it has grown up, in the same way that websites have grown up in the last few years. It seems clear, user friendly, simple. the compass is functional rather than a gimmick. Unlike the Xen I can update the software without worrying that one of the kittens will sneeze in the next room and turn the unit into a wrist weight. The logs are compatible with professionally written software. The unit is very new-diver friendly, with big alarms and safety features. The VSI is clear and easy to follow if that's your thing.
But the control mechanism sucks like a dyson. Long press short press, short press, long press, oh for god's sake. I mean, seriously - .... .. ... / -.-. --- -. - .-. --- .-.. / -- . -.-. .... .- -. .. ... -- / ... ..- -.-. -.- ...
I'm not convinced that this is a direct competitor to the Xen. This unit will appeal to loads of people. It's relatively cheap, and whereas the LV Xen felt like the first to market, this feels somehow more rounded, more considered. However, it wouldn't be for me. The control mechanism is a deal breaker. The VSI pisses me off and I couldn't figure out how to turn it off without switching off other screen display items as well. I'm sure you can. This unit is for people who want something a little cheaper, with loads of functionality, that looks pretty. The Xen is for people who take just what they need into the water with no bullshit. The Xen is MS-Dos whereas the XDeep is Windows 95. It feels more rounded and grown up but somehow less serious. It's more accessible for less experienced divers but some may find all the options a bit of fluff. That being said, Liquvision need to take a long look at the XDeep and learn from it, because if I were the developer behind the Xen, the XDeep would make me very nervous. If XDeep start adding things like shortcuts to reset the average depth or timer, and the ability to switch off the VSI then it will become a lot more attractive indeed. If they then start partnering with one of the flash looking divelog vendors and making it easy to upload dive information then it could be a market killer. The Xdeep Bottimer diver is available from Aquanauts in the UK and costs about £220.00