My new dive computer requirements
Seabear H3 dive computer
Seabear H3 features
Seabear H3 pricing
The T1 computers was quickly discontinued but the H3 is still for sale as long as stocks last. An announcement from Scubapro / Johnson Outdoors regarding the future of Seabear and the H3 dive computer is expected at the annual DEMA show in November 2016. Your best source right now for information about the H3 is most likely the thread on the Scubaboard forum.
Selecting the H3
Using the H3
After a long and anxious wait I finally received my computer. It was brought by a diving guest coming while I was in Vanuatu. But the guest first missed his flight connection, and then left his bag with the computer in the taxi after arriving in Vanuatu… Luckily the taxi driver dropped the bag off next day. Thank god for honest people in the world!
Setting up the H3
The H3 was delivered in a simple box. Included in the box are also the proprietary USB cable and and strap extension for (presumably) drysuit use.
After unboxing I prepared the H3 for its first dive. Recharging was a breeze using the supplied USB cable. However adjusting the settings proved to be a bit of an inconvenient process due the menu design and functionality. This as after adjusting a setting the computer reverts back to the main screen so you need to access the menu again to adjust the next setting.
You can scroll through the various screens, menus and select options using the two buttons left and right on the computer. The buttons are small but easy to use. What is a nice touch that a ‘hint’ is provided on the screen showing what button does what.
An important setting in the computer is how conservative the No Decompression Time (NDT) and decompression schedule/time are calculated. Although dive decompression modeling is a very interesting subject, and I can fully recommend learning more about it, discussing it in detail is outside the scope of this review. On the popular Bühlmann ZH-L16c decompression algorithm the H3 uses this can be done by adjusting the Gradient Factors (GF). The Gradient Factors are set in pairs (GF High and Low). You can select 4 preset conservatism levels for the GF pairs, or fully user adjust both GF High and GF Low separately.
Please only adjust the Gradient Factors if you have a proper understanding of decompression theory and followed specific diving training for decompression diving!
Diving with the H3
The next day I jumped into the water to make my first dive. Putting the H3 on was easy, the strap is a nice big design and has a bit of elasticity in it to compensate for wetsuit compression. Personally I would prefer if a bungee mounting option was also available. The compact size of the computer makes it really comfortable and unobtrusive to wear, and belies the complex technical dive computer it is.
Upon entering the water the H3 dive computer mode starts automatically if you have selected this option on the menu, or you can start it manually by pressing the left button a few seconds.
The display was generally very clear and relatively easy to read out. What I really like is the option between the ‘basic’ and ‘detailed’ display options, making the best use of the relatively compact screen.
During the dive you can select to have the most significant information clearly presented, and switch to a second page if you need more detailed information. I feel computers like for instance the Petrel or OSTC try to display a lot of information on one page, thereby sometimes making it appear cluttered and hard to distinguish the more important information.
Next to the ‘basic’ and ‘detailed’ dive information screen you also have a page displaying your dive profile and one with the compass. What I really like that on the profile and compass page the H3 also displays your depth and dive time so that these are always easy accessible.
The compass screen is very clearly laid out, and the compass performed comparable to my Suunto SK7, one of the best and most popular dive compasses.
There is however also some criticism towards the screen. In shallower tropical conditions the bright sunlight can wash the display out. Although this is more a generic issue with OLED/TFT screens, just think of your smartphone in bright sunny weather.
Some smaller numbers on the screen can be hard to read due to font size and/or color, especially with the low contrast of red on a black background. It is also not the highest resolution screen compared to for instance Heinrichs Weikamp and Shearwater which produce somewhat ‘smoother’ fonts.
Dive information displayed
During the dive the H3 performed as expected from a modern dive computer. All the required information is present and easy to read or access by scrolling to a different display. Important information such as the depth and No Decompression Time (NDT) turn to red once you approach the limits. This being pPO becoming too high for the gas and depth, or NDT approaching zero.
The computer also has an descent and more importantly an ascent indicator on the display. This changes color from green to yellow to red as your ascent speed increases next to showing you ascent speed, and give an audible ‘beep’ when you go too fast.
Upon ascending shallower than 6 meters depth the H3 will count down a 3 minute safety stop, if you have selected this option from the menu.
In my use of the H3 I virtually all of the time use the ‘basic’ dive information display as that gives me the most important information I need. What I also really appreciate about the ‘basic’ display that next to the dive time it also continuously shows me the current time (small numbers on top right quadrant). As as dive guide with often a day schedule to manage it great to always be aware of the time!
Nitrox, multi-gas and decompression diving
I have not done Nitrox or multiple gas diving with the H3 yet so cannot comment how the computer works in this aspect.
However I have done decompression diving with it (only recommended after following the proper dive training). After your NDT drops to zero and the dive becomes a decompression dive the display will add some information. First you will be shown your ceiling, above which you should not ascend. Secondly you will see a Time To Surface (TTS) indicator. The TTS shows the time you need to get to the surface, taking into account your ascend speed, decompression stops, and recommended safety stop (if selected as option). Furthermore an extra display will be added which you can scroll to showing the full decompression schedule.
The decompression schedule will of course be calculated according how you set the Gradient Factors (GF), more conservative or aggressive.
I have done some limited freediving with the H3. With limited being more a result from my limitations in time and ability than anything else.
Again the H3 performs as can be expected from a modern dive computer. During the dive it shows current, maximum and average depth, and dive time. During the surface interval it displays the maximum depth and dive time of your last dive, and the current Surface Interval (SI) time.
Logbook & dive download
You can review your dives using the logbook function. This will show you all the important data from a dive and the dive profile. When accessing the logbook you are presented with a display showing you the information from a dive. Using the left and right buttons you can scroll to earlier or later dives. By pressing the left button longer a dive profile for that page will be shown.
The logbook function has quite a short time-out, after which the H3 returns to the main display. This can be quite annoying when you are reviewing dives.
Also it appears the profile data for freediving dives is not correctly displayed.
You can download dive data from the H3 for use on dive logging software on your home computer. This can be done with the supplied proprietary USB cable. The H3 is seen by your home computer as a mass storage device (like an USB stick) so you can copy-paste the dive data files. Each dive has its own individual data file. The files are in the .CSV format which can be opened with an spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel.
At the time of my original review there was no dive logging software that could extract and display the data from the files correctly. At the time of this re-edited review the latest version of both MacDive and Subsurface (I’m a Mac user) are able to read the Seabear files.
I did however encounter some issues when disconnecting the H3 from my Mac with either the H3 resetting itself or my Mac showing an error message.
The H3 can also transfer data using a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip to an NFC enabled device. Seabear have released an app for Android phones to download dive data. On iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) the NFC functionalities have been limited by Apple for security reasons. There is a workaround to download dive data from the H3 to a Apple device.
A year with the Seabear H3 – The good and the bad
So after almost a year and over a 100 dives with the H3 what do I think of it? Lets have a look at the good and the bad….
+ Compact size factor.
+ Feature set is close to a combination of the best watch sized and technical diving computers.
+ Amount of information available on compact screen(s).
+ Great integrated compass.
+ Easily rechargeable battery, no compartments to be opened by user. Charges quickly (ca 2-3 hrs).
+ Potential to be a great ‘all in one’ dive computer for free-, recreational and technical diving.
– Resolution screen seems (is) lower than competitors.
– Sometimes too small/thin a font is used making it hard to read (for example ‘extended’ information page, decompression schedule), especially if the font color offers a low contrast (red on black background).
– The display is hard to read in bright conditions but this is generic OLED/TFT screen weakness. I’m not sure if the brightness is adjusted automatically using an ambient light sensor, it appears not to be.
– A potential issue: the lack of charging possibility if the proprietary USB cable gets lost or breaks. I requested a spare when I ordered my H3 but this was not available yet.
– Battery life seems to be shorter than the advertised 15 hrs. However I have not measured this accurately.
– Due to sealed design no possibility to change battery when no charging facility available.
– The dive profile for apnea dives seems to miss data points when displayed on the logbook pag in the H3. It becomes a very rough/staircase profile as opposed to a smooth profile. It appears to only use a datapoint every 5 seconds, which is the sampling rate for OC, as opposed to one every second which is the sampling rate for apnea mode.
– The H3 often registers short & shallow dives (say shallower than 1,5 mtr and 1 minute) as a dive. It is clear that these are not dives, but for instance the computer registering the diver entering the water from the boat and submerging shortly following a giant stride or back roll.
– The H3 fully resets (losing settings and tissue info) when ejected using the ‘eject’ command from my MacBook. If I eject the H3 by pushing the ‘exit’ button on the H3 my MacBook reports that the H3 was not ejected properly, although the H3 then seems not to reset.
– NFC is not a very universal technology to transfer dive data to other devices. Bluetooth as used by Heinrichs Weikamp and Shearwater is a better choice.
Next to this there are several points I can’t really call weaknesses as I feel they don’t really limit the functionality of the dive computer. These are mainly points to do with the User Interface (UI). However I do feel that addressing these points will substantially improve the user experience of the H3.
I have not done any more advanced multi-gas decompression or rebreather dives with the Seabear H3 (yet). Therefor I cannot comment on any strengths or weaknesses coming forward from this type of diving.
There are various things I would like to see fixed, improved, or added in features. These are a result from my own initial experience with the H3. But also from seeing what features technical diving and ‘all in one’ watch-sized dive computers seem to offer. Due to lack of personal experiences these features are what I could find from competitors manuals when I was researching my computer purchase.
I have ordered my improvements in categories, basically ranging from ‘must have’ to ‘nice to have’. This was done somewhat subjectively, according to how much these points ‘annoyed’ me while using the H3.
Firmware and User Interface
These points are what I consider ‘bugs’ or faults in the H3 that require fixing.
* Issues regarding disconnecting the H3 from a Mac computer.
* Discarding short & shallow dives from being registered as a dive.
* Correct the missing data points when displaying the free/diving apnea dive profiles.
Current issues in User Interface
With this points I feel the user interface is wrongly designed at the moment, and this is a negative factor in the user experience.
* Change the smaller/thinner fonts. Suggest to make this a larger/thicker fonts, or a lighter (more orange?) color to improve contrast.
* After a selection in a menu make a return to the previous (level up) menu page standard instead of going back to the main (dive) screen.
* No time-out when viewing the logbook so that it jumps back to main (dive) screen.
Suggested improvements for the User Interface
These are points in the user interface which are not really hindering the user experience. Improving them however will substantially increase the user experience.
*Display the upcoming decompression stop time more clearly. It is now only shown on the decompression schedule page. But it is somewhat ‘lost’ there between the other stops and as a result of the smallish font used. The ‘basic’ and ‘detailed’ dive info page only show the ceiling and Time To Surface (TTS) information. You only know that your decompression stop at that depth is done when the ceiling changes to a shallower depth.
Suggestions are; That this combined ceiling and TTS data switch to a single larger font decompression stop countdown (as done for the safety stop) on reaching the stop depth; or on the page with the decompression schedule display the upcoming stop in a larger font than the later stops (as is shown on some illustrations in the manual, see page 60 as opposed to page 54).
* The two decimal depth information is not really needed (I’m using metric units). This results in a constantly changing number and is causing ‘unrest’ in the screen. One decimal number should be good enough (as is shown in illustrations in the manual).
* I suggest an easier overview for the logbook, for instance a main page with 5 dives per page with one line with date/depth/time per dive. In this way you can more easily and quicker scroll through your dive history and find the specific dive you are looking for. And once you found this dive, then select the dive to see a page with the dive information and a page with the profile. This is the way the Heinrichs Weikamp OSTC computers do it and seems more convenient.
* Make it easy to mark a heading by pressing one button press when using compass screen. This instead of needing to go to the navigation menu as is required now.
* Just an aesthetic request, a bit more detailed or ‘nicer’ looking battery status. For instance: 10% bars; a % indicator; a gradual bar. The currently used ‘1/3rds’ bars of the battery indicator look a bit rough and ‘cheap’.
* Another aesthetic one, on the watch display several numerals (‘5’ and ‘7’) seems to be just a bit smaller than the others on the time display. But they seem the same size on the date display? Looks a bit messy…
* Possibility to set the alarm clock from watch mode as well, so no need to start the dive computer mode.
* Move (or add) temperature read-out to the ‘detailed’ dive information page, that seems a more logical place (and is shown there in the manual on page 60 and 64) than (only) the dive profile page where it is currently displayed.
Additional features request
These points are not an improvement of the current user interface. Instead these are requests for additional and new features to be added to the Seabear H3 where I feel it is lacking against competitors.
* Auto brightness adaption option for the display. For this an ambient light sensor must present in the hardware which I do not know if it is.
*A dive planner mode. Seabear Diving state (after I contacted them before my purchase) that they feel this is not necessary nowadays as most people use laptops or apps for dive planning. That might be so, but I feel an advanced computer like this should have this option. All the software seems in place and the main competitors have it. Furthermore it is an useful feature so you don’t have to get your tablet/smartphone/laptop out on a dive site. And most importantly your dive computer has your tissue information when planning a repetitive dive.
This request has partially been filled in by the simulator mode added in the latest firmware. This simulator does however not offer the flexibility and ease of use as the dive planners on Heinrichs Weikamp and Shearwater computers.
* The @ 5min TTS forecast as present on Heinrichs Weikamp and Shearwater computers.
* Select the depth for last deco stop (3 or 6 mtr), a standard feature on most technical dive computers.
* An apnea countdown on the surface, with a beep when finished as on Suunto D series.
* An apnea ventiltion cycles timer as on Suunto D series.
* Apnea depth alarms as on Suunto D series.
These improvement points are most likely harder to implement than the user interface improvements. Hopefully some of these points can be incorporated in a future update of the H3, possibly following the Scubapro takeover.
* A bungee mount option, for instance a little adapter you can place between the lugs over the spring-bar.
* An ambient light sensor for screen (if not present already?).
* A higher resolution screen.
* Improved battery life (?).
* Change the NFC data transfer method to Bluetooth.
Conclusion and recommendation
My initial conclusion: The Seabear H3 is a very well specified and competent dive computer in a great form factor. It is suitable for all types of diving from beginner level to advanced technical diving and thus a great ‘all in one’ to grow with your diving career. Looking at the dive computer market right now, there is no competitor offering this combination of form and features.
But right now I feel it still is slightly ‘buggy’ and held back by an user interface that in my opinion need further development to improve the user experience and ease of use. I assume this can be mostly be solved with firmware updates.
It feels a bit like it is still in development, which it probably is seeing the relative newness of Seabear Diving and the H3. The takeover by Scubapro is however an unknown factor in this. Will Scubapro abandon the H3 or put its larger resources into further unlocking the potential of this computer?
There are some trade-offs in hardware (screen size and resolution, battery size) made to get the compact form factor. I think it is a personal choice for each diver where their preferences lie, and if these trade-offs are acceptable in light of these preferences.
If you’re looking for a ‘watch’ size computer suitable for doing both recreational, technical and freediving the H3 is a fine choice. This on the assumption that some more development with regards to user interface is done. With the Scubapro takeover this development is an unknown at the moment.
When I compare the price of the H3 to competitors in this specific field such as the Suunto D6i and DX I believe it offers good value. The Nitrox version of the H3 is close in price and features compared to the D6i. The possible software upgrade to adding the Trimix/Rebreather mode is a nice growth option when compared to buying a new computer. The Trimix/Rebreather H3 variant is priced slightly cheaper than the DX. However the DX does not offer a dedicated freediving mode.
Also in both cases the Seabear H3 offers the nice OLED color screen and a more recommended and adjustable decompression algorithm than the Suunto computers.
If you want a computer for only technical use the Heinrich Weikamp OSTC and Shearwater models might be better choices. The trade-offs of the H3 made for the compact form factor seem to have more negative impact for this use.
Also at the initial sales price the Seabear was priced a bit higher than its competitors. The Trimix/Rebreather version was close to 1.000 Euro against the around 800 Euro price level of other technical dive computers.
Personally, following the time of purchase in July 2015 of the H3 I have had no regrets in my choice for this dive computer. But I was and still am 50/50 on whether the Heinrichs Weikamp OSTC3 or OSTC Sport would have been a better choice. Then again, I would have probably wondered the same if I had chosen same the other way around….
At that time it was taking into account that the H3 was probably still a maturing product. And that firmware updates would address the various issues and improvements. However with the current Scubapro takeover the impact on the Seabear H3 development and support is unknown. Therefore I recommend to wait with a potential purchase of the Seabear H3 until the future of this model is clear.
Also release of the Shearwater Perdix at the end of 2015 has changed the marketplace somewhat. This model offers the great features and support of Shearwater computers in a more compact form. Although it is still larger than watch or puck sized computers, and not a true ‘all in one’ computer due to the lack of a freediving mode.
If I am somewhat harsh in my review of the H3 it is because I feel the great potential of this computer is hampered by relatively minor user interface issues which do impact the user experience. These can be relatively easily addressed with firmware releases. I also realize that no dive computer is perfect and we all can probably name improvements for each computer we use.
Also I am aware that Seabear and the H3 are relatively new to the market compared to competitors like Shearwater and Heinrichs Weikamp. They also needed time to develop and mature their products. But right now I feel a bit of a ‘beta’ tester sometimes!
But seeing this newness the H3 is a remarkable good effort, and I hope that Scubapro will stand behind it and keep developing it to address the points I made.
See my comments as a well mentioned helping hand to make the H3 an even better dive computer. Also if some of the comments made are a result of ‘user error’ please feel free to correct me on this!
Menno has had the travel bug ever since spending his childhood in the tropics. In 2013 he left his office career and is now diving and sailing the world.
He enjoys sharing the beautiful underwater world and exploring remote islands. He gets his kicks when he can help fellow travelers have an amazing life-changing experience.