Cochran Commander II

Best in a very young field Cochran Comman der II
Jul 31 '01 (Updated Jul 31 '01)

Author's Product Rating
Product Rating: 4.0

Very accurate, frequent sampling, full featured.

Horrible software. Somewhat difficult to field program

The Bottom Line
The computer itself is excellent, though a bit too aggressive deco algorithm. The software is deeply hideous, but better or equal to the other dive computer's companion software.

Full Review
This review is actually about the Cochran Commander II which supersedes the Nitrox.

It all started when I decided I hated my dive log. I found it a completely unusable relic. On every dive I had to manually write in such things as gas/depth mixes and times, deco depths and times, etc. So I designed a new log. I built in as many shortcuts as possible to keep the logging process as thorough as I wanted, but as brief as possible.

All those handy places to write critical dive data into left me with one small problem: how do I get the information? I really didn't want to attach a calculator to my dive log when my dive computer had all this info I wanted stored in it's tiny-little brain.

But there was no way to get at the "live" dive data with my current computer, only the conclusions. I started comparison shopping. I had one major test, "How intuitive/many steps did it take to change the percentage of oxygen?" Trying to change your O2% on a driftwood-size boat in rough seas cannot, and should not, be a 24 step process. Pretty much every computer on the market failed the test. Is an induction dial too much to ask?

So I did a feature comparison and came up with the Cochran Commander II. I appreciated the frequency of it's sampling: once per second, static. I liked the ability to plug in two different gas mixes: I've been using nitrox for transport and air at depth lately. The software had more of the features than any of the others. The brochure said it could even export the live dive data to a tab-delimited spreadsheet.

I received the computer and software package about an hour before my plane took off to a diminutive speck on the sea where the english term, telecommunications, translates roughly into "two tin cans and a string." The dive computer worked as required. The software did not. It required a call to Texas to get a special registration number. There wasn't one included in the packaging! This call, made over a satellite link through three other countries, effectively doubled the price of the software.

Once I got the software to boot: I had to call again to figure out how to get it to recognize the dive computer through the serial port. Turns out you have to kill every running process that wasn't absolutely required. Now the price of the software is three times it's original cost.

I have seen my share of vertical, specialized-market software atrocities. In terms of bad user interface design, the Cochran Analyst software program is thing to behold. A human factors textbook could be written on just it, titled, "What not to do." It becomes clear that in order to get much meaning out of the dive data, I'll need to massage the data myself. A quick export to TDT (tab delimited text) and some data mining, and... what's this? Apparently you cannot export the data without purchasing an "Instructor" license. You can export the dive data to DAN .cci format--which is an undocumented multidimensional pipe-delimited flat file--if that means anything to you. Unfortunately, from the screen shots I've seen, all the other companion software for all the other dive computers are equally awful.

The computer, however, is very good. A bonus came from the much faster sample frequency. My old computer would tell me I was ascending too fast whenever I came out of a close-up dip. The Commander II gave vastly more accurate readings. It didn't have to assume that I will be continuing up at that rate for the next 20 seconds: or until however long it took until the next sample.

I added a 20% safety factor due to Cochran's overly aggressive deco algorithms. Even with this, it was still slightly more aggressive than most of the others.

Field programming the unit was somewhat troublesome. It relies on the different resistances between wet human fingers and metal. To program the unit you'll need strong, wet fingers and something metal. After a few frustrating searches through the boat for the correctly sized metal object, I zip-tied a bottle-opener to the console retraction cable. At times, if the contact with the metal object was imperfect, the computer would think it was a set of moist fingers and move on to the next parameter. When this happened, you had to start all over and cycle through the options.