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iGills new app and waterproof case for iPhone – pros and cons

iGills case

It isn’t the first waterproof case made for the iphone (e.g. Pelican has had one for years at around $40 but it is a case only, nothing more.) It isn’t even the first to allow limited access to certain controls (the Seashell for around $130 has buttons to control the camera.) But according to a brief scan of  the company’s website and a variety of other online reviews, the new iGills device and software takes the underwater iPhone idea to an entirely new level.

igillsFor starters, iGills connects digitally to the iphone via the 30-pin dock connector, apparently a first for the breed (searching for others turned up zilch.)

That opens up iGills to a range of functions not possible with other iPhone underwater housings. This increased connectivity, coupled with the iGills app (available free on the iPhone App Store) gives iGills the power to turn an iPhone into a fully fledged dive computer.

Compare that to the competition, such as the Seashell (below, right.) The Seashell is limited to commanding the iPhone computer via its three through-housing mechanical buttons. For an analogy, imagine trying to communicate with someone on the other side of a thick glass wall with nothing but sign language and Morse code taps on the window, compared to having a direct telephone connection.seashell

In addition to having a direct digital tap into the iPhone’s computer, the iGill housing also includes a high-accuracy depth and temperature sensor as well as its own on-board computer. This effectively extends the iPhone’s already impressive hardware capabilities (e.g. accelerometer, GPS locator, etc.) allowing iGill to make the following list of claims about it’s dive computer on its technical specifications page:

  • Full featured non-air integrated recreational dive computer
  • Air, Nitrox, and gauge modes
  • Buhlmann ZH-L16, 16 compartment algorithm
  • Halftimes: 5, 8, 12.5, 18.5, 27, 38.3, 54.3, 77, 109, 146, 187, 239, 305, 390, 498, 635 minutes
  • N2 Loading tracked for 24 hours after last dive
  • Configurable metric or imperial units for depth and temperature
  • Automatic altitude compensation
  • Surface interval clock
  • Ascent and nitrogen loading indicators
  • Safety stop countdown
  • Visible alerts for Depth, NoDeco, MOD

app-4The app also uses the iPhone’s compass, and will grab your coordinates via GPS before you go under, and then build a dive report based on what you do. It’s a little like a cycling or running tracker app, only for the vasty deeps.

So, those are some of the “pros.”

There are also some “cons,” which fact becomes quickly apparent as soon as you google for some user reviews. It seems the chief complaints come from divers worried about the safety implications of the way iGills is marketing its new device as a stand-alone dive computer.

One argument concerns battery life: the iPhone has many other functions that compete with its function as a dive computer, such as operating the still and video camera. Those other functions could accidentally drain the battery and leave the diver without a dive computer.

Another argument concerned waterproofing. Since the iGills employs a clamshell-type closure designed for ease of opening above water, it is subject to the same faults of all clamshell-type closures, namely that the o-ring seal in the rim can leak if even only a tiny particle such as a grain of sand becomes accidentally wedged against it. If it leaks, the iPhone could fail and again leave the diver without a dive computer.

Other “cons” I ran across concerned the quality of the iPhone as an underwater camera (a critique those same divers could make of any of the many other iPhone housing/camera casings such as the Seashell).

Not having tried out any of these competing methods of adapting the iPhone for underwater use I can’t offer an opinion. I think for those who dive often, purchasing equipment specifically designed for the rigors and safety concerns of scuba makes sense. It will certainly set you back more than the $330 price of the iGills but you will have peace of mind both for your own safety and that of your equipment.

On the other hand, for the very occasional diver, faced with the choice between purchasing a cheap underwater point-and-shoot camera versus the iGills for close to the same cost, the iGills could be the best deal. On the other hand, taking your iPhone into the deep could cost you greatly if it leaks. It might be a tough call.

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