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Wahoo Elemnt Rival
What we like
What we don't like
Wahoo Elemnt Rival
The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is the brand’s first stab at a multisport watch. While it is particularly focused on triathletes, it has a range of additional features that seek to appeal to a wider audience. Yet, this device has little to help it stand out among the competition, and it omits many features that have become standard. That said, those invested in the Wahoo ecosystem and/or committed to triathlon training may find some things to like here.
Get all the details in our full Wahoo Elemnt Rival review below.
Design and interface
The Rival makes a good first impression thanks to its attractive packaging and sturdy design. The watch itself is nothing special in terms of appearance, but it does feel weighty and well-made. Available in two colors, the Rival has a scuff-resistant ceramic bezel and Gorilla Glass screen. It is light at 53g, and while I didn’t love the silicone strap, it is easy to swap out since it uses the 22mm industry standard. The bezel is nice and glossy too, which gives it a more premium feel.
See also: The best fitness trackers you can buy
There are five buttons for navigation, each of which is big and chunky, and easy to click when wearing gloves. Wahoo wins points for that one! Also clever is the ability to long-press the top left button to lock input, preventing accidental interactions. Additionally, it’s possible to zoom in on specific data fields during a run, which is handy.
The watch is available in two colors: Kona White and Stealth Gray. Mine is the Stealth Gray model.
Yet, dig a little deeper and the cracks start to show. The 1.2-inch screen, while plenty bright, is also highly reflective. This makes reading in direct sunlight a bit of a chore.
In contrast to most smartwatches these days, there’s no touchscreen here. While touchscreens can be fiddly during a run, they’re very welcome the rest of the time and certainly speed up navigation. Given that the Rival is not a budget device, this feels like a glaring omission. Almost as glaring as that screen!
Something else that feels “off” is the heart rate sensor. Take this watch off your wrist and the green light will continue blinking as it tries to find a pulse. This is unusual, as most watches will detect that they have been removed and thus stop the flickering. Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it presumably means the battery life could have been longer. It also means you’ll need to leave the watch in a different room at night when you take it off your wrist unless you like sleeping in a rave. This suggests a serious lack of attention to detail.
On the plus side, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is extremely easy to use, with minimal menus. This keeps the focus where it should be: on the track. This is an area where other trackers fall short. However, it’s not an excuse for such a lackluster selection of features, which we’ll get to in a moment. The navigation is necessarily simple, seeing as there’s not much you can actually do. Some buttons feel almost entirely redundant, in fact.
Wahoo Elemnt Rival features
More important than design and interface is the feature set. Unfortunately, the device is seriously lacking in this area. This becomes immediately apparent when you start navigating the watch interface and realize there’s not much to see.
Here are some features you won’t find on the Wahoo Elemnt Rival:
- Sleep tracking
- Heart rate variability
- Stress tracking
- Recovery levels/training load
- Activity auto-detection
- Any sort of guided breathing
- Third-party apps
- Guided workouts
- Route planning
In terms of smartphone features, you get the ability to see notifications. That’s it.
In short, this watch is good for activity tracking, but not much else. You could argue that this is a good thing, as it keeps the focus on what it does best. However, that extra data is useful for athletes too. After all, knowing how well-rested you are can be essential in guiding your next workout. Any serious athlete understands that you can’t separate your lifestyle from your fitness regime. Even if your interest is purely in running triathlons, you should still supplement your practice with additional training. Having some guided HIIT workouts or recovery sessions would therefore be welcome.
The Elemnt Rival simply doesn’t keep up with the athletic lifestyle. And it certainly doesn’t do enough as a general fitness tracker, which it seems to want to be. Wahoo describes it as a multisport GPS watch, after all.
The Elemnt Rival simply doesn’t keep up with the athletic lifestyle.
This may be mitigated if you have a second device for all that other stuff (perhaps a ring) but this shouldn’t be an issue at all for a watch that’s this expensive. It also means you probably wouldn’t want to wear this watch when you aren’t training. You’ll likely leave it in a drawer somewhere blinking away.
Wahoo has told me that they intend to get around to adding some extra features (sleep tracking as a priority), but they were unable to give me a timeline. I’ll update this Wahoo Elemnt Rival review as soon as I get that information. However, you should never buy a product based on what it promises to become. You must buy it based on what it is right now. Even if Wahoo knuckles down and gets to work on the missing features right away, it’s going to take a long time before this is anywhere near as competitive as something like the Garmin Fenix 6. Right now, there’s really not much here for the asking price.
Battery life is solid. Wahoo claims it should last you around 14 days in smartwatch mode or 24 hours with GPS tracking turned on. I’ve found this to be accurate. Over the last ten days, I’ve taken the device out for two runs, two long walks, and two calisthenics workouts. It has yet to die on me. That said, it has also spent a lot of time sitting on the side due to the extremely limited utility outside of training.
The Elemnt Rival features ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity which lets it easily pair with many of Wahoo’s other offerings.
Wahoo Elemnt Rival specs
|Wahoo Elemnt Rival|
Dimensions and weight
46.5 x 46.5 x 12.5mm
Nylon polymer case, ceramic bezel, Gorilla Glass display (unspecified), two color options
1.2-inch color LCD
240 x 240 resolution
~14 days with normal usage
~24 hours with GPS turned on
Heart rate, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, GPS and GLONASS, ambient light sensor, compass
In terms of sports profiles, the following come as standard:
- Lap swimming
- Open water swimming
Kickr is a device from Wahoo that turns your regular bike into a stationary bike. Integration with other Wahoo products is one of the big selling points of the Rival. If you are invested in Wahoo’s ecosystem, you might appreciate the ability to integrate with an Elemnt bike computer. This way, you can view the data on the screen rather than glance at your watch while riding. This also includes a “Multisport Handover” feature, meaning you can go for a run and then see that data added to your bike metrics on the screen.
The Rival can also sync up with the Tickr X via ANT+ in order to display real-time information about cadence and pace when running. Additionally, you can broadcast the heart rate data to other devices, or synchronize with them as a power meter. That’s pretty cool for any serious cyclists (although seeing that info on the bike computer is probably more useful).
What’s more, you can add from a vast range of additional workout profiles using the app. Clearly, Wahoo wants to cater to a larger audience, or at least let users do more than just one sport. This includes some less-common profiles such as aquathlon and aquabike. Trail running is also welcome for yours truly.
Triathletes also get some special attention here, thanks to the other big selling point called “Touchless Transition.” This means that triathletes can effectively “set and forget” the Rival with no need to switch manually between swim, bike, and run modes. As far as I’m aware, this is a unique feature that really sets the Rival apart.
Touchless Transition is a unique feature that really sets the Rival apart.
Unfortunately, I was not able to test this feature. My plans to borrow a bike and head to the open water swimming lake near me were foiled by COVID-19. However, reports from other users are positive, and it seems that the feature works as advertised. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it’s certainly fit for the purpose. Whether the convenience of not having to hit a single button to transition between modes is enough of a selling point is up to you.
Accuracy and data
Tracking has been something of a mixed bag. That is to say, it’s good when it’s working. For the most part, the Rival was on a par with my Apple Watch 5 as compared with the Polar H10 heart rate monitor. That was a relief since there is only one sensor on the heart rate monitor.
We use this method for testing as chest-worn straps are always more accurate than wrist-worn devices (closer to the source). It is possible to pair the Wahoo with a chest strap, too.
The same goes for the GPS, which matched nicely with the reliable Apple Watch on a 5km run and two walks.
Here is a comparison showing data from the Rival (purple) vs the Apple Watch (blue) and Polar H10 (orange):
As you can see, neither device was able to perfectly keep up with the H10, but they both coped fairly well. The Apple watch had a slight advantage in the GPS department.
One issue arose when I wanted to go on a run. I found myself waiting around for the watch to find GPS. That hasn’t happened to me since I used the first Microsoft Band around six years ago. This is a serious annoyance if you find yourself standing in the cold waiting to get moving.
More troubling is the occasional hiccups I experienced. During a short high-intensity functional training session, the heart rate monitor had a… moment. I wasn’t comparing the device with anything else at this point, but halfway through the workout my heart rate apparently fell off a cliff edge — going from 155bpm to 59bpm in the space of a few seconds. I feel confident in saying that this did not happen.
The same thing happened again during a run, where it apparently jumped from 84bpm to over 150bpm. I was running constantly during this time, so there’s no reason anything like that should have happened. Either the Rival was playing up, or I seriously need to see a doctor.
While these events are the exception and not the rule, they affect the calculations for average heart rate, making the device unreliable. If you’re a professional athlete, you need something that will track your progress consistently and reliably. Right now, that’s not the case for the Rival.
The tracking simply isn't reliable enough to be useful.
Also worth mentioning is that the estimated calorie burn was much higher for each workout compared to other apps. There’s even a notice explaining that this is because different apps use different methods to calculate burned calories. While this is a fair statement, the estimates were definitely on the high side here. I feel this could be misleading for a beginner looking to lose weight.
There’s potential. For now, however, the tracking simply isn’t reliable enough to be useful, and that’s a big problem.
The Wahoo Elemnt app
Another nice addition is live tracking in the Wahoo Elemnt app. It shows you precisely where you are at a glance. This can also be shared with others, allowing family to keep tabs on you during runs.
The data you get after a run is comprehensive too: you’ll see your distance, total time moving, average and max pace, ascent and descent, calorie burn, heart rate zone breakdown, cadence, laps, and more. There’s nothing unusual or outstanding. However, everything you’d expect is present and correct. Data can be exported to other apps like Strava, MyFitnessPal, Apple Health, and RunGap, too.
This is all presented very nicely, and the app is extremely clean and easy to read. I’m a big fan of the large fonts and the high-contrast color scheme. Even onboarding was good — using a QR code to instantly pair the device and app (although it did crash during the subsequent update). This may sound minor but it’s far from a given when it comes to fitness trackers. That said, it is partly down to the sparse amount of features and settings. You quickly get the feeling that there’s not that much to do.
The app is where you’ll be able to tweak the small number of settings available on the watch. You can customize the watch face, change between metric and imperial units, etc. That’s about it. There are very few settings to change, no handy insights or tips, and no social features beyond seeing other people on their runs.
Pricing and availability
The Wahoo Elemnt Rival costs $379.99 in the US. It’s €379.99 and £349.99 in Europe and the UK, respectively. The Rival is not currently available through Amazon but can be bought directly from Wahoo, or from other outdoor retailers.
At this price, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is not much more affordable than the impressive Garmin Fenix 6. The Fenix 6 comes with a much wider range of features, more data, a nicer design, and even a longer battery life. The Fenix 5 is more affordable still ($299.99), with many of the same features and an identical battery life to the Rival.
The Rival also comparable with the Polar Grit X ($429.95) which isn’t perfect either, but certainly has more features (and insanely good battery life). That said, the Elemnt Rival does have a USP in its Touchless Transition feature and its compatibility with other Wahoo devices. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it anywhere else.
Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: The verdict
Overall, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is let down by a severe lack of functionality. There is some good stuff here: the clean interface, Touchless Transition, and some thoughtful design touches. Yet ultimately, it’s hard to recommend a watch at this price without basic features like sleep tracking or guided workouts. There are no useful insights from the data either. It won’t tell you the number of floors you climbed throughout a day, for example (despite a built-in altimeter). Throw in some issues with the heart rate data, and that’s a problem.
If you’re heavily invested in the Wahoo ecosystem, and you’re only looking for something that shows data on your wrist while you run, the Wahoo may be up your street. Those in the market for a general multisport watch should keep looking.
So, to conclude our Wahoo Elemnt Rival review, this device doesn’t hit it out of the park. Nevertheless, there are bright spots here, so I hope that Wahoo will continue down this track and build upon these foundations.