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(Pocket-lint) - The Rival is Wahoo's long awaited foray into the fitness watch market. Rumours have been abound for years, so was the wait worth it, and has Wahoo used its long lead time to hone this watch into a well-defined final product?

Well, no, not just yet. It seems more work in progress than totally final. But there's enough on display here to make us think that Wahoo will get there in the end. Here's why and what to expect.

Leap of faith

The first thing to deal with is what the Rival is and what it isn't. It isn't a smartwatch. Sure, it has a few smartwatch features, but lacks most of what you might expect - heck, we don't think we've ever owned a digital watch that doesn't have an alarm on it, until now that is. 

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 13

So, if it isn't a smartwatch, it must be a fitness watch, right? Well, kind of, but it's not exactly that either. It doesn't offer sleep analytics and its step counter started out a little inaccurate, though an update seems to have fixed that since we first started testing.

But hang in there with us for a few minutes longer. Because, shocket, wWe really like this watch. In six months from now we think we'll like it even more. And in 12-18 months we hope we may even love it. There's a leap of faith involved here, but Wahoo has proved itself with its earlier Elemnt products - cycling computers that were fairly bare bones at launch, but developed incrementally into something more impressive.

Design and build

  • Measures: 46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3mm / Weighs: 53g
  • 1.2-inch display, 240 x 240 resolution
  • Strap options: Black, White
  • 5ATM waterproofing 
  • One size only

The Rival looks and feels like a premium watch. It's a little on the chucky side, particularly for those of us who are gym shy cyclists with our underdeveloped forearms, but its ceramic bezel smoothes that out nicely while protecting the screen. 

Size and weight it's slightly larger than Garmin's Forerunner 745, whereas the build quality feels as though it sits closer to the Garmin Fenix range. And if you've used a Fenix then you'll know that's a very good thing indeed.

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 11

There are five control buttons on the Rival used to navigate the menus and access all the features. There's no touchscreen, which for a sports orientated watch like this might be increasingly unusual - but we feel is right here. As with all other Wahoo products, you need to download the app to customise Rival, not that there's a whole lot of choices at the moment, with only two digital or analogue faces and a basic palate of colours being the limit.

Front and center visually is the 1.2-inch display, boasting 64 colours to show off your data, encased in scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. An ambient light sensor keeps the display at optimal levels, which we found during testing meant it was always easily readable, rain or shine. 

The quick-fit silicone strap is comfortable and keeps the Rival snugly wrapped on the arm. There is only one size of the watch, though, no smaller case model is available - so the scale may seem off on some wrists.

Features and performance

  • GPS & GLONASS satellite systems
  • Built-in heart rate monitor (HRM)
  • Accelerometer, altimeter

Onboard the Rival has the sensors to cover the basics of activity tracking: GPS tracking, a barometric altimeter, and an optical heart monitor.

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 3

We found that the GPS didn't keep us hanging around, picking up a signal within about 30 seconds of being outside, which is about par for the course. As for accuracy, the tracking data was pretty much spot on for both cycling and running when we compared it with a Garmin Forerunner 935 that we dual recorded our test activities with. 

The optical heart rate monitor proved itself to be reasonably accurate. As is the case with most wrist-based optical monitors, the Rival dropped out and spiked on occasions, particularly during higher intensity intervals. In short, you'll need to link to a chest strap if you want greater accuracy for your training programme, but the Rival does a good enough job to meet many people's needs. 

Custom activities and data fields can all be added and adjusted via the Wahoo app to further personalise the Rival. It can also be easily linked to other sensors such as Stryd's footpod, or your bike's power meter to further expand the data you record. 

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 10

When it comes to crunching all this data down and displaying it, we found that the Wahoo app felt rather bare compared to, say, Garmin Connect. Garmin users will be used to colourful infographics and tabulated data screens, plus insights into your V02 max, training effect, lactate threshold and more. 

Wahoo gives you a pared back view that covers each activity adequately enough, but doesn't offer anything further - and this may feel like a loss to people crossing over to Wahoo's platform. You can still sync with Strava though, so it might not be a bother to you.

As you'd expect for a triathlon focused watch, it has a 5ATM waterproof rating, which means it's good down to 50 metres in the open water, and safe for you to jump in the shower with.

It's in the triathlon arena that the Rival has a few standout features. We're lucky enough to have one of Wahoo's Roam bike computers, which means that we can pop this into "multi sport" mode and use it to mirror the Rival's display, which we found worked perfectly when transitioning from running to the bike during a brick session. 

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 2

The Rival will also show-off its standout feature at this point. Recording in duathlon mode, the Rival automatically detects the transition from running to the bike and switches over automatically - albeit 30 seconds or so after we'd started pedalling in our testing. Of course you can just manually do this, but this feature removes the chance of you forgetting to do so, or making a hash of the button presses as you go from T1 to T2. We think that the touchless transition is a great little innovation by Wahoo that triathletes will find particularly valuable.

Battery life

  • Claims: 14 days (as smartwatch), up to 24 hours (with GPS or HRM)

Wahoo is stretching things a little with its battery claims. The advantage of not having any widgets on board to fiddle with is that you don't drain the battery absent mindedly, but still, we found that a week was about the limit when we were recording an hour of tracking a day. That feels reasonable, without being spectacular, and puts it slightly above par compared to similar watches.

Pocket-lintWahoo Elemnt Rival photo 8

Naturally, Wahoo has created its own charger for the Rival, so you'll have one more wire to clutter your drawers with. It's a slightly fiddly affair and feels a bit lightweight and plasticky compared to the overall quality of the Rival itself, but that's a minor gripe.

Verdict

The Rival isn't the easiest watch to review because it still feels like a work in progress - and for some people that will be an immediate turn off. Part of what we're reviewing here is Wahoo and its commitment to taking the Rival from where it's started and where we believe it will get to.

At the moment, we're enjoying wearing the Rival just as it is. It does all of the sports tracking that we need and we found that those other features that are missing, well, we just didn't really miss them that much. 

If you're looking for a smartwatch that performs a wider breadth of of activity tracking and has a deeper-dive app system then this definitely isn't for you. But if you're looking for a serious sports watch that will continue to develop new features over time, then the Rival is an investment that we think will grow.

Also consider

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Garmin Forerunner 745

A similar size but with Garmin's more tried and tested Connect software platform. The price is more or less the same though.

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Polar Grit X

As a sports watch option for the lovers of the outdoors, this Polar Grit X does a decent job, but there's certainly room for some of its more unique features to grow. A similar prospect, then, and also at a similar price.

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Writing by Jon Hicks. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 26 May 2021.