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Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL | Full review, features and opinion

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After many years of rumors, leaks at the FCC (it has already been registered in... ¡2018!), back and forth... finally Wahoo introduced the ELEMNT RIVAL at the end of last year.

It was their first watch, for a company that was already well on its way to market growth through smart rollers first and cyclocomputers later. But it was still the first watch they had ever made, something that was noticeable when the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL came on the market.

The ELEMNT RIVAL is a watch focused primarily on triathlon, so it is also perfectly valid for swimming, cycling and running. But as I say it is a watch that came to the market being quite limited, so much so that I titled the presentation article as "the triathlon watch you are NOT going to buy". At least at the time.

The reason was the lack of features it had at the time, there were many shortcomings of fairly basic functions. But the project was promising; for build quality, price and for the brand that was behind it all. And today, almost a year later, the situation has changed a lot.

The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL you will see in the review was purchased by me through traditional distribution channels. In fact I have yet to find a way to contact Wahoo directly (Wahoo, if you read this, send me a telegram, fax or smoke message...). I actually bought it as soon as the watch became available in white finish (whim). 

Why not publish the analysis until now? Because at the time the watch was quite green, and spending resources on a watch that I knew had (should have) to improve in many aspects seemed like a waste to me.

But enough of introductions, let's get straight to what the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL has to offer and what it still lacks.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL

Overall operation - 7.5
Training possibilities - 7.5
Platform and applications - 8.5
Battery life - 8.5
Finishes and comfort - 9.5
Price/performance ratio - 7

8.1

TOTAL

Wahoo's first GPS watch, does it measure up to the rest of its competition, and can it be RIVAL to the competition? That is what I will try to define throughout this detailed analysis.

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The good

  • Automatic transitions for triathlon
  • Constant updates
  • Full compatibility with TrainingPeaks
  • Very reasonable price
  • Good materials and construction quality

The bad

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  • Limited in activity tracking and training/rest load metrics
  • No alerts during activity (and no alerts for interval training)
  • Limitations on notifications

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL, features and specifications

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Wahoo ELEMNT Rival

Before we talk about all the specific details of the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL it is best to get to know all of its features and specifications. That way you'll know what we're talking about, what it has and what it doesn't, because it will be something I'll be referring to in the review on several occasions. Let's get to it:

  • 46.5mm diameter, 15.3mm thick
  • 53 grams of weight
  • 1.2″ color transflective screen, 240×240 pixels resolution
  • Gorilla Glass lens, control via 5 buttons (the screen is not touch-enabled)
  • Ceramic bezel, plastic watch case
  • Barometric altimeter
  • GPS-based digital compass (without magnetic compass)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Optical pulse sensor for training and daily monitoring
  • Battery life: 24 hours with GPS use, 2 weeks in watch mode and daily activity tracking
  • Compatible with Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors (including ANT+ FE-C)
  • Intelligent roller control via FE-C level mode, ERG and passive mode
  • Allows you to transmit heart rate, running pace and running cadence via Bluetooth and ANT+ - New
  • Triathlon mode with automatic transition detection
  • Support for running power meters (such as Stryd) and running dynamics
  • Receive notifications of calls, messages and mails, but not from all applications
  • Music control for iOS (for phone music, the watch cannot play independently) -. New
  • Livetrack when we carry the phone 
  • Compatible with TrainingPeaks workouts or with 12 workouts created by Wahoo Sports Science - New
  • Track and field running profile for maximum precision - New
  • KICKR Wind fan control - New

Since its launch, Wahoo has been gradually adding new features. Something that was very necessary because when it came to market the truth is that the ELEMNT RIVAL with many limitations.

All that I have labeled as "New" are new features that have been added since its launch in November 2020 until today. And more things, like an alarm clock (inconceivable that it didn't have it from the beginning). 

So now it is a more mature watch, more in line with what is required for a triathlon watch in its price range. That's not to say it's perfect, there are also things it lacks, although I have to say in its defense that in the article presenting the model this list was longer.

  • Very basic daily activity tracking (only steps and distance, no ascended floors or rest analysis)
  • No route navigation
  • No magnetic compass
  • Absolutely no performance metric or training load
  • No VO2Max estimation
  • No alerts on sport profiles (HR alerts, power, pace, cadence, etc.)

In fact at the presentation I titled the article as "the triathlon watch you are NOT going to buy", precisely because of all the shortcomings that were present. But as I expected, Wahoo has been polishing the product with constant updates, if I count correctly there have been 13 new versions that have been released since the initial version of November 17, 2020. A remarkable pace of work because the average comes out at more than one update per month.

The main reason for this speed in the update is that, although this is their first watch, they have been in the market for a long time. There are a lot of things that come from the cyclocomputers, the platform was already built, as was the mobile app. Some of those functions were already designed and simply had to be adapted to a smaller screen. In other words, you don't start from scratch.

This is the Wahoo RIVAL

The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is a watch different from all the others, and that is something you can see from the first moment you take it out of the box. But I'm not going to make "spoilers" ahead of time, first I'm going to tell you about the design of the watch.

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The Wahoo RIVAL is a watch that is very well built, I think aesthetically it is beautiful and different from other models on the market. With enough personality to distinguish itself from other brands but without making an extravagant watch.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL

It is available in two colors: black and white. The main difference is that in the white one, the bezel has the markings painted in "wahoo blue" while in the black one everything is more sober.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - colors

And speaking of that bezel, it is not metallic (steel, titanium, aluminum...), but ceramic. This means that it will never scratch, so we will avoid the classic light scratches that we never know where they come from and that occur when the paint is lifted. On the other hand, a strong impact may cause the bezel to break, although this does not mean that it is fragile. 

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - bezel

The case is made of nylon polymer, while the strap is made of silicone. The lens is Gorilla Glass, but not sapphire. As I say, the overall look of the watch is very good.

The control of the watch is done through five buttons, a fairly traditional layout. But what is not traditional is the control menu, which is somewhat chaotic especially if you come from using watches of another brand. With time you end up getting used to it (or not), but it is true that it takes a lot of work.

It is not easy to explain either, but I will try. On a watch of any other brand, when it is showing the time the watch is out of any sport profile, having to enter the desired profile when we go running, swimming, etc.

On the Wahoo it's the other way around. The watch is always in a sport mode (the last one you used), and the time display is as if it were just another data display.

This decision by Wahoo leads to very strange things. For example the last time I wanted to check the length of the pool that had selected the watch it took me a while until I remembered ... and it is not enough to enter the menu to find the option there, you must first select the swimming profile and then enter the menu and then poder change it.

If we press the lower right button we leave the time screen and we start to scroll through the different screens that we have configured for each sport profile. And if we press the left button the same but in reverse. 

Again, with the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL the idea is that we are always within a sport profile, for better or worse. And the good part is that when we are training, the handling of the watch is exactly the same.

And while I'm on the subject of buttons, another curious feature of this ELEMNT RIVAL - and one that it inherits from its cyclocomputer brethren - is the concept of screen zoom. If we press the two lower 1TP10 buttons we can "zoom in", increasing or decreasing the amount of data displayed on the screen. 

Later I will talk about this function in the sport profiles, but in the time screen what we will get is to show only the time or any of the information widgets that we have configured.

As for that sphere, 1TP10We can select from four different options directly from the app. Also the color of the details, the widgets to display and some other options.

It is on this standby screen that is the only place to 1TP10Beyond see steps or daily heart rate, there is no other "widget" that displays that information. In fact the daily activity tracking with the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is very basic. In the app you're only going to poder see daily steps at the top of the history, but in a very simplified way.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Step History

It will simply tell you if you have met the target on the days of the week, and the steps of the current day. When you change the week all this data will disappear and you will not be able to consult it anywhere else.

But there are no history graphs, no comparative graphs, no minimum or maximum heart rate control... no sleep analysis, no count of floors climbed, etc. That said, beyond the steps traveled in the current day, little else. 

It allows you to synchronize some data with the Health app on iOS and Google Fit on Android, basically steps and heart rate. But all this in a very simple way.

Going back to the features of the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL, something curious is that it has an ambient light sensor.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Light Sensor

That sensor will detect whether there is too much or too little light and will allow changing the background color of the display from white to black to improve the display. Although that is something that can be changed from the watch menu. I prefer to always have the background in white.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Clear ModeThe sensor is not used to illuminate the screen (at least for the moment). To do so we must press the upper left button.

Following on from the too-basic aspects are the smart features. The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL allows you to display phone notifications on your screen, but only for some apps. It is something that I do not quite understand that Wahoo does not give freedom to choose which ones yes and which ones no and they are the ones who choose for us.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Notification

The most common applications are supported: e-mail, text messages, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. For both iOS and Android. But not 1TP10We can get out of it. For example the iOS Mail app is supported, also Gmail. But not other apps like Spark or Zoho. So if I receive a mail in any of those apps the watch will not show it.

When the notification arrives it is displayed directly on the screen, and it will also be saved in the watch in case we want to consult it later. In the podime screen we can see how many pending notifications we have.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Pending Notifications

To poder view them 1TP10We have to press the top right button and access all the stored ones, but once viewed it will be deleted forever from the clock. So if you want to consult it again you will have to look at the phone.

It also does not allow you to do anything with those notifications. Not only answer them, neither 1TP10We can remove them from the list of pending notifications on the watch.

At least what podemos do is to activate the Do Not Disturb mode quickly by pressing and holding the upper right button, or programmatically at the time interval that you indicate. 

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Do not disturb

Finally, one of the updates the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL received was the ability to control your phone's music from the watch. This is only valid for iOS. The music control screen appears as soon as we open the playing app, regardless of whether it's Spotify, Podcasts or Netflix.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Music Controller

We can pause, resume, skip to the next song or adjust the volume. But to be clear, the Wahoo RIVAL is not capable of playing music by itself or storing it in memory.

And with this I think I've covered all the basic aspects and non-sporting functions of the ELEMNT RIVAL, so let's talk about sport, which is what we're really interested in in a watch of this type. 

Configuration and use in sports

The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is primarily a triathlon watch. It actually has a profile for automatic transitions for which I've reserved a specific section below. But that doesn't mean you can't use it if you're just running, or just swimming.

Probably before doing your first training session the first thing you will want to do is to set up the data displays. This configuration is done exclusively through the app, it is not possible to change anything directly on the watch.

In the application we are going to poder find the sport profiles that are included by default, most of them with rather mediocre translations. Don't worry, you can change the name to whatever you want, as well as the order in which they are displayed.

The configuration of each profile is perhaps the most characteristic of Wahoo, and has been inherited directly from the cyclocomputers. When it comes to creating data pages we don't make one with 3 data, or 5 data. No, Wahoo data pages are dynamic.

What does this mean? In each 1TP10 data page we can include up to 6 different data. And we must arrange them in order of importance.

Then in the training pages podemos apply zoom to each of the pages, modifying how the information is displayed on the screen. If at any time we want to see the main data at a larger size we just have to "zoom in" by pressing the two lower buttons (by default, podemos change which ones are used to do so). 

When zooming in or out on that particular page, we will give preference to the data changes that we have put first. For example in my training page configuration the first data would be the activity time. If I set the zoom to maximum, only that data will be shown.

If I "zoom out", in addition to the activity time, it will also show me the distance traveled. And so on and so forth. The number of data on the 1TP10 screen will be 1, 2, 3, 3, 4 or 6. Here is a gallery.

We can do this for each and every one of the data screens that we configure, and independently. We can take the first one with the zoom in 3 data and the second one with the zoom in 6. 

Additionally also podemos add some fixed displays such as heart rate graph, ascent graph, lap list, etc.. And along with that basic options such as pause and automatic laps, or enable/disable optical sensor and GPS.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Sport Profile Options

As for the profiles we have absolute freedom. By default the watch includes some predefined ones, that 1TP10We can edit and modify at will. Change their settings, name, position in the menu... everything. 

In addition, 1TP10 can also create new profiles by copying a profile to make a change (for example, if you already have a running profile and want one almost the same for trail), from a template or completely from scratch.

If you choose to use a template, you can find a multitude of different profiles for the same type of activity.

So everything is through the app, or almost everything. There are some settings we have to make on the watch, such as setting the length of pool length. 

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Pool Length

And by the way, in that last aspect we must remember how the Wahoo menu works and that it is always found within an activity. To change the pool length it is necessary that we first switch to that profile, because if we are in the running profile it will not appear in the menu. The first time I had a hard time adding two plus two....

As for sensors, the RIVAL allows the use of all types of sensors, both ANT+ and Bluetooth. Supported sensors are all of these:

  • ANT+ and Bluetooth heart rate
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth® running/cycling potentiometers
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth® speed and/or cadence sensors
  • Intelligent rollers via ANT+ FE-C

And they can be added from the application or from the watch itself. 

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Sensors

Likewise, the RIVAL can act as a sensor itself, transmitting heart rate data from its optical sensor to other devices via ANT+ and Bluetooth. This is something that can be activated from the watch's menu.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Heart Rate Transmission

One of the nice things about the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is that all the changes we make in the app are applied live to the watch. No other brand does it this way, instead we have to wait to do a full sync every time we make a change. Whether it's Garmin, Polar, Suunto or whatever, after making changes you'll have to wait to see them reflected on the device. Not on the Wahoo.

Changing the subject a bit, another interesting aspect of the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is that we have a specific profile for roller training. That profile allows you to control a smart trainer that is compatible with ANT+ FE-C and, although by default the profile is called KICKR, 1TP10We can use either a Wahoo trainer or any other brand.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - KICKR

Once paired with the roller we have several ways to use it:

  • Set a wattage target, for example 250 watts, and the roller will adjust the hardness to always stay at that point.
  • Setting a hardness level. For example level 3
  • Passive, simply recording data and having the roller controlled by another application (e.g. Zwift).
  • Following a scheduled training

The last point is the most interesting, because it is also one of the latest updates that the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL has received. It now supports structured workouts, either Wahoo's own designed workouts or those downloaded from TrainingPeaks.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Roller control

In the case of the roller, the watch will podrá control each and every step of the training, we will simply have to continue pedaling. On the watch display we will also have a graph that tells us where we are in the training, and podemos move to the next point of the training with the button to mark lap (top right).

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Interval Training

This is exactly the same for running or swimming pool workouts, for which it also supports the synchronization of workouts from TrainingPeaks. Although with respect to running workouts I find the implementation quite basic, as we do not receive alerts if we go above or below the target pace, we only have the data displayed on the screen.

Another of the numerous updates with new features that the ELEMNT RIVAL has received is the running track profile. This profile is similar to what is already offered by both Garmin and COROS in that the watch is able to interpret that we are running on track and adjust both track and distance run to perfection. 

The main difference with respect to the other two is that it will always interpret that we are running on lane 1, while in both Garmin and COROS pod we can select different lanes and they will adjust the extra meters. This is so far, although it is possible that it will change in future updates.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Track and Field Race

When we have finished our training the watch shows us a fairly basic summary. Time, distance, average pace, etc.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - History

In the application the information displayed is basically the same.

But there are interesting options, for example in swimming training 1TP10We can modify it after synchronization in case some fragment was not correctly identified. Or if you did not remember to change the pool length. 

In fact, once edited, it will ask us if we want to upload it again to the platforms we have selected (for example Strava).

This is also one of the features of triathlon competitions, since it performs the detection of the segments automatically and then 1TP10After adjusting and verifying that you have made the correct adjustment. That is what we will see next.

Automatic transitions for triathlon

Undoubtedly, if there is one thing the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL stands out for, it is the automatic transitions for triathlon. In this sport profile, the watch is able to progress through the different segments of the race, including transitions, fully automatically. 

You only have to press the button on the watch when you start and finish the race, the rest will be done for you. In the meantime, the watch will detect when you have finished swimming and then switch to the bike and finally to the run. And all this by introducing transitions. 

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Triathlon Profile

The way it detects the changes is through the accelerometers in the watch. The arm movements when going from swimming to T1 are totally different, so as soon as we stop stroking the watch knows that we have finished swimming. From T1 to the bike something very similar happens, as well as when moving to T2. Perhaps the most complicated moment is to differentiate from T2 to the moment when we have really started the running segment.

And how well does automatic recognition work? Well, nothing like participating in a triathlon and putting it to the test. Taking advantage of the return of the competitions, I signed up to do the Marbella triathlon. This year due to the limitations became super-sprint distance, so at first I was not very excited to compete. It is just over half an hour "at full speed", without rest at any time. It's not my distance and it's not what I train for... but well, it's all for a "real fire" test.

I set up at the swim start with two watches. On the left wrist the Garmin FR745 I was going to do the transitions in the usual way: when I remembered and had a moment to do it. On my right wrist is the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL, which I was only going to worry about on two occasions: start and stop.

The detection is not in real time, but the watch itself keeps adding time until a moment comes when it determines that what it has detected is not that we are waving to someone at the third buoy but that we have indeed finished swimming. In that case what it will do is to set a mark at the estimated time of completion of swimming, without us appreciating anything.

At no point did I look at the watch display, so I didn't see how long it took to make that distinction from the time I got out of the water until the watch decided I was out of the water, but I know for a fact that the watch keeps counting and later does its own calculations. So you might be at T1 and the watch shows "swim 34 minutes", but you don't have to touch anything, it will just do its calculations and suddenly go to 32 minutes of swim and 2 minutes of T1.

You have not fully succeeded with the transition? Don't worry, because 1TP10We can modify it later from the application, being able to leave it at the perfect point. If in any case you remember the clock and want to mark the transition yourself, you can do it by pressing the upper right button.

Now let's imagine that taking off your neoprene you have activated a transition by mistake... well, we can also 1TP10We can cancel and go back, although for this we have to spend a few seconds. Entering the menu (holding down the lower left button) will give us the option to undo a transition. And it is not that we return to the previous segment, it is that 1TP10We can select to which part we want to return (swimming, T1, T2, etc.).

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Transition

The most interesting thing about this feature is that we have full control of the transitions, both during the race and after synchronization. And the editing is very simple because we simply have to move a marker to the exact points on the track where we have finished and started the next segment.

Not only that, but the Wahoo app will wait for us to make the verifications before sending the activity to the services we have synchronized (Strava, TrainingPeaks, etc). And if you make changes again (because you can make as many as you want), podhen resend the file to those same services.

This is how my race was reflected with the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL records.

We can see each of the individual segments by clicking on the bottom right icon on the screen. It's time to make edits, so I click where it says "Edit stages".

You can see in the second image that the swim has detected it VERY long. No problem, I simply move the bottom selector to the point of exit from the water, which also indicates the pace at that precise moment. Since I know that I am not capable of swimming at 1:05/100m it is obvious that I had already exited the water... so I move it to the appropriate point.

Logically, the point that we marked as the end of the swim will be automatically edited as the starting point of T1, it is not necessary to make the same adjustments again.

Simply proceed with the other segments in the same way and we will have our transitions perfectly defined.

And with that we already have our transitions edited and delimited to perfection. A fantastic function and that I do not understand that no other manufacturer had done it before, not only for the automatic detection but for how easy it is to modify the recorded race from the application.

Finally, and to finish the triathlon section, I would like to talk briefly about the "Multisport Handover" function.

Similar to Garmin's extended display feature, Wahoo has included the Multisport Handover feature on both their watch and bike computers.

Leave your Wahoo ELEMNT on the bike in multi-sport mode and go swimming. When you reach the bike, the bike computer screen will turn on and you will be able to see swimming data, total time and all the information relevant to the bike ride.

That is, the computer will not record any activity, it will simply replicate the information that the watch is transmitting, and not only the specific metrics of the cycling segment but the cumulative metrics of the entire activity. All control is done from the watch, the computer acts as an "external monitor".

GPS and optical HR sensor performance

One of the advantages of testing multiple watches simultaneously is that I can leverage the work for all of these tests and make my workflow easier, so most of the comparisons you'll see below will be the same ones you'll find in other watch reviews.

Of course, these comparisons are after April 5, 2021, when Wahoo introduced improvements to the GPS performance of the ELEMNT Rival (there have been no changes to the optical pulse sensor).

Like the optical sensor tests we will see later, the GPS comparisons are done in the same way: with the watches accompanying me on my regular workouts. Wearing both the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL and other watches and checking where the problems appear.

I don't have a defined path to establish a score for the simple reason that there are other external factors that we should never forget. Things like clouds, leaves on the trees or simply the position of the satellite can alter the GPS results from one day to the next. 

I'll start with this gentle recovery workout. Very leisurely pace, so not the best way to get a clean, straight GPS track.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

From a distance everything looks quite correct, but you have to zoom in a bit to see exactly how it behaves.

For the test, in addition to the RIVAL on the left wrist, I was accompanied by the FR745 in the left hand and the PACE 2 CHORUS on the right wrist. That separation I mark on the track is quite real, not that a bad position record is being made.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

Throughout the training everything seems to work perfectly. Perhaps at this point that I mark with the arrow the COROS PACE 2 loses its composure slightly when going down a slightly narrow street. 

But one of the usual spots I usually notice for quick direction changes (the one I circle), all three of you have recorded it perfectly.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

On the way back and running along the highway (no buildings, full visibility of the sky) the PACE 2 makes some strange movements, while the tracks of both the Wahoo and the Garmin are almost perfect.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

Next we move on to a training session in a purely mountain environment. For this training I combine areas of good visibility with others where I run underneath a forest area.

For this test he wore the COROS APEX Pro and the Garmin Enduro accompanying the Wahoo watch.

Garmin Enduro - GPS Comparison

This image we see below is passing through a fairly lush forest area. This affects the reception of the satellite signal, plus the fact that we are not going in a straight line, so the clocks have to identify each of these turns.

The bad thing about these areas is that since the trail is not visible in the image and none of the three graphs match, you can't easily see which one is doing the best. Mind you, I can tell you that the Wahoo is not. It was probably the COROS that did best in this complicated area, as well as being the least "nervous".

Garmin Enduro - GPS Comparison

I come out of the forest and go to totally open terrain, but this is a fairly slow uphill stretch. The Wahoo is still going its own way, while both the COROS and the Garmin Enduro are showing reasonably well, although in the case of the Enduro with more hesitation. The COROS continues to have a clear path.

Garmin Enduro - GPS Comparison

Fast downhill to reach flat terrain and everything remains unchanged, with the Garmin Enduro with some hesitation and the COROS showing a very solid route.

Garmin Enduro - GPS Comparison

This area is open, but next to a slope that can cause signal bounce. It is the pivot point and, except for Wahoo (who keeps having a bad day), that signal bounce that can occur does not affect Enduro or COROS.

Garmin Enduro - GPS Comparison

Let's move on to a bit of biking, with a gravel route at leisurely paces. If you're a regular on the site and you've already seen a test of another model you'll know that here the only thing 1TP10We can expect is quasi-total perfection, so let's see.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

At first glance it is what I expected, three fully aligned lines.

The only point of interest is this passage under a bridge. Here all three devices lose GPS signal, and the interesting thing is to see how long it takes to recover the signal. The Garmin FR745 drifts slightly as it enters under the bridge, but quickly regains signal. Both the Wahoo and the Edge 830 guess the path perfectly and recover the signal very quickly as well.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

Otherwise, a rather boring training because all the graphs are exactly identical.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

Finally, and since it is a triathlon watch, a comparison of open water swimming. In this case a third device is missing that I would have worn under the swim cap to use as a "verifier", but those two will suffice.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

It was a day of strong currents and waves, so the sudden movements that can be seen are not very unwise, especially at the end in which I ended up quite agitated.

The output recorded by the two devices is quite similar. Perhaps the Wahoo graph is a bit more filtered, more unreal, but the Garmin also uses the same "trick".

On the return leg the swimming is less continuous as I took a few bumps so I stopped to pull myself together and my arms were underwater, losing the GPS signal. That seems to have affected the Wahoo RIVAL more.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - GPS Comparison

But overall not a bad result considering the circumstances. 

The summary is that the GPS performance of the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL has been more than correct in all the workouts I have done, both in the ones shown here and in the rest of them. Both cycling (road or mountain), running and swimming in open water the result has been good, in line with any other device.

In fact the Wahoo uses the same Sony chipset that all the watches I have compared here use, so they all start from the same point. Obviously then there are factors like the antenna, its placement and especially the management software that are important, but it's not like Wahoo started making devices yesterday.

Moving on, it's time to talk about the optical pulse sensor. The optical pulse sensor on the Wahoo RIVAL comes from Philips. The Dutch are not very common in the world of wearables, but that does not mean that they do not continue to develop technology and work with other companies. In fact, many years ago they already equipped their sensor in the Mio stand-alone optical sensor with fantastic results.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Optical Pulse Sensor

The ELEMNT RIVAL uses its optical sensor around the clock, both during the resting period and for training. The problem is that at the moment the use of the sensor as 24/7 monitoring is very limited. The application does not show any graph or data in this regard and the watch only displays the heart rate at that instant, and if you are within a sport profile in which you have included the heart rate graph 1TP10You will see up to the last 12 hours.

And little else, except for what has already been discussed above regarding the synchronization with health on iOS and Google Fit on Android. Hopefully Wahoo will work more on this aspect and end up adding some feature in the app, but for now there is nothing.

Beyond this what matters to us is the use during the practice of sport, because if you are reading here about this watch is that that is what interests you. But before showing you comparisons of different sensors, I would like to remind you of some basic aspects of optical sensors.

Keep in mind that a wrist heart rate monitor does not work the same way on all bodies. We're all different, and if we put things in the equation like skin tone, tattoos, body hair... the difference from person to person can be quite big.

In my tests it is not that the spectrum of users is very broad: it is me, myself and I. So what works well for me might not do it for someone else, or it might be better.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to follow some guidelines to wear the sensor. It should be tight (but not cut off your circulation), enough to keep the watch from moving freely on your wrist, leaving a separation of approximately one finger from the wrist bone. By following these details you will ensure that you get the best results that your conditions can offer.

It is also important that you understand that while a heart rate sensor on the chest performs effective measurement, the optical sensor estimates our pulsations. In this post I explain all this more broadly.

I start with this workout at a steady pace, finishing with some short intervals. In addition to the Wahoo RIVAL in the test I'm wearing the Casio G-Shock H1000a sensor Polar OH1+ recording independently and the Garmin FR935 paired to a sensor HRM-Tri.

This is the most basic example that any sensor must comply with perfectly, at least until the final part of the intervals, which, due to their short duration, I do not ask it to perform well.

Casio G-Shock H1000 - Optical Sensor Comparison

As you can see, throughout the entire workout the Casio has recorded higher than actual heart rates. While the other three sensors were in agreement throughout, the H1000 is above the other graphs by 4 or 5 beats consistently. 

But the Wahoo performed well throughout the training.

I expand the final part of the intervals, although there is not much clarity in the graphs due to the short intervals.

Casio G-Shock H1000 - Optical Sensor Comparison

Even so, if you look at the purple line that corresponds to the Casio, we see that it takes too long for the heart rate to drop and remains practically constant. This is well recorded by the chest pulse sensor and, to a lesser extent, by the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival. The OH1 on the other hand is strangely lost.

Next we go with a classic series training with the same patterns on the graph.

Casio G-Shock H1000 - Optical Sensor ComparisonThe result is exactly the same as we have seen in the previous example. All the sensors coincide in the recording, except for the Casio which is always superior by a small margin. And again, there are even larger point errors, such as the one in the last interval or the one around minutes 10 to 14.

A third workout with varying intensity up and down hills.

Casio G-Shock H1000 - Optical Sensor Comparison

Again a tremendous error at the start on the part of the Casio, so don't pay too much attention to it. But otherwise, the other sensors fully agree on the heart rate recording.

And a fourth example, another interval training, now in conjunction with the Garmin FR745 and the sensor Polar Verity Sense.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL - Optical Pulse Sensor Comparison

Again with remarkable results, not only from the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL but also from the other two members of the comparison.

In short, as with the GPS in my tests the optical pulse sensor of the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL has offered a first class performance. And not only in the examples you see above but also during the rest of the workouts I have done with the watch, which in all these months have been many.

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Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL Review

At this point I am convinced of two things:

  • The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is a good watch.
  • Although it is a good watch, there is still a long way to go.

I think the Wahoo RIVAL is a very good base on which to work to obtain a frankly satisfactory product, but there is still work to be done, things to be improved.

The lack of alerts during activity is something to review, as are the translations and how the text of some data fields overlaps on screen. These are things that give the impression of an unfinished product. Some kind of training load tracking (even if it's licensing from TrainingPeaks as Suunto does since recently), more detail on day to day activity.... 

That's not to say that there are no interesting things at the moment. The triathlon function is top, both during the activity itself with the automatic transitions and the absolute control there is over them (forward, backward), and especially after the end of the activity and poder adjust with pinpoint accuracy. No other manufacturer has anything remotely similar.

What makes me most happy is to see new entrants in the market (I include COROS here as well). That's good for the market and brings a breath of fresh air. Is Wahoo in a position to compete with the major brands? It's hard to say, but it's not a mass product. Wahoo diehards will really enjoy this watch, but it's not going to be easy to attract Polar or Garmin users. Suunto I don't consider it, as its target audience is quite different.

Going back to the beginning, the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is a watch that has the makings of a good product. The construction and materials are very good (the ceramic bezel is a delight), the frequency of updates is being remarkable and it is a brand with experience in the sector to know perfectly which is the path to follow. It is simply a matter of time.

And with that... thanks for reading!

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12 Comments

  1. Great. As always the best reviews, thank you very much Eduardo.

    Question. Does the illumination turn on with a twist of the wrist?

  2. hello I have two doubts that I have not been able to solve.
    1. how do i get the watch to give me a 100meter interval in the pool like the garmins?
    2. how to register the technique that in the garmin opened a chronometer and when you gave lap you put the mts.
    slds

  3. Hi Paisano, thanks for your article, it has helped me a lot to understand several things about the watch. I've had it just 2 weeks and I still have a mess that you can't see.
    Something that has not been clear to me yet or I do not know if I do not know how to look at it is that for example when I'm running I would like to see what pace I'm going, I see several marks but I do not know if they are correct or not. When I'm running 1 km I get a warning and the time of the km appears, but I don't know if I can see the average time per km before doing it to know whether to raise or lower the pace.
    Greetings and thanks in advance.

  4. Hello, thank you for sharing this analysis

    I want to change my Coros Apex because it does not measure elevation correctly and when training in the pool it never registers correctly the discordance that I do .

    I was about to buy a Garmin 745 but have noticed that Garmin does not support structured swim workouts from Training Peaks.

    Wahoo 1TP7Could you solve these problems for me with the Rival ?

    Greetings

    1. Autocorrect error ... above I commented that Coros apex does not correctly register the DISTANCE I do in the pool.

    2. Indeed, Garmin does not download swim workouts from TrainingPeaks. The Wahoo does, and pod will see the different steps of what you have to do during the workout.

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