Tech & Wearables

Reviewed: Wahoo’s Rival Smartwatch (April Update!)

The indoor trainer and cycling computer brand that has been a longtime favorite of triathletes is branching out with its first smartwatch, but does it stand up in a crowded market?

Review Rating


Basics

A moderately equipped smartwatch with a few very cool, totally singular (and totally tri-specific) features


Pros

Fantastic tri transition functions
Very cool bike computer handoff feature
Handy “zoom” function
Decent battery life
Simple and intuitive interface
Very nice track mode

Cons

Few smartphone functions
Counterintuitive menu navigation
No GPS navigation


Weight

54g

Price

$380

Brand

Wahoo


Ed note: While we don’t usually modify smartwatch reviews on every firmware update, because Wahoo is focusing this device so heavily on triathletes and clearly they’re new to the smartwatch game, we’ve updated the below to account for a few fixes that hit (and miss) on the Rival. Additions include a well-thought-out track function, multiple multisport iterations for bricks, Swimrun, etc., and a few more smartphone notifications. We also boosted the Rival’s score from 3.5 stars to 4. Read on for the updates in italics below.

As the makers of some of the most dependable, easy-to-use, and well-designed cycling computers/indoor trainers on the market, it’s exciting to see Wahoo enter the (crowded) smartwatch market with the new Rival. Even more exciting than that, the Rival is geared more heavily towards triathletes than pretty much any other smartwatch available—boasting a host of tri- and multisport-specific features that are not only very clever, but also entirely unique. While the Wahoo Rival isn’t a do-it-all situation like a few other smartwatches in the $300-500 price range, what it does, it does pretty well. Read on for our review.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Basics

It’s a pretty big deal when a brand like Wahoo finally dips their toe into running/multisport electronics, and it’s no surprise that Wahoo spent a lot of time working on developing the Rival. The result is a very tight set of basic features that triathletes will appreciate along with 14 days of battery in smartwatch mode and 24 hours of GPS training. To get the basics out of the way, the Rival has wrist-based heart rate, open-water and lap swimming, advanced cycling (power, cycling dynamics, etc. when connected to the appropriate sensor), and running (with some built-in dynamics like cadence)—however, it does not have data fields for running with power (yet) or a track mode similar to a few competitors like Coros and Garmin. The Rival also has an excellent track mode similar to Coros and Garmin that “learns” the track as you use it and snaps the distances to wherever you hit the lap button. The Rival will do basic smartphone notifications like text, phone call alerts, emails, and some apps on iOS and Android, but it won’t do all app notifications or control music; it also does not do navigation. And while it ticks most of the basics, it’s the multisport features that deserve their own paragraph.

Wahoo has created two totally new functions that it’s safe to say other companies will try to copy in the future: touchless transitions and multisport handoff. The former is multisport wizardry that automatically detects when you go from open-water swimming to T1, then onto your bike, onto T2, then onto your run. It not only cycles into the proper mode (we’ll get into this more, below), but it also allows you to manually trigger if it doesn’t properly trip, or go back a step if it accidentally triggers too early. Additionally, you can edit the “race” or workout later in the app to match up to official transition spots and results. Almost more impressively, when paired with a Wahoo ELEMNT (Roam or Bolt), the Rival will automagically hand off your time/information to the bike computer when you get close to your bike in transition. The RIVAL also has user-creatable multisport profiles that allow you to do multiple sports like a bike/run brick, duathlon, or even swimrun that use the handoff feature, as well as a manual multisport mode that allows you to link any of the workout profiles into one session as you go.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Good

Obviously triathletes should be huge fans of the touchless transition and maybe even moreso the handoff mode. The touchless transition worked very well in our mock tri tests and was shockingly accurate when compared to a manual transition on our “control” watch. Even when it got it wrong, it was a very very simple fix in the Wahoo smartphone app post-tri—simply put in the correct times from your results, and each leg is adjusted for the proper sport/transition. The handoff feature is even more mystifying and very easily falls into the “why didn’t someone do this before” category. So many triathletes have a smartwatch and a bike computer but hate either mounting the watch on bars in a race or hate fussing with the setup for both on race day—only to have to clunkily combine them post-race. Set up is simple by putting the ELEMNT into low-power multisport “standby mode” in transition, and it activates when you come into T1 and get close. The new track feature update also puts this smartwatch in rare air with a few other watches that use this crucial function for triathletes.

We also liked the easy-to-read fonts, as well as the zoom function that they borrowed from their cycling computers that allows you to view more or less data on a given screen based on preset priorities you set up in the app. Sometimes you want to see your pace, sometimes you very much do not. Also the beefy feel and size of this watch feels more like a $500+ Garmin Fenix or Suunto 7 than something under $400.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Meh

There’s a lot that’s great about this watch, and certainly the “goods” are good enough for most triathletes to seriously consider adding this to their holiday wish list. Unfortunately, this watch doesn’t do everything perfectly, so it’s worth mentioning a few mild misses so at least you know what you won’t get with what you will. First, it’s important to know that there are no navigation functions—even breadcrumbs, routing, or compass, let alone mapping (competitors in this price range are hit or miss on this type of functionality). There is also no way to adjust GPS modes (no GLONASS) or GPS sampling to extend battery life. We also really liked the triathlon mode, but the bike/run brick mode only allowed one iteration, rather than multiple bike/run/bike/runs—and the manual multisport mode is fine, but a little clunky, requiring the user to navigate the sport profile menu during each transition and doesn’t work with the handoff to an ELEMNT. We also had a few issues with buggy screens, but I’d guess a firmware update or two would fix that and maybe even button up some other aforementioned issues. More smartphone integration at this price would be great too (like music control and other app notifications), but not a dealbreaker by any means. Unfortunately, the most recent update to the Rival still doesn’t have full iOS app notification support—which is notable as almost all smartwatches do this currently. In other words, you’ll get texts, calls, and a few select apps like WhatsApp, but not all smartphone app notifications like Slack or whatever else you might use.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Conclusions

There’s a lot for triathletes to get very very excited about in this watch. For those who have struggled with their smartwatch and/or cycling computer at a race (truly the last time you really want to add another level of complexity), the Rival solves a few big problems. The bones on this watch are fantastic—with a great smartphone app that helps do the heavy lifting of loading workouts, customizing sport profiles and data screens, and more. There are a few things missing from the Rival that make it more of a $300 smartwatch than a $380 smartwatch—when comparing with offerings from COROS and Polar, for example—but it’s far from overpriced. While there are a few bugs and odd little misses here and there like the lingering missing global smartphone notifications, nothing should prevent Wahoo fans from extending their collection onto their wrists, and triathletes should rejoice at some of the fantastic, singular multisport features on the new Rival.