HP Elite x3

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

While hav­ing a very, very small mar­ket share, there are some ex­cel­lent Win­dows 10 phones out there. The flag­ship Mi­crosoft Lu­mia 950 and 950 XL were and are some of the best the plat­form had to of­fer, with solid per­for­mance, good looks and high-end spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

But that was Novem­ber 2015. We’ve come a long way since then and un­for­tu­nately these phones can’t match the best hand­sets out there any more. So does the HP Elite x3 man­age to change that? It’s the high­est spec­i­fied Win­dows phone ever made, but is it too geared to­wards the busi­ness user to ap­peal to the wider con­sumer?

De­sign

First things first. This phone is huge, and that’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. It has a 5.96in screen, but the iPhone-es­que wide bezels mean it is a big phone in the hand. It is a full cen­time­tre taller than the Sam­sung Galaxy S7 edge, which has 5.5in screen. The Elite x3 is just about man­age­able in our small hands, but this is not a phone for one-handed op­er­a­tion how­ever big your paws are.

HP is mar­ket­ing the x3 firmly at the busi­ness user, and the de­sign of it be­lies that. Next to the ear­piece speaker there is a front­fac­ing cam­era and an iris scan­ner like that of the Lu­mia 950s.

Glossy black bezels are only in­ter­rupted by a sil­ver de­tail at the bot­tom front edge where you can see the Bang & Olufsen logo – there are front-fac­ing speak­ers and mic be­neath the dot­ted grate that oddly tries to look like a comet trail but ends up look­ing un­fin­ished.

On the right edge there are the usual power/wake and vol­ume but­tons, a USB-C port on the bot­tom edge, in­cred­i­bly fid­dly dual-SIM slot on the left edge and a 3.5mm head­phone jack on the top.

The neat rear of the phone has HP’s logo, the cam­era bump with LED flash and a cir­cu­lar finger­print scan­ner just be­low. HP has man­aged to keep the thick­ness down at just 7.8mm though, and the weight is un­der 200g which is good. This is still a hefty de­vice though, mea­sur­ing 161.8x83.5x7.8mm.

The Elite x3 also ships with a dock, which has a range of ports, so you can use it with a mon­i­tor like a desktop PC. Al­though the Elite x3 is un­wieldy, the large size means space for things like a bigger bat­tery (4150mAh) which is some­thing that is of­ten miss­ing on a smart­phone. Af­ter all, a dead hand­set is only re­ally use­ful as a paper­weight.

HP has also opted for a wa­ter­proof de­sign with an IP67 rat­ing mean­ing you can dunk it in up to 1m of wa­ter for up to 30 min­utes.

A large part of the Elite x3’s at­trac­tion is the dummy lap­top which works with it. Be­cause the phone sup­ports Con­tin­uum, Win­dows’ cool desktop con­ver­sion tech, this lap­top can run en­tirely off the phone over USB-C. It’s ef­fec­tively a screen, key­board and track­pad with noth­ing in­side. It sort of re­minds us of the Moto Atrix and its dummy lap­top, which launched a few years ago.

Fea­tures

HP is wisely not deny­ing the fact this phone was de­signed with the en­ter­prise busi­ness user in mind. The lap­dock func­tion­al­ity along­side Win­dows Con­tin­uum with the in­cluded desk dock mean this phone can be used as a phone and a desktop. Its mam­moth screen size means you could con­ceiv­ably do away with a tablet too, and HP hopes you’ll do just that. But what’s the Elite x3 like to use?

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions wise, it has a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 820 pro­ces­sor, which at the start of 2017 has only just been su­per­seded by the 821 in phones like the OnePlus 3T. It zips along very quickly, with menus fast to load, apps quick to re­spond and the slick flu­id­ity of Win­dows 10’s tile-based op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

The near 6in dis­play is ca­pa­ble of stun­ning re­pro­duc­tions given its Quad HD res­o­lu­tion of 2560x1440, and touch in­put is fast and re­spon­sive. 4GB RAM is more than enough for us­ing the x3 as a smart­phone – more on the per­for­mance with the lap­dock and Con­tin­uum later.

There’s a 16Mp rear-fac­ing cam­era with aut­o­fo­cus ca­pa­ble of video at 1080p at 30fps, while the 8Mp front-fac­ing cam­era is more than ad­e­quate for video call­ing.

The lap­dock func­tion­al­ity along­side Win­dows Con­tin­uum with the in­cluded desk dock mean this phone can be used as a phone and a desktop

The dual front-fac­ing speak­ers are very loud and good for those calls and for con­fer­ence voice calls, but for mu­sic and video we found them tinny – a shame when the hand­set is stamped with the B&O brand­ing. With busi­ness in mind, the Elite x3 also has a dual Nano-SIM card slot. One of these slots can also be used for a mi­croSD card if you prefer. In the dual-SIM setup, you can set ei­ther to roam or not roam, and would be use­ful if us­ing a busi­ness num­ber to roam abroad and avoid charges on your per­sonal SIM. Also, ob­vi­ously, it means you can re­ceive calls to both your num­bers from one de­vice. The lap­dock is a dumb ac­ces­sory, and does not come as stan­dard – it is an ad­di­tional ex­tra that re­tails at $599 in the US – un­doubt­edly a high price when it can­not be used as a lap­top with­out the power of the x3 be­hind it. It can charge your x3 when con­nected though, and is it­self charged over USB-C.

As you can see, the Elite x3 tries to do an aw­ful lot. It cuts out your work phone and tries to con­vince you that you don’t need a tablet with its 6in screen, all part of HP’s vi­sion of hav­ing cre­ated a 3-in-1 de­vice. We will come to how it works as a desktop and lap­top re­place­ment fur­ther into this re­view, but as a smart­phone, the x3 is highly ac­com­plished.

Pro­vided you get on with the OS, and don’t mind hav­ing one of the largest hand­sets around, the per­for­mance for ev­ery­day tasks is easily as good as phones like the OnePlus 3 and HTC 10, though a shade be­low newer phones like the Sam­sung Galaxy S7. It’s a shame, then, that it costs so much – £699 is far too ex­pen­sive for the av­er­age con­sumer (the same price as the 128GB iPhone 7), par­tic­u­larly with­out the lap­dock, and this is a re­sult of HP’s con­cen­tra­tion on pack­ing the de­vice with busi­ness­cen­tric specs and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Soft­ware

Win­dows phones have al­ways been de­rided for be­ing sub stan­dard com­pared to iPhones and high end An­droid de­vices but this is un­fair. Flag­ship Win­dows de­vices have al­ways been able to hold a can­dle to their high end ri­vals, but it is true that the Win­dows Store has fewer apps than the Ap­ple App Store or Google Play Store. How­ever, that so-called ‘app gap’ is over­played.

We used the HP Elite x3 as our main phone and had Face­book, Twit­ter, Spo­tify, What­sApp, eBay, BBC iPlayer, Net­flix and bank­ing apps up and run­ning in no time. There’s a Slack app for work and of course un­ri­valled com­pat­i­bil­ity with Mi­crosoft Of­fice. Sure, you’ll have the oc­ca­sional tut when you can’t get the lat­est game or trend­ing photo app ev­ery­one is talk­ing about, but there’s no way we can say that Win­dows 10 for mo­bile is a to­tally com­pro­mised app plat­form. Also apps such as Sonos for home en­ter­tain­ment will sim­ply never come to Win­dows phones.

Win­dows 10 is full of ex­cel­lent de­sign ideas. We still love the tile lay­out of the home­screen, though it won’t be to ev­ery­one’s tastes. It’s highly cus­tomis­able, and if you like lit­tle live chang­ing win­dows into your photos, inbox and the news then you’ll also love it in no time. Be aware though that if switch­ing from An­droid or iOS, at first it’s a bit con­fus­ing.

It also feels slightly on rails com­pared to An­droid and even the tightly con­trolled iOS, but in this in­stance that’s okay. The Elite x3 is for get­ting se­ri­ous work done, and Win­dows 10 is per­fect for that. We didn’t mind us­ing Mi­crosoft’s Edge browser on mo­bile as it proved quite com­pe­tent, but the one thing you’ll have to get over is the lack of Google app sup­port.

If your per­sonal and work lives re­volve around Google ser­vices, Win­dows 10 on mo­bile is a bit of a tough ask. Then again, if you’re com­ing at cloud ser­vices fresh, then putting your eggs into the Mi­crosoft bas­ket will work very well, par­tic­u­larly if you’re al­ready a PC user (as op­posed to Mac).

Lap­dock and Con­tin­uum

So, the HP Elite x3 is a per­fectly ad­e­quate, high-end Win­dows 10 phone. But as it’s tar­geted at busi­ness users, we also got the swanky look­ing lap­dock to check out too. HP po­si­tions the x3 as a 3-in-1 de­vice: a per­sonal phone, ph­ablet de­vice for work and lap­top. The lap­dock ad­dress the lat­ter and it’s a dumb clamshell de­sign, mean­ing you need to con­nect the x3 to it. It then uses Win­dows Con­tin­uum to project the phone’s Win­dows 10 op­er­at­ing sys­tem into a desktop ex­pe­ri­ence.

The bot­tom line is: it works. It does do what it says it will do, which is al­low you to browse the con­tents of your phone and use the apps on a lap­top. How­ever, there are a lot of per­for­mance is­sues with it that make it hard to rec­om­mend.

You can con­nect your x3 over the lo­cal Wi-Fi network to the lap­dock, or by us­ing the sup­plied USB-C ca­ble. From there, the Start menu opens your phone’s apps and you can nav­i­gate us­ing ei­ther the touch­pad of the lap­dock or by us­ing the x3’s screen as a touch­pad.

De­spite the clev­er­ness of the tech on show, our work­flows and the tech­nol­ogy sim­ply aren’t there yet. We’d take a smart­phone and sep­a­rate lap­top over this set up any day. The idea that Con­tin­uum will solve is­sues of work­flow isn’t true yet. The lap­dock is an ex­pen­sive way to project your phone for long doc­u­ment typ­ing. For ev­ery­thing else like email­ing, video view­ing or gam­ing, the phone’s 6in screen is more than enough.

Some third-party apps don’t run full screen, and we some­times lost a wired con­nec­tion just by open­ing an app. Some apps don’t work. In fact, you can only rely on Mi­crosoft’s Uni­ver­sal apps, the ones de­signed for Con­tin­uum, to work every time. It’s a frus­trat­ing lim­i­ta­tion of an ex­cel­lent idea.

The same goes even if you don’t fork out for the lap­dock. If you have a mon­i­tor, key­board and mouse, you can use the desk dock that comes with the x3 and hook them all up. The ex­pe­ri­ence is much the same as on the lap­dock – slower than a de­cent lap­top and limited by the na­ture of the setup.

With the Elite x3, you also get ac­cess to HP Workspace, a ver­sion of Con­tin­uum de­signed for busi­nesses to host cor­po­rate ap­pli­ca­tions vir­tu­ally. Again, it’s a fea­ture squarely marked ‘busi­ness’, but we found it frus­trat­ing. Even try­ing to boot up Word took for­ever, and the res­o­lu­tion it pro­duced on the lap­dock was far from sharp. The reg­u­lar ver­sion of Con­tin­uum worked a lot bet­ter.

The idea of the smart­phone as por­ta­ble mo­bile work­sta­tion is a good idea. How­ever, it is yet to be per­fected. If an en­tire com­pany can run a su­per­fast network, sup­ply its work­ers with x3s and give each of them a per­ma­nent mon­i­tor set up to plug into, then maybe the idea of us­ing the phone with the ex­tra fea­tures would be ef­fi­cient. For the rest of us, it’s an ex­pen­sive lux­ury that suf­fers from slug­gish, buggy per­for­mance.

Ver­dict

The Elite x3 is an ex­cel­lent phone, meld­ing high-end specs with a solid de­sign and good user ex­pe­ri­ence. The Win­dows app store is still un­der­rated, and the bat­tery lasts for ages. How­ever, at £699 with­out the lap­dock, this is not a cheap de­vice. We can rec­om­mend the HP as it is the best Win­dows 10 phone on the mar­ket, but the 3-in-1 de­vice HP is mar­ket­ing is best left to the whims of busi­nesses and those to whom money is no ob­ject. If you can find a Lu­mia 950, you’ll save your­self hun­dreds of pounds and get a sim­i­lar Win­dows 10 mo­bile ex­pe­ri­ence. Henry Bur­rell

Win­dows 10 is full of ex­cel­lent de­sign ideas. We still love the tile lay­out of the home screen, though it won’t be to ev­ery­one’s tastes

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