March 19, 2017
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The HP Elite x3 review: The best Windows phone to date

The existence of HP’s Elite x3, a Microsoft-powered smartphone that doubles as a PC’s CPU through a smartphone dock, effectively realizes Microsoft’s goal of giving you the option to replace your PC with a mobile phone. The question then is if it can perform well as a phone, a tablet, and a computer. How exactly does the Elite x3 do this?

Microsoft’s Continuum feature allows the user to connect a mouse and keyboard to the phone through a dock. HP’s new Workspace feature allows Win32 apps like Adobe Photoshop, AutoCAD, and desktop Chrome to run through the phone. To maximize PC use, the phablet comes with a heavy duty battery, useful utilities, and PC-like hardware specifications.

Design

The HP Elite x3 was marketed as a business phone with the price of a PC, so it’s no casual budget phone. It costs $699 (2568 AED) and is meant to be for corporate use or, at the very least, content production. The Continuum capabilities are provided by HP’s Desk Dock, which costs $150 (550 AED), giving it a total of $799 (2945 AED) for the whole phone/PC experience.

If you want to go even further with the hardware, there’s also a Lap Dock which is basically a laptop shell (with a monitor and a keyboard) that connects with the Elite x3 to turn it into an ultrabook-like device. The price: $500 (1837 AED). Now that’s a lot for a phone that can act as a laptop when you can just buy two separate devices. Then again, that really depends on the user’s business lifestyle.

Benchmark tests have proven that it’s currently the most powerful Windows phone currently in the market. It’s 70% faster than the Lumia 950 and Liquid Jade Primo.

It’s a phablet with good reason: its dimensions clock in at 6.3 x 3.29 x 0.3 inches, and weighing in at 6.9 ounces (195 grams). It’s not bigger than Nokia’s Lumia 1520, but it’s still larger than the Lumia  950XL and the Acer Liquid Jade Primo. It’s definitely too large to be deftly used with one hand.

It has a 5.96-inch, 2560x1440p AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4. A big phone like this needs some added durability, so it’s IP67 water-resistant and MIL-STD 810G drop-resistant.

Essentials

The HP Elite x3 is run by a 2.15GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, integrated with an Adreno 530 GPU, giving it the capacity to open apps and transition from one task to another without lagging. Of course, this would change depending on how much data and applications the Elite x3 will contain with extended use. It runs on Windows 10 Mobile, an OS which most people don’t even know exists.

The Elite x3 is special in that it’s the only Windows phone with a 4GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage. For reference, the Lumia 950XL and Liquid Jade Primo only have 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. You can expand the elite x3’s memory up to 2TB via an SD card, with the caveat that the SD card slot is shared with a second SIM.

Inside Image_elite x3 mobile scanner

It has 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi for improved wireless reception, Bluetooth 4.0LE, Miracast, and NFC, so it’s possible that it’s compatible with Microsoft’s tap-to-pay Wallet app, though HP has confirmed that the feature has not been enabled yet. Don’t worry if you like listening to music through your mobile, as this one has a 3.5-mm audio jack.

Inside Image_elite x3 security

For its security features, the Elite x3 lets you log in via Windows Hello through two biometric authenticators: an iris scanner and a fingerprint scanner, which are both sensitive enough. It’s nice to have two options in case it’s not convenient to go for either at any given time, especially when you just woke up in bed.

Performance

Inside Image_elite x3 dock 2

 

The Elite x3 is truly elite when it comes to performance. Benchmark tests have proven that it’s currently the most powerful Windows phone currently in the market. It’s 70% faster than the Lumia 950 and Liquid Jade Prim. It even surpasses the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. We know it isn’t a Windows phone, but that’s still something.

To support its performance, the Elite x3 has a long battery life due to its massive 4,150 mAh battery that beats the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the iPhone 7 Plus. From a dead battery, you can charge the Elite x3 to 14% in just 10 minutes, enough for a 2-hour call. The battery isn’t removable though, which makes sense really, since a battery of its configuration would be rare indeed.

CAMERA: It does well in well-lit shots, but there’s no optical image stabilization.

A video-playback test confirmed that the Elite x3 can play a 4K video for 9 hours and 23 minutes on a full charge. Now that’s a heavy duty battery right there.

The Elite x3 has a 16MP rear camera and an 8MP front camera but sadly, both are mediocre. They don’t do well in low light and a flash that can barely illuminate a shot. Getting a shot after pressing the capture button takes a long time, not because it’s taking time to let in more light and get a better shot, but because it’s just slow. It does well in well-lit shots, but there’s no optical image stabilization. It seems you can’t win them all.

Features

The true review of the Elite x3 starts with the Continuum, which turns a docked Windows phone into a downgraded version of a desktop PC. The Elite x3 is the pinnacle of this technology and it’s not hard to see why.

The Dock has two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port, and a full-sized DisplayPort connector. It doesn’t have an HDMI port though but there’s a DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable out there (another cost!) if you want to connect it to an external monitor.

HP was nice enough to think of the eventuality of docking your phone with a case or docking it with flexibility in mind. Getting the Elite x3 with the Dock includes three sleeves that magnetically slide over the top of the dock, one for a bare phone, one to dock the phone within HP’s billfold case, and another that adds an extension cord which connects to your phone so you can use the phone while using it as a PC. Pretty wild, if you ask me.

Inside Image_elitedock

Docking the phone is well and good, but HP innovates further by improving its wireless connection. All the other wireless Continuum capable phones lag when connected via Miracast wireless technology, but the Elite x3 connects with a computer display via Wi-Fi, effectively extending its range and significantly reducing latency.

As an aside, the Lap Dock we mentioned earlier that turns the Elite x3 into a rudimentary ultrabook is a 2.3-pound, laptop-like device featuring a 46.5-Whr battery, three USB-C ports, and a 12.5-inch 1080p display. If you can use the Elite x3 as a PC, the Lap Dock enables you to use it as such anywhere without the need for a mouse, keyboard, and the Display Dock.

…the Elite x3 connects with a computer display via Wi-Fi, effectively extending its range and significantly reducing latency.

The app selection inside the Elite x3 is pretty neat, as HP included a selection of ten useful uninstallable utilities that makes up 4.4GB of its internal memory. There’s HP’s Device Hub which acts as a hub for your device info with links to a user guide, regulatory and warranty information, and others. There’s the HP Mobile Hardware Diagnostics app which tests almost every internal component for failure. There’s also the HP Display Tools which overrides Windows’ settings when it’s docked to keep its screen from dimming or turning off.

It also includes WinZip and Salesforce apps, and an app for controlling HP printers. The HP Picks app provides a well-curated business app list on the Microsoft Store.

There are, of course, differences between the mobile and desktop version of Windows. Take for example its Office 2013 suit of applications. The Mobile version is a downgraded version of the real thing, so content creation and formatting exist in a limited capacity.

HP Workspace

Inside Image_elite x3 dock

The gem among these apps is the HP Workspace, HP’s gateway to virtualized Win32 apps on the HP cloud. It’s a vital component to the whole Elite x3 experience and is what makes the phone a PC. Workspace can run apps like Google Chrome, AutoCAD, HipChat, and a whole slew of other apps in a virtualized cloud environment like they’re on your PC.

The only problem with Workspace is its licensing so the features you can use depends on how much you’re willing to pay. Its availability comes in two account tiers: Essential and Premium.

Workspace encourages the user to store files in cloud storage like Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive as HP doesn’t have cloud storage within Workspace.

Essential, which costs $49 (180 AED) a month or $579 (2127 AED) a year, allows the app to seed up to 10 apps to your Elite x3. Premium, which costs $79 (290 AED) a month or $939 (3450 AED) a year, allows you an unlimited number of apps. Each tier gives you 24-hour support during the five-day workweek. There’s also a year’s worth of VPN integration is an added cost amounting to $2995 (11001 AED).

There’s also a limited monthly usage per account tier. Essential gives you 40 hours while Premium gives you 80 hours. Obviously, you can’t expect to do all your work on the Elite x3. It’s more like a secondary device in which you can operate.

With Workspace, HP runs the available apps through a virtual CPU and dedicated memory (4GB for Essential and 8GB for Premium), then interacting with them remotely. It just has to be used with the dock to work, while Workspace encourages the user to store files in cloud storage like Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive as HP doesn’t have cloud storage within Workspace.

Verdict

Inside Image_elite x3

In spite of it being a phone/PC hybrid that is unmatched by Apple and Samsung in terms of capability, we don’t recommend the device for everyone because it really isn’t for everyone. The cost of having and operating such a device can be staggering for a casual smartphone user. It works for business people with either high-budgets or company support.

There’s also the issue of it not turning into a full-fledged PC, as its Microsoft Office apps have noticeable limitations so you can’t just rely on the Elite x3 for all your work needs. We’re hoping that Microsoft and HP work together again to give us a sequel to this innovative phone with a more capable suit of apps and cheaper price.

If somehow this type of technology becomes common enough, then we can expect the cost of having one to go down in time. But until then, this smartphone is a comfortable choice only for the elite. Undeniably, it’s the best Windows phone and hopefully not the last.

Design
4 out of 5
Essentials
3.5 out of 5
Features
4 out of 5
Performance
5 out of 5
Overall

The HP Elite x3 is an interesting innovation on smartphone design because of its ability to become a PC with the right tools. It has its shortcomings as a smartphone and as a PC, falls short of a full PC-hood. There's a wide variety of features on this phone because of its added PC capabilities but this becomes a financial burden to the user unless he/she can afford it. However, the phone performs well both as a smartphone and a PC, making it one of the most powerful phones around in terms of processing power and battery life.

4.13

Good
4.13 out of 5