MWC 2016: HP unveils the Elite x3, a business-class Windows 10 phablet

HP is aiming to transform mobile productivity with its 6-inch Elite x3 and an ecosystem of accessories and software.

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The 6-inch HP Elite x3, connected to a large monitor via the Desk Dock.

Image: HP Inc

At Mobile World Congress today, HP Inc took the wraps off what it calls "a new mobile ecosystem that will drive the next generation of computing".

The components of that ecosystem are: a 6-inch phablet running Windows 10 Mobile, the Elite x3; a Desk Dock for enabling the Continuum Windows 10 experience on a desktop monitor; a 12.5-inch laptop-format thin client called the Mobile Extender, for enhanced mobile productivity; and HP Workspace software that gives remote access to a catalogue of virtualised Windows apps.

HP's mobility solution is built around three main elements, said Michael Park, HP Inc's vice president and general manager of Mobility, at a briefing in London last week: a new generation of powerful and well-connected mobile SoCs; secure cloud-based data; and "seamless user experiences" courtesy of the Windows 10 operating system.

"What the market doesn't quite understand yet about Windows 10," said Park, "is that this is the first time, and the first vendor, that has fully integrated the underlying kernel. What that means is that the different devices you use -- a workstation, a desktop, a notebook, a mobile phone, a tablet, a Surface Hub, a HoloLens, a big-screen monitor -- are all rendered from the same OS kernel." The key here, of course, is that Windows 10 developers will be able to "write once and deploy everywhere".

Park's buildup before revealing the Elite x3 set high expectations: "What if you could have a device in your pocket that's as powerful as a PC? What if you could have one experience across all your devices? What if your mobile device was the only device you needed?" Here's what's on offer.

Elite x3

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The sleek-looking Elite x3 was designed in conjunction with audio specialist Bang & Olufsen. The five Pogo pins on the back will in due course accommodate expansion jackets aimed at vertical markets such as field service, healthcare and retail.

Images: HP Inc

The Elite x3 packs an impressive specification, based around Qualcomm's powerful new Snapdragon 820 SoC, which comprises a 64-bit quad-core Kryo CPU, an Adreno 530 GPU and two coprocessors that offload various tasks from the CPU -- the Hexagon 680 DSP and the Spectra Camera ISP. There's 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 64GB of internal storage and MicroSD card storage expansion 'technically certified' up to 2TB.

The Elite x3, which was designed in conjunction with audio specialist B&O, looks sleeker than your average business-class device: the slim chassis has a predominantly graphite finish, with a metal section at the bottom containing the grille for the front-facing speakers. The device is dominated by its high-resolution 6-inch screen, which is protected by tough Gorilla Glass 4.

Collaboration (via Skype, for example) is a key focus for the dual-SIM Elite x3, which includes a Cat 6 LTE-Advanced modem and useful features such as stereo speakers, active noise cancellation and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with superior low-light performance.

Security -- imperative for a business-class device -- is a multi-layer affair on the Elite x3, including Qualcomm's SoC-integrated Haven Security Suite, Windows 10 features like BitLocker 128-bit encryption, and value-added security from HP -- notably dual biometric authentication (iris and fingerprint recognition). Other security features include FIPS 140-2 and CompTIA certification, plus VPN support at the app level.

Like its Elite stablemates, the x3 is a rugged device, with IP67 and MIL-STD 810G certification. An IP67 rating means the Elite x3 is 'dust tight' and can withstand immersion in water up to 1m deep for 30 minutes. HP has designed the seals for ports and other openings on the Elite x3 'from the inside out', so there are no inconvenient flaps or covers to get in the user's way. MIL-STD 810G certification signifies that the device can operate in high-temperature and high-humidity environments, and withstand a four-foot drop onto a plywood-over-concrete surface.

The battery in the Elite x3 is a 4,150mAh unit -- the biggest capacity we've seen to date (the previous biggest being the 4,000mAh battery in Huawei's Mate 8). This bodes well for battery life.

Desk Dock

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The Desk Dock has USB-A and USB-C ports, an (RJ-45) Ethernet port and a DisplayPort connector for an external monitor. It will also fast-charge the Elite x3 when docked.

Images: HP Inc (left) and Charles McLellan/ZDNet (right)

The Desk Dock is a stylish unit that enables Windows 10 Continuum, where a regular desktop Windows 10 experience runs on a connected large monitor while the mobile device remains usable as a phone. Featuring the same graphite-and-metal finish as the Elite x3, the Desk Dock has a DisplayPort for the monitor connection, USB-A and USB-C ports for accessories, and an RJ-45 Ethernet port for wired networking. There's also an AC charger on the dock that activates the Elite x3's Quick Charge 3.0 technology, and a Kensington lock slot to keep IT managers happy that these docks won't slip their moorings.

Mobile Extender

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The 12.5-inch Mobile Extender has no local processing or storage capability, relying on a wireless or USB-C connection to the Elite x3 phablet.

Image: HP Inc

An intriguing element of HP's Elite x3 ecosystem is the Mobile Extender, which is aimed at facilitating "mobile productivity on the go," as HP's Park put it. It's a 12.5-inch laptop-format thin client with no processing or storage capability of its own. Instead, it connects to the Elite x3 either wirelessly or via a USB-C cable. The "ME dock", as HP calls it internally, weighs around 1kg and includes two USB-C ports, B&O Skype-optimised speakers, an audio-out jack and a 48Whr battery.

The Mobile Extender seems to be a spiritual descendent of the 2007 Palm Foleo and Motorola's more recent (2011) Atrix 4G Lapdock, neither of which met with success. Much will depend on the device's cost (TBA), and the usability of the Continuum experience on the Mobile Extender.

HP Workspace

HP's three-in-one (phone, laptop, desktop) Elite x3 device ecosystem is complemented by a software component -- HP Workspace. Designed to facilitate access to virtualised, cloud-hosted enterprise apps (many of them originally written for Windows XP), HP Workspace is an app catalogue that authenticates to Active Directory, pulling up a tile for each of the apps to which the user has access. When the Elite x3 is docked, clicking on an app tile initiates a VPN session to the datacentre, bringing up the virtualised desktop app on the attached monitor (or Mobile Extender), where it can be driven by a keyboard and mouse (or touchpad).

HP has also partnered with leading CRM provider Salesforce to preinstall Salesforce1 on every Elite x3.

Outlook

"Commercial mobility is prime for disruption, and has never seen innovation at this scale," said Dion Weisler, HP Inc's president and chief executive officer, in a statement. "The HP Elite x3 is a revolutionary mobile platform that enables mobility and computing to come together in a truly meaningful way. Together with the strength of our partners, we're propelling the industry forward and turning the promise of mobile productivity into a reality for customers."

The HP Elite x3 is expected to ship in the summer. Prices for the phablet and the various accessories and subscriptions will be announced at a later date.

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