Here we go again. The dream of displacing laptops and desktops by truly mobile computing platforms is well and truly alive within HP and Microsoft, and while it is far from fully realised in the Elite x3, the device provides a signpost of where Continuum is headed.
The Elite x3 arrives as a Windows 10 Mobile handset that is accompanied by a lapdock, a dumb client laptop sized accessory, and desk dock that connects to a TV or monitor and desktop keyboard and mouse.
At all times, though, the processing power is delivered from the phone's Snapdragon 820 processor -- regardless of whatever configuration is being used at the time -- which limits the sorts of tasks it performs well at.
This is not a device that users will run a development IDE on, nor is it the sort of thing that would lend itself to rendering. To pigeon-hole this device, it is best to think of it as a Chromebook that runs a form of Windows 10.
What this means is that it is capable of handling email, a CRM-style app or two, Office documents, and lighter web pages. Opening up half a dozen ad-laden tabs in the Edge browser will begin to push the Snapdragon and its 4GB of RAM to its limits.
Provided the user is aware that they do not have a Core i7 under the bonnet, it is entirely possible to use this device and its dock for the sort of data administration and manipulation tasks that salespeople, or even cops, do on a day-to-day basis.
The core to being productive on the Elite x3 is to get a bigger screen to work on, and hence its pair of docking options.
The first is the desk dock, which replaces the computer tower in the desktop computing equation. The desk dock has a pair of USB ports, one USB-C port, an Ethernet port, a DisplayPort, and uses its own proprietary power connection. In this scenario the phone is connected, whether by cable or by sitting atop of the desk dock.
The second is the Lap Dock, which is a dumb client laptop-sized accessory that only packs its own battery, which HP rates at six or seven hours, but Sandra Vogel said was more likely to be in the 4.5-hour range. Lap Dock is able to be connected to the phone with Continuum via USB-C cable or wireless. Although there is no hard evidence to back this claim up, I could easily believe the wireless connection is slower than the cable option, but that's based on feelings and not physics -- your mileage may vary.
With the docks functioning as little more than extended displays of the handset, it is disappointing the number of times the user is referred back to the handset to complete an action. This is particularly prevalent within settings options.
Even Continuum's "We're working to support more apps" error admits that the implementation, and the centrepiece of the Elite x3 package, is not fully baked. We're not talking about some esoteric application -- it happens in core Windows 10 settings that are entirely the responsibility of Redmond. If Microsoft cannot get its own house in order before shipping Continuum out the door, how does it expect it to gain large-scale traction? One would hope the upcoming Creator's Update would handle many of these issues.
With strained hardware and an undercooked OS that is reliant on an ecosystem that has barely advanced in recent years, this is not the productivity cul-de-sac it appears to be.
The use case for the Elite x3 could be as a portable desktop virtualisation end point, which allows the user to break free of hardware optimised for fitting into a phone. To this end, HP packs its own Workspace app for those that lack their own VDI solution.
To make the best use of what the Elite x3 package offers, buyers will want to be in an organisation that is deeply tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, and is fully aware of what the Universal Windows Platform is, and how to take advantage of it.
In Australia, the Elite x3 handset is retailing on HP's site at AU$1,100 at the time of writing, and can be bundled with the Desk Dock in a AU$1,200 starter pack. The Lap Dock sells separately for AU$800. The Elite x3 is also sold through Telstra, Optus, and Microsoft.
While AU$2,000 for the complete package might appear a bit steep, compared to the cost of an Apple or Android flagship phone coupled with the price of a new laptop, it's not that high.
Provided user workload demands are not too high or the business has a VDI solution in its backpocket to ride over Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum's rough edges, the 3-in-1 Elite x3 can be a serviceable on-the-go computing solution.
Failing that, it's a detailed sketch of what Microsoft would like Continuum to be. Now Redmond needs to colour in the empty spaces.
Be sure to check out Sandra Vogel's more detailed review of the HP Elite x3 and Desk Dock, as well as her preview of the Lap Dock.