Last December we reviewed HP Inc's Elite x3, a 5.96-inch Windows 10 Mobile phablet that functions as a standalone smartphone while also linking up to an external monitor or a laptop-style dock to provide a desktop experience via Windows Continuum. HP has now, finally, sent a review sample of the Lap Dock so we can see how the combination works in practice.
HP calls the Elite x3 "one device that's every device", although this only plays out if the Elite x3 is used in combination with the Lap Dock or the Desk Dock charge/connector stand, which links the phablet to an external monitor. Either way, the idea is that the Elite x3 does all the heavy lifting, and can link to various external displays.
This modular approach means organisations can be flexible about what they buy, but none of the hardware elements is inexpensive. As I write the Lap Dock is available for £516.67 (ex. VAT, or £620 inc. VAT), while HP's current price for the Elite x3/Desk Dock combo is £631 (ex. VAT, £757.20 inc. VAT).
Then there's HP Workspace, which allows IT managers to virtualise Windows applications (32-bit or 64-bit), giving employees access to a curated catalogue via the x3's Start screen and delivering a full desktop experience when the phablet is connected to a Lap Dock or an external monitor. Workspace comes in Essential and Premium variants, and is sold on a per-user basis, with VPN as an add-on. Essential customers can select up to ten Windows apps, while Premium users can deploy as many as they want.
The 12.5-inch Lap Dock is sturdy and well made, measuring 289mm wide by 201mm deep by 13.8mm thick and weighing 1Kg. Ports and connectors are ranged around the left and right edges, and there's a pair of B&O speakers on the underside. The left side has a Micro-HDMI port, a USB-C Elite x3/Desk Dock connector, a power button and a 3.5mm headset jack. The right side has a pair of USB-C ports which can be used to connect devices and charge the Lap Dock. HP provides a USB 3.0 converter and a cable for connecting the Lap Dock to the Elite x3 phablet.
There's a battery life indicator on the right edge, with four white LEDs to give indicte the power remaining when an adjacent button is pressed. The Lap Dock connects to the Elite x3 in either wired or wireless modes, and HP says the 4-cell, 46.5Wh battery is good for up to six hours for a wireless connection and seven hours for wired. When the Elite x3 is attached it charges from the Lap Dock to the point where the Lap Dock has 30 minutes' charge remaining. My anecdotal experience suggests that battery life with a wired Elite x3 connection might be closer to 4.5 hours than seven.
The backlit keyboard is springy and well made, while the matte 12.5-inch display 1,920-by-1,080 resolution and sits in a near-borderless bezel.
The Lap Dock has no hard drive, processor, storage, RAM or webcam. It takes input only from the Elite x3. Without the phablet attached, it's just functionless doorstop, with a battery.
I didn't have access to HP Workspace, so had to be content with using Windows Continuum. Working with a wired connection to the Elite x3 was a little laggy, but wireless (via Miracast over 802.11ac wi-fi) was even more so. I stuck with the wired option.
It's useful to have a larger screen for tasks like document production, and the responsive keyboard is a pleasure to work with. Keyboard shortcuts for volume control and media playback and the ability to switch between running apps are all useful. The Lap Dock's 12.5-inch screen, noise-cancelling microphones and B&O speakers also enhance video conferencing, although you'll have to use the Elite x3's camera as there's no webcam on the Lap Dock itself.
But in the end, working like this is only as good as Windows 10 Mobile currently allows it to be. There's no side-by-side app use, no desktop Windows apps, and no access to local document storage unless you specifically attach it, for example via an external hard drive or USB stick (and you can only access this if the Elite x3 is wired to the Lap Dock, not when wirelessly attached).
Without an HP Workspace subscription, the Lap Dock is simply a dumb screen-extending device for the Elite x3 -- albeit a well-built one that offers a 1,920-by-1,080 viewing area. That's not a bad thing, but it's nowhere near as functional as a laptop for the same price would be.
HP deserves credit for pushing the idea of a Windows 10 Mobile handset as the only computing device you need. But without corporate buy-in to HP Workspace, the Windows Continuum experience probably won't deliver everything a mobile professional needs.