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Fewer apps available than on leading mobile platforms
HP has come up with what may be the most compelling Windows 10 Mobile phone yet -- the Elite x3. According to the company, this phablet-sized handset is "the one device that's every device". Deconstructed, that means the Elite x3 is part of a suite of kit that stretches its capabilities well beyond its 5.96-inch display and on-screen keyboard.
To that end, HP is selling the Elite x3 in bundles that include a Desk Dock (providing a range of connectors), and a Lap Dock (a 12.5-inch 'dumb' laptop), along with a flexible computing experience centred around HP Workspace and Windows Continuum.
We waited (and waited) for HP to deliver us a Lap Dock to review, but in the end our patience wore thin, and so we're reviewing the Elite x3 and Desk Dock, a bundle that costs £673.20 (inc. VAT, or £561 ex. VAT) in the UK ($799 in the US) ($1199 in AU ). Expect an update when the Lap Dock -- which costs $599 in the US -- finally shows up.
Some are saying that the Elite x3 and HP's hardware/software ecosystem approach is the last chance for Windows 10 Mobile to prove itself. Be that as it may, what the Elite x3 must do is hold its own compared the high-end smartphone competition. Comparable flagship phablets -- all with 5.5-inch screens -- include the iPhone 7 Plus at £719, Google Pixel XL at £719 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at £629.99.
Design and build quality are very important at this end of the market, and fortunately HP has put in a lot of effort here. Not only does it look smart, the Elite x3 is also tough, meeting both the MIL-STD 810G and IP67 standards. The former covers a range of environmental conditions, while an IP67 rating signifies that the handset is 'dust tight' and can withstand submersion in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes.
A slightly rubbery finish to the back and sides makes the Elite x3 nicely grippy, which is important for such a big phone. The phablet-sized 5.96-inch screen means an overall footprint of 83.5mm wide by 161.8 mm deep, and 7.8mm thick. This I found too large for the pockets that normally accommodate my everyday phone; it was also a little unwieldy in the hand -- I couldn't reach right across the screen for one-handed use, for example.
Of course, the Elite x3's size also makes for a heavier than average handset. It tips the scales at 194g, compared to 188g for the iPhone 7 Plus, 168g for the Google Pixel XL and 157g for Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge.
The AMOLED screen's resolution of 1,440 by 2,560 pixels delivers extremely sharp content with a pixel density of 494ppi (ahead of the iPhone 7 Plus's 401ppi, but behind the Google Pixel XL's 531ppi and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge's 537ppi). Text is a pleasure to read, and graphics look sharp and bright. Email, websites, e-books and work documents all display well on this screen, which offers a maximum brightness of 350 nits.
The Elite x3 may be great for information consumption, but it's not great for document creation. No on-screen keypad is anywhere near as efficient as a physical keyboard, especially for protracted periods of use. That, of course, is why HP has provided a supporting hardware/software ecosystem around the Elite x3 phablet.
The speaker sits on the front of the device below the screen, behind a grille with a B&O logo, adding about 8mm to the phone's overall height. Streamed YouTube video is loud enough, although audio quality could be better: as so often with smartphone speakers, there's a lack of solid bass tones and a bit too much treble.
The main camera is a 16-megapixel unit with an f/2.2 lens and 1.31-micron pixels. It will shoot 4K (and full-HD) video at 30 frames per second (fps). You get a panorama mode, but otherwise there are few of the photographer's tricks and tweaks that are commonly offered on other flagship smartphones. There's a fair bit of choice in the app store if you want to augment the camera's abilities, though. The 8MP front camera also has an f/2.2 lens but smaller 1.12-micron pixels, and will shoot full-HD video at 30fps.
The Elite x3 runs on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 MSM8996 processor supported by 4GB of RAM. Of the 64GB of internal storage, 58.2GB is available to the user -- and of this, just 4.73GB was used out of the box. Fifty-plus gigabytes is a decent amount of free storage space for a smartphone, but it's important to note that, because the Elite x3 is billed as the only computing device a worker needs, this falls far short of the local storage available on your average business laptop.
If it becomes necessary to boost the internal storage via a microSD card, then one of the Elite x3's two Nano-SIM slots will have to be sacrificed. This shared slot system, which forces you to choose between either two SIMs or one SIM and a microSD card, is not one I'm particularly fond of, but it is increasingly widely used.
HP includes an array of apps in addition to the Windows 10 staples, including HP Workspace, HP Device Hub, HP All-in-One Remote and HP Touchpoint Manager. Other additions include Salesforce universal app and Winzip Universal.
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 data centre, bringing up the virtualised desktop app on an attached monitor or Lap Dock. A per-seat environment, HP Workspace is charged on a range of scales depending on usage requirements.
Battery life is absolutely critical for a device that's intended to function as "the one device that's every device". HP has squeezed a 4,150mAh battery into the Elite x3, which if my anecdotal experience is anything to go by, should get most users through a working day. I managed a full weekend without recourse to mains power, although this was working in my usual smartphone mode, rather than using the Elite x3 with a Lap Dock for all my computing activity.
The battery is charged via a USB-C Cable, fast charging is supported, and a (Qi) wireless charger is available as an add-on purchase (£46.80 inc. VAT, or $49 in the US).
Security is vital for mobile professionals, and device security on the Elite x3 is managed via a front-mounted iris scanner and a fingerprint reader on the back. Windows 10 Mobile incorporates 128-key Bitlocker encryption and enterprise-grade VPN technology.
As noted earlier, two vital accessories turn the HP Elite x3 into more than just another smartphone: the Desk Dock and the Lap Dock.
The Desk Dock is a desktop stand for the Elite x3 that includes fast-charging support, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, a DisplayPort, two full-size USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C connector.
The Desk Dock is robustly made, but quite heavy, and if you work in multiple environments you may need a Desk Dock in more than one location. This might necessitate either carrying it around or having several Desk Docks. At the time of writing I was unable to find a price for individually purchased Desk Docks.
The Lap Dock looks like a standard laptop, but has no local processing or storage capability, and only functions when used in conjunction with the Elite x3 phablet. Weighing around a kilogram (2.3lbs), the Lap Dock has a 12.5-inch FHD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen and a full-size keyboard, providing a working environment for tasks that can't be completed with the Elite x3 handset alone. It also features three USB-C ports, a Micro-HDMI connector, B&O stereo speakers, a pair of noise cancelling microphones, a stereo headphone jack and a 4-cell, 46.5Wh battery.
As noted earlier, it's unfortunate that HP has not been able to provide a Lap Dock to review at this time. We hope to be able to evaluate it working alongside the Elite x3 in due course.
HP is positioning the Elite x3 as a phablet that, in combination with the Desk Dock and the Lap Dock, can satisfy the computing requirements of mobile professionals in sectors like healthcare, field service, retail and logistics.
This only really makes sense if organisations buy into the full package, which includes seats on HP Workspace as well as the hardware combination of phablet, docking station and dumb laptop.
In the UK, that hardware trio costs £1,099 (inc. VAT, £915.83 ex. VAT) per user (or $1,318 in the US). This can only be a viable spend where organizations can access all the apps they require and are convinced they don't need any additional computing facilities that a traditional laptop might offer.
Elite x3 AU pricing: Elite x3 - $1,099 inc GSTE Lite x3 & Dock (bundle) - $ 1,199 inc. GST Wireless Charger: $ 89 inc. GST Lap Dock - $ 799 inc. GST