HP Elite X3 Preview: The Smartphone that Wants to be Your Next Laptop

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After nearly a two year absence, HP is returning to the mobile market with the Elite X3, a Windows phone designed for business users. The high-end phablet may be exactly what Microsoft needs to attract new users to the underpopulated platform. HP doesn’t just want the Elite X3 to replace your smartphone, but your PC as well. To put it plainly the X3 is a bold move. Armed with an array of high-end specs including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor along with Windows 10’s Continuum feature, the Elite X3 may just be able to make that bold idea a reality.

Built for Business

HP Elite X3The Elite X3 runs large for a handset, the 5.96-inch screen offers a great deal of real estate, but it also may be a bit unwieldy for some users (especially when using the device one handed). It’s one of the largest displays on the market, dwarfing the sizeable 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 5. While the Elite X3 is quite the behemoth, HP doesn’t waste any space, the device is nearly all screen with incredibly thin bezels.

As expected of business-oriented device provides clean understated aesthetic. The face of the device is made of  black metal, while the back is coated in a matching polycarbonate cover. The bottom face of the phone houses a silver Bang & Olufsen speaker grill. The silver grill adds a nice bit of flare to the otherwise plain looking X3, without making it look to flashy.

As a device that prides itself on unbridled mobility, the Elite X3 is built to stand up to wears and tears of the road. The phone has been designed to stand up to 810G military spec. testing. The Elite X3 is also waterproof up to IP67, which should protect the device from the occasional downpour or spilled glass of water.

Elite Specs

Considering that the Elite X3 wants to be more than just a handset, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the device is packing some serious heat under the hood. The Elite X3 is currently designed to be the most powerful Windows phone on the market. Running on Windows 10 Mobile the handset is powered by a Qualcomm’s newest chipset the 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 CPU. The device also features a Qualcomm Adreno 530 GPU (integrated into the Snapdragon 820 chipset), 4GB of DDR4 RAM, and a sizable 4,150mAh battery. The device houses a USB-type C connector along with 64GB of on-board storage that can be expanded to 2TB via microSD.

The 5.96-inch display is no slouch either boasting a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) resolution. Considering the size of the display that will give the Elite X3 a slightly lower pixels per inch count than other leading handset, but from our brief time with the device we didn’t see a noticeable drop in image quality. The AMOLED panel actually looks pretty great offer vibrant colors and solid contrast. Additionally the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, helping to protect from scratches and impacts, bolstering the already impressive level of durability offered by the X3.

The Elite X3 also offers a solid imaging capabilities as well, with a 16MP rear facing camera. The front of the device is also equipped with a 8MP sensor that is capable of capturing two images simultaneously and combine them to create an HDR like image. The X3 also boasts a few security features including a fingerprint scanner and an iris scanner on the front of the device.

It’s a Phone, It’s a Desktop, It’s the Elite X3

x3 in pc modeWhile the Elite X3 is a solid handset in its own right, the defining characteristic of this device is the ability to seamlessly transform between handset and PC. HP is attempting to tackle this herculean feat with the help of Continuum, a Windows 10 feature that allows Windows smartphones to plug into a display and function like a Windows computer with full keyboard and mouse functionality.

It’s an attractive idea, the prospect of being able to keep your files and data with you at all times on a singular device, but there are a few caveats. The most important being that Continuum doesn’t allow smartphones to run full desktop apps. Luckily HP does have a solution, the company is building in software for running apps from the cloud. Unfortunately this functionality will need to be installed by an IT department, locking in the phone’s identity as a business-grade device, this isn’t a device for the average consumer.

Truth be told the HP Elite X3 is still more of proof of concept at this point. The company is still working on the software streaming aspect, which undoubtedly is going to play a large part in how successful the Elite X3 is. However, from what little we have seen, using continuum to switch between smartphone and desktop modes is pretty seamless.

HP is planning on selling a pair of accessories alongside the Elite X3 that help make the transition between phone and PC even easier. The Desk Dock is a compact chrome dock with a small collection of ports in the back (two USB ports, one USB-C, DisplayPort and Ethernet connector) to provide users with all the connectivity expected of business-grade pc. We got a chance to briefly test out the X3 while using the dock and while the device is still in early development, it did work quite well. Both the keyboard and mouse attached to dock worked without a hitch, they were responsive with no noticeable lag. However, what impressed us most was just how quick and easy it was to hook the phone up. Within seconds of plugging the device into the dock it was up and running.

x3 laptopIn addition to the dock, HP will also be releasing what is essentially a hollowed out laptop called the Mobile Extender. The accessory isn’t actually a laptop as it doesn’t have any computing components of its own, meaning the laptop is only functional when tethered to the Elite X3, which can be enabled via Miracast and WiGig technologies. Unfortunately, HP didn’t have a working model on-hand, but the peripheral will ship with a 12.5-inch 1080p display, physical keyboard and working trackpad.

A Wonderful Idea, but is it Plausible?

x3 in dockThis isn’t the first time that a company has tried to deliver a phone that can replace a PC, but the Elite X3 is an ambitious idea that might come closer than any of those previous failures. With Continuum and its own suite of virtual apps, HP may have found one of the most compelling reasons for business users to consider the switch to a Windows phone. However, there are still a number of issues that need to be addressed before HP can make that a reality. The first being that Windows currently finds itself a distance third in the market behind both Apple and Android among developers. The app market is sparse compared to its competitors, so HP is taxed with picking up a lot of the slack via its virtual apps for software that runs on the Windows desktop.

The second (and perhaps more important) issue is whether the Elite X3 is powerful enough to fill in as your full-time PC? There’s no question that the X3 is incredibly powerful for a mobile handset, but how will the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 face off against more demanding productivity apps? Sure HP will be virtualizing a lot of the software, which should help to offset some of the workload, but until we see some benchmarks and real-world performance the X3 should be treated with guarded optimism.

There are some questions that still need to be answered, but the Elite X3 is an interesting prospect to say the least. It’s hard to really gauge at this point how successful the X3 will be, but we’re excited to see the product continue to develop. Considering that the HP Elite X3 is so early in development, the company has yet to set a price point or release date, but the company is shooting for a Summer release.


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