HP Elite x3 Windows 10 Smartphone Review: An Office In Your Pocket

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HP Elite x3: User Experience

The HP Elite x3 certainly has a strong looking ecosystem of accessories around it, but how do they perform? What is it actually like to use the HP Elite x3 on a daily basis?

hp elite x3 screen angle

As a standalone smartphone, the Elite x3 is good but not outstanding. It performs well thanks to the onboard Snapdragon 820 SoC and the Windows Phone interface is more or less intuitive. As alluded to before, the phone feels great ergonomically. There is a lot to love about it, if we can overlook the paltry selection of apps on the Windows Store.

This phone is not about apps, though, it is about business. From that perspective, users are well covered with email, Microsoft Office for productivity, and social media for keeping connected. Sure, Snapchat is missing, but executives are significantly more likely to bank on LinkedIn and Facebook for maintaining business relationships. The bottom line is, there are users who can be perfectly content within the confines of a Windows Phone ecosystem and there are users who need more – we are not here to critique the Windows Phone platform.

hp elite x3 vga adapter

Instead, let’s examine what Continuum allows us to do. We will begin with the simplest setup – a monitor connected directly to the phone via a USB-C video adapter. In this configuration, we can pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to the phone, giving us effectively a one-cord setup. In lieu of a keyboard and mouse, the phone itself can act as your trackpad and keyboard. The downside here is we have no way to charge the phone so sessions will be limited to what the battery can deliver. This setup works well for casual Continuum usage or “in-a-pinch” scenarios away from the Desk Dock.

hp elite x3 desk dock edge

The Desk Dock builds on this experience namely by providing power to the phone as well as dedicated USB, Ethernet, and video ports. Pop the phone on the dock and get working immediately. We anticipate most Elite x3 owners will use their phone this way, as it provides the best experience. Ethernet is especially appreciated for corporate environments which often do not offer an internal WiFi network. The only gripe here is the terrible included keyboard which suffers from the mushiest keys we have ever experienced. Be sure to have a replacement option. As an aside, the Desk Dock does not charge or otherwise interact with other USB-C phones we tested on the dock.

hp elite x3 lap dock prepair

Lastly, we have the wireless display option. This promises a utopia of flexibility, but unfortunately needs more time to mature. In our time with the HP Lap Dock, we found it to be sluggish and, at times, downright aggravating to use. Typing is generally delayed, which can be lived with, but sometimes will stop responding for seconds at a time. The trackpad is worse. It seems to have a sample rate in the single digits with varying inaccurate jumps. Using the phone as the trackpad works without issue, however. We have tested with several versions of firmware with no improvement.
hp elite x3 lap dock trackpad

Additionally, the Lap Dock requires the phone to be on and unlocked to operate. It would be much more convenient to keep the phone pocketed while using the Lap Dock. The pairing process is also more cumbersome than it is worth. Unlike the Desk Dock which auto-launches when the phone is docked, the Lap Dock must be connected to from the Continuum app on the phone. A password or trusted-device driven solution that can be initiated from the Lap Dock itself with no interaction on the phone would be highly preferable.

hp elite x3 lap dock tether

Most of these issues with the Lap Dock are resolved by directly connecting the two with a USB-C cable. This is fine, but largely defeats the purpose of being a wireless accessory. We can stream games across our house with minimal latency in high definition with low-power devices like the NVIDIA SHIELD, so poor input performance from a device inches away is hard to accept. The $400 premium for the Lap Dock is better spend on a Chromebook or inexpensive Windows Laptop.

Continuum is a watered down façade of Windows 10 in its current form. Once connected, the Continuum display provides a Start button and taskbar with notification center, a top banner displaying phone status information and the time, and a blank desktop with wallpaper.

hp elite x3 continuum desktop

The desktop serves no purpose apart from a spatial placeholder – you cannot place icons on it nor can you right-click or otherwise interact with it. The Start menu mirrors your phone’s homescreen exactly with the addition of an All Apps button to access the application list in place of a swipe.

hp elite x3 continuum taskbar

The taskbar offers a back button, a Cortana shortcut, and a task switching button. Apps will appear here as they are used but they cannot be pinned. Once an app is closed it vanishes from the taskbar as well. Some apps will not launch in continuum at all. Users will spend much more time hunting for apps under the Start menu than a comparable Windows 10 setup with pinned apps. Additionally, search is not triggered by clicking the Start button, instead a user needs to click All Apps and then the search box itself or otherwise use Cortana.

hp elite x3 continuum minimize close
No restore-down, no window snapping

Curiously, Windows Mobile does not support resizing, moving, or placing applications side-by-side. This functionality should be a concrete advantage of using a larger screen so it is puzzling to see it completely missing. Also, Continuum does not support multiple monitors at once which further hampers multitasking productivity. Business users need to be able to view documents side by side with a web browser or email.

hp elite x3 continuum remote desktop

The Elite x3 does have one shining use case, however, as a thin client. In a corporate environment with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or remote desktop servers (RDS), we can forget about the limitations of Windows Phone and instead enjoy a full Windows desktop experience complete with x86 apps. Any business that plans to incorporate the Elite x3 will want to have this backend in place. It still doesn’t provide multi-monitor support, but the rest of the experience is good enough to compete with or compliment traditional thin client solutions.

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In terms of performance, the HP Elite x3 feels fast and fluid, thanks to the combination of a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and Windows 10 for phones. All of the usual benchmarks we run on smartphones aren't available in the Windows Store, but we do have a sampling of numbers to help quantify performance. As you can see the HP Elite x3 is significantly faster than Microsoft's discontinued Lumia 950 XL, and competes well with some of the higher-end phones on the market.

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