A smartphone is supposedly just that – a phone. Yes you can take great photos with it, comb through your social media, and install all kinds of apps on it. But once you get to the office, you set your phone down and fire up your PC to get some ‘actual’ work done. You don’t sit at your desk and send off emails from your phone – you do that from your full-fledged email client on your desktop PC. You’d never use your phone to make major edits to a photo, or put together a complicated presentation. At some point, your phone becomes a bystander as it gives way to the more competent PC for doing everyday tasks.
But the dream has long been of a device that could double as both your phone and a PC equivalent. Some time ago there were fancy Android phones that would slide into a large enclosure to turn into a tablet, but that was it. There were dreams of an Ubuntu phone that would be powerful enough to be docked at your desk and transform into your work PC, but that too never saw much traction. Finally, when Microsoft revealed the Windows Continuum feature for Windows 10 Phones, it seemed that we might actually get this legendary device – a phone that could double as a passable PC. This is something that HP has decided to tackle with the HP Elite x3 smartphone, and while it’s a fantastic phone, the choice to use it instead of your regular PC might not be a smart one.
The HP Elite x3 is certainly a large phone, bigger than my current phone which is the Sony Xperia XZ. Measuring nearly 6”, it’s bigger even than the iPhone Plus, which makes it feel quite hefty in your hand. But then again, the Elite x3 is strictly business from the moment you unbox it, so the larger size is perfect for quickly scanning through important pdfs on the go or zooming into a worksheet you’re collaborating with other people on.
Apart from a rather awkward silver finish on the bottom lip that showcases the Bang & Olufsen speaker, the phone is dressed in sleek back, with the back of the phone changing to a nice matte finish. At the back of the phone you’ve got a discreet HP logo at the bottom, along with the 16MP rear camera and fingerprint sensor. The right side features a volume rocker and power button, while a 3.5mm jack nestles discreetly on the top of the phone. Finally, there’s a USB-C charging port at the bottom of the phone, but thankfully HP has also included wireless charging on the Elite x3, which is a huge bonus.
HP set out to create a powerful phone that could be provide both a smartphone and PC experience, and the only way they could pull this off was to cram as much tech as they could into the Elite x3. Firstly you’ve got a Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 processor under the hood, which is great to make Windows 10’s interface slide in and out of apps with ease. There’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, which makes the Elite x3 the perfect business smartphone. It can handle pretty much any app you can chuck on it, and the ample about of storage means that you won’t be running low on space any time soon. HP has also kitted the Elite x3 with a dual nano-SIM card slot, which is perfect for business travelers. You can opt to use two SIM cards or use one SIM and a microSD card, whichever suits your needs. But one thing’s clear – the Elite x3 is no phone to laugh at, and in the eternal contest of ‘size does matter’, it laughs at the competition.
Given its rather beefy internals, it was no surprise that the Elite x3 breezed through pretty much whatever we threw at it. From opening Office applications to swapping through social media and the occasional minor photo editing, there’s a lot to be said for the Elite x3’s performance. Having said that, I do have to remember that this is a Windows 10 phone, and there are going to be certain limitations in terms of app support. Yes, you can still fire up WhatsApp, Facebook, etc to your heart’s content, but there is a shortage of available apps that you can’t ignore. I was out and about and needed to get some bank transactions done, and I discovered my bank didn’t have an app available. I needed to book a car for a friend and again, no app available. Just from two apps being missing on my phone, I began to miss my Android phone terribly, and sadly this is something that just won’t change any time soon. HP can’t be blamed for this at all, but it’s sad to see them make such a great phone only to have it let down by how much the Windows app ecosystem is ignored.
One feature worth mentioning on the Elite x3 is you now have dual-biometric authentication available. So in addition to using your fingerprint to unlock your phone, you can also use Windows 10’s face recognition feature ‘Hello’ to unlock your phone. Simply bring your phone closer to your face and the phone will recognize and unlock in a few seconds. It’s certainly a nifty feature to have than trying to remember passcodes, and it worked fairly well in most cases.
Screen and Camera
The large screen is absolutely perfect for looking at documents on the go, or even if you’d like to indulge in a bit of Netflix on your lunch break. The front-facing B&O speaker is certainly quite loud, but at higher volumes I found that the sound would be a bit harsh and lacked much depth, which is quite surprising. So make sure you’re packing a pair of headphones to enjoy your music or video in peace.
A 16MP camera and 8MP front-facing camera is what you have on the Elite x3, and it does a pretty decent job. What’s particularly infuriating however is how terrible the camera interface is. There’s a good one-second delay in between tapping the screen to take a photo, and the photo actually being captured. My Android phone takes photos in a fraction of a second, and I really find it peculiar that the Elite x3 would have such a terrible time taking photos. The front-facing camera is decent as well, so if you’re a business traveler who’s taking the occasional photo to capture your trip, you’ll be fine. Here's a quick gallery of photos taken with the Elite x3: