HP Elite X3 Review: A super phablet that’s stuck with a faltering OS

HP Elite X3 smartphone

The Pros

  • Beautiful screen
  • Continuum compatible
  • Great support from HP

The Cons

  • It's big, even for a phablet
  • Only on Windows 10 Mobile
  • Expensive

These days it’s hard not to feel a sense of doom and gloom surrounding Windows 10 Mobile.

A series of major services have withdrawn their apps from the platform in the last few weeks and even Microsoft appears to have admitted that the operating system is more trouble than it’s worth by dropping support for the Windows Mobile version of Minecraft.

With that in mind, I admit that I felt a pang of regret that Windows isn’t a viable option as my everyday mobile OS when I tested Hewlett Packard’s Elite X3. As a premium phone that deserves to stand alongside the likes of the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel, the Elite X3 is a phablet fan’s delight. Yet, the reality is that very few people are likely to experience it because of the operating system it runs on.

Productivity focus

Bottom of X3 smartphone

Microsoft has been trying to position Windows 10 Mobile as the best choice for productivity-oriented users and the Elite X3 is squarely aimed at that market. With an OS that matches HP’s ambitions, the Elite X3 could be the ideal phone for anyone who frequently flies business class. The 5.96-inch WQHD AMOLED screen is massive and brilliantly sharp, which makes manipulating Excel spreadsheets and writing Word documents on-the-go easier than it is on probably any other phone on the market (and the screen is great for watching HD movies on, too). Then, at the office, there is the option to kick into Continuum if the additional hardware is available.

Under Continuum the phone’s Start screen becomes the Start Menu and UWP apps are scaled appropriately for a computer monitor. The Elite X3, with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.15 GHz processor and 4GB of SDRAM, handles Continuum without a problem.

Back of Continuum dock

Furthermore, with the specially-designed Desk Dock, which comes in the $999 CAD bundle currently advertised on Microsoft’s Canadian store, you can hard wire the phone to a monitor via HDMI and to the web through Gigabit Ethernet as well attach USB-A (x 2) and USB-C (x 1) devices such as printers and external hard drives.

HP is understandably trying to get across these advantages by promoting the Elite X3 as a phone that gives a PC-like experience. Unfortunately, because of software limitations, the reality doesn’t match up with the marketing. There are still too few UWP apps and too many constraints on multitasking under Continuum to give a phone connected to a monitor the power and versatility of a PC regardless of how convenient the display scaling is.

Windows 10 mobile’s limitations

HP Elite X3 front

Continuum is a nice bonus if you’re travelling between offices and need to write e-mails, run off a report or make edits to a presentation without wanting to lug a laptop around. If you need more than that, though, Continuum isn’t going to cut it.

As a productivity tool, therefore, the Elite X3 is let down by the current capabilities of its OS. Inevitably, that also applies to everyday use. There is a lot I like about Windows 10 Mobile: it’s fast, familiar and visually different from its more successful competitors. Even so, it feels like a neglected platform. The lack of apps is well-publicized and you can’t even stream to a Chromecast without feeling like you’re fudging it. Moreover, too many services can now only be accessed through a web browser, which is never as convenient as using a dedicated app, even on the Elite X3’s large screen.

None of Windows 10 Mobile’s limitations should distract from the merits of the Elite X3’s hardware, though. You certainly get your money’s worth in mass because the Elite X3 is a giant. Hewlett Packard gives the phone’s length and width as 161.35mm x 83.57mm.

X3 Continuum

That’s 3 mm longer and over 5mm wider than the iPhone 7 Plus and bigger still than a Pixel XL. It is also 0.6 mm thicker than both of these phones. With those dimensions, the Elite X3 is a phone that only The Incredible Hulk will be able to operate with one hand. Still, the weight is comfortable and the matt metal back doesn’t feel slippery.

Windows 10 Mobile is at a crossroads

The Elite X3 also has the kind of specs you would expect from a phone at its price point. These include a whopping 4150 mAh Li-ion polymer battery that is wireless charging compatible, USB-C wired charging, a 16-megapixel FHD rear-facing camera, an 8-megapixel FHD front facing camera, great front-facing B&O PLAY speakers, a noise-cancelling microphone, iris and fingerprint scanners, and 64GB of internal storage (expandable to 2TB if you are not using the second SIM card slot). HP has also produced a nice range of accessories such as a variety of cases, a dedicated stylus and the aforementioned Desk Dock.

As outstanding as these features are, however, they feel a bit like overkill on Windows 10 Mobile. This OS stands at a crossroads and the Elite X3’s place in phone history might well depend on which direction Microsoft chooses to go with it. With just a few significant improvements and more apps, Continuum could become a great boon to travelling professionals and allow the Elite X3 to be used to its full potential.

On the other hand, if Microsoft compromises on Continuum or effectively replaces it by focusing on bringing full Windows 10 to phones, the Elite X3 might go down as a top-class device that barely made a ripple because it was too expensive to appeal to the average consumer and too constrained by the limitations of Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum to be widely adopted by the corporate sector. That would be a shame because I’d have no hesitation in recommending HP’s Elite X3 if it ran on a popular OS.

"I felt a pang of regret that Windows isn’t a viable option as my everyday mobile OS when I tested Hewlett Packard’s Elite X3"                                                                                                                                                        8/10

Comments

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  • I’ve been using it for a few months and this sums up my experiences. The hardware is fantastic (except camera which is good enough) and they’ve done a great job pushing firmware updates. Overall I am quite happy with it.

    Windows 10 Mobile reminds me a bit of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS. There are some things it is great at, but it definitely feels incomplete. Little things like why can’t I swipe from the task switcher back to the start screen the same way I can from the start to all apps – maybe that’s just me missing the fluidity of BlackBerry 10, but it seems obvious. Ditto for why I can’t pull down the action centre from the task switcher. Or why can’t I sync tasks in my Outlook (Microsoft) email to my phone when that was so effortless on BB10?

    But I do love the customizability of the start screen and the potential business uses of Continuum, and I am otherwise buried in the Microsoft ecosystem with Outlook emails, Office365, Xbox, Windows 10 computers, etc, so it is nice to be consistent.

  • Brad Fortin

    I really wish Windows 10 Mobile had better app support, I would probably use a Windows phone with Continuum as my primary computer.

  • Brooke Meisner

    As a former Windows Phone user (Lumia 920 and 1020), I can easily say the only reason I’m still not on Windows Phone now is the app disparity. In terms of the OS itself, it’s beautiful, functional, and optimized incredibly.

    Just no apps : Such a shame…

  • eszklar

    I’m personally waiting to see if Microsoft will ever release a “Surface” phone to push Windows 10 Mobile. Like other posters have mentioned, the app gap is an issue. I’ve tested Windows 10 Mobile on both a Lumia 925 and 1020 there isn’t the full range of apps as compared to Android or iOS. I’d love to see an Android version of this particular phone myself.

    • Smanny

      You can get the Continuum feature with split screen multitasking on any Android smartphone running Nougat today. Just add a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and connect to any Chromecast. Away you go, split screen Android multitasking on any TV or monitor, done.

  • Rimtu Kahn

    Even though I’ve never owned a windows mobile phone, I have to say based on lumia devices, is design, I would’ve enjoyed using one. The only thing that kept me from trying a windows mobile device is the lack of apps or openness. It’s the same reason I stayed away from this awesome device elite x3, which on specs satisfied my requirements more than any other device.

    Honestly this will continue unless windows mobile can handle Google play store and Android apps. Frankly I do not see any platform other than iOS and Android to take off again without support for apps from one of those platform, and of course it can only be android because apple is too high strung to allow for it.

    Hope next iteration of x3 will boast 8GB RAM, full windows OS with support for android apps from Google store

  • Nathan N Michelle Mikoski

    HP had the same issue with tablets running Palm OS. Great hardware with a good but dieing OS. It’s a shame.

  • Nathan Epp

    I have been using Windows 10 Mobile on Microsoft’s 950XL and Continuum has allowed me to replace my laptop for most things that I do. Some would consider the sacrifices (stuck with Edge, limited printing support, lack of apps) too much… despite that, I find that I’m hooked on Continuum. I’m not saying that it’s mature enough that I would recommend it broadly. But if you already live in the Microsoft ecosystem and are willing to put up with the rough edges (no pun intended 🙂 ), there is something about it that you will find hard to give up. What do I do with my phone you may be asking? The primary things I do are reading email, Facebook, watching Netflix. I also regularly use the Remote Desktop app to access work, use the Office apps, play solitaire/sudoku/mahjong, text/whatsapp, control my Sonos, sync my MS Band, online banking, listen to podcasts/spotify… I’m sure there are apps that Android/iOS have that I would love to have but I am content with what I can do. It seems Microsoft is taking steps to enable win32/x86 apps to run on Windows 10 even on ARM… I’m not sure this will help much. I’m disappointed that they abandoned the Android bridge to allow Android apps to run on Windows 10 mobile. The Elite X3 looks like an interesting phone. I feel like Microsoft is just a few steps away from having something (continuum) that could really take off… it needs some polish and a few more features and… well a killer app wouldn’t hurt :)… given Microsoft’s recent track record, I’m not holding my breath.

    • Vito R.

      It’s one thing to use something because it’s useful and another to use it just to say you can. I feel this is the latter.

      I grabbed a Moto Atrix back in the day. It had a fingerprint sensor and you could attach a keyboard and screen to it and use it in desktop mode. You could do all the things you do with continuum – I wouldn’t call the experience great. This is something Microsoft is doing because they can, not because it’s in any way *better*. It may be fun to show off to a friend or do it just to say you can, but it isn’t better than just using your desktop/laptop.

    • Smanny

      Everything you mentioned you can run on other smartphones, except Microsoft’s Edge browser. If you want to be able to run your office and a few other apps simultaneously with say a split screen on a smartphone. Then you can do this today with any Android smartphone running the latest Nougat (version 7 or higher). Not to mention you can do it wirelessly with an inexpensive Chromecast and wireless mouse and keyboard.

  • Joshua Binyard

    Who gave you this phone to review. You don’t Like large phones. So why even pick it up! You don’t like continuum. It’s to expensive. This is an obvious jibe at a great product. Everything you hate and love about this phone is written on the outside of the box. I came here looking for some insight. Pst my Nexus6 is 5 .96

    • Vito R.

      It’s a phone, it should be useable as a phone. Saying it’s too big is a valid observation. It’s there any reason it couldn’t be a little smaller like similarly configured Android devices? The main selling point of this device is continuum, the being the case it doesn’t really matter how big the phone is.

  • John Moody

    Microsoft already has Windows 10 running on arm processors. Which this phone will obviously upgrade to. As for the article. Really? Large phones are taking over. They are becoming the dominant device. Even teenage kids know this. Who wants to watch YouTube or Netflix on a 5″ screen. Yes Windows Mobile is lacking apps. As the author said everyone knows it. Especially Microsoft. HP as well. Dunno why it was even mentioned. It is at a crossroads. Microsoft has made it quite clear Windows Mobile is becoming Windows 10. No news here.

    • Vito R.

      Nothing is obvious with Microsoft’s mobile intentions. This is just an expensive proof of concept.

  • Shafiq

    I think it is important for you to re-review this once the Creators Update comes out in a few months, specifically for the changes that will be made to Continuum. I think it’s important mostly to see how this device changes as a laptop replacement device, and if sufficient progress has been made to achieve that dream.

    • Smanny

      That’s the problem, Microsoft is always coming out with something in the future that is going to fix this, and add this, and that to the next up and coming version, or update. We have been hearing this for years now.

      As it stands today, Windows 10 Mobile is far behind the competition. Continuum is great on Windows 10 mobile. However if users want to dock their current smartphones, like an Android smartphone to a monitor with a keyboard and a mouse. They can buy a cheap Chromecast, and easily attach a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Not to mention with the latest Nougat users can now use split screen with their Android smartphones, over a Chromecast. So they can run Office in one Window, and Chrome browser in another. Not to mention the app gap, but there is all the VR apps on Android that are completely missing on Windows 10 mobile, as well as all the tools and utilities that are missing on Windows 10 mobile. All the banking apps are not there. The list is so vast, that I don’t see how Microsoft can catch up.

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