HP Elite X3 Review
A powerhouse and complete all-in-one solution for the corporate environment
For a few days now, I have been trying out HP’s new smartphone, the Elite X3.
This is not your typical smartphone, it is geared for business. Don’t expect to see all the trendy kids eyeing up this device, but if productive working on the go is what you need, and desire a one-device-does-it -ll solution, the X3 could well be the one.
This hands on and initial impressions come from using a pre-production model and not the final retail unit. As such I am unable to give a full and conclusive review, given some features are not fully implemented at the time of writing. From this we can get a very good feel for the device though.
The X3 is no slouch in specifications, it is as if the team at HP went to the options list for parts and ticked them all, yes I mean them all. The specifications of this phone are immense.
Key specs are:
- Windows 10 Mobile with Continuum support
- 5.96″ touch screen display
- Corning Gorilla Glass 4
- 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
- 4GB of DDR4 RAM
- Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers
- IP67 certified
- MIL Spec 810G rated
- 16 MP rear & 8 MP front facing camera
- 64 GB Internal storage
- MicroSD card slot
- Dual SIM slots
- USB Type-C connector
- Desk Dock
- 4,150 mAh battery
- Quick Charge 3.0
- Qi/PMA wireless charging
- Biometric security
Whilst the screen size and OS of choice might not be to everyone’s liking how can you fault this for a spec list?
The X3 is undoubtedly big. With such a large screen this handset dominates the palm, or the pocket.
I have a personal affiliation for smaller screen devices, but even those used to larger handsets comment on its size.
That said, Galaxy Note users will likely feel relatively at home with the X3 and if you have used the Huawei Mate 8, Nexus 6 or the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL the size difference is minimal.
Big it may be, for something that is IP and MIL Spec 810G rated you would not know it at all. It looks like any regular smartphone, I have rarely seen anything this large and protected that looks so sleek. I can confirm after a few drops, it is still working!
Primarily black in colour the distinguishing design is the shiny silver plastic that is the housing to the speaker on the bottom of the handset. It has a stylish finish for the speaker grille which gives it a slightly better look.
The device is of plastic construction and it would have been nice if there was a presences of aluminium or other metals but sadly this is not the case.
Such may have affected the weight and resistance to impact.
At 7.87 mm thin and 190g this is not a light or slim device but it is still impressive that this should house so many features for its profile.
Branding is limited aside from a small HP logo on the rear and a B&O logo in the bottom right corner.
Above the display is the camera, iris scanner and other sensors as well as the earpiece.
The right edge is home to relatively small power and volume keys. The power key is accented in a silver finish.
On the bottom is the USB Type-C connection.
On the left the tray for the SIMs and memory card.
The top edge has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The back of the handset has the rear camera, LED flash and fingerprint sensor.
Right at the bottom are 5 contact points, which are likely present for potential future accessories that may allow for the X3 to be worked into particular industries and projects.
The display is 5.96” measured diagonally.
With a resolution of 2560 x 1440 this is a WQHD AMOLED touchscreen with 494 pixels per inch and a brightness of 550 nits.
Corning Gorilla Glass 4 is fitted to resist impact and scratches and there is an anti-reflective coating.
The bezels around the screen were a little larger than I would have liked to have seen, but I imagine this in part has something to do with the rugged nature of the phone. Any thinner and the screen would likely be too vulnerable.
Visibility was good and rarely did I feel I needed full brightness, being quite happy with 25-50% brightness most of the time.
Visibility in sunlight was pretty good too, helped by the coating I do believe.
Fingerprints did seem to show on the screen, but once powered on they virtually became unnoticeable. Most noticeable when the screen was off.
The reason why the X3’s screen is so big is a question that likely strikes most people and the real reason is to try and strike a balance between usability and function. If you need to work on a document you can see a lot more on the screen and do more with less scrolling, which when looking at detailed reports or many business documents can be extremely beneficial.
Consuming media is also great here. Movies and images are easy to view and allow you to really enjoy the content.
For some other general uses the screen is too big and few will be using this one handed.
Entering text with the on screen keyboard was an absolute doddle even with my smaller hands. The larger keys and real estate made for more accurate typing.
The Elite X3 runs Windows 10.
What Microsoft has done over the last couple of years is to unify phone, tablet and desktop/laptop (and indeed Xbox and more), so that they all run the same operating system and, to a large extent, the same ‘universal’ applications.
It’s true that Windows 10 Mobile, as with (the compatible) Windows Phone 8 before it, is lacking what some would consider ‘essential’ first applications – mainly social hits like Snapchat, plus all the Google services – but there are many third party applications that can take their place. Whilst users may want some of the social and non-work related facilities, the X3 and Windows 10 is not exactly geared to this, but there are still options, like XBOX streaming.
There’s a lot to like and users already heavily engaged in MIcrosoft services will feel the biggest benefits.
OneDrive, Skype, Outlook Calendar, OneNote, Outlook Mail and more are all pre-installed and you can be up and running within minutes. No incompatibility with files from the company servers here.
Market leading apps like Word, PowerPoint and Excel are present as is Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant that is coming on leaps and bounds in allowing for hands free usage and interaction.
There is improved personalisation with the ability to resize and manage tiles as well as set backgrounds and our web browsing experience has been improved with much faster browsing.
Come the launch unit there will be some additions of some HP apps, but being a non-final units the exact contents is to be confirmed.
HP see security as a big thing and while encryption is built into the hardware and the software, HP have added in a fingerprint sensor, to date something not see on a Windows 10 device. Sadly this and the Iris Scanner were disabled on this device, but come the final unit it should offer a very secure route to stop unwanted individuals gaining access.
Connectivity & Docking Station
From reading the spec list you will know that the X3 is not lacking in connectivity options. Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, USB Type-C, USB Host NFC, 4G and NFC.
There are 2 SIM slots in the Elite X3 meaning you can have 2 SIM cards in the phone. This may be a work and personal SIM or a local and international SIM.
Both are nano SIM cards and the downside is that to take advantage of the dual SIM functionality, you do have to give up on the microSD card slot.
If you want to use a microSD card in the handset, you will have to use just 1 SIM card.
It is worth noting that the X3 can be configured to use data from only one SIM. Both offer data connections, but you have to select which SIM you want to use on setup.
With phone calls and text you can use either SIM. There are tiles on the home screen to access Phone or Messages for SIM 1 and then the same for SIM 2. Although when in the messaging app, you can change the SIM used but not when in the phone dialer.
There is an optional desktop dock. Depending on where you buy the X3 it may come included, it does when purchased from Clove.
It is weighty and it will not slide off a desk. Not sure it needed to be as heavy as it is.
It holds the X3 in a portrait orientation and has a black plastic top and front with a silver plastic edging and sides to it.
The dock does more than charge the phone, it offers an Ethernet port, a display port connection, 2 USB ports and 1 USB Type-C connection. Somewhat frustratingly in my opinion is that it is powered from a proprietary connector that requires a power brick setup similar to that of a laptop.
There is a charge light indicator on the front too which is nice, it’s not too obtrusive.
It serves the purpose but I think the addition of an HDMI port would have been beneficial to many.
When connected the phone can be used like a desktop computer with a Windows desktop like experience thanks to Continuum. It is here where the X3 shows how it can do more than just be a phone, and actually be used like a desktop PC. You can still use as a phone but importantly you now have the desktop benefits.
Of course some limitations exist here and if you have specific apps that only work on desktop than you are not going to be able to enjoy those on the HP unless you remotely login to a different desktop and use that to run those applications.
The Elite X3 has Bang and Olufsen stereo speakers built into the device. One speaker at the bottom and one at the top (the earpiece).
The sound is crisp, clear and has a decent balance to it. The volume is loud enough for most but is not the loudest, but its was clear with no signs of the speakers straining or struggling to keep up with the audio I put through them.
Given the size of the X3 it would be nice if the speakers were larger. The bottom speaker gives the impression of being larger than it is, when it is just the same size as the one at the top.
I did not test for navigation purposes in a car or hands free calling, but in the office it sounded just fine.
Call quality was pretty good. No complaints from my side or the recipients. The X3 does have 3 omni-directional microphones to pick up and manage sounds. The biggest benefit will be for those on the other end of the line to you. Quite important if you are discussing important business.
Whilst the X3 doesn’t shout that it is big on pictures and video, but it doesn’t do a bad job.
One the back is a 16 megapixel camera and an 8 megapixel on the front.
Both take pretty decent images with good clarity and balance of colours in my opinion. I quite like the more saturated look, but the X3 ives a more natural tone.
There are the adjustments for ISO, white balance and exposure with both front and rear cameras.
Digital zoom is available on only the rear camera and when recording video and zooming there is a much more fluid zoom than with stills.
4K video recording is available on the rear camera whilst HD recording is available on the front camera.
For the typical use case scenario, the results I do believe will pass the test. A second or third LED flash on the rear would have been nice, but there are not all that many phones that offer this now. Given all the other premium parts, I am surprised not to see such.
Fixed internally is a 4,150mAh battery. That is large, very large, but then there is a lot to power.
The unit on test here had a battery with weak performance, we were advised of this prior to our hands on so it is not possible to make appropriate comment on this, but a day’s heavy use should be perfectly possible. This is what other users are reporting from their models, if not a lot longer for the considerably less power hungry users.
For those who do really demand power the X3 boats Quick Charge 3.0 and both Qi and PMA wireless charging. Naturally a wired charge will boost the device a lot quicker than the wireless, but the option makes for a neat solution on the desk when a rapid charge is less important.
The use of USB Type-C is both a positive and a negative. The benefit is reversible connection makes connecting a cable a lot easier, the downside is you may need to update the cables you already have to USB Type-C as it is still relatively early days for this connection.
The Elite X3 is an absolute powerhouse.
I am not going to give you some illusion that this phone will work for everyone, it won’t.
Windows 10 has its fans for obvious reasons, there are too those who can’t get behind the OS for some apparent reasons.
However, in a corporate environment, where many businesses run and rely on the Microsoft infrastructure the X3 has and is a solution that could work well.
It is not a cheap option at £680 inclusive of VAT, but given the right investment and user training could replace the smartphone and the laptop and become the all in one device.
The dock brings many advantages, but it is a big and bulky thing to carry around and I see this working best for those that are out and about and come back home or to the office to really do the hard work that they want the larger screen and comfort of a physical keyboard for.
Whilst perfectly possible to take the kit with you, I do feel the bulk and weight is probably prohibitive and the preference would be for a laptop in these cases. That said, the screen on the X3 is large enough that for many who do need to work on the go they can with relative ease, you might just hold off the 5,000 word report.
For larger organisations who have a lot of hot desking or remote staff there could be significant cost savings, installing screens, keyboards and docks rather than actual workstations that require additional expense and management. User just come in dock the phone and away they go.
Over 3-5 years and with several hundred employees I can only imagine the benefits.
Just how HP have produced such a powerful smartphone that looks the way it does and manages to withstand the knocks is incredible.
Dare I say this is what the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL should have been? This certainly sets a very high bar for future flagship Windows devices.