HP Elite x3: A Look at the Phone Hardware

Posted on October 25, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 24 Comments

HP Elite x3: A Look at the Phone Hardware

As a complete solution for business workers, the HP Elite x3 comprises hardware devices and peripherals, software, and services. Let’s look at the hardware first.

That hardware—for today, at least—comprises the phone itself and the Desk Doc, plus assorted HP peripherals and whatnot. In the near future, it will also include a Lap Dock, which is a laptop-like accessory I do not yet have for review. So I will look at each separately. Starting with the phone.

And there’s no way around it: The HP Elite x3 is a stunner, a gorgeous, premium smartphone that mostly stands up, from a build quality perspective, with the iPhone 7 Plus and high-end Android phablets of this day. The one curious exception—and what the heck, let’s just get this one out of the way—is the metal-looking speaker at the bottom of the phone. It’s actually plastic, from what I can tell, or at least made of poor quality materials, is marred by a terrible design of speaker holes, and is a smudge magnet. And that’s it. The rest of this phone—again, from a hardware perspective—is incredible.

speaker

In fact, the Elite x3 is the sort of device that the Lumia 950 and 950 XL simply aren’t, in that it is beautiful and well-made. It is also humongous, bigger than any of the phablets with which it would compete if this thing were in fact a smartphone in the traditional sense. But it’s also thinner and less dense than, say, the iPhone 7 Plus.

HP Elite x3 (left) and Apple iPhone 7 Plus (right)

HP Elite x3 (left) and Apple iPhone 7 Plus (right)

The Elite x3’s voluminous screen, at nearly 6 full inches, is a delight, and an almost tear-inducing reminder of the Lumia 1520. It’s a WQHD AMOLED unit, meaning it runs at 2560 x 1440 and is beautiful to look at. It features Gorilla Glass 4 and an anti-smudge coating, but I’ll of course need more time before I can determine how well either holds up.

One disappointment for Windows phone fans will be that the Elite x3 lacks a hardware Camera button. I’ve gotten used to that, via latter-day Windows phones and, more recently, various iPhones and Android handsets. That said, I looked for it immediately. I guess old habits die hard.

That camera, by the way, is 16 MP (with a front-facing 8 MP unit), and it’s backed by the familiar Windows Camera app, which offers HDR and panorama capabilities out of the box now. I’ll test it, but haven’t taken a single photo yet.

rear

The specs are high-end: A quad-core 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with integrated Adreno 530 GPU, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of internal storage. (It sports microSD expansion, which is excellent.) There are apparently two models, though storage is not the differentiator. Instead, you will get a single- or dual-nano-SIM version. (I received the latter for review.) There are also color options, with the graphite/chrome version I got, plus a gold/gold version.

From a performance perspective, it’s a Windows phone. And that means unwanted pauses at almost every turn. There’s no lift to wake, but you can enable double-tap to wake. But either way, when you sign-in to the phone, there’s a pause, and you can see the “Hello Paul” text appear onscreen before you’re actually let into the system. Apps launch leisurely, with a zoom animation that only serves to remind you of the wait. There’s a similar wait and animation when you exit apps. It gets tedious, and third party apps–like Instagram—are many times slower than their iOS equivalents.

More laudable—and, I believe, unique—is the fact that the Elite x3 provides twoforms of biometric, Windows Hello-based sign-in, a fingerprint reader mounted on the back and a camera-based iris-scanner. This provides choice, of course, but it also lets those who prefer one over the other have a fallback as situations demand. For example, you may prefer to sign-in with a fingerprint scan, but if you’re out in the world with gloves on, you can then just use the iris scanner instead.

Despite that silver and obvious speaker on the bottom, the Elite x3 actually has stereo speakers, with the second one hidden in the top with the earpiece, as on the new iPhones. Sound is tinnier and more distant than on the iPhone 7 Plus—tested with the same songs streamed from the same service—and less loud. But it’s serviceable.

The HP Elite x3 utilizes a USB-C port for charging and connectivity, which is both modern and smart. There’s also a real headphone jack, which is just smart. Plus I have to wonder why this thing is so thin: Isn’t that why Apple got rid of the headphone jack?

usb-c

Anyway, as a phone, the Elite x3 will naturally fall short because of the app situation, so there’s no reason to dredge up that bit of bad news. That said, I have to wonder about an Android version of this device. Assuming the camera is any good, I very much prefer this form factor to the iPhone 7 Plus or the Google Pixel XL, the latter of which looks positively tiny next to the Elite x3. But it is what it is, so I’ll be looking at the device’s desktop expansion hardware next, starting with the Desk Dock.

More soon.

 

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18 Comments
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  1. 3 | Reply
    mmcpher Alpha Member #245 - 1 month ago

    There, that wasn't so hard, was it?  Just kidding.  There is a new firmware rolling out since yesterday that purportedly fixes lift to wake as well as camera improvements.  The speakers take some getting used to, and I find I adjust the volume up or down more than with other phones but once done, its fine.  The local Microsoft Store had a demo model of the Lap Dock which looked and felt like a keeper.  It was what I had hoped for from the disappointing Nexdock. 

    1. Paul Thurrott
      1 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to mmcpher:

      I have no doubt that the Lap Dock quality will be night and day compared to the Nexdock, yes.

  2. 2 | Reply
    ind1g0 Alpha Member #1610 - 1 month ago

    The cool looking speaker grill is the best part!

  3. 2 | Reply
    gabbrunner Alpha Member #1359 - 1 month ago

    As Paul said before, Continuum is full of potential, but Google has all the bits and pieces in place to do the same with Android and if they do, their implementation will likely be superior and "just work". MS these days is so full of great ideas implemented so slowly while you have the feeling that Google can shift whole paradigms in a matter of seconds. Not really a comment on the hardware, I know. Looking at devices like this and a Windows Mobile which is mature and actually works well at this stage, if they had made Windows Mobile compatible with Android apps as originally planned, phones like this would be a really good alternative though. So close!

    1. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member #1723 - 1 month ago
      In reply to gabbrunner:

      I don't think so. MS has been at this remote stuff since NT 4.0 days. (Terminal Server RDP etc.) The only thing desktop that Google cares about is if Chrome is on it or not. If we are going to see competition in this space I could see it come more from Dell / VMWARE with Andriod and iOS IMHO.

    2. 0 | Reply
      mmcpher Alpha Member #245 - 1 month ago
      In reply to gabbrunner:

      Continuum may be part of an effort to save Windows Mobile whereas a similar capability in Android would be an attempt to bring Google's smartphone dominence to the desktop.  A year ago there would be times when I was using my phone and I would want to do something that would be easier with a regular sized keyboard and a large monitor.  It didn't happen all that often.  When I used Continuum, the odd scaling of the start screen on the larger monitor was off-putting.  There is also the issue of going from a vertical to a horizontal orientation.  I've even toyed with the idea of reorienting my monitor setup.  

      Maybe its a sign that despite being on its deathbed the whole while, W10M has improved, but today, there are a few times each day when I'm sitting at my desktop with my phone nearby but not connected through Contiuum, when I want to get something from my phone to the desktop, or look at something on my large monitor but that thing is on my phone.  Rather than wishing my phone had access to a larger keboard/screen, it is more often that I'm sitting at the large keyboard and display wishing they had access to something already on my phone and in a manner as streamline an organized as on my phone.    This effect is most pronounced when I'm at work on an old Windows 7 setup, but it's present even at home with Windows 10.  If and when Microsoft and the manufacturers smooth our the bumps and jagged edges, I expect the two to converge in the way I get alerts, txts, emails, etc. maybe even phone calls (if Skype ever lights and settles down). Maybe the x3 is the vehicle to bring it about.  At a minimum, its got me more seriously thinking about it,  

  4. 0 | Reply
    toshdellapenna Alpha Member #562 - 1 month ago

    I didn't even notice the missing hardware camera button! But it's something I use everyday and have for years now, so it would take time to get used to not having. Also they didn't include nfc tap to pay. I got used to not having that after softcard was shut down, but do currently use it now on the 950xl. I'll be keeping an eye on this while I save up funds to purchase one of the bundles.

  5. 0 | Reply
    tbtalbot Alpha Member #152 - 1 month ago

    Nice summary.   Don't forget about the ridiculously large battery.   Why would someone spend $599 on the continuum lapdock when they can buy a nice laptop for that much money?

    1. 0 | Reply
      bbold Alpha Member #669 - 1 month ago
      In reply to tbtalbot:
      I agree. The lapdock is a 'no go' for me. $600 for an empty shell with a battery in it, no thank you. However, the desk dock and phone is A+ and I am fine just using that combo. This won't replace my other 4 Windows laptops and desktops, but it will complement the Windows experience.
  6. 0 | Reply
    bbold Alpha Member #669 - 1 month ago

    Great review, and I agree totally. Just prepare yourself for how bad the camera is. That being said, I am in love with this device. I actually like the silver speaker area, it adds something new to a phone that makes it stand out. I agree that Microsoft really needs to make the OS *much* snappier and on par with iPhone and Android apps. I love the biometric login choice, and the battery life is amazing, something the 950 XL had issues with, I feel. Glad you are enjoying it too.

  7. 0 | Reply
    Cristian Alpha Member #1164 - 1 month ago

    Hey Paul,

    I'm a bit confused by this particular statement:

    "From a performance perspective, it’s a Windows phone. And that means unwanted pauses at almost every turn."

    I've been a regular reader for a while now, and often listen to Windows Weekly. I don't think I've ever before heard you complain about Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile being slow or unresponsive before.

    I myself recently jumped off the wagon as my 950 was just too unreliable. Windows 10 Mobile still feels like it's in public beta, in my opinion. Never felt slow, though, and my new Pixel XL is perhaps just a bit snappier.

    Any chance you can elaborate?

  8. 0 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 1 month ago

    Why does a business "phone" (that HP figures you're not going to use as a phone) have a consumer-grade Bang & Olufsen speaker?

     

    I'll tell you why: HP figured high-end consumers would want this and already put the design effort into it before Microsoft threw in the towel on Windows Phone.  They had to change the marketing message on this to sell it because it was already running through production lines.

    1. 0 | Reply
      CaymanDreamin Alpha Member #2293 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      It's my understanding the speakers are tuned more for Skype and conference calls.

    2. 0 | Reply
      bbold Alpha Member #669 - 1 month ago
      In reply to CaymanDreamin:

      Yes, that's what the project mgr guy said in the Windows Central interview. The sound and video on the Elite X3 were optimized for Skype. Microsoft has been working closely with HP on this phone since earlier this year.

    3. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      Here's the real reason. Because HP has a business relationship with B&O. There is nothing special about the speakers though.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Sprtfan Alpha Member #153 - 1 month ago

    Paul has mentioned that an Android version of this device would be interesting a few times but I was under the impression that HP looked at Android and couldn't use it because of security issues?  I think they would have used Android if they could but basically couldn't and meet the needs of the target audience.  Or is Paul just implying that this would be a interesting consumer device if it ran Android and not targeting enterprise?

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Sprtfan:

      No, you're right. HP couldn't use Android for both security and manageability reasons.

      That can of course change over time.

  10. -4 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 1 month ago

    Take a look at HP's last Windows Phone while you still can.