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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