HP’s next smartphone is more than just a phone… it’s also capable of powering a desktop or notebook experience. The HP Elite x3 is a Windows 10 smartphone with high-end specs that you can use as a mobile device on the go.
But it’s also designed to work with an optional Mobile Extender which lets you use the phone like a notebook. Or you can connect it to a Desk Dock and use the phone to power a desktop experience.
This isn’t the first Windows phone that uses Microsoft’s Continuum for phone feature to drive a desktop experience. But HP’s phone is positioned as a business device and it has one potential killer feature: support for legacy Windows apps that its corporate customers rely on. Well, sort of.
As a phone, the HP Elite x3 has some pretty impressive specs. It has a 5.96 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel AMOLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC 5.1 storage.
The smartphone supports 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Miracast Wireless display technology, and 4G LTE-A networks. It also supports NFC and GPS.
The Elite x3 has a 16MP rear camera and an 8MP front-facing camera and an Iris camera for scanning your eyeballs as well as a fingerprint reader.
The phone has a 4,150 mAh battery, a USB 3.0 Type-C port, support for fast charging, dual SIM card slots, and a microSD card reader that can support up to 2TB of removable storage. There are also stereo front-facing Bang & Olufsen certified speakers
It measures about 6.4″ x 3.3″ x 0.3″ and weighs about 6.9 ounces.
HP says the phone is IP67 rated for water and dust resistance and it’s designed to pass MIL-STD 810G testing so that it can survive a 4-foot drop.
But the phone is just part of the story. Connect it to an optional Desk Dock and you can hook up an external keyboard, mouse and display and run Windows applications on a big screen.
The Desk Dock has a USB port for connecting to the phone, two USB 3.0 ports for a keyboard, mouse, or other accessories, a DisplayPort for your monitor, and an Ethernet jack for a more reliable internet connection. The dock can also serve as a fast charger for topping of your phone’s battery when it’s connected to the Desk Dock.
HP also offers a Mobile Extender which looks like a laptop… and kind of works like one… although a better comparison might be Motorola’s discontinued Lapdock or the old Palm Foleo.
The Mobile Extender has a 12.5 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display with thin bezels around the edges and a full-sized keyboard. There’s also a 48 Wh battery in the case. But the Mobile Extender does not have a processor, memory or storage.
HP says the laptop dock weighs about 2.2 pounds, masking it as compact as an ultrabook.
Instead, the HP Elite x3 acts as the brains of the laptop. Connect it to the Mobile Extender with a USB Type-C cable and the extender can charge your battery while serving as a screen and keyboard for your phone, allowing you to run apps on a larger screen.
You can also use the Mobile Extender without wires. Keep your phone in your pocket and establish a wireless connection to treat the device as if it were a standalone laptop.
The Elite x3 also has a series of Pogo pins on the back of the phone, allowing it to work with third-party jackets or docking solutions. HP is hoping to work with other companies to develop a series of accessories before the phone launches later this year.
There’s just one problem: while Microsoft’s Continuum for Phone software in Windows 10 lets you connect your phone to an external display, keyboard, and mouse to view a Windows 10 desktop-style user interface, only Universal Windows apps are supported in this mode.
That means that you can use the latest versions of Microsoft Outlook, Word, and Excel… but you won’t be able to run older Windows apps that haven’t been converted to Universal apps. That leaves millions of applications that cannot run in this mode.
HP has a solution: virtualization.
The company has worked with Citrix to develop a system HP calls WorkSpace. IT administrators can upload off-the-shelf or custom Windows apps that their users need to a server. Then users in the field can load those programs on their devices.
WorkSpace won’t work when you’re offline. But as long as you’ve got a decent internet connection (and an IT department that’s using HP’s technology), you can effectively use your phone as a phone… and then connect it to a desktop or notebook dock to use it like a full-fledged PC that can run both modern and classic Windows applications.
HP is positioning the Elite x3 as a business device, but individual customers may be able to buy the phone when it goes on sale closer to August. Just don’t expect to be able to take advantage of that WorkSpace virtualization technology on your own… which is a shame, since it’s probably the most exciting thing about this phone.
Don’t get me wrong — on paper the phone’s hardware looks fantastic. But at this point Windows phones have a tiny market share which makes them a low priority for mobile app developers. So the best thing about this phone is probably its ability to run Windows software that’s not natively designed on phones. And that’s a feature that’s only really going to be available to enterprise customers for now.
HP is announcing the Elite x3 at Mobile World Congress this week and plans to discuss the smartphone and its ecosystem with potential partners in the coming months, before launching the phone this summer. Pricing will be revealed closer to the launch date, but HP says the cost of an Elite x3 plus the Mobile Extender laptop dock should be less than the cost of buying a business-class laptop and smartphone separately.