HP first showed off the Elite x3 back in February at the annual Mobile World Congress show, and a few months later, we got a sneak peak of an updated version of the device during HP's big business printers and business PCs launch event in Macau. The Elite x3 is still on track for its proposed July-September launch timeline and with only a few months to go, we were fortunate to get a quick hands-on with a near-final version of the product. We also had a chance to play around with HP Workspace, which is the Elite x3's biggest selling point, as well as a functional model of HP's Lap Dock.
(Also see: HP Workspace Will Let Your Phone Run Legacy Apps)
Let's begin with the phone. The Elite x3 has been in development for about a year and has been designed specifically for business use cases. HP wants to create a new niche category where one device is all you need for making calls, working on spreadsheets or simply consuming content. Keith Hartsfield, VP of Mobility Product Management, told Gadgets 360 that the Elite x3 would be an ideal tool for millennials. According to HP's research, up to 60 percent of millennials use their phones for consuming information and about 25 percent use them as their primary tool for work.
When you look at the Elite x3, it's no different from any other flagship on the market, and is well enough equipped to still be very relevant by the time in launches in September. It measures about 7.8mm in thickness and should weigh around 195 grams. The body has a soft-touch coating which makes it comfortable to hold while offering a decent amount of grip. HP has intentionally gone with a large 5.96-inch Quad-HD Amoled display so it's easy to consume and input data, especially for people like field technicians or healthcare workers.
HP has made the Elite x3 rugged by fitting Gorilla Glass 4 over the display. It has an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, and is shockproof conforming to the MIL Standard 810G. There's an iris scanner for Windows Hello as well as a fingerprint sensor and BIOS software for additional security.
The Elite x3 runs on Windows 10 Mobile. In terms of power, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, Category 6 LTE, 2x2 WI-Fi ac, 64GB of storage (expandable up to 2TB), and dual-SIM functionality. The phone has dual front-firing speakers and an 8-megapixel front camera for better video conferencing. It also gets a set of pogo pins on its lower back to be used in conjunction with specialised accessories, so for example, you could use the Elite x3 as a RFID reader for taking inventory in a warehouse while also being able to make calls and send emails.
We now come to the most interesting bit about the Elite x3, which is HP Workspace. The concept of using one device for all computing scenarios is not new; Asus has been dabbling with this idea for a while now with products like the Padfone and Transformer Book V. However, the real limitation there was the software ecosystem, which didn't really do much for productivity when you went from the phone to the tablet or laptop docks. This is where Microsoft's Continuum feature in Windows 10 Mobile has the edge. Think of HP Workspace as an extension of the Continuum concept, as it lets you run PC applications on your phone through app virtualisation.
Lorri Jefferson, Senior Director of Software Management and Design helped shed more light on how this actually works. Workspace is solution from HP for organisations which haven't already invested in app virtualisation. Jefferson says that the payment model is completely flexible and totally depends on the needs of the business. You could purchase an account per user on a monthly or even hourly basis. To get started, the IT manager of an organisation simply has to decide which apps are needed, and then HP will do what's needed to virtualise them.
HP is currently using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its cloud infrastructure. Once set up, the employee (who could deployed in the field or even overseas) simply logs in through the Workspace universal app on the Elite x3 and will then be able to use all his or her applications as if he or she was sitting at a PC in the office. While Workspace can be used directly from the phone, it's best used with Continuum, either through HP's Desk Dock or Lap Dock.
We had a chance to play around with this intriguing product, but we're unable to show you any working demos just yet since the look and feel of the software hasn't been finalised. Through Workspace, we were able to open multiple Windows applications including Chrome, Google Earth and Excel, and switch between them just like we would on a Windows PC. HP is also working on adding more Windows shortcuts to Workspace, such as Alt+Tab to switch between applications.
With the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you'll be able to pick up where you left off in Continuum, in case you need to undock your phone to answer a call. You'll also have the option of saving your work to your company's servers, locally on the phone, or to other cloud services including Google Drive, Dropbox and Box. HP will be targeting key verticals such as healthcare, retail, and field services, and will also be working with key telcos, ISVs and system integrators in India to deploy the Elite x3. Unfortunately, the company wasn't able to disclose any specifics of planned rollouts as the details are still being worked out.
Finally, we had a chance to actually use the Lap Dock which is easily the most interesting accessory here. It's essentially a laptop minus any processing hardware of its own inside. What you get is essentially a 12.5-inch Quad HD display, a keyboard, and a battery. The Lap Dock also features Bang & Olufsen speakers which sound pretty good, just like the Elite x3 itself. You have the option of connecting to the Lap Dock either with a wire or wirelessly. It has three USB Type-C ports for connecting to the phone, charger and other peripherals, along with a Micro-HDMI port for a projector. When you open its lid, the hinge elevates the keyboard slightly, which gives you a more comfortable typing position. Hartsfield told us that the Lap Dock will offer 14 to 16 hours of battery life when it's not charging the phone simultaneously, or 12 hours with charging.
The HP Elite x3 is certainly a very interesting device and could be uniquely positioned to kick-start a whole new segment in the enterprise IT space. In a way, it's also a gamble for HP, which is why it's being targeted at a specific set of verticals and businesses in which HP already has a strong presence. Competing in the consumer space wouldn't have been the smartest move, something even Microsoft seems to have conceded only recently. Having said that, Microsoft has no intentions of giving up on Windows 10 Mobile, a fact that Hartsfield confidently assured us of. In a way, it feels as if it's HP that is aggressively driving Windows 10 Mobile forward by filling in gaps left by Microsoft.
Disclosure: HP paid for the correspondent's flights and accommodation for its event in Singapore.