Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

WHAT is the current state of the phablet market?

According to Kantar WorldPanel ConTech, phablets (defined as smartphones with screen sizes 5.5 inches or larger), accounted for 21% of US smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2015, up from 6% in the previous year. The phablet trend has been led by Asian markets such as Taiwan and Hong Kong where phablets account for almost half the active users, according to analytics firm Flurry.

The HP Elite X3 is targeted at this growing phablet market. According to HP, the device is not just a large smartphone, but a true 3-in-1 - a smartphone, laptop and PC, all rolled into one.

Design

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

The smartphone part of the Elite X3 has all the looks of a high-end device. It is also huge - easily outstripping the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Although the rear side is built of dark plastic, it has the feel of metal. But there is a tiny strip of shiny metal at the bottom which nicely accentuates the contrast.

A large stereo speaker adorns the bottom of the front side. The volume and power buttons are on the right side while the reversible USB Type-C connector is at the bottom. A pair of high quality Bang & Olufsen headphones are also bundled with the Elite X3.

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

The second part of the device is the HP Desk Dock. After using it to link the smartphone to an external monitor, a keyboard and a mouse, it transforms the device into a regular PC. The Desk Dock also has a Display Port, two USB A, one USB Type C and a RJ-45 Ethernet port. It can also recharge the smartphone while docked.

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

The final piece of the 3-in-1 combination is the HP Lap Dock. Although it looks like a regular laptop, it has no CPU, hard drive or RAM. This is supplied by the smartphone. But it does have a 12.5-inch Full HD screen and a full size keyboard. Once synced wirelessly with the smartphone, the Lap Dock transforms into a regular Windows laptop.

Display Matters

The smartphone in the HP Elite X3 package features a 5.96-inch AMOLED display with a 2560x1440 resolution. In terms of image quality, brightness and resolution, it matches the best selling premium smartphones in the market. The large display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4.

Internal Hardware

The smartphone has a quad core 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 SoC - same as the ZTE Axon 7. It also has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. This is expandable up to 256GB using the second SIM tray.

The rear camera has a 16 megapixel resolution while front one is limited to half that. The sizeable front stereo speakers are from Bang & Olufsen and has active noise cancellation. The smartphone also includes an iris scanner and fingerprint reader.

Battery and Performance

The Elite X3 includes an impressive 4150 mAh battery. This is easily the largest battery that we have seen so far in any smartphone.

Does this make a huge difference? Not too much.

After about six and a half hours of continuous web surfing, video streaming and word processing, estimated battery life fell below 10 percent. This puts the smartphone in the same league as other high-end Android devices.

The Elite X3 is the second fastest smartphone we have seen in our OpenGL AnTuTu benchmark - about 25 percent slower than the ZTE Axon 7. But in the GFXBench benchmark, the HP smartphone wins the race comprehensively.

Therefore, in terms of application performance, it is fair to say that the HP Elite X3 is right at the pinnacle of this year's smartphone mountain. The same applies to audio. The output quality is in the same ballpark as the Axon 7.

Since the Elite X3 is a device aimed squarely at the corporate user, we did not expect it to produce any camera magic. It did not set any high water marks for image quality. But at the same time, the rear camera is no slouch either, particularly during daytime.

See this photo taken with the HP Elite X3.

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

And this one taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

Finally, a word about ease of connectivity. The HP Desk Dock works exactly as advertised. But we had some teething problems with the HP Lap Dock. It took several attempts using Windows Continuum to locate the device.

Software

Compared to iOS and Android, Windows Mobile had always suffered from a lack of apps. This does not change with the Elite X3. Although popular apps like Skype and Whatsapp are available via the Windows Store, many of the latest mobile apps and games are missing in action.

Since the HP Elite X3 is a horse for a very specific corporate course, this is not going to be a huge issue for its users. There are plenty of Windows-compatible enterprise apps available. Microsoft Office comes pre-installed along with WinZip and some apps from HP such as HP 12C Financial Calculator, HP AiO Printer Remote, Device Hub and Display Tools.

One thing to keep in mind - Windows Continuum does not work with all apps. App support is improving, but still not universal. But the device merges well with Microsoft Cloud and Salesforce.

Unfortunately, the camera app errs in being a little too user-friendly. In addition to the HDR and panorama settings, it would have been useful to have more options for colour filters, shutter speed and aperture. 

Conclusion

It would be a great injustice to call the HP Elite X3, just a smartphone or a phablet. In fact, if that is all you require, there are cheaper Android alternatives available.

The Elite X3 is a very specific device which seeks to fill a niche in the corporate market. As advertised, the Windows 10 smartphone coupled with the Desk Dock and Lap Dock transforms the device into a good replacement for your desktop PC and laptop.

The Elite X3 with the two accessories do not come cheap. The smartphone with the Desk Dock and Lap Dock will set you back RM5,799. But considering that you will be getting three devices, it is not too steep a price for its target corporate market. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

Review: HP Elite X3, top performance meets versatility

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