HP Elite X3: The most interesting phone you don't need (hands-on)

The HP Elite X3 is a high-end Windows phone built with serious business in mind.

Dan Graziano Associate Editor / How To
Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.
Dan Graziano
4 min read

What if there was one device to replace them all? What if you no longer needed a laptop or a desktop to get work done? That's what HP is trying to provide with the new Elite X3 phone.

The phone features high-end specs that put it head-to-head with the iPhone 7 and top Android phones, but that's only half the story. This isn't your typical phone. For one, it's running Windows 10 Mobile , an operating system most people don't even know exists.

It's also designed for business, specifically for people who travel a lot. The phone can be placed in a desk dock and connected to a laptop dock, which transforms it into something that resembles a traditional Windows computer, albeit one with severely gimped features.

The Elite X3 is available now for $699 or AU$1,100 (that's £575 converted -- UK pricing is yet to be announced). HP is also offering the phone bundled with the Desk Dock for $799, £707 or AU$1,200 (all official prices). A bundle with the phone, Desk Dock and Lap Dock will be available from October 21 for $1,299 (around £1,070 or AU$1,700, with official pricing TBA).

Hands-on with HP's new Windows phone

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Why it's a cool idea

The idea of transforming a phone into multiple devices with different functions isn't a new one. Asus attempted something similar with the PadFone, as did Motorola with the Atrix . Both products, however, didn't have Windows 10 , which happens to be both the key and the Achilles' heel to HP's potential success.

The Elite X3 includes support for Continuum, a feature that allows the phone to connect to an external display and act more like a traditional Windows 10 computer. HP's Desk Dock and Lap Dock are what makes this possible.

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The Desk Dock features an Ethernet adapter, two USB ports, a USB Type C port, and a DisplayPort. There's no HDMI port, but you can buy a DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable if you want to connect to a hotel TV (for instance) and use it as an external monitor.

The other option is to use the Lap Dock, which is essentially a laptop with no internals. It features a 12.5-inch Full HD display, full keyboard, a Micro-HDMI port and three USB Type C ports. Connecting the phone to either accessory will also charge it.

Dan Graziano/CNET

Once you connect the phone to the dock you will see a familiar Windows interface. You can then run multiple apps at the same time and have the convenience of a mouse and keyboard. I actually used the Elite X3 and Desk Dock to write this article. It was an enjoyable experience at first and I didn't want to let go of the phone. At first, I was convinced this could be the perfect travel companion, but the more I used the phone the more it frustrated me.

Why I wouldn't buy it

On paper, the Elite X3 is a great phone. It has a 5.96-inch Quad HD display with a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Also on board is a 16-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera, dual front-facing speakers, a rear fingerprint sensor, a USB Type-C port, and a microSD card slot for up to 2TB of additional space. There's also an iris scanner (like we saw on the Galaxy Note 7) and wireless charging. If it were running Android, it would be a compelling device.

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What hurts the phone is the fact that it's running Windows. Out of the 20 apps I use on a weekly basis, the Elite X3 has only six: Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Slack, Spotify and Twitter. There's no Venmo, Snapchat, Nest, Lyft or any Google apps. Sure, a lot of these wouldn't be important for enterprise customers, but it prevents the Elite X3 from replacing your personal phone.

Even the flagship Continuum feature became frustrating once I ventured outside of Microsoft's ecosystem of apps. While Word, PowerPoint and Outlook worked perfectly, there are still some apps that don't support the feature, such as the collaboration tool Slack. To get around this I was able to use the web version of Slack, which worked fine, but this didn't work for Google Docs and I was forced to do all of my typing in Microsoft Word, which isn't ideal given CBS Interactive uses Google Apps for Work.

While the Elite X3 is an interesting concept, you're better off using an iPhone or Android phone with a Surface Pro or another portable laptop.

If HP can get Android running on the X3, however, I'd love to give it another look.