The Elite X3 isn't a phone meant for consumers. It's the sort of thing HP wants businesses to buy in bulk. The company is pushing it as three devices in one: an enterprise-grade smartphone, a desktop replacement (with the $799 Desk Dock bundle) and an ultraportable laptop (with the $1,299 Lap Dock bundle, which also includes the Deck Dock). Those two accessories are powered by Microsoft's Continuum feature, which transforms the mobile OS into something closer to desktop Windows.
On paper, it all sounds like an IT manager's dream, since it would mean they'd only have to manage a single device for every employee. But speaking as a former IT worker, it's clear that HP still has a long way to go before a phone can truly replace dedicated laptops and desktops.
At the very least, the Elite X3 is a sign that HP can build a decent-looking phone. It's a large device, with a 5.96-inch WQHD (2,560 x 1,400) AMOLED display. But it actually feels good to hold, with curved rear edges wrapped in smooth plastic. Aside from the gaudy chrome strip along the bottom of its case (which houses stereo Bang & Olufsen speakers), the Elite X3 seems like a natural evolution of HP's designs from the Pre 3 era. Along the back, there's a fingerprint sensor below the 16-megapixel camera. Up front, an 8MP shooter sits beside an iris camera that serves as a second biometric authentication method.
HP didn't skimp when it came to internal hardware either. The Elite X3 is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip, just like most of this year's flagship phones. The device also packs in 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which is expandable with microSD cards as large as 2TB. The phone is also available in single- and dual-SIM models, making it especially useful for international travel. At 192 grams (6.7 ounces), the X3 definitely makes its presence known in your pocket. But at least the weight distribution is such that it doesn't feel heavy while you're holding it.
As a mobile device, the Elite X3 is, well a Windows phone. The platform feels pretty much unchanged from last year, even with the few tweaks from August's Anniversary Update. That's not a huge surprise: Microsoft's Lumia 950 and 950 XL were failures, and the company has been silent about its mobile plans this year. The Windows app store is slowly getting better, but Windows 10 Mobile still has all the same limitations it did last year. The X3's camera is also surprisingly slow. It stutters before autofocusing (HP says a software fix is coming), and there's a noticeable delay when you're shooting photos.
So, you might ask, why even build a Windows phone today? It turns out HP has a secret trick up its sleeve called Workspace. It's a virtualized environment that lets you run full Windows apps when using the X3 in Continuum mode with its docks. That's useful, because Microsoft's much-touted Continuum feature is still as limited as ever, in that it works only with Universal Windows apps, and there still aren't nearly enough of those around.
You'll have to pay dearly for the privilege of using Workspace, though. Pricing starts at $49 a month per user, and you'll be limited to 4GB of RAM, 10 apps at most and 40 hours of usage. Bumping up to the Premium tier, which starts at $79 a month per user, gets you 8GB of RAM, unlimited apps and 80 hours of usage. While HP is pushing the X3 as a truly no-compromise, do-everything device, I can't imagine many people (or their IT departments) will be keen on having their software usage clocked.