A True Merging of Mobile and Desktop Comes From an Unlikely Place: The HP Elite x3
For some time I’ve been talking about my desire–not just with the Dark Android Project, but also in general–for a mobile solution that can truly replace your desktop. As closed-source and app-lacking as Windows Phone is, it’s recent introduction of Continuum technology has in many ways been the closest thing to fulfilling that desire (though the Android-based Remix OS 2.0 for x86 processors is now out of its alpha stage, and in beta). Continuum allows you to connect a Windows 10 Mobile device into a dock that has USB ports, perhaps even HDMI or Ethernet ports, as well, and hook the phone up to a monitor, a keyboard and mouse, and even hardline internet, and the interface turns into a more full-blown version of a desktop UI, instead of mobile. You can still use the phone as a second screen of sorts, which is nice, and you’re certainly not getting a “full” Windows 10 experience when it switches to desktop mode, but it does work fairly well in the end.
Only a few phones have introduced this technology into the Windows 10 Mobile ecosystem, including Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 series, and Acer has a phone, too, but now HP has surprisingly entered the foray of Windows Phone–a shocking move since most people consider the platform dead and a waste of money for even the smallest companies to get into.
The HP Elite x3
But HP is no small company. While not the consumer powerhouse it once was, in the enterprise world it’s still one of the top names, right up there with Dell and Lenovo. And this is ultimately what has inspired HP’s foray into Windows Phone with the release of the remarkably spec’d and well built HP Elite x3 smartphone.
Before I get into the specifications, let’s get into why this phone even exists. HP’s enterprise customers asked HP to build them a device that would have a simple rollout within their offices and that interacts as seamlessly as possible with the present software packages and server systems that they’re running. And despite many people’s issues with Microsoft in general, or their perceived belief that somehow Alphabet/Google is taking over everything, the fact is that when it comes to the enterprise space, Microsoft is still king, and that REALLY isn’t going to change anytime soon. So HP is taking advantage of a feature that has–ironically–yet to be taken full advantage of, in my opinion, Universal Windows Platform (UWP). UWP allows software that is written for one version of Windows 10 to be able to work with all versions of Windows 10, including Mobile. This means that businesses can rollout software packages in their industry, and have them function perfectly no matter what UI form factor they are in, desktop or mobile. UWP is a brilliant idea (again, I’m not saying Microsoft is great, I’m just saying the idea is great), and if a company can leverage it, it just makes sense frankly.
Even outside of enterprise conditions, I think it’s a great idea. On a personal level, I wish Mozilla Firefox would be written as a UWP app, being able to use the browser on Windows Phone could be a huge boon for users of the platform, and then to be able to instantly sync literally everything Firefox can do between mobile and desktop (which is sort of already possible on other mobile platforms, but not entirely) would be an exciting prospect.
Bottom line, with UWP in play, HP’s decision to make their latest smartphone–the HP Elite x3–a Windows 10 Mobile device just make sense. Let’s break into what kind of specifications this smartphone even has:
The HP Elite x3 is all business (pun intended), and its next-generation internals reads like a nerd’s wish list. It’s powered by a 64-bit, quad-core 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820-8996 processor, 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM (a requirement for any new phone, in my opinion), 64 GB of internal storage (with microSD expansion to—wait for it—2 TB, which admittedly don’t exist yet, but the future-proofing is nice), and next generation networking: a Cat 6 LTE modem and 2×2 AC Wi-Fi. The AMOLED screen is humongous at 6-inches (love it), just like Microsoft’s Lumia 1520, but runs at an astonishing WQHD (2560 x 1440) resolution, and is protected by Gorilla Glass 4. The screen size is great, but that resolution would normally worry me as I think anything above 1080p is a waste of battery life, but then that’s the rub, the battery in the X3 is enormous at 4150mAh because, as HP puts it, the x3 has got to last all day (by comparison, the iPhone 6S Plus has a much smaller 2915 mAh battery).
The x3 also has two front-facing speakers, both at the bottom of the screen when held normally (in portrait), but angled so that they provide a nice field of stereo sound. It has microphone arrays with Active noise cancellation. It has dual SIMs (great for global travel), and is USB-C based. The cameras has a 16 MP shooter on the back and 8 MP camera in front (not bad at all). And it sports two—yes two—biometric security devices: An iris scanner on the front (for Windows Hello login, I’d awesome) and a fingerprint reader on the back. Why two? According to HP, because some users—imagine a line worker up on a pole in the winter—can’t use the fingerprint reader in the field easily. Personally, I think biometrics are a huge security and privacy problem, but then we are talking about Windows Phone here, so I’m not going to go into that.
Suffice to say, this thing is as full-featured a phone as you can get, but we haven’t even gotten into the Continuum aspects of it yet.
SIDE NOTE: Before you say, “All this is great, but it doesn’t have any apps!”…look, I know. That’s not the point here. Save your breath.
The x3 Mobile Extender
The x3 has a couple of awesome accessories for enabling Continuum. Obviously there’s a dock, but before I get into that, there’s the “Mobile Extender” (pictured above). The Mobile Extender is a very slim, laptop-like accessory that packs a 12.5-inch 1080p near-borderless screen, a full-sized keyboard, and a 48wH battery that HP says is good for “at least” 24 hours of life. There’s no CPU, RAM or storage in the Mobile Extender because all that is in the phone. And you you can pair the phone wirelessly or with USB-C, meaning you can leave it in your pocket or briefcase and still get to work: Just open the screen and connect and you’re good to go. It’s a wild concept that I’m shocked no one has tried before (though USB-C as a standard is changing all kinds of things, like now we can finally plug in external video cards to laptops with it). The importance of this accessory can’t be understated. While my dream of having an easy mobile-to-desktop interface required you having a larger monitor with you (and most AirBnB’s or hotel rooms would have an HDMI-compatible TV screen for you to use as such), now you can carry a compatible screen with you at all times with this sleek little Mobile Extender, and unlike any almost any monitor you could bring with you, it’s battery powered! I keep saying it, but this whole thing is brilliant.
SIDE NOTE: Scamsung (spelled intentionally) has filed several patents over the years where a Galaxy phone slides into a pocket on a laptop. Those patents may have been granted, and that’s why HP has the x3 operating as a separate device with the Mobile Extender. Also, ASUS has attempted this sort of thing with Android by having a smartphone plug into a larger tablet, but it never really took off. So while this isn’t necessarily a new idea on HP’s part, it is an interesting–and well done, in my opinion–implementation of such.
The x3 Continuum Dock
Next comes the actual Continuum dock from HP for the x3 (pictured above), and it’s one of the better ones that I’ve seen. Better largely because it has an Ethernet port. Plugging your x3 into this and then connecting a serious mouse and keyboard, as well as a monitor of any size that you’d like (trust me, that Snapdragon 820 can handle it), and you’re good to go for full desktop action.
Microsoft’s Continuum is such a great idea, and I really hope that Android, and even iOS, can catch up to the future that this sort of idea is making possible. I love the idea of having all of my data (and with a 2TB MicroSD card, I certainly could have a heft chunk of it) with me in an offline, very portable package…and I love not having to have multiple devices to shift that data between (because, let’s face it, “the cloud” is not living up to expectations). Continuum-styled devices, especially with the accessories that HP has devised for the Elite x3, make that very possible. It elegantly solves the age-old question: “If your house is on fire, what do you grab and take with you?” Well, aside from loved ones, your HP Elite x3, obviously. Everything is there, and you can get serious shit done with it if need be.
Ubuntu has also recently gotten in this game with the Ubuntu M10 tablet that can connect to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, just like Continuum. Granted, in many ways Ubuntu’s offering is superior to Continuum, because:
- It has a more complete desktop OS version running. It’s effectively full-on Ubuntu, as to where Windows 10 Mobile is somewhat limited in comparison to actual Windows 10.
- It doesn’t need a great selection of apps, it already has access to every piece of software ever made for Linux–and that’s a shit ton of software, and great software at that.
- It’s open source.
Also, Ubuntu has had the idea for Continuum for some time, likely long before the notion was a gleam in Microsoft’s giant eye. But like pretty much everything else, I applaud multiple implementations of this desktop alternative idea, and personally I hope UWP itself takes off. Whether or not Windows 10 is successful in bringing both of these ideas into mainstream use, both UWP and Continuum-style ideas are one wave of the future I’d like to ride.
And While many Windows 10 Mobile enthusiasts are waiting for a somewhat confirmed “Surface Phone” announcement from Microsoft proper, that device has yet to, or may never become a reality. But the HP Elite x3 is as real as the universe, and it’s a unique powerhouse both inside, and outside with its impressive accessories. As much as I’m invested in the Android ecosystem…I’ll admit the x3 kinda tempts me (and hey, I’ve tried Dark Windows Phone before).