In-Depth

The New HP Windows Phone Means Business

The market for Microsoft's mobile platform continues to diminish, but HP is giving it another stab with the HP Elite x3 targeted for enterprise use.

It's no secret that the Windows Phone platform hasn't succeeded in the consumer marketplace. Microsoft's own commitment to its Lumia phones became ambiguous last year amid speculation that a Surface Phone might be in the pipeline either this year or perhaps in 2018, though some have argued that those plans are uncertain at best. Michael Dell said quite emphatically that Dell Inc. saw no need to develop a smartphone of any type, no less one based on Windows. Few others have shown enthusiasm for releasing a new Windows-based phone, which is hardly surprising with its diminished presence.

That didn't seem to deter HP Inc. as it pressed ahead and released the HP Elite x3 phone back in the fall. The key element in the release of this product lies in the target audience: enterprise users. HP sees a clear opening to fill the void left by the demise of the BlackBerry platform in the hearts and minds of IT managers, and it's all about control.

Features key to IT administrators include the ability to secure both physical access to a device and to the stored information. The HP Elite x3 utilizes Microsoft's BitLocker technology to secure the information with a 128-bit encryption. It also supports 256-bit full-disk encryption, plus secure boot. Manageability is another important IT feature, and the HP Elite x3 fits in well with Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite of products. Other mobile device management (MDM) products like VMware's AirWatch support the HP Elite x3, as well.

Desktop, Lapdock and Phone
The HP Elite x3 attempts to cover all the bases you typically work from with the same device. When you're in the office, there's the desktop dock, which provides connections for a monitor, keyboard, mouse and wired Ethernet. When you're away from the office, there's the lapdock for typing on a full-sized keyboard and 12.5-inch display. The lapdock connects to the phone wirelessly or with a USB Type-C cable. When using the USB Type-C connector, you also get to take advantage of the 48 WHr battery in the lapdock to charge the phone. The lapdock includes a total of three USB Type-C connectors, plus a micro-HDMI port to mirror the screen to an external display.

The phone has a number of unique features, including support for dual SIM cards. In this scenario, you could have both a personal and a business number on the same phone. Network support is limited to GSM carriers like AT&T or T-Mobile in the United States. For security, the HP Elite x3 includes both a fingerprint reader and iris recognition. Full support for Windows Hello to simplify secure access takes advantage of the fingerprint and iris capability. Windows Information Protection provides full encryption for enterprise data and makes it possible to seamlessly separate personal and corporate information.

One somewhat hidden feature that was discovered while testing the lapdock and phone combination is the ability to use the phone's microphone and voice recognition to dictate into a document. While this might not be a highlighted feature, it was quite useful from a cramped airline seat to capture a stream of thought for later editing.

HP Workspace Is All About Apps
One of the biggest complaints about the Windows Phone platform has been the lack of apps. With the targeted enterprise user, HP has focused on delivering applications using a turnkey application virtualization service. HP Workspace is a cloud-based service with a long list of common applications available on demand. The HP Workspace Service Desk provides custom support to virtualize corporate applications for use through this same service.

HP Workspace works only when the HP Elite x3 is docked either to the lapdock or the desktop. It really only makes sense to run normal apps on a screen capable of displaying the full experience. One thing you don't get with HP Workspace is cloud-based storage, although there is integration with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive. You do get full-featured applications with HP Workspace, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. At present, HP doesn't support external key fobs for sending and receiving signed or encrypted e-mail.

Everyday Phone
It's relatively common these days to see business travelers with two phones, one for business and one personal. The big question for the HP Elite x3 is: Can it be the only phone you need for the common tasks you do with a smartphone? I evaluated the existing available applications with an eye toward the things a typical business traveler would need. While most of those applications for airlines, hotels, rental car agencies and the like are available, in some cases they just don't match up to the same apps on either Android or iOS. This isn't necessarily a dig on the phone but on the Windows Phone platform.

One case in point is the Delta Airlines app. Both the Android and iOS app will display your boarding pass so you don't need to print one out. That's not the case with the Windows Phone version of the Delta app. You can still get the QR code for boarding using a Web-page link, but that still isn't quite as simple as the app on other platforms. I did find most of the apps I typically use while traveling, including Avis, Hilton, Marriott and others. Some of these apps work only on the phone itself, so you won't be able to access them on the lapdock or desktop when the phone is docked.

Battery life on the HP Elite x3 is superior to most any other phone on the market. A 16 MP rear camera coupled with an 8 MP front-facing camera support a wide range of applications, including Skype for video conferencing. The 5.96-inch display is crisp and easy to read outdoors in all but the brightest direct sunlight. Specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of LPDDR4 memory and 64GB of internal storage. Additional storage via a micro-SD memory card can be added in lieu of a second SIM.

Bottom Line
From this testing, the HP Elite x3 does the job it was designed to do quite well. I was able to edit documents and manipulate spreadsheets using both the lapdock and desktop. For most business uses, this covers a large percentage of the typical computer usage when you add in e-mail. I found enough little things that would make it somewhat challenging to totally switch from Android or iOS, but for strictly business use, the HP Elite x3 is a winner. One of the biggest wins is the battery, which outlasts the majority of the phones on the market today.

Pricing
For HP Workspace, you can expect to pay $49 per month for the Essential edition, which provides up to 40 hours of usage per month. The Premium version will run you $79 per month and doubles the usage amount to 80 hours. HP also offers a secure VPN service that costs $2,995 per year per gateway. Retail price for the phone by itself currently lists for $699. HP offers bundled packages, which are published on its Web site.

About the Author

Paul Ferrill, a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP, has a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering and has been writing in the computer trade press for over 25 years. He's also written three books including the most recent Microsoft Press title "Exam Ref 70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure (MCSE)" which he coauthored with his son.

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