Posted in Articles on 05/5/2017
(updated on 03/5/2017)
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Near the end of 2015 the Lumia 950 and 950XL were released which were the first smartphones on the market to make use of Continuum.
This allowed you to plug your phone into a dock along with a keyboard and mouse and have full screen apps on a monitor that functioned like a personal computer.
The technology was cool but just felt a little too fresh, there weren’t many apps and it used watered down mobile versions of Microsoft office. So let’s take a look at the state of Continuum in 2017 and we have the perfect device to test it out on.
The newly released HP Elite X3. If you're into Windows mobile this might catch your attention.
Now I have to start by saying this device isn't perfect, the simple black plastic design doesn't immediately stand out. The only element that really pops is that metallic speaker grill at the bottom, it looks metal but its just plastic with a speaker grill pattern that you will either love or hate.
The phone itself is a power house, with a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GBs RAM, a massive 6" QHD OLED display and also features an iris scanner as well as a fingerprint reader. The fingerprint scanner is a lot quicker at unlocking the device compared to the iris scanner, but I guess this device is more designed for business professionals out in the field where sometimes a fingerprint may not be available due to wet hands or gloves, so having an iris scanner as a backup way to quickly unlock the phone is a good decision.
There's also 5 Pogo pins on the back and HP has included this so third party manufactures can design housings and add-ons for this phone in the future, such as barcode scanners or thermal cameras, and just make this device a lot more useful in a wide array of business applications.
The box for the X3 would have to be the biggest I've ever seen for a mobile device, the space could have been used slightly better but it comes with a few extras inside. You get the phone itself, the continuum dock and a whole bunch of dock covers which you will need to switch out depending if you have a case on your phone or not.
Picking up the dock, its actually way heavier than expected but to be honest that’s probably not a bad thing. It’s made from metal and the weight keeps it securely sitting on the desk. It needs a proprietary power connection to run and the cable has a power brick attached similar to what you would find with a laptop, but this will also charge the phone while docked which is good. It gives you access to Ethernet, 2 USB 3's and a USB-C. and then display out with a display port. It serves the purpose but I think the addition of an HDMI port would have been beneficial to many. I had to use an adapter to connect to my monitor which took away from the elegant design.
Docking the phone launches Continuum rather quickly, and it looks just like you would expect from a standard PC desktop. You can use the screen on your phone as a track pad and onscreen keyboard but it’s a little clunky on its own, plugging a mouse and keyboard into the dock completes the experience.
Anyone who has used windows mobile knows that the biggest downfall with the OS is the lack of some of the major third party apps, but in this use case that’s not so apparent.
As for native apps nearly every so called universal Windows app can run in continuum mode, and the good news is that the number of universal apps has actually increased dramatically in the least year due to the number of PC's now running Windows 10. I would expect that trend to continue now that the Xbox one can use them too. Microsoft's own apps work pretty well, like Office, Email Calendar and the newly polished Skype app. Along with some third party applications like Twitter and Viber.
Now of course there are still lots of apps missing, but I find that most things I need for casual productivity and entertainment are here, and for the stuff that is missing, you have the browser. That may sound like a bad solution, but the truth is most people on desktop use most services in their browser anyway and this doesn’t feel all that different,
Do you want Google services using Continuum for example? no problem just open them in Edge. Microsoft seems to be sort of skipping the app gap on their phones by giving you a decent desktop like browser and now with the Elite X3 HP has made that gap even smaller with the inclusion of their HP Workspace software. This is enterprise software and is subscription based, but once you make an account you have a dashboard where you can add new accounts, change user specific permissions and upload the software that your business needs. HP then takes those programs and runs them on their own servers and streams them to your device. Allowing you to run full-fledged Win32 apps inside continuum.
You can run full versions of applications like Office and even run multiple at once side by side and copy information between them. The experience isn't as smooth as working on a full desktop, moving windows around and stuff can be really slow and your internet connection makes a huge difference to performance, but it’s pretty mind blowing that you can be running full apps from a smartphone.
One awesome feature that the Windows 10 anniversary update brought out was the Connect app. This lets you push continuum from your phone to any device running Windows 10 wirelessly without a dock, and your phones continuum desktop just opens in its own window. The idea behind this is that you can sit down at a computer and cast from your phone without having to log into any accounts and have no data saved to the computer and take it all with you once you leave.
Just connect to any modern PC and make it yours in a secure way knowing that none of your sensitive files or account info ever gets stored on that PC.
That a pretty exciting idea, that could potentially change the business industry. Now you could suddenly have millions of devices that could become a client for your Continuum enabled phone. Its sounds like the future and actually works really well.
Just note that the performance is considerably worse over a wireless connection compared to the wired dock but with the Elite X3 you get everything in the box to get up and running.
This device won’t be for everyone, however in a corporate environment where many businesses run and rely on the Microsoft infrastructure the X3 is a solution that could work well. It’s not cheap, but given the right investment and user training, it could replace the smartphone and the laptop and become the all in one device.
The dock brings advantages but it is a big and bulky thing to carry around. While it’s perfectly possible to take the kit with you, I do feel the bulk and weight is probably prohibitive and the preference would be for a laptop in these cases. That said the screen is big enough that those who really do need to work on the go, they can with relative ease, you might just want to hold off on that 5000 word report.
Just how HP have produced such a powerful smartphone that looks the way it does and managers to withstand the knocks is incredible. I believe this is what the 950xl should have been, and sets a very high bar for future Windows flagship devices.
If you need something more like a laptop you can view our hands on of the Elite x2 here, which is a pretty powerful 2-in-1 computer.