The HP Elite x3 is likely to be the best Windows phone you’ll probably never buy, and that’s thoroughly HP’s fault.
Last week we reviewed the HP Elite x3 for Windows 10 Mobile and concluded that while it was a powerful device, the display, design and camera fell short of what was expected of a device that costs just shy of £1000 in the UK. Reactions to the review were mixed, with some comments being made along the line of waiting for the HP to ship the final software to the device before a final judgement must be made. Those criticisms are more an indictment of the HP Elite x3 and HP’s failure to bring a viable product to the market in a reasonable amount of time than they are of the review itself.
HP’s Elite x3 is the company’s first Windows phone, and the first – and most likely last – high-end device announced this year (Vaio’s phone is midrange, and Japan exclusive). It is reportedly the Windows phone flagship for this year in lieu of whatever Microsoft failed to deliver this year and a replacement for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL for users who want current devices. In fact, Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott alleges that Microsoft’s current firesale of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL is to clear the way for the HP Elite x3, a new flagship device which should – in theory – deliver a much better experience than the mediocre to bad experience the 950 XL delivered for the first few months (an experience which still puts me off Windows phones right now).
This is all well and good, and in fact is reasonable in my opinion. The HP Elite x3 was – from my experience with it when it was launched – a raw egg that needed to be cooked. It was a good device with a lot of potential, and one that could potentially bring excitement back to Windows phones again. Sure it was a Windows phone, but so were the Lumia 925 and 1020 in their times – when Windows phones still elicited some excitement.
Unfortunately, either HP or Microsoft had other plans, and the HP’s Elite X3 launch has been a hideous mess of mismanagement, deflating hype and missed opportunities.
Let’s talk about sales. Is the HP Elite x3 on sale or not? Depending on who you ask, HPs Elite x3 is either on sale and available for users to buy, or not on sale and therefore not worthy of a review. Its all rather complicated. You see, the HP Elite x3 is a device built with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in mind. While it “ships” with the Windows 10 November  Update on board (known by fans as TH2), it is also billed to receive an update to the Windows 10 Anniversary Update to unlock all of its capabilities. Without that, users report that the device is much slower than the 950 XL in practice, and some even witnessed graphical performance worse than the dismissable low-end Lumia 435.
Clearly, this is neither an acceptable nor desirable state of performance, so HP is justified in not selling the phone until later. Except, they apparently do sell the phone through third parties, and have allowed the device to be sold via Amazon and other third party marketplaces. If the device isn’t ready to be sold, then it isn’t ready to be sold, if it is, then it should be. Leaving the device in some sort of limbo is having your cake and eating it too.
There’s also the case of the HP Elite x3 not yet receiving the Windows 10 Mobile Anniversary Update. This is utterly baffling to me, akin to Apple releasing the iPhone 7 and 7 plus with iOS 9 and promising an update soon. Let’s be clear on this, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update has been cooking publicly since March, more than half a year ago. Users have been able to download this for their 950, 950 XLs and 650s for over a month, and even the Japanese manufacturers who initially paused the rollout due to a minor continuum bug – which they communicated clearly to their customers – have now let their devices update.
How much more shameful is this for HP then, whose phone was built with the Anniversary update in mind, both not releasing this update, and not letting their customers know why. Excuses have been given by non-HP parties, “They are not officially for sale(Amazon lists it for £909)” “HP is working on firmware (and?)” and “It’s for Enterprise (who value reliability and predictability). But those all belie the point.
The hype for the HP Elite x3 is gone. Users who were interested in it would have had a bad first impression, combined with HP’s lack of experience with mobile, may choose to return it and get a device from more experienced manufacturers. Consumers who may have had their interests piqued will forget about it. Android and iOS aficionados who may have been slightly swayed by the device on a pure hardware level, will roll their eyes. “Windows Phone amirite”. Pick any bad joke about Windows phone, and you have it in one convenient package. “Soon” “unreliable” “plastic” “bad software” “overhyped” “the next update will fix it”. Who knows how businesses will react to it. I just can’t see either the success or failure of this device in that arena as anything worthwhile for consumer Windows phone users.
For people like me who may want a decent Windows phone, with great software and hardware working together, we’re waiting for the next device. Hopefully, the next one won’t follow the same cycle of hype deflation this one did.
The HP Elite x3 had potential to be a Windows 10 phone which could stand on its own beside the iPhone and Galaxy Note – both of which are regarded as Enterprise tools in their on right. Instead, it is left to languish in a state of semi-release, with semi-functional hardware all combined with the spectre of Windows 10 Mobile (which is a big enough hurdle on its own).
As the French say, for both HP and Microsoft’s Windows mobile, “Quel dommage.”