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HP Lap Dock review: the Elite x3 gets a laptop mode, but is the tech ready yet?

The HP Elite x3 is arguably one of the most critical Windows 10 Mobile devices to date. Not because it is expected to be a consumer hit, but because it best represents Microsoft's vision for the future of mobile computing. The notion of one device that you carry around all the time is still years ahead for most people, but there's little reason not to start trying today.

The Elite x3's corresponding Lap Dock, which turns the phone into an Ultrabook is that first attempt at converged computing. How well does it hold up? It's a mixed bag as you'll find out in my review.

Specifications and Features

The HP Lap Dock is a $599 Continuum-enabled device that closely resembles a laptop in form and function. I say it resembles because it lacks a CPU, RAM, storage, and any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios standard to "real" laptops.

Instead, the Lap Dock is a shell. It has a relatively large 46.5 WHr 4-cell battery and three USB Type-C ports. One port is for Elite x3 to either charge (45W) or to dock directly. The other two Type-C ports are for charging the device itself or as data in/out for peripherals. There is also a micro HDMI port.

HP Lap Dock

For a display, the Lap Dock features a "nearly borderless" matte 12.5-inch LED-backlit FHD (1920 x 1080) screen that ramps up to an ample 300 nits. The display is fantastic. It's bright enough, renders text very clearly, and because it is anti-glare it is ideal for writing and work.

For audio, there are integrated Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers that can get quite loud for such a small device. It's quite impressive and suitable for presentations. There are also integrated noise canceling microphones and a traditional stereo headphone jack. There is no webcam, however making Skype calls oddly neutered.

The Lap Dock FHD display is ideal for writing and very well done

The Lap Dock FHD display is ideal for writing and very well done

Weighing in at 2.3 lbs (1 kg) you can't say the Lap Dock is light, although it is far from heavy. Instead, it feels dense for its size, likely due to the relatively large battery. It's a solid, premium feel, and the chrome edge and polycarbonate body nicely match the Elite x3. The inside of the Lap Dock is soft-touch paint and feels luxurious. That said, the whole thing's a fingerprint magnet you will occasionally want to give a wipe. A nice touch from the HP design team is the four-LED charging indicator on the side.

The AC charger is surprisingly large. It's a three-pronged design with a very long cable as is common with HP products. Interestingly, the HP Spectre x360 – a full on proper PC laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor – only has a two-pronged plug. Nonetheless, the base of the charger is the same between the two devices.

The bottom-facing B&O speakers are exceptionally loud for such a small device

The bottom-facing B&O speakers are exceptionally loud for such a small device

I can't speak enough about the quality of the Lap Dock. It's fabulous. While $599 is still expensive, you can't criticize the Lap Dock for feeling subpar in any way. It's just leading engineering.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The HP Lap Dock has one of the best keyboards on a device at this size. It feels identical to the Surface Pro 4, including that spring-back feature on a key return. The keys are spaced apart with a small gap and relatively large and square.

On the top row are the usual Function and Media keys. You need to hold FN down to utilize volume controls, display brightness, and search.

Simply put, it's a joy to type on the Lap Dock. There is also an optional two-stage backlight for the keys which gets the job done.

Update: A small firmware update is now available that helps improve the touchpad experience

The trackpad is a bit mixed. At four inches diagonal it's not small, but it's not huge either — it's adequately sized. And the premium glass finish has an excellent feel. The biggest issue with the trackpad is mostly the lack of Precision Touchpad support from Microsoft, who did not build that into Continuum. That means it's up to HP to create the drivers and fine tune the experience, which they have done admirably. It's not perfect, but it works well enough.

To plug in or not to plug in

In an ideal world, you would keep the HP Elite x3 in your pocket, open the lid on the Lap Dock, and begin typing. That vision is almost here today. Almost.

Microsoft is bringing a feature to Continuum in early 2017 that detects Continuum-enabled hardware to auto-connect. That will solve the 'opening the lid and connecting' scenario described above. For now, however, you must manually connect to the Lap Dock wirelessly through the Continuum app. It 's not hard, but it is an extra step.

HP Lap Dock

Wired or Wireless? The choice is yours, but only one is ideal

Another issue is the wireless Miracast experience with Continuum. Due to bandwidth, Continuum functions only at 30 FPS when wireless, versus 60 FPS when wired. It makes a huge difference. While a wireless connection works in the technical sense, the wired one is leaps and bounds faster, more consistent, and just works better.

Plugging in the Elite x3 to the Lap Dock and Continuum is up and running in about 15 seconds. It's not instant, but it's not a long wait either.

While using the Lap Dock wired is a better Continuum experience, it's obviously less convenient to have to plug in a phone or even carry a cable. Apparently, however, we are hitting today's limits with Continuum. Things should get better with OS software improvements and future technology.

Battery Life

HP claims that wireless the Lap Dock will get "up to" 6 hours in wireless mode with a very specific 7 hours and 10 minutes in wired, which may be counterintuitive. That's an ideal battery test using looping locally-stored 720p video at 50 percent brightness, audio at 50% (using headphones), with the Elite x3 in airplane mode.

That is not, however, the real world. How you use the Lap Dock — wired or wireless, full brightness or turned down, blasting the speakers, or using the Lap Dock's battery to trickle charge the Elite x3… all of this will drain the battery faster.

Speaking of charging, the Lap Dock doesn't pack any form of Quick Charge, just normal, low amperage USB Type-C charging. That means the Elite x3 can technically lose its charge even when wired if you're doing intensive CPU and radio-heavy tasks. In a best-case scenario, you may gain a few percentage points of battery on the Elite x3, but often you will just break even.

That's a tad disappointing, but perhaps we are reaching barriers with powering a secondary display and charging the Elite x3 at the same time.

From my experience, the HP Lap Dock wired (since wireless is not a good experience) will net around 4 to 5 hours of real time usage while trickle charging the phone. It's not terrible, but I think some of us were expecting somewhere north of 8 or 10 hours since there is no CPU, RAM, or internal storage for the Lap Dock's battery to power.

I think it's best to think of the Lap Dock as something you can use in a pinch when traveling or at a coffee spot, where you want a larger display and a full keyboard. However, it is not something you will be using on battery for extended periods of time. You can, of course, carry around the AC charger and power everything that way… but at this point you should probably be considering a real laptop.

Continuum is holding it back

I think HP did all they could with what Microsoft has delivered so far in Windows 10 Mobile. It's hard to fault the Lap Dock for any obvious hardware flaws (sans the absent web camera). Even there, however, it's not evident that Windows 10 Mobile could even use an external web camera given one.

The problem is Windows 10 Mobile's Continuum feature is still very much a new thing, still undergoing development and improvements. Microsoft's goal is to bring things like keyboard shortcuts, matching Action Center, pinnable Taskbar items, and more to Continuum to close the visual differences between it and Windows 10 on PC. Same goes for windowed and snapped apps, neither of which are available today in Continuum (but are expected in the Creator's Update, and Redstone 3 later in 2017).

So, while the Lap Dock hardware is fantastic, there are still some software glitches that bring down the experience. For instance, I have had the sound driver fail with the Lap Dock so that sound only came from the phone and not the speakers. On occasion, the mouse cursor fails to show on the Lap Dock. Usually, a quick Continuum reconnection fixes these bugs, but it's frequent enough to be frustrating. I also have had instability using Redstone 2/Creator's Update builds on the Insider Fast Ring, but I'll chalk that up to beta testing software.

I also could not get Skype Preview to work reliable through the Lap Dock. While the app launched and allowed for messaging, calls were problematic with the audio never going through the speakers. Again, beta software.

HP Lap Dock

Typing on the Lap Dock is a fantastic experience

Scrolling and launching apps are also not as smooth or fast as you would want — especially when paired wirelessly. Plug in, however, and the experience hits — or is at least close to — acceptable.

These are all software issues, of course, and part of Continuum being the first of its kind. There is little reason not to expect things to get better with each update, but for now, the Lap Dock is a work in progress.

Final Thoughts

Despite some of the negative experiences with Continuum, the Lap Dock is still utterly fascinating. I find myself using it on the couch or when heading out for the day, even if it's underpowered for my job.

The Lap Dock and Elite x3 excel at lighter experiences like Office (Word, PowerPoint, etc.), email, Twitter, and the like. If you need to sit down and write out something more than a few paragraphs, the Lap Dock's keyboard is far more accommodating than the little digital one on the Elite x3. Even the Edge browser was a better experience than what I expected.

HP Lap Dock

The Lap Dock and UWP apps have moments where they really shine

Nonetheless, the Microsoft Store's app selection, as always, presents issues. I rely on Slack for work, for instance, and the lack of a Continuum-compatible UWP version of the app hurts.

If you are torn between choosing an Elite x3 and Lap Dock or a new "real" laptop, I think it's best you go for the laptop. The Elite x3 and Lap Dock do have a purpose today for those who need light, mobile computing, but for consumers (or prosumers) this technology is only nearing a minimum acceptable mark.

HP Lap Dock

LED lights give an estimate on the Lap Dock's remaining battery life

I suppose if you have $600 (and already own the Elite x3) the Continuum experience with the Lap Dock could be fun. That's a limited demographic, though, and it is perhaps best to leave the Lap Dock to companies who choose to test the Elite x3 experience in the field.

For those curious, the HP Lap Dock works just fine with the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. However, the Elite x3's more powerful processor and extra RAM give a slightly improved experience.

In the face of these criticisms, you must give HP some credit for doing an admirable job. The Lap Dock experience may not quite be there yet today, but you can see the groundwork and first attempt at this technology starting to come together and make sense.

See the HP Lap Dock at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Hey, smartphones were terrible in 2005. They were unstable, had poor battery life, lacked apps, didn't have GPS, sported terrible cameras — all of this was overcome with time and development. I expect the same for Windows 10 and Continuum as well. We're not there yet, but we're getting closer with every try.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

115 Comments
  • At 599$ you have to be a complete moron to buy this instead of a nice thin normal laptop. I see no reason to choose this.
  • If you take advantage of the sale at Microsoft today on the bundle, the lapdock comes in at around $200, so then its a great deal, but I think it ends today. Anyways, great article Dan. I looked at the lapdock long and hard, but in the end I decided to pass. For me, it makes more sense to wait another year when the more powerful Windows 10 phones arrive that can run Photoshop, Corel, etc. Then this will be time to snag, in my opinion.
  • Still I wouldn't pay 1000$ for the bundle today. At that price I can get an idol 4S with same great specs and a normal ultrabook, or even cheaper, a 950 XL and an ultrabook.
  • Only if u live in America 😪
  • You're absolutely right, these docks cant be more than $150-200. There is just no point shelving out more money than that. Also, connecting by wire is just unacceptable, it completely takes away the mobility of the lapdock. I have a hard time seeing that it will be possible to overcome performance and battery issues with miracast/wireless to the extent that it could compete with wired connection. As it is now it seems the lapdock actually consumes more power than a normal laptop, and then you have the battery drain of the phone aswell.. And how would touch be done with the latency induced by wireless? Microsoft should focus on cheap wired desktop docks for continuum to regular desktop display.
  • You can just get a NexDock - http://nexdock.com/
  • After experience with both, there's a definite reason the HP Lapdock costs more than the Nexdock. It's not awful, it's just not as great.
  • Better to just buy a laptop then connect the phone wirelessly to the laptop. A real laptop can be used as a wireless lapdock for the phone as long as it's got W10 Anniversary Update and are both on the same network. And you have a full laptop as well :-)
  • Or you can get a nexdock - http://nexdock.com/
  • I still have a hard time figuring out why you would want this over a Ultrabook, or a full laptop... Still fascinating though
  • Its not fascinating. Unless you referring to "its fascinating how dumb this is". While it seems like a good idea/gadget, the price makes it a unanimous failure. Why would you spend 599 on a lap dock that will give you dumbed down version of windows. I am genuinely not a troll here, but how on earth did this come out of design phase i do not know.
  • From everything I see, it sounds like everything is in beta... W10, Continuum software, HP drivers, etc. But if the light mobile experience works for you, $1100 price tag is not dumb in comparison to convenience, especially since it will be improving over time. Think about it, for $1100 you get an high end phone, high end laptop, and high end docking solution, with all your info coming from one place. Now If your needs extend beyond what Continuum can do today, then $599 will be dumb to invest. But if Continuum works for you now, $599 means that it will only get better for a long time.
  • MS need to go all in, full on and throw everything at making Continuum work or stop wasting their partners time and money, do or don't do and if they do then make a song and dance about it with weekly updates and a clear roadmap.
  • This^
    For the lapdock to be viable, continuum must be up there. They need to push a lot of resources to accelerate the development of the continuum side of W10 mobile, else there's really no way this can compete with the typical 700 usd ultrabook or even a Surface Pro core m3 for that matter :-(
    Neat product though, HP has done a good job here.
  • I think they have a clear road map, but they are having a hard time meeting deadlines. I'm sure that the hardware is designed with certain software in mind. But if it's not ready at release time, then the hardware is at a loss. But the hardware speaks to the road map, that's how we know it's not ready for primetime.
  • it would be nice if the Lap Dock actually had a "dock/cradle" for the phone to sit in attached to it & had a built in connection that didn't require a cable (like a pogo connection or a usb plug at the base of the cradle)
  • Except then it would be one dock for each phone.
  • how many phones with continuum do u need to use at one time??
  • He meant that the dock won't be universally compatible with other phones. Like how the Lumias can also connect to this HP lapdock. One dock won't fit all phones.
  • well considering i said a cradle that could slide out like the disc tray does on a normal laptop, as long as it was big enough for up to a 6" phone, i don't see a problem. you're both assuming it would have to be a custom x3 cradle (I never said that), you're both just being negative & not using your imagination for something that doesn't exist. Just saying
  • I'll chime in, remember the Motorola Atrix series of phones? They were one of the first to have a lapdock and I had one. It has a cradle for you to drop your phone into and connects the microUSB and microHDMI ports. Well at the time there was 4 or 5 phones that supported the lapdock (Atrix and Atrix2 for at&t, Droid Bionic and Droid 4 from Verizon and I think one from Sprint as well), needless to say, they eventually came out with a dock that used a cable instead of the cradle since each phone had a unique shape. The other issue with cradles is it does not work with your phone if you have any kind of case on it.
  • Jazen - we already talked about the Atrix. The Atrix had a door underneath, im not even remotely talking about something as simplistic & IMO useless as that.
  • I'm an engineer & in my spare time I slapped together a few options for my own laptop a while ago. One of them involved removing the disc drive (was gonna replace it with a 2nd SSD bay) & installing a slide out drawer with a dedicated cable for charging/data transfer of my phone when I was I was using it as a hotspot (it was Universal). I also made a version that was as slim as a CD case that attached to the lid of the laptop (also with a dedicated cable) & slid out to insert my phone in when needed & then slide out of the way when not in use (also Universal). I wanted to be able to use & access my phone while moving or carrying around my laptop. While you guys keep trying to find fault with an idea, I'm basically saying if I can make it work in a weekend of playing around, I'm pretty sure a company like HP could make it happen with their vastly larger resources ;) Just saying have some imagination
  • Motorola Atrix here we go..
  • I meant a front facing cradle (maybe even slide out like the disc tray). The Atrix had a door underneath & u couldn't see the phone when it was inserted.
  • Tbh, I really like the concept of this and it probably is the future of tech, but I think the device type is wrong, this should be a surface type tablet device. That way you get the phone, tablet, laptop and pc experience. Nice looking device though
  • Wouldn't that just be a (convertible) laptop with a sim card or a tethered phone?
  • No, think he means a "dummy" tablet with kickstand and attachable keyboard (i.e. a Surface without the internals). I'd agree - this would be an attractive proposition. Remember - screen/keyboard/touchpad don't age like the internals, so once the wireless connection is faster you could have a timeless physical screen etc. for whatever (replaceable) device you chose to drive it (power gaming rig, mobile or even raspberry pi) - only ever upgrading the driver device every year/two/three.
  • But screen technology (and touch) moves on as well. Anyway, it still sounds like he wants a surface device to be the "core unit", even after rereading it a couple of times.
  • Snails-pace in comparison, whilst most consumers (even 'prosumers') or enterprise customers won't notice a thing.
  • True to some extent. However, can't the same thing be said about an actually stationary computer? A dumb client, if you will? At least you can get a bit more power that way. I still don't like having to plug into a stationary computer to use what is in essense a scaled down/scaled back laptop (or tablet). I guess I don't quite "get" this sort of thing, apart from "wow, very cool you can do that with your phone!"
    I don't think the interconnectness is a good thing. It also means that in an office setting, you have to disconnect it to go to lunch, in order for you to have a phone with you at all times. I don't get it. But then again, I don't get owning a tablet as my main "computer". I do like my Thinkpad Yoga, though - mainly because I can actually be productive, anywhere, anytime.
  • @Danobe, I think that's actually a good example of @AbstractKiller's point -- I upgrade my computer far more often than I upgrade mouse, screen, or keyboard, and in mobile devices, the CPU/phone lifecycle is even faster. On the other hand, this device does not: support touch on the screen, have a hi-resolution screen, or support 60 fps wireless (even at its low plain HD resolution). So, maybe it's premature to think it should be a long-term shell device for fast-changing mobile. Once those features are in place though, and if it can support a replaceable battery (because they wear out over time), it seems likely the shell could be a great accessory that you could plan on lasting for 5-7 years.
  • Yes your correct sorry for not making it clear, but just as the hp device has little or no internals so you could get that with a surface tablet type device, plus you could install a much better graphics card.
  • Sorry for being not being clear so imagine the hp device in the article but you could remove the screen as a tablet bit using the phone as the hardware. One better would be a surface like design.