Using Continuum for a week with the HP Elite x3

Continuum is probably one of the coolest Windows 10 Mobile features available, transforming your smartphone into a productivity powerhouse with a mouse and keyboard, full screen monitor and desktop-scaled apps. From this paragraph alone, Continuum sounds like the future, but right now it's not exactly perfect. Although the idea is strong, it isn't all there yet. 

I received an HP Elite x3 a little under 2 weeks ago now, and decided to try out Continuum on it. I went one step further however, and decided to use Continuum almost exclusively, choosing it over my desktop or Surface Book when wanting to get work done or browse Reddit and watch YouTube videos. I used it as my only PC, and this was my experience. 

Using the HP Elite x3 Desk Dock, I hooked up my monitor with a DisplayPort cable, and plugged my wireless Microsoft 900 Keyboard and Mouse dongle into one of the two USB ports. Activating Continuum is pretty simple, simply dock your phone in and your monitor will come to life with a welcome introduction to what Continuum actually is, helpful if you're a newcomer.  

From this point, I was entered into the somewhat familiar, yet completely different desktop environment. The Continuum for phones desktop environment is similar, but there's a few things missing that are vital to the Windows experience.

The Desktop Environment

For starters, the familiar taskbar is located at the bottom of the screen, where over 90% of people appear to like it. This taskbar isn't the same taskbar found on an actual desktop however, as it's missing a few key features. Firstly, Cortana's search bar is missing, although her icon is still present. The System Tray, found over on the right of the taskbar is also missing. Instead, the System Tray is at the top of the screen, where it resides on Windows 10 Mobile. It's here where the time, WiFi signal and battery icons live. 

The Notification Center icon is in the correct place — the far right of the taskbar — but even the Notification Center isn't identical to the one found on desktop. For one, there's no transparency, which is bit of a bummer but an understandable decision by the design and engineering teams (the Elite x3 is powerful, but it's still nowhere near desktop-class powerful). Not only that, but the quick action buttons are at the top of the Action Center instead of the bottom like on desktop. This positioning mimics the mobile Action Center instead, which isn't bad at all, just a notable change. 

On the HP Elite x3, the default desktop background was HP's new, sleek logo, a wallpaper I actually like and didn't need to change. You can change it if you wish however, much like you would expect to be able to do on a desktop. You can even change the colour of your taskbar, which is an additional bonus for those who love customizing their workspace. 

Moving onto the Start Button, which when pressed, brings you to a semi-familiar Start interface. Your phones Start Screen tile layout is present, and works much like you would expect, minus the added benefit of right-click menus that you would expect to find on a desktop. Not only that, but the Continuum Start Menu is missing the hamburger menu found on the Anniversary Update on desktop, as well as recently open apps. This isn't an issue, however, as the All Apps list is available by selecting "All Apps".


Regardless of all of this, being able to be productive is the most important thing that Continuum must achieve. Microsoft has done well at making the Continuum environment similar to the desktop environment, but it's missing one vital feature that Continuum desperately needs. Windowed-mode. 

Continuum as it currently stands has no support for running multiple windows on screen at one time, something you'd expect a Windows desktop to be able to do. The taskbar is able to display running apps as well as switch between them much like on a desktop, but running apps side by side in windows? Not a feature you can take advantage of with Continuum right now, and that's a real shame. 

As a writer, it is vital that I am able to see multiple windows at any given time, whether it be Twitter and a forum post, an article and a chat room, or something even more complex, most power-users and business-users will need to take advantage of windowed apps, and it's simply not there right now. This caused serious productivity problems for me, as it slowed down my workflow dramatically, manually switching between running apps via the taskbar instead of being able to glance at the app already running. 

It's not all bad, however. Ignoring the lack of windowed-mode, Continuum is very productive. No longer do I need to bring something like a laptop with me, as I'm 95% in on the UWP experience, meaning all my apps are available from the Windows Store and run in Continuum mode. I use Twitter, Word Mobile, Microsoft Edge, Facebook, Readit, Outlook Mail and many more Windows 10 apps.  

Microsoft Edge is possibly one of the star apps when Continuum is enabled, as it transforms into the full Edge experience you know and love on desktop. The only notable missing feature is Extensions, but that's not the end of the world and didn't affect me in any way. With Edge, I was able to fire up email, Windows Central and plenty more website in full-desktop mode.  

HP bundles a few of it's own apps too, one of which is the HP Workspace, which aims to virtualize Win32 programs via the Cloud and beam them straight to your phone running Continuum. This feature is only for businesses however, meaning I was not able to take advantage of it. I was however able to take advantage of the Remote Desktop app, which I was able to run full desktop apps with from my home PC. I didn't need to use it often, but when the occasion came, it was an option that was available for me to use.

What I think is the best thing about Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum is being able to do things like insert a USB and edit documents from it. With the built in File Explorer, I can open a word document, make some changes, and save it back directly on the USB for editing elsewhere, much like a PC. This is super convenient, especially if you're not using a cloud service like OneDrive.

New features with the Anniversary Update

Continuum with build 10586 is a good experience for what's offered, but with the Anniversary Update Microsoft has added a few new features that make using Continuum even better. The lock screen when in Continuum now shows up on your connected display and you can enter your unlock PIN with the keyboard, instead of being required to do it via your phone.

Not only that, but Microsoft has added support for more resolutions, up to 4K which is fantastic. Previously, Continuum would max out at 1080p on displays, which was pretty annoying. Now it can adjust to most native widescreen display resolutions. What this means is more content on screen at one time on higher resolution monitors, and a clearer picture overall.

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn't added support for ultrawide monitors, which is disappointing. Perhaps that'll arrive in a future update. There's also now an option to adjust the DPI scaling on the extended display too, meaning you can interface elements bigger or smaller to give you more or less real-estate for content on the screen.

Elite x3 Performance

Since I was using Continuum with the HP Elite x3, I was curious to see how much better the Continuum experience performed compared to the Lumia 950. In short, it's not worlds different, but there is a slight improvement. More apps can stay in memory, so switching between them is faster, but opening apps and generally using Continuum doesn't feel much different.

I think a lot of that is to do with the Snapdragon 820 not being entirely optimized for Windows 10 Mobile just yet, we're still waiting for a firmware update that is expected to bring new features and fix a number of issues. We'll likely revisit performance then, but for now, Continuum is only a little bit better on the HP Elite x3 performance wise.


Continuum is still a fantastic and ambitious idea, and one that I think has potential in the smartphone market. Unfortunately, right now at least, it's too different from the desktop experience we already know and love, even though Microsoft has tried so hard to make it look the same. Until Microsoft can get windowed-mode working, you're stuck with a slow experience.

Don't get me wrong, being productive is very possible, but that also depends on what kind of productivity you're doing. If you're writing, or doing research or using Office/email, then Continuum is great for you. If however, you need to do video editing of image editing, Continuum (at least right now) is not for you as the apps and functionality simply aren't there.

In short, using Continuum on the HP Elite x3, for me, was a good experience. I was able to get through the week without needing to use my actual desktop machine, but that's because I don't really depend on any Win32 apps. If you do, this challenge would be more difficult. If you're all in on the UWP idea, this is far easier.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Sums it up perfectly. Sure, they did that demo way back of how you can use keyboard shortcuts, plug in a USB drive and all that, but without fundamental stuff like drag and drop, the familiar file explorer, and hell, WINDOWS, you couldn't possibly expect someone to pick up a Windows Phone, plug it into their TV and immediately use it like a PC.
    Great for enthusiasts like us of course who know our way around the phone, but pass it onto someone else, and it's Windows 8 all over again.
  • People plugging a phone to a TV shouldn't be expecting full fledged desktop experience.  It's a freaking phone.  Enthusiasts like us want it sure, but anyone else would probably be floored at what they are able to acheive with a phone in continuum as is.  The acceptance of Windows RT style effect would be much easier to swallow coming from a phone than from a 10" tablet.  And this time around we have UWP so it'll already be a much better experience.
  • Business people would expect that. They are selling this phone idea to businesses that say you only need a phone not a laptop and a phone. Its not made for us. Its made for business people.
  • Then why do we write so much about it here? Do many business people read this?
  • Another Business User here.  I've used it more often at home than on the road.  I took just my Lumia 950 with the foldable keyboard and Arc Touch Mouse, and Wireless Display Adapter.  It was a nightmare.  I had to go back to the display dock because the lag was so bad.   Lack of multiple windows is a challenge but not a deal breaker.  Lack of ability to run Web-Ex, a native Citrix Client in Full screen, and performance slower than my 10 year old laptop was too much to take. I trried the NexDock but its constant crashing of the keyboard & mouse and screen makes it hard to be a daily driver. Also for a presentation the USB-C to VGA adapter is only 640 * 480 resolution.  Older companies still have legacy projectors. I'll give it another try at home with the Anniversary Update but I would have a hard time recommeding it without more powerful hardware.  
  • I personally didn't give continuum a real try until rs1 insider builds hit a eureka point. I think it was only then I could get remote desktop uwp. Rdp huge for me. I won't say it's your problem but I think it's worth a try if you can. I didn't find it that slow on my 950XL. With uwp apps it was actually fairly pleasant
  • I'm in business! I'd just like to say though that until VERY recently, MAC users didn't have an EASY way to work side by side and yet, apparently, MAC OSX is the most productive OS in the world. I can honestly say that until the cost of monitors dropped, my whole office had one screen and very rarely were two apps open side-by-side with ALT-TAB being the preferred method of working on more than one app at a time. I don't really see any difference and although I am most deffinately a power user (Being a sysadmin and all) I work quite happily within continuum at home connected to the office perfomring all sorts of admin tasks via RDP or working on docs locally. Sure, windowed mode would be useful, but for now, this is NO deal breaker and an amazing achievment considering you are using a freaking phone!
  • An amazing achievement that Android completed 5 years ago. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • It achieved also the record for the least secure and reliable os in the world, I'm not going to talk about data theft and lags, oh no... I did, sorry
  • I'm a business person.  It's pretty good, edge ran my clients google stuff way better than I ever expected.  Like it was quite usable, slower, however not to the point of being unproductive.  Mail app or online mail is good, my calendars are all sync'd up with multiples.  I can work on excel type issues logs, work on word documents.  A lot of my work involve VPN and rdp to desktops already.  You get two screens cause you can do things independently on your phone from the external screen. My issue from using it more is that I'm in my office a lot so my SP3 is here.  I haven't traveled enough lately to really give it a good real world run through and I'm feeling I won't miss too much.  Just can't open too many of my time wasting websites which should translate to more productivity anyhow :)
  • I agree, i have used Continuum with L950 now for a view days at the customer (having the surface 3 with me), it still works fine. My main tasks were taking notes from the meeting (Onenote) and give some presentations. In the evening in the hotel i prepared also next day's presentation with it via the Hotel's TV. Also worked quite good Only downside, like mentioned in the text, side-by-side was missing (e.g. onenote on the one, and our ticketing system on the other, would be very helpful. Espeically, since Task-Switching takes about one annoying second. However, next time I'm going by plane, i will rely on my Lumia and leave the usual electronics store at home. Amazing, since only 2 years ago i had a whole pile of equipment with me: Laptop for work, Tablet, private Lumia, work blackberry. And of cause a handfull of periperals and cables. And now? Lumia, Dock, keybord with trackpack, cable.
  • Business user here and I have had the x3 for about a week now.  I have a total of 9 offices at this time that I bounce in between and frequent business trips outside of those 9 locations.  I live & die by what I am able to accomplish in a mobile fashion.  I have a number of employees that work outside the office as well.  Yes this product needs optimized and firmware updates but is it can deliver on what it seems to be capable of, them it will be a game changer for the companies I own.  I am looking forward to getting the lapdock and doing a good field test of this device.
  • "People plugging a phone to a TV shouldn't be expecting full fledged desktop experience." Why not?  Are you implying that it can't ever be done? 
  • No Are you implying there's no tomorrow?
  • Re-read what you just wrote. You're completely contradicting yourself.
  • I would have, if I said 640kB ram is all anyone should ever need :) We're talking about today what's possible today.  We're all going to be walking around with connected hololens helmets in the future anyhow :)
  • ... important word that might be missing: "...yet..." Quote:
    People plugging a phone to a TV shouldn't be expecting full fledged desktop experience.  ... :-)