ArsTechnica Gadgets Microsoft Windows

There’s now a really nice Windows phone available on Verizon, and I’m not sure why

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HP Elite x3

Early in 2016, HP announced the Elite X3, a high-end Windows 10 Mobile phone that was, well, actually really nice. A then-current Snapdragon 820, 4GB RAM, dual SIM, 6 inch 2560×1400 AMOLED screen, iris and fingerprint recognition, Qi and PMA wireless charging, waterproof, 16MP rear and 8MP front cameras: it was the kind of thing flagships are made of.

HP was aiming the phone at corporate customers, but there was a sticking point; it didn’t support CDMA, which meant it wasn’t compatible with Verizon’s legacy 3G network (though LTE service areas would have been fine). With Verizon having an estimated 50 percent of the corporate phone market, this was a big problem. While Windows Phone 8 had CDMA support, its successor, Windows 10 Mobile, did not—part of the fallout of the Nokia layoffs. This meant that even though phones like the X3 and Lumia 950 and 950 XL had the right radio hardware in their Qualcomm processors to work on Verizon’s network, they were in practice restricted to T-Mobile and AT&T, the US’s GSM carriers.

But even though Microsoft is no longer developing new features for Windows 10 Mobile, it turns out that for whatever reason, someone at Redmond has been busying themselves with writing CDMA support. And lo, it’s actually shipped: the Microsoft Store now has a Verizon version of the x3.

There’s a slim possibility that it is being sold as a pure LTE device using VoLTE for voice and simply losing service if you should find yourself in an area with only CDMA/EVDO coverage, but I don’t think so. The spec listing claims both CDMA and EVDO support, so it seems to be the real deal. In July, there were some signs that this was in the cards, as release notes for new firmware revisions noted bug fixes when using the phone on CDMA networks.

Even more remarkably, although the phones were listed as “in stock” a few hours ago, they’re now showing as sold out.

This leads us, of course, to wonder why. Why develop the CDMA capability at all, and why release it to market?

The release of a working CDMA telephony stack shows that Microsoft still hasn’t given up on the idea of some kind of Windows device offering some kind of phone-like capabilities.

Microsoft’s efforts to unify and componentize Windows are continuing and are now in their third phase, named Windows Core OS (the first phases being MinWin and OneCore). One goal of this work is to unify the user interface components; presently the Start menu on desktop Windows and that on Windows 10 Mobile are different, unrelated programs. In Windows Core OS, they won’t be. This Windows development is believed to be occurring in tandem with the development of a new piece of hardware, codenamed “Andromeda.” That’s a piece of hardware that will have among other things telephony capabilities.

As for bringing it to market, I’d guess it’s some combination of fulfilling a contractual obligation and perhaps wanting to get some real-world testing of that new CDMA capability.

So there we have it. Two years after it might possibly have done the platform any good and more than a year too late for the Elite x3, Windows 10 Mobile now has proper CDMA and EVDO support.

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