Conker ST50 rugged smartphone review

A newcomer in a crowded market, but one with unique features at this price

Conker ST50
Image credit: TechRadar

Our Verdict

Conker never planned to compete with Chinese rugged device vendors, and while it does provide features that only UK-based manufacturers will be able to offer, we fear that the performance gulf might put off prospective purchasers.

For

  • Removable battery
  • Optional upgrades via Pogopin
  • Reasonably priced
  • UK-based

Against

  • Relatively poor performance
  • No status lights
  • Plastic finish

Conker is a British manufacturer of rugged tablets, touchscreen and mobile devices aimed at businesses, and therein lies its strongest unique selling point. It is one of a number of emerging European device manufacturers that focus on the rugged market; others include the likes of Bullitt, Defender and Hammer.

The ST50 is Conker’s top-of-the-range device and retails for as little as £399. It features a Qualcomm processor and Android 8, plus a couple of features not found elsewhere in this price range. Read on to find out more.

Conker ST50

Image credit: TechRadar

Design

The Conker ST50 looks like a lot of the rugged smartphones we’ve tested over the years, which makes us think that the company probably shared original device manufacturers (ODMs) with some of the products that have previously landed on our desk.

The casing is made of hard ABS plastic, engineered to withstand bumps and knocks. There are four rubber protectors, one in each corner, to guard the areas in which the device is most vulnerable to drops on hard surfaces.

Conker ST50

Image credit: TechRadar

The screen is non-oleophobic so expect a lot of greasy fingerprints when interacting with the display. At 5.5-inches, it is big enough for day-to-day tasks, and a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels means that it will be frugal when it comes to power consumption.

There are capacitive touch buttons on the front, a boon if you are wearing gloves when using the device. The power button is located at the top whilst a waterproof USB Type-C connector can be found at the very bottom. The ST50, let’s not forget, is IP67-certified (but not IP68).

Conker ST50

Image credit: TechRadar

At the back, a 4x3 connector is located next to a 16-megapixel camera with a dual LED flash, above a single speaker grill and a removable battery. The copper points on the back of the device are for a Pogopin charging and docking feature; Conker has yet to confirm which accessories will use that feature.

At 165 x 84 x 13mm with a weight of 198g, the ST50 is solidly built, although it sounds hollow and feels lighter, which we believe might be due to added protection inside the device to absorb shocks more effectively.

Conker ST50 specs

CPU: Snapdragon 435 octa-core

GPU: Adreno 505

RAM: 3GB

Storage: 32GB

Screen size: 5.5-inch

Resolution: 1280 x 720

Weight: 198g

Dimensions: 165 x 84 x 13mm

Rear camera: 16MP

Front camera: 5MP

OS: Android 8.1

Battery: 4Ah

Hardware and in use

The ST50 might be Conker’s flagship smartphone, but in the wider market, its specifications would barely qualify as mid-range. It uses a Snapdragon 435, a three-year-old entry-level processor that has eight Cortex-A53 cores and is etched using 28nm technology. The bottom line is that it is not power efficient and is likely to offer poor overall performance.

In addition, this phone only has 3GB of RAM and 32GB on-board storage, which is what you usually get on entry-level smartphones nowadays. To Conker’s credit, it hasn’t skimped on the rest of the specification. There are two Nano SIM card slots (one can be swapped for a microSD card), a user-swappable 4Ah battery, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and even NFC.

Unlike many rivals, the battery can be easily removed; there’s no need to undo any screws. As expected it runs stock Android 8.1.0 without any additional complementary apps.

Conker’s unique selling points lie elsewhere: it’s possible to trial the device for 30 days (albeit with a restocking fee applied if you return it), you can call a landline and talk to a real person on the phone, and perhaps most importantly, rugged Android phone repairs are handled by Conker’s UK-based service centre and are turned around on average in just two days.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Conker ST50 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Geekbench: 698 (single-core); 2,658 (multi-core); 2,542 (compute)

Antutu: 60,383

PCMark (Work 2.0): 3,712

Passmark: 3,817

Androbench (sequential): 291 (sequential read); 107 (sequential write)

Androbench (random): 50 (random read); 12 (random write)

3DMark Slingshot: 620

3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 319

3DMark IceStorm: 9,505

Seascape: 556

HWBot Prime: 3,551

Sadly, we couldn’t find any details on the warranty period offered by the vendor, compatible accessories, or how long the smartphone’s firmware will be supported, which are critical pieces of information for any prospective business buyer.

When it comes to performance, the ST50 ranked amongst the slowest devices we’ve tested to date. While Conker never claimed that it was going for the top-end of the market, we do feel that the ST50 should have sported better components.

One unique feature offered by Conker is the ability for businesses to opt for a monthly subscription, turning the capital expenditure into an operational one, something that will doubtless appeal to accounting departments.

The competition

It is important to understand that the Chinese rugged phone manufacturers are always going to offer better bang-for-your-buck as far as the hardware is concerned, as most don’t need to maintain margins necessary to provide aftersales and support for existing customers.

Conker ST50

Image credit: TechRadar

The Cat S60 costs a bit more than the ST50 at around £449 but has a more powerful processor (a Snapdragon 617), an integrated FLIR thermal camera, and an IP68 certification, exceeding military specifications – plus it sports a dedicated SOS button. On the flipside, it only comes with Android 6.0.

The AGM X3 is, again, more expensive than the ST50 at £500. However, it’s in a different league with twice the system memory, twice the storage and a processor – the Snapdragon 845 – that obliterates the Snapdragon 435. Everything else is simply better including the two-year warranty. Note that AGM now has a UK office which makes aftersales and support requests far easier.

Conker ST50

Image credit: TechRadar

Final verdict

In a marketplace dominated by Chinese vendors that compete with a focus that’s too much on price, and not enough on aftersales and support, Conker brings some much needed UK presence to the playing field.

However, the ST50, for all the goodwill it carries, loses out heavily when it comes to sheer performance. For £399, we’d expect at least mid-range performance with a minimum of 4GB of RAM and 64GB on-board storage.