Who or what is STK? That’s a fair question. Search Google for the company in the UK and you’ll find a London steakhouse before the phone maker.

STK is a bit like Wileyfox. It’s a company that designs phones in the UK and builds them, like every other manufacturer, in China. That Wileyfox comparison is even more meaningful nowadays, as STK has a licensing deal with the brand to use its brand name, after poor old Wileyfox ran into money troubles.

The STK X2 is the highest-priced phone STK has made to date. And, judging by our experience with a few previous models, easily its best.

You’ll pay £169.99 (around $210, AU$300) in the UK, and it is not widely available elsewhere. At its claimed £309 (roughly $390, AU$540) original price the STK X2 would be a terrible deal. But this phone was likely born with a deep discount in mind.

At £169.99 it’s a solid buy thanks to a lovely metal and glass shell. However, most are still better off with a Moto G6 or Moto G6 Play, thanks to this phone’s camera autofocus issues and other problems.

Design

  • 2.5D glass and aluminum
  • Rear fingerprint scanner
  • 64GB of storage

The STK X2 is one of the best-looking phones you can get at the price. Its back is curved glass, the sides glossy-finish aluminum and the front is 2.5D glass, meaning it’s lightly curved at the edges.

In some ways this phone looks like a smaller version of the OnePlus 6T. They are not relatives, of course, but given the STK X2 is a third the price, that’s quite a feat.

In other ways the Moto G6 is a much more relevant comparison, though. The STK X2 does not have ultra-slim screen borders or a notch, and its size makes it seem a good fit for the budget and casual crowd, not the kind of enthusiasts OnePlus attracts.

This is no dig. A mid-size phone like this is easy to handle, and the display is big enough to handle games and video fairly well.

STK puts extra work into making the X2 friendlier for the cash-strapped too. You get a neat silicone case in the box, and a ‘half’ factory applied screen protector in the box.

The plastic film is attached as standard, but so is the applicator side you need to remove. Ours wasn’t perfectly aligned either, and the after taking the backing off we were left with a couple of bubbles.

But, hey, you could do a worse job if you bought your own. Possibly.

All this attention paid to protection is likely there to mitigate the use of cheaper glass in the X2. STK has not revealed the kind of glass used, and it seems safe to assume it’s a generic tempered type. If it were Gorilla Glass, we’d know about it.

Keep the case on and it doesn’t matter that much. Play fast and loose without it and you get a phone that feels fantastic for its price. This isn’t just down to the use of metal and glass, but also the careful beveling of the aluminum, which gets rid of any hard or sharp edges.

STK also includes a generous 3-year warranty. And while this won’t cover accidental damage, there’s also an ‘in-house’ (likely managed by a third-party) screen repair service for the X2. You’ll pay £59.99 (around $75, AU$105) to repair a smashed screen.

There’s little obvious scrimping elsewhere either. The STK X2 has 64GB of storage, double that of the Moto G6 Play, and there’s a circular fingerprint scanner on the back. This is not a particularly fast pad, taking up to a second to get you to the home screen, but it is reliable.

The STK X2 even has an ultra-rare extra, an IR blaster on its top. This is used to let a phone act like a universal remote.

That there is no pre-installed app to actually use the thing is a strong suggestion the X2 is a customized ODM (original design manufacturer) phone, rather than one STK has designed millimeter by millimeter. Still, when the results are this charming, does it matter?

Anyway, you can download an app such as Peel to use the IR blaster, and it’s likely better than anything STK would make.

The STK X2 has a micro USB charge cable rather than the newer USB-C type, which is typical of a lower-tier phone at present. And the speaker is a very conventional single bottom-loaded driver, but it sounds perfectly decent.

Screen

  • 5.7-inch 720 x 1440 IPS LCD
  • 18:9 aspect ratio
  • Color temperature is cooler than we’d like

Screen notch phones are getting cheaper, but unless you buy a model from one of the many pure Chinese brands like Elephone, Umidigi or Cubot, they don’t come this cheap yet. The STK X2 has a standard rectangular screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio, just like the Moto G6.

Resolution matches the Moto G6 Play at 720 x 1440, dense enough to appear sharp from a 40cm distance, if not close-up. At this price, that level of fidelity will do the job. Contrast is solid too.

Color is less strong, though. While saturation levels are good, the STK X2 has quite a cool color temperature. This increases the perceived brightness of a screen, but makes whites look slightly blue-tinted.

It does not mean the STK has a lower-quality screen. This is a color calibration choice, but there’s no way to tweak it in the settings menu. We think the STK X2 would have a more pleasant look with a warmer tone.

Proper calibration to make the display in-line with one of the industry standards (sRGB, Adobe RGB, DCI P3) would also significantly de-cool the screen.

STK doesn’t really need to artificially promote the X2’s brightness either. This isn’t a supernova screen, but it fares okay outdoors. There’s also a solid auto brightness mode, a very important feature occasionally left out of the cheap phones of largely unknown brands.

Battery life

  • 3,000mAh
  • micro USB charging
  • Standard charging speed

Just a few years ago a 3,000mAh battery seemed huge. These days? It’s virtually the entry level point for Android phones.

The STK X2 has a 3,000mAh battery. It lasts through a day of moderate use, with perhaps 15% spare by bedtime. This is after several hours of audio streaming, a handful of photos captured, plenty of time spent in WhatsApp, and a little trawling through Twitter.

It, unsurprisingly, does not quite offer the phone abuse buffer of the Moto G6 Play, which has a 4,000mAh battery. However, we’re reasonably happy with the X2’s stamina, and it’s actually roughly comparable with a lot of high-end phones.

Playing a 90-minute 720p video at maximum brightness, the STK X2 loses 24% of its battery. For comparison, the Moto G6 loses 21%, the Moto G6 Play 18% and the Nokia 6.1 23%. This is not one of the longest-lasting phones in its category. It’s not even close to that.

There’s nothing special to note in its charging either. It uses the dated micro USB socket, the included charger is a 5V, 2A plug. There’s no fast charging here. And, it almost goes without saying at the price, wireless charging is not supported.

Camera

  • 16MP and 0.3MP rear cameras with flash
  • 16MP front camera
  • Partially broken autofocus and no manual mode

The SKT X2 has two cameras on the back, and one on the front. Both of the main sensors, leaving out the secondary depth sensor on the rear, are made by Sony.

In some ways STK has bungled the X2’s camera. But you know what? With a bit of patience, it can capture some pretty good shots that are also ripe for post-shoot editing.

Let’s start with the worst part, though. The STK X2’s focusing is partially broken, which becomes evident when shooting in low light. On occasion it refuses to focus, even when the subject is far away, which should make focusing quite simple.

You can watch it working through its focus range, using contrast detection to try to find the sharpest autofocus point. It gets to ‘infinity’ focusing (which is what we need), then slumps back down like a child who finds their homework too hard, leaving your image blurred.

This is extremely frustrating, especially when there’s no manual focus mode to let you take the reins. The only way to get around is it to try to focus on other parts of the scene. Sometimes this lets you get the right focal plane.

You don’t tend to see this in good lighting, but it ruins the experience of shooting with the STK X2 at night. But you know what? Use the HD mode, which takes longer, suggesting it may merge multiple exposures, and you can tease some surprisingly serviceable low light images out of the X2.

Next gripe: HDR. There’s no auto HDR mode, and shooting HDR photos is very slow and sometimes seems to have barely any positive effect anyway. 

Gripe three: shallow depth of field. The STK X2 has a very low resolution 0.3MP (VGA) secondary sensor for blurry background photos, using a mode STK calls SLR. 

This mode is terrible, though, with barely more fidelity than a filter that blurs out an image around a circular focal point.

The STK X2’s camera software is bad, and the processing results in slightly fuzzy or dithered fine detail down at pixel level. However, looking at the resulting images as a whole, discarding the ones where dodgy focus or HDR ghosting hasn’t spoilt things, the photos are entirely okay. It seems the Sony sensor at the core of the X2 camera isn’t too bad at all.

We’d still take a Moto G6 camera over this, though.

The front camera also has a 16MP sensor, and while the processing is a little slow, you can take better selfies here than with most phones at the price. Video capture tops out at 1080p, and there’s no software stabilization. Your handheld footage will look fairly jerky.

Camera samples

Software

  • Android 8.1
  • Custom STK UI
  • Custom finger scanner gesture shortcuts

The STK X2 runs Android 8.1 Oreo and has a customized version of the generic Android interface. You won’t find many simpler custom interfaces. And that’s a good thing, for the most part.

There are no annoying custom home screens, just the Google Assistant one, and the apps drawer is a very plain vertical scroll with a plain black background. It’s even more stripped-back than the generic non-Pixel version of Android.

It’s clean and fresh. And the only pre-installed apps are an FM radio, the (granted, useless) SIM Toolkit and an STK Care help app.

STK has added a few little extras in the Settings menu, but these are actually handy. You can customize the rear fingerprint scanner to let it work as a gesture pad, to take photos in the camera app, answer calls, and capture what’s on screen as a screenshot image.

All the additions are thoughtful, and optional, little extras. It’s a Motorola-like approach.

Very little other customization is on offer, though. You can’t tweak how many icons appear on the home screens, and there’s no option to turn the app drawer white, or use the ‘standard’ approach of showing a darkened version of your home screen wallpaper.

There’s one weird niggle, too. The ‘home’ soft keys look quite soft, as if a little too much smoothing has been applied, or the icon images are lower resolution than the display itself.

If you don’t get on with the default STK X2 UI, you can always use an app like Nova Launcher to paste over it.

Performance

  • MediaTek MT6750V/M CPU (octa-core Cortex-A53)
  • Mali MT-860MP2 GPU
  • 4GB of RAM

The STK X2 has a MediaTek MT6750V chipset. This is a low-end octa-core CPU with four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.5GHz and another four at 1GHz. The GPU is a weak dual-core Mali-T860.

This earns the STK X2 2,537 in Geekbench 4, substantially lower than the 3,800-odd score you’d see from a Moto G6. The X2 is not a powerful phone.

However, real-world performance is reasonable. General lag is there, but minimal, and the 4GB of RAM allows a decent number of apps to be kept in a ‘held’ state before being purged by the system.

In-app performance varies a little. Typical of a cheaper, low-power phone, app loads are noticeably longer than those of a mid-range or high-end phone. However, the STK X2 avoids the kind of lag that makes basic interactions feel labored, those that seem to slow down simple things like messaging and texting. This part is crucial. The STK X2 is not a downer to use.

The odd gremlin appears now and then, though. One evening, the STK X2 kept continually restarting itself, for around half an hour. A few times it has crashed so badly, only a hard reset would bring it back to life.

Movies and games

  • Limited GPU power
  • Mono bottom-edge speaker
  • Plenty of internal storage

The STK X2 is not an obvious gaming phone as it has a basic dual-core GPU. However, thanks to the relatively low screen resolution, it actually gets by perfectly well for an affordable model.

You can play Asphalt 8 at ‘High’ graphics with only a little occasional frame rate dipping. PUBG will only run at Low graphics, but the same is true of every model in this sub-£180/$200 class. 

While playable, the frame rate is distinctly low, often sub-20fps.

If you want to play higher-end games like this regularly, the Moto G6 is a better choice. Its Adreno 506 GPU is significantly more powerful. And like a lot of cheap phones, the STK X2 won’t play titles made for the Vulcan API like ARK: Survival Evolved.

For casual titles, and many 3D ones, the STK X2 gets by just fine.

There’s no such struggle with movie playback. The phone’s high contrast 5.7-inch screen is easily good enough for YouTube or TV episode watching on your way to work.

The 64GB of internal storage is also a big feature for gamers and those who like to download video from Netflix, or locally store their own files. There are no additional apps for video playback, so if you do have some exotic file types, you’ll likely need a third-party player.

Verdict

The STK X2 is one of the most expensive-looking phones you’ll find for £170 (around $210, AU$300). It’s metal and glass, and does have much of the character of a high-end phone in the way STK uses these materials.

It is also a reminder of quite how many important elements there are to a phone, and how a misstep in any sticks out. Its screen is unusually cool-looking, in terms of color temperature, and the handling of the camera is ham-fisted.

It’s much better than a phone like the Honor 7C, which has performance issues across the board. But when there are options like the Moto G6 and Moto G6 Play around at a similar price, the X2 becomes at best a middle-weight contender. Still, it’s the best STK phone to date.

Who’s this for?

The STK X2 is for people who like the OnePlus approach to phone design, but want to spend under £200/$250, rather than under £500/$600.

Should you buy it?

If you like the design and don’t plan to take many photos then you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but with competition from the Nokia 6.1, Moto G6 and Moto G6 Play to consider, it’s tough to give the STK X2 an outright recommendation.

Competition

There are lots of other budget options, such as the following three handsets.

Moto G6 Play

The Play version of the G6 does not have a glass back. It’s plastic. The STK X2 feels higher-end as a result. However, the Moto G6 Play lasts longer between charges and the camera, while not killer, has better software. The Play is also perhaps slightly better for gaming.

Read our full Moto G6 Play review

Moto G6

Motorola’s full-fat version of the G6 has a glass and metal design like the X2. And it’s better in a few other respects. The camera is more reliable, the screen has a more pleasant character and is much sharper. A better Snapdragon 450 chipset shouldn’t be sniffed at, either.

Read our full Moto G6 review

Nokia 6.1

We loved the Nokia 6.1 at review. But in one key respect it seems more dated than the STK X2. It has a squatter 16:9 screen, which we’d find hard to consider an ‘upgrade’ these days. That display is sharper, though.

The Nokia camera is also better all-round, and the chipset is much, much more powerful. Its back is aluminum, though, so not for those desperate for a glassy feel.

Read our full Nokia 6.1 review

First reviewed: December 2018

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