Review: Telstra Tough Max

With the majority of Australians situated along or near the coast, it can be easy to forget that the inner part of the country is very different. Heavy bush or dry conditions mean more dust, more dirt, and with less mobile towers, harsher reception needs.

In fact, “harsh” is a good way to explain the outback, at least in relation to technology, as most devices are made for the city when you’re close to power plugs, clean surfaces, and communication towers.

So a device made for the outback has to be handled differently. It needs to be stronger, a survivor, and a true battler.

And that just might be what Telstra has made in the Tough Max, a phone that is well and truly made for Australia.



Manufactured by ZTE, Telstra’s latest device — the Tough Max — appears on the surface to be a bit of a surprise.

Arriving with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor clocked at 1.2GHz and 2GB RAM, it’s not the grand-master flagship you may expect, but rather something geared at budget people looking for something a little more.

And that might be what they’ll get, with 16GB storage equipped to this phone and a microSD slot to raise the storage amount considerably if need be. Google’s Android 5.0 “Lollipop” runs on the phone out of the box, though with no extra overlays and a fairly stock experience.


Connections for the handset are also fairly stock and pretty close to budget devices, offering 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and Category 4 4G LTE, meaning speeds as high as 150Mbps down and 50Mbps up. Only two wired connections are offered on the phone, arriving in the form of a microUSB port on the left edge and a 3.5mm headset jack up top.

That 4G antenna handles itself a little differently than other phones, mind you, because unlike most antennas, the phone has also been rated “Blue Tick” which means it can pick up on a longer band of reception which is especially handy in the bush, which is what the Telstra Blue Tick system was designed for in the first place.


Cameras are also included, and you’ll find a 13 megapixel camera on the back with a flash and HD video capture supported, while the front relies on a 5 megapixel camera.

You’ll even find support for Qi wireless charging in the handset, and a place to plug in an antenna if you need it.


All of this sits under a 4.7 inch high-definition screen supporting 1280×720 and Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 for screen protection.

And then there’s the casing and protection, with a larger plastic chassis than normal, door covers for the microSD and microSIM slot, and a degree of ruggedisation supporting IP67, offering a small amount of water-resistance and a fairly sizeable amount of dust-resistance.


There are a few buttons here on this device, with three printed-on soft buttons at the bottom for back, home, and multi-task, while physical buttons include a volume rocker on the left edge, a power button on the right, and a torch button up top that switches on the LED on the back of the phone.

The battery on the Telstra Tough Max is rated at 2500mAh and is built into the phone, making it not replaceable.


Telstra’s latest phone appears, at least on the surface, to be a little different from all the other phones out there.

While most devices try to cut back on the amount of excess plastic, scaling back to something more slim-line, fashionable, and pocket friendly, the Telstra Tough Max doesn’t try to mince words and certainly doesn’t hold back.

Dressed in thick charcoal and orange plastic, this a phone with a point: “I’m a survivor” it screams, with a rigid case, extruded edges, and a design that is certainly not like anything else.


You won’t get confused with anyone else’s phone, that’s for sure, and the design of the Tough Max — also called the ZTE T84, since ZTE made the device — is more like what you get when you take a 4.7 inch phone and slap a durable ruggedised case on the outside.

That means the Tough Max isn’t the prettiest phone on the market, though it does look like it can take a beating, and that’s all that really matter.

Surprisingly, it’s still a somewhat comfortable device to hold, with the plastic ridges giving you something to grip onto.

It’s pretty clear it’s not a premium device, but with this design and intent, we’re not so sure it needs to be.


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  1. I have just purchase the 23rd one of these phones for staff (mostly tradies) we had to send one back with service issues but the rest have been great. the tempered glass protectors have been changed a few times due to high impact incidents , but they cost a couple of dollars on ebay. These have saved the actually screen on a number of occasions. The staff have found these devices so much easier to use than the former devices.

  2. Phone is hard to use and the screen broke within two months by dropping from hand onto the corner plastic. Telstra don’t care at all , the thing is it is advertised as being tough and it isn’t. The plastic surround doesn’t protect. Better to buy a good phone and buy proper casing. Only Telstra will fix and they are complacent. Don’t buy

  3. As a Computer and Phone repairer, I have been repairing/replacing these screens for months. Just $248. Am now once again finding it very hard to get anymore screens, currently have one left. I’m also staggered that there just isn’t any other parts available for them either, like SIM card/SD card reader etc. Just nothing anywhere. I think Telstra did a number on us all with these phones. If I can help.

  4. Bought 15 months ago because I required an antenna port as I
    live in rural area and need antenna on house and vehicles for coverage. Also
    bought for reported ruggedness.
    Surprise, surprise..ZTE don’t offer cable! Telstra stores offer cable, but ZTE
    states using such a cable will void warranty. ZTE states if you want a plug as
    part of car-kit, contact Telstra. Clearly Telstra don’t have system of feedback
    to ZTE. Try for yourself – go to a Telstra store and ask for an antenna cable for
    a T84 and they’ll sell you one that voids warranty! Or, you could contract ZTE
    Support and they might respond in a similar tone “Patch
    lead not currently available, we are still testing. Before you ask, no I don’t
    have a time frame.” For coverage, I’ve
    had to get one of the Telstra “warranty voiding patch leads” and have been very
    careful when attaching it to phone.
    1. No authorised patch leads available
    2. Telstra and ZTE have no effective feedback from customers – sure way to go broke! (what a waste – this phone design really is on the path to being a great phone)
    3. Battery life after 12 months poor. Less than 12 hours
    4. Cover for antenna plug broke off. Poor materials. No replacement available. Blutack to the rescue to maintain some form of waterproofness.
    5. Light switch temperamental.
    1. Ruggedness
    2. Waterproof to a metre. Really good.
    3. Camera good once I worked out how to use it… odd focusing
    4. Dedicated light switch

  5. Hubby’s lasted three weeks. There was an issue with trying to swipe and load so he tried to take the battery out to reset it. Back is locked – screen cracked to pieces. He dropped it on the corner first while trying to this and the screen cracked, which I think made the rest worse. He is renowned for dust ruining the sound. No chance to figure out if this phone was any good for that. Still 12 months to go on the contract. Bah humbug

  6. If you receive a text whilst making a call the phone will unlock and then all hell breaks loose as it changes settings ,makes or ends calls or any other madness it can embark upon ,have spoken to other owners and have same problem .ZTE have obviously used the village idiot to design operating system as it is diabolically stupid to use

  7. Just hope you don’t crack the screen! Telstra charge $397 to replace and NO ONE else does. So it’s either Telstra or throw it out.

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