Telstra Tough Max 3 – you can beat it – literally

Telstra Tough Max 3
100% human

The Telstra Tough Max 3 is a tradie’s phone. Rugged, unassuming and highly functional – just like a tradie.

We put the Telstra Tough Max 3 through its paces including an IP68 test and because we did not have to return it – some rough and tumble treatment. It passed and even went for a swim.

When you buy a tough phone, you expect a few compromises, but the Telstra Tough Max 3 turns out to be a well-featured phone made for Telstra by ZTE.

Telstra Tough Max 3 LTE-A AU a.k.a. ZTE T86

  • Telstra Website here
  • ZTE Australian website here
  • Price: $498.96 over 24 or 36 months plus a monthly data plan from $50/15GB to $100/150GB. It can be purchased outright and used with an external MVNO plan.
  • Warranty: 2-years

Telstra has a promotion to win an Isuzu D-max – buy before 30/3/20.

Base specs – all pretty good

  • Qualcomm SD665 (same as OPPO A9 – review here)
  • 4GB/64GB/microSD to 256GB
  • Single Sim, VoLTE and VoWiFi, Telstra Blue-Tick and External RF antenna port
  • 5.65-inch, 2160 x 1080 pixels, 427ppi
  • Wi-Fi AC, BT 4.2, FM Radio, GPS, NFC
  • 3920mAh battery, USB-C PD charger 18W
  • Android 9
  • Glass screen protector (not fitted)

Screen – PASS

It is a 1080p screen, so text and images are crisp. But it lacks brightness (about 250 nits) and contrast (1000:1) for direct daylight use. It is not bad, but you will need to shade the screen. We did not measure colour gamma or Delta E as this is not a requirement of a tough phone.

It has good haptic feedback, although no glove mode for tradies. It has a low 67.6% STBR – massive top, chin and side bezels.

The screen is a fingerprint magnet – we did not add the glass protector for the test. It has Gorilla Glass 3, so it is relatively scratch, but not impact resistant.

You can unlock via 2D face unlock. We found it reliable in daylight and poor in low light.

CPU Throttling – PASS

Capable of 144,000GIPS but after four minutes drops to around 102,000GIPS. Average of the 15-minute test was 118K and a low of 102K (72% of its maximum performance).

We expected that as the case is IP68 rated and cooling is harder in a sealed environment. Still, it is quite acceptable.

Geekbench 5 single/multi-core 313/1389 comparable to a Samsung Galaxy S8 circa 2017.


While it is a game capable GPU, there is no ‘game’ mode to boost frame rates. It will play most modern mobile 1080p games at 24fps or better.

  • Ram: 4GB LPDDR4-1866 3.635GB free
  • 128GB eMMC (48.77GB free)

Comms – PASS

Wi-Fi AC 1×1– it has a single Wi-Fi antenna and reaches the maximum of 433Mbps/-53dBm at 2m from our NETGEAR AX12 router.

While the Qualcomm SoC supports BT 5.0, this only implements 4.2. The main difference would have been longer distances between the phone and a BT device.

NFC- it supports Google Pay.

Sensors – EXCEED

  • Accelerometer
  • Proximity
  • Magnetometer
  • Gyroscope
  • A-GPS and GPS – sufficiently accurate for turn-by-turn navigation
  • A fingerprint reader on the back – 99% accurate over 20 tests

Battery – EXCEED

It has a large 3920mAh battery that should go a couple of days without charge. Over seven days use we charged four times.

The Charger is USB-C PD 5V/3A, 9V/2A and 12V/1.5A (QC 3.) The first charge took over four hours. Subsequent charges were a little quicker.

Battery discharge at idle is around 254.8mA meaning around 15-20 days standby. There is an adaptive battery mode (part of Android 9 and Qualcomm SD AI) that may give more time after it has learned your use habits.


  • 50% screen 1080p video, BT, aeroplane mode, 13 hours
  • T-Rex 100% video load 6.82 hours
  • 100% load complete drain 4.5 hours

Sound – PASSable

It has a single, mono earpiece speaker and a front-firing bottom speaker. It is what it is – designed for clearer voice with no bass, flat mid and no treble.

Sorry, the sound is a bit tragic – all for clearer voice, not music

Music volume is 75dB, and the ring volume is 80dB – loud enough, but we would expect a tradie phone to be deafening.

The single mic at the bottom of the chin has good sensitivity but no ANC so we found ourselves cupping the mic for clarity.

Handsfree is adequate although we would expect little more volume from a tradies phone.

3.5mm combo earphone and mic (also used for FM radio).

We tested using the Sony WH-1000Xm3 BT headphones but could only get a BT 4.2 SBC codec connection.

Android – PASS but will it get 10?

No policy on OS updates but I doubt it will get Android 10.

Android security 1/10/19 – Telstra usually update quarterly.

Google Assistant and Google Lens are available.

There is an extra key on the left called a super key. I kept wondering why the flash was frequently on until I discovered it. You can double click for the camera and long press for the flashlight – turn it off!


Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 28 – all you need for Telstra but not a good international phone.

Single sim supports VoLTE, VoWiFi, ViLTE and 4GX (2CA)

Rated speed is 300/50Mbps DL/UL, and we achieved 150/25 in a three-bar reception zone.

Signal strength is -83dBm excellent finding next two towers at -85 and -101 – a good stable signal but we did find it was more often 3G  than 4G.

Telstra Tough Max 3


157.8 x 77.2 x 11.6mm x 185g

Telstra claims military-grade IP68 dust and water resistance of 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. ZTE claim IP68, no mIl-spec – no matter it is tough enough.

IP68 means dust tight and immersion to 1m for 30 minutes. While we never recommend throwing or dropping the phone, let alone a swim, we did test these. A drop from 1.2m (shoulder height) to concrete did not affect it and a 60-minute, 1-metre dunk in the pool was fine. It is built like a tank and will withstand tradie treatment.


The worst thing we can say is that it is better than a social media capable camera. it is very much capable of taking decent worksite shots and recording serial numbers etc.

Camera – Primary

  • 16MP, f/1.8, 1.12um
  • Sensor: Omni-Vision OV16b10
  • 62.1° FOV
  • ISO 100-1550
  • Flash ad HDR
  • PDAF
  • 1080@30fps H.264

Camera – Secondary (used for depth/bokeh)

  • 5MP
  • 1.12um


  • 8MP
  • Sensor: Gc8034
  • f/2.0
  • 1.124um
  • FF
  • 51°
  • ISO 100-1600
  • 720p@30fps

Outdoors – good light

Telstra Tough Max 3
Good colour and detail
Telstra Tough Max 3
2X digital zoom – losing details but not bad

Indoor office light 400 lumens

Telstra Tough Max 3
Accurate colours and good details
Telstra Tough Max 3
Bokeh works quite well still leaving some structure to it

Indoors low light <100 lumens

Telstra Tough Max 3
Surprisingly good with not a lot of noise evident

GadgetGuy’s take – Telstra Tough Max 3 is a step up over Tough Max 2

I reviewed the Telstra Tough Max 2 in January 2018. Tough Max 3 is an incremental improvement on it, although losing Qi charging and gaining some weight.

Over the review period, I came to like the device. It has plenty of power, a screen that is not too bad (yes, I am used to AMOLED), decent battery life and ripper reception. It is reassuring to know you can mistreat it and it will still work well tomorrow.

Rating this is easy – it is a tough phone first and foremost, and the specs are quite respectable.

Who is it for?

Tradies, construction workers, miners, farmers, outdoor adventure enthusiasts or anyone seeking extra protection and durability in a smartphone.

Telstra has a ‘Tough Max 3” video

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Tradie tough with a good ZTE pedigree
Great reception
Decent camera
Tempered glass protector supplied - use it
I would have expected higher volume for a work-site phone
I would have expected a brighter screen for a work-site phone