Telstra Tough Max 3 review: A durable daily-driver

Telstra Corporation Tough Max 3
  • Telstra Corporation Tough Max 3
  • Telstra Corporation Tough Max 3
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great battery life
  • Incredible durability

Cons

  • Inconsistent camera
  • Bland software

Bottom Line

Telstra's Tough Max 3 provides both functionality and durability aplenty.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 499.00 (AUD)

Should You Buy The Telstra Tough 3?

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t buy into smartphone hype at all and wants a device that can withstand the tough conditions of a worksite or a penchant for clumsiness, the Tough Max 3 provides both functionality and durability aplenty.

Telstra’s Tough Max 3 won’t look pretty and it doesn’t have much in the way of special or unique features, but it is more than capable getting the job done.

For more about our smartphone review process, click here.

Price when reviewed

In Australia, the RRP of the Telstra Tough Max 3 is AU$499. 

Telstra Tough Max 3 (2020) full review

If you’re happy to settle for the necessities, the added protection that the Telstra Tough Max 3 brings to table is gonna seem like a pretty good deal. Pulling from a palette that matches Telstra’s own iconography, the Tough Max 3 feels like it’s been built to take a hit. 

There’s a sense of essentialism here, with the Tough Max 3 packing in a lot of modern conveniences. Sure, you won’t find a triple-lens with 100x zoom or wireless charging or a 120Hz display. You will find a headphone jack, microSD slot, USB-C charging, dual-speakers, a fingerprint sensor and even an external antenna port. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Under the hood, the Tough Max 3 runs on a Snapdragon 665 processor and 4GB of RAM. On the back, the phone rocks a humble dual-lens camera to the sum of 16-megapixels and 5-megapixels. 

After a week or so of using the Telstra Tough Max 3 as my daily-driver, I actually came to admire the unique balance it finds between durability and the rest of its design. It does feel bigger in your pocket than a flagship might be it still feels world thinner than any device wearing the kind of bulky protective cases you’d usually have to invest in for this degree of extra protection. 

Price

In Australia, you can buy the Telstra Tough Max 3 for $499 through Telstra. You can also buy it on a plan using the widget below:


Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera

A stark contrast to the sleek, luxury-grade aesthetics of something like an iPhone or a Galaxy S20, Telstra’s house-brand smartphone comes across as bulky and brusque. A brute-force solution to the problem of building a phone that’s difficult to break. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Pulling from a color palette that matches Telstra’s own corporate iconography, the Tough Max 3 feels like it’s been designed to take a hit. From the moment you cradle it in your hands, the rubberized sides and sturdy plastic back inspire and enshrine a unique sort of confidence. It doesn’t have that much more heft than a normal smartphone but it does feel robust in a way that sets it apart from ordinary consumers options. 

At it’s best, the Tough Max 3 sells you on the idea that it’s a phone that you can drop without worry or concern. Putting that to the test, we scratched, scraped, dropped and even dragged nails across it. The device racked up scars pretty quick but, to its credit, it remained entirely functional. 

Less minimalist, more essentialist. The Tough Max 3 packs in most of the modern conveniences you’d expect. You won’t find a triple-lens camera with 100x zoom, wireless charging or a 120Hz display. You will find a headphone jack, microSD slot, USB-C charging, dual-speakers, a fingerprint sensor and even an external antenna port. 

Read more: Optus vs Telstra: Who has the best Galaxy S20 plans?

The back of the Tough Max 3 touts a dual-lens camera to the sum of 16-megapixels and 5-megapixels. 

This setup is pretty barebones overall. It works but it’s not particularly responsive. Often-times, I would snap a quick photo and put my phone away - only to discover later that I had acted too hastily and was now stuck with a bunch of blurry messes. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday
Credit: Fergus Halliday

Zoom performance was adequate but unexceptional. However, low-light is where the difference between this and competing devices from Oppo, Samsung and Google is really felt. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

For more on how dual-lens cameras work, click here

Credit: Fergus Halliday
Credit: Fergus Halliday

Regardless, after a week or so of using the Telstra Tough Max 3 as my daily-driver, I actually came to admire the unique balance it finds between durability and the rest of its design. It does feel bigger in your pocket than a flagship might be it still feels world thinner than any device wearing a bulky protective case. Importantly, those added protections don’t feel like they come at a major cost to performance. 

The Telstra Tough Max 3 strives to live up to the stereotype of what a rugged phone ought to be and then some. The camera could be better but the actual experience of using this as I would any other Android phone surprised me in just how decent it was.

Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life

Specs

  • Processor:  Snapdragon 665

  • Operating System:  Android 9

  • RAM:  4GB

  • Storage: 64GB

  • MicroSD slot: Yes

  • Headphone Jack: Yes

  • Fingerprint sensor: Yes

  • SIM: Single

  • Battery:  3920mAh

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, 4G

  • Rear Camera: 16-megapixel (AF with Flash) + 5-megapixel

  • Front-Facing Camera: 8-megapixel

  • Dimensions: 157.8 × 77.2 × 11.6 mm

  • Weight: 185g

Software 

The software on the Telstra Tough Max 3 is fairly stock Android. The device does come with a handful of Telstra app pre installed but otherwise, there’s no bloatware to speak of. Nor are there any unique software features. There are no surprises here. What you see is what you get. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

In action, the Snapdragon 665 inside the Tough Max 3 chugged from time to time and apps often unexpectedly closed in the background but the device acquitted itself well to my daily usage of checking my email, scrolling through Twitter and watching Overwatch League at the gym or on the train. It even handled the Android version of Riot’s TeamFight Tactics surprisingly well. 

Overall, the software experience offered by the Telstra Tough Max 3 is a little bland and nowhere near as snappy as what an 800-series processor (or any of its contemporaries) gets you but neither does it feel all that compromised. 

Benchmarks

Credit: Fergus Halliday
  • PCMark (Work 2.0): 6303

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (OpenGL): 1111

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (Vulkan): 1032

  • Geekbench CPU (Single Core): 313

  • Geekbench CPU (Multi Core): 1357

  • Geekbench Compute: 367

Battery Life

When it came to battery life, the Telstra Tough Max 3’s 3920mAh battery did not disappoint. We managed to get around one and a half to two days of regular usage out of a single charge. 

There’s a charm in the way the Telstra Tough Max 3 so earnestly subscribes to the idea that if your smartphone isn’t going to be high performance, it should be long-lasting. 

For better or worse, the Telstra Tough Max 3 does not natively support wireless charging. 

The Bottom Line

In form and function, the Tough Max 3 can be best summarized as a device that gets the job done. Filling the niche in the market for those who don’t care that much about the quality of their phone experience but want something that they’re unlikely to break, Telstra’ housebrand is more than just an expensive paperweight. It’s a genuine option worth considering. 

You might have to settle for the necessities, but the added protection that the Tough Max 3 offers is going to make that barebones setup seem like a pretty good deal.

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Not sold? Check out our round-up of the best Android and Apple smartphones you can find for under $500.

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Read more on these topics: Telstra, Telstra Tough Max 3
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