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Telstra 165 review: Telstra F165

Dubbed the "Country Phone" Telstra's F165 sure looks the part. A rugged, rubberised candy-bar form factor with an extendable external antenna masks powerful HSDPA connectivity.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
4 min read

With the imminent shutdown of the Telstra's CDMA network -- as of 28 January, 2008 -- the Telstra F165, or "country phone", is a purpose built handset for mobile phone owners in rural Australia. While we'll have to take Telstra's word for the phone's ability to access their Next G network from remote locations; we did manage to test out the rest of the phone's feature set.


Telstra 165

The Good

Sturdy design with large keys. Extendable antenna. HSDPA.

The Bad

Enormous handset by today's standards. Terrible Web browser. Five hours to recharge battery.

The Bottom Line

The F165 is a phone on a mission and it achieves this. Rugged and easy to use with excellent reception for regional areas. HSDPA helps provide a decent mobile TV experience.

Let's not beat around the bush; the F165 isn't a latte sipping café dweller or a cocktail swilling city night-owl, in fact, it's probably never drunk anything through a straw before in its life. The sturdy rubberised fascia and unsightly external antenna suggests a life on the land, light years away from glamorous, celebrity-endorsed fashion phones that grace the social pages, billboards, and bus shelters.

But while it may not win any beauty pageants the F165 wins big points for being very easy to use. The numeric keypad is made up of very large keys and the screen, while on the small side, is clear and easy to read. There is absolutely no mistyping using this handset. The menu is simple and easy to navigate, with everything where you'd expect it to be.

The size of the F165 is both a blessing and a curse, and even people who regularly tote around larger model BlackBerrys will be put off by the size of this handset, especially for a device that isn't a smartphone or PDA and won't double as a mobile PC. Weighing in at 120g you do need a purse, a man-bag or saddle-bags to carry the F165 around as it's not at all pocket-friendly.

The external antenna is worth noting again; it's just so old-school. Not only is there an inch high raised knob on top of the device, but within this the antenna extends even further. Perhaps it's nostalgia, and we're sure Freud would have a field-day with this, but there's something sexy about tugging the antenna up before making a call, something akin to wearing "aviator" sunglasses and pretending you're more important than you actually are.

The F165 is quad-band with HSDPA data communications, and while the speed is always welcome; it seems out of place in the F165, as the built-in Web browser really doesn't do the Web justice, even basic text based Web pages are both difficult to read and navigate. Content on the BigPond mobile Web portal is accessed quickly, including music that can be downloaded and played through the onboard media player. Alternatively music can be imported from your PC using the supplied software and a USB cable. The F165 supports Bluetooth 1.2.

Text messaging is a breeze with the massive keys and T9 predictive text software, similar to software used in Nokia phones. The F165 supports e-mails either using your BigPond e-mail address or alternative e-mail using POP3 or SMTP protocols. There's also a basic 2-megapixel camera onboard that takes reasonably good pictures without the assistance of a flash.

We really wish we could have "gone bush" with the F165 and tested out the reception of the Next G network. Deep within the concrete jungle the reception we experienced during calls was excellent, and the internal speaker was loud and clear.

After struggling with the Web browser we were surprised by how enjoyable watching Foxtel and BigPond TV is on the "country phone". The size of the screen doesn't lend itself to long sessions of indulging one's inner couch-potato, but for short bursts of news or sport the F165 is quite a handy mobile TV.

Battery life seems about average, three to four hours talk time and 10 days standby on the Next G network. Out of the ordinary is the five hours manufacturer ZTE estimate it takes to recharge the battery. This is probably a no-brainer for rural mobile users, but a car-charger seems a necessary purchase to be sure you always have a full charge.

In a fashion conscious industry, such as technology, it is refreshing to use a phone that is a phone first and a media accessory second. This phone isn't going to compete as an all-in-one multimedia monster, like the Nokia N95; although it's pertinent to mention the N95 in a review of the F165 as they are both part of an exclusive list of phones, known Blue Tick phones, tested by Telstra for superior reception in rural areas.

Obviously we're a pack of latte sipping city-slickers here at CNET (soy decaf lattes no less!) but we suspect the F165 will have strong appeal to people in rural areas of Australia, currently using Telstra's CDMA network, who will be forced to upgrade their handsets in the New Year.

The large keypad and ease of use of the "country phone" should find a market in the city too, for people who work outdoors and require sturdy handsets, and with older people who rate the useability of their mobile phone over the bells and whistles of the competition.