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Telstra F158 review: Telstra F158

Tradies interested in Telstra's "tradesman's" phone may have to toss away a hammer to make room for the F158 in their toolboxes.

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
3 min read

"Alone bad, friend good!" If we heard Frankenstein's monster uttering these famous words today no doubt he would be growling them into a mobile phone, and, if the monster owned a mobile we're guessing it'd be Telstra's F158.


Telstra F158

The Good

Sturdy, rugged design. HSDPA and mobile TV. Good basic phone functionality.

The Bad

Enormous phone. Screen too small for Web browsing.

The Bottom Line

While it's great to see a rugged, damage-resistant phone, it's a shame the F158 is almost impractically big. Owners will take advantage of good mobile phone features, but probably won't use Web or mobile TV due to the small screen and clunky navigation.

How do we put this delicately? The Telstra F158 is enormous by today's standards. While other phones appear to be shrinking, some becoming smaller than is practical, the size of the F158 hails back to phones of a decade ago. This extra girth does afford manufacturer ZTE a larger canvas for spacing out the keys and selection buttons on the front of the phone, and there's no doubt there's a market for easier to use phones, especially for people with failing eyesight or those, like Frankenstein's monster, with enormous digits. However, this seems to be a particularly niche market.

The body of the phone is protected by a rubberised plastic shell, and we've read that the F158 is resistant to shock, dust and water, though we haven't been game to drop it into a pot of water ourselves. The phone is being marketed as the "Tradesmen's phone", who are no doubt going to have to throw away a hammer or drill to make space for the F158 in the bib of their overalls or on a hook on their utility belts.

For such an enormous device the F158 is a very basic handset. Other oversized devices we're reviewed recently have included GPS chipsets and huge internal flash memory; however, don't expect anything so fancy in the F158. As a device on Telstra's Next G network the F158 is capable of HSDPA data speeds but there's nothing about the screen or navigation using the directional pad that makes the F158 particularly Web-friendly. Foxtel is available, but the onscreen viewing area, even in full-screen mode, is postage-stamp-sized.

The F158 sports a basic 1.3-megapixel camera on the back of the handset, which may not sound like much, however, we were reasonably impressed with the quality of the pictures taken. The colour reproduction is weak but on the whole the images looked sharp and seem adequate for happy snaps of kids, pets or birthday cakes.

Voice calls are loud and clear, and messaging is easy with predictive text. The F158 has support for POP e-mail servers which, like other ZTE products, are easiest to set-up if you're a BigPond e-mail customer.

Considering how similar the components of the F158 are to ZTE's F165 "country phone" we were not surprised to find comparable battery life of about three to four days with light usage of voice calling and messaging, and some mobile TV.

Web browsing is fast enough considering the screen size only lends itself to news headlines, sporting results and weather forecasts. As noted above the F158 is capable of streaming mobile TV through mobile Foxtel and BigPond TV, and while the small screen will have you squinting, the external speakers are loud enough to hear the jeering of Jerry Springer's audience clearly.

As a phone the F158 works well, but there's nothing really about the device or its features that justify its size. The F158 is remarkably similar to Telstra's "country phone", the F165, but at least the F165's superior reception gives it an advantage for Telstra customers in regional areas. The F158 doesn't share this attribute and, it should be noted, is not one of Telstra's "blue tick" phones.

The ruggedised exterior will appeal to people working outdoors, like tradesmen on construction sites, but we're guessing even tradesmen will agree the phone is too big, especially to take to the pub after work. If the F158 was feature-packed, with GPS, a screen twice the size, or could change the channels on your TV and do the dishes, then we wouldn't mind lugging it around. But really, it's just a phone, and a very big phone at that.