Friday, February 19, 2016

Telstra/ZTE T96 phone review

A review of a mobile phone for those out there who, like me, have bucked the smartphone trend for something a little... simpler.

Telstra/ZTE T96 with Telstra "Blue Tick". Image source: Telstra

I've owned this particular phone for almost two years now. It's been subject to drops, splashes, immersions in water, and kept on going with nary a care in the world. In short, it's done very well to put up with my careless ways.

(Feel free to skip to the last section - "Verdict" - if you'd just like the short version.)

Call quality

Very good. I've very rarely had a real issue when talking to other people on this phone to-date.

In both loudspeaker and regular mode, you can adjust the volume, which is nice, though I almost always keep it set to max anyway. The only gripe I could make here is that sometimes, e.g. when travelling on a loud bus, the volume could be just a little bit louder. Otherwise the volume is more than enough.

Construction and typing

In terms of looks, this is a pretty simple, sleek candybar design. It's relatively lightweight, sitting around 85 grams. The buttons are smooth and flat, sticking out only just enough to be able to feel which button you're about to press when typing without looking, which is nice. With that said, due to how smooth the buttons are, you will initially on occasion find yourself getting lost on this keypad when typing without looking, until you're fully used to it.

T9 predictive text generally works quite well, however the dictionary's capability for new words is a bit limited, which is a little sad.

Dropping this phone (unless you do it from a great height) is no issue. On carpet and other such "soft" materials, it just bounces a bit. On harder ground, it will usually bounce too. On the occasion it does come apart from the drop, just stick the battery back in, put the cover back on, turn it back on, and continue on your merry way, no harm done.

In terms of drops of water such as from rain, I haven't had any issue. Unless it's a heavy rainfall I won't even put it away until I'm done using it, occasionally wiping the screen from time to time. Note that it isn't actually rated for being waterproof, or even splashproof, so this is ill-advised, and as such do the same at your own phone's risk. Still, one of the great things about cheap feature phones is that I'm not too bothered by the very slight chance that some raindrops will cause issues.


The T96 has a single 2 megapixel rear-facing camera. For similar cost 3G feature phones, this is pretty good and does well enough for most tasks, but don't expect too much.

In full light or a bright room, with limited-to-no movement, the camera does well enough at capturing a moment. Add movement to the mix however, and hello blur city. Furthermore, the less available light, the less detailed the pictures will become. Daylight in an otherwise unlit room will be okay, but by no means great. For example, compare the two pictures here, one taken outside, one inside at a darker corner which gets no direct sunlight, both taken on a late, cloudy afternoon. Once you start getting into properly "dark" situations, best not to bother, as there is no flash and it will only be able to pick bits and pieces out in most of these situations.

Video is largely the same. Great to have the capability, and it allows you to take videos for as much time as you have memory to spare, but the quality is... not great (to put it politely).

In short, both the videos and pictures taken by this phone are by no means good quality. However, for when you're in a pinch and just need something to "capture a moment", the T96 does work perfectly well, and frequently I've been glad to have the 2MP camera on-hand regardless of a perceived lack of "professional quality".

Works on 3G network (requirement for Telstra)

This isn't just something which is good for browsing the internet, but will soon be a requirement for phones that will be using the Telstra network. So even if you don't want the T96, pay attention to this point, because it's very important if you're with Telstra and planning on buying a dumbphone/feature phone soon.

Telstra is retiring its 2G network as of the 1st of December, 2016. You'll still be able to use 2G if you're planning on using one of the other Australian networks, but if you want to be with Telstra, then at minimum, your SIM card and mobile phone need to be able to work on 3G or higher.

As the T96 works on 3G frequencies along with 2G, the only thing you need to make sure of is that your SIM card will work on 3G (just drop into a Telstra store to find out if you're unsure), and you're good to go!


As mentioned, this phone works on the 3G network. So while it's faster than 2G, if you're coming from 4G or above then you will definitely notice the slowdown when you move to this device. Still, the browser works well enough with the exception of one major problem.

The issue stems from the small amount of RAM the phone obviously has available. I can't find details on the processor or RAM (everything I find on that, and the operating system, just says that it's "proprietary"), but it doesn't seem to have much RAM available because some pages are too much for it to handle.

In layman's terms, what this means is that if a webpage has too many pictures, or otherwise too much "other stuff" going on, the phone (partway through loading the page) may just tell you that it ran out of memory and quit the browser.

This can be mostly mitigated by going into the browser's advanced settings and changing the "Browser Mode" from "Full" to "Simple". This gets rid of a lot of the nice formatting, background colors, and any other fancy things. But while this helps with a lot of pages (that were previously throwing the error) being accessible again, say goodbye to enjoying well set-out websites. Furthermore, some webpages can still cause the error to occur if they simply have too many pictures, too.

Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter work just fine in "Full" mode, though.

Battery life

Very good. Not as good as some other feature phones, but still good considering its low price tag and list of features.

With constant heavy use, this phone will last me up to three days from a full charge. With minimal use, over a week. Leaving it on standby, this phone is stated to last up to 300 hours, and I could definitely believe that.

My regular usage pattern includes calling my wife after work, calling various other people from time to time, texting, MMSing a bit, and occasionally using the internet. With this, the average time between charges is anywhere from four to six days, depending on the particular week. That's pretty good, especially when compared to the average battery life of current smartphones.

Finally, if something does happen to your battery (it stops working, simply stops holding charge, or something else), you can always purchase another one at the ZTE Accessory Store if you have to. I admittedly don't know and can't make any promises for how long they'll keep those batteries listed, but it looks like they have batteries still listed from some of their older models. So, here's hoping the T96 battery sticks around on there for a while to come!


The screen is about what you'd expect on a phone like this. 2.4 inches, with a resolution of 240x320. It actually does alright at displaying pictures, but with a size and resolution like that, don't expect a crisp, breathtaking display when looking at pictures or browsing the web, or you will be disappointed.

In direct bright sunlight, the screen can be a bit hard to make out. A bit bothersome, but nothing that shading the screen can't fix. In any condition other than bright sunlight, including other conditions while outdoors, the display is fine.

Overall, the display is perfectly tolerable - I've personally found it to be just fine. It's better than a great deal many other feature phones out there, but if the feature phone you're looking for has to (as a personal requirement) have an amazing display, then this may not be the phone for you.


The phone comes with the Telstra "Blue Tick", "recommended for rural handheld coverage". This phone definitely does well on this front.

I live out where Optus devices sometimes have trouble getting a reliable signal, and my T96 consistently sits at full bars for 3G. Further out "in the sticks", long after some of my friend's phones have lost coverage, I'm still normally getting anywhere from one to three bars.

In short, I've never been without coverage, except where the phone can't be blamed (e.g. when I've been far from civilisation, travelling deep cross-country, or sitting in a valley with mountains on all sides of me).

For everything else, the phone does have a jack on its back for connection up to an external antenna, if need be.


You can add extra storage to the T96 via MicroSD card, up to 32 GB. Considering there's only a stated 0.125 GB of internal storage available, adding some external storage is definitely advised.

There's a standard headphone jack at the bottom of the phone, and the phone does come with a music player too. If you don't plug in headphones, the music comes out the phone's speaker.

Charging is done via a standard micro-USB port. Through that same port, you can connect your phone up to a computer to move files (music, pictures, anything else) to or from the phone.

The T96 also has Bluetooth (2.0) capability.

There's a dedicated camera button. Maybe not a necessity, but it's a nice touch regardless.

Holding down the hash (#) button instantly changes your profile from whatever it currently is (General, Outdoor, or Silent) to Meeting. Furthermore, if you're currently in the Meeting profile, then holding down the hash button returns you to whatever profile you most recently used, before Meeting. Another small, but nice, touch.


I originally got this phone when Telstra had it on sale for $49. A very reasonable price.

As of the time of writing this article, it's currently sitting at $79 dollars. Not quite as reasonable, but given how much I like this phone, and how reliable I'd say it is, I'd still pay that for this phone.

My black T96, along with my other Everyday Carry items


The display isn't great, pictures and video are just passable, and using the internet browser can sometimes be a pain.

But let's be honest. When looking for a feature phone, a crisp display, taking great pictures and/or videos, and a seamless ability to use the internet are often features that are just not as much of a requirement as other features that this phone does well at. When these features are on a phone, they're usually optional extras, little additional niceties, not requirements.

The call quality, construction, 3G capability (since Telstra is retiring 2G soon), battery life, coverage, and extras are all good. Great in some cases. And these are usually the things that more people searching for a feature phone are interested in.

Would I buy this phone again? Absolutely, without a doubt.

If you're interested, you can find the T96 on the Telstra online store here. Or, you can find it on ZTE's website here. Finally, a manual for the phone can be found on ZTE's website here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, your information is very useful to me! Personally, I now use is zte phone, I think is good.