The best Telstra Blue Tick phones available in 2021

For when you’re way out Woop Woop.

If you’re bushwhacking out the back of Bourke, even some of the latest and greatest smartphones will let you down when it comes to getting mobile reception. Thankfully, Australia’s coverage king, Telstra Mobile, actively tests how the latest handsets hold up when you’re travelling the outback.

Smartphones that pass Telstra’s rigorous lab and on-location testing are certified with the telco’s iconic seal of approval, the Telstra Blue Tick. The first thing you will notice is that Telstra’s Blue Tick program seems to favour Samsung smartphones over all else. That’s not to say that the latest iPhone or Google Pixel won’t give you coverage in regional Australia but the handsets listed below are the only ones with the official Blue Tick seal of approval.

Here are the latest smartphones that currently hold the blue badge of honour.

Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung’s 2021 flagship phone, the Samsung Galaxy S21 isn’t a massive improvement on the S20, rather a reliable evolution of everything that made the handset before it so great. It packs powerful performance and an adaptive refresh rate that balances display quality and battery life well. But as Samsung giveth, it also taketh away and the S21 is missing a few key features, like a packed-in USB-C charger, microSD expansion and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

If you can stomach those omissions, the Galaxy S21 is still one of the best choices for Android users.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

If you want to go bigger, you can always opt for the Blue Tick-certified Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. It boasts a larger 6.7-inch Infinity-0 display and a bigger battery (to account for the larger display) but otherwise, it’s technically the same handset as the S21. Here’s how much you can get it on a plan.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Last year, if you wanted to go big with Samsung, the Note 20 probably would have been your best option but the Galaxy S21 Ultra has almost made the Note family of handsets obsolete. For one, it has a slightly larger 6.8-inch display. More importantly, it offers S-Pen stylus support, bringing the one Note-exclusive feature into the flagship range.

Samsung Galaxy A51

Samsung’s budget-to-mid-range family of Series A handsets have come a long way over the last few years. There’s a case to be argued that they’re the best Samsung phones available when you factor in the lower price tag and powerful features. The Galaxy A51 is one such handset and better yet, it’s got the Blue Tick seal of approval. The A51 has a 6.5-inch AMOLED display, a quad-camera array (48MP + 12MP + 5MP + 5MP) and 128GB of internal storage and additional 512GB of expandable storage via microSD.

Telstra Tough Max 3

If you need a phone that’s going to survive the next Deni Ute Muster, you’ll want to consider the Telstra Tough Max. This stubborn smartphone features all the luxuries of a primo smartphone, a generous 5.65-inch HD display, a dual rear camera (16MP + 5MP) and expandable memory up to 256GB (via microSD) in a protective shell that’s built like a brick… outhouse.

Its IP68 rating means it can cop a bit of dust, dirt, sand and can be dunked in water (up to 1.5-metres for 30 minutes). To top it off, it’s got a bouncy rubber frame and comes packaged with a tempered glass screen protector.

The Telstra Tough Max 3 is Blue Tick certified out of the box but it also has an external antenna port if you need a little signal boost in patchier areas.

Apple iPhone 8

Over the last few years, Telstra has pumped the breaks on testing Apple iPhones for the Blue Tick seal of approval. In fact, the most recent Apple device to receive certification is 2017’s iPhone 8.

To be honest, there’s no reason why a more recent device, like the iPhone 12, would struggle to get coverage in a regional area but if you want a bonafide Blue Tick Apple smartphone, the iPhone 8 is your only option. Telstra itself doesn’t stock the iPhone 8, but you can get a refurbished model from Telstra MVNO numobile at a decent price.

Hold up, wait a minute… what is Telstra Blue Tick?

We’ve established that a blue tick equals good coverage but how does Telstra decide which smartphone models are given the seal of approval? Telstra tests the latest devices’ receiver sensitivity, first in a custom lab (check it out in the video below) then on-location in various regional areas. Telstra is mostly testing for 4G call quality but this measure is also relevant to data transfer for browsing the Internet.

How to boost mobile reception

If you’ve tried a Blue Tick phone and you’re still not having any luck with reception, there are a few extra steps you can take to help improve coverage inside and outside your rural home, such as ordering a signal booster from Telstra or Optus.

What is a mobile phone signal booster?

Even under the vast umbrella of Telstra, there are still parts of regional Australia that don’t get top-notch reception. If you’re struggling to get a clear connection on your property, boosting your signal with an extender could help.

There are a few different types of extenders. First, there are repeaters, which take an existing mobile tower’s signal and give it a little leg up. Repeaters can be stationary or mobile depending on the use case. For example, if it’s the signal in your home that needs a boost, a stationary repeater is probably best. But if you need additional coverage on the road, a mobile car-mounted repeater could do the trick.

Then there are antennas. You can purchase a smaller external antenna to plug into your Telstra Tough Max 3 (or another compatible handset or internet-connected device) or rig up a larger solution at home, such as a medium or high gain antenna.

You can buy all sorts of signal boosting gear online but we’d recommend going through your provider for professional installation and peace of mind. Here’s what’s offered by Telstra and Optus at the moment.

Telstra Signal Boosters

Telstra offers a variety of network extension products that can be ordered over the phone.

First up, it offers mobile and stationary Telstra Go Repeaters. The mobile Telstra Go repeater is car-mountable, offers 3G/4G coverage and will set you back $864 (not including installation). The stationary option does mostly the same job but it’s designed for the home and will only set you back $816 (again, not including installation). Lastly, there’s the Telstra Smart Antenna, which despite the name, is another repeater. This one looks more like a smart modem and comes in two parts: one box for catching signal close to a window or door  and a smaller box to place where there’s particularly poor coverage. It’s a little pricier at $1080 but it’s the more user-friendly option and doesn’t require professional installation.

Lastly, Telstra offers medium and high gain antennas. Medium gain smaller, omnidirectional and are most commonly mounted to cars, boats and houses. High gain antennas are larger and typically stationary in a high position (e.g. above a house or telephone pole).

Optus Signal Booster

Despite its superior network footprint, Telstra isn’t the only telco that can sort you out with a signal booster. Optus works with supplier Cel-Fi for its signal-boosting solutions. Cel-Fi offers a similar solution to Telstra Smart Antenna for Optus customers, but there’s a whole range of signal boosting products available through its online store.

More Telstra Blue Tick phone plans

To recap, the phones listed below are all certified by Telstra’s Blue Tick program and are available on a plan via Telstra.

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