Sony Xperia M4 Aqua review: A full look at Sony’s latest mid-range mobile, a waterproof Android that boasts exposed ports, nippy performance and a 13-megapixel camera for just over £200.
Sony’s Xperia phones are unmistakable these days, sporting well-rounded rectangular bodies finished with the now-iconic circular power button. The Xperia M4 Aqua is no different, although the glass and aluminium materials of the more premium Xperias (such as the Z3) have been replaced with a plastic finish.
Still, the M4 Aqua is fully water resistant like its more expensive brethren, so you can piddle about with it in the bath or while strolling around in a rainstorm. Even better, the charging port is now uncovered, so you don’t need to mess around with flaps every time the phone needs a shot of power. As before, the micro SD and SIM card slots are hidden beneath covers to keep things tidy.
The M4 Aqua is about the same build as the Xperia Z3, so it’s a bit of a handful if you’re trying to do everything with just one mitt. However, the curved edges make it a comfortable device to clutch and it has just enough heft to add a premium feel, without weighing you down.
Screen and media
That 5-inch IPS display packs a 720p HD resolution and we found the M4 Aqua to be a perfectly decent media machine. The screen is favourably comparable to other mid-range handsets like the Moto G and EE Harrier, producing pleasingly sharp and colourful images. Contrast levels are good and you can even manually mess around with the white balance in the settings.
On top of that, the M4 Aqua’s screen is bright enough to counter particularly annoying daytime glare, so you won’t need to squint when the sun pops out.
There’s sadly only 8GB of usable storage, but you can – and should – expand via microSD, so you have room for your media and photos. And in other bad news, the internal speaker is pretty weak, so you’ll want to hook up a speaker to enjoy your tunes without headphones.
Features and interface
Sony’s splashed its usual vibrant and wavy overlay on top of Google’s Android OS, and anyone who’s used a recent Sony phone will know exactly what to expect.
For a start there’s the colourful interface changes, which give the M4 Aqua a distinctly Sony look without messing with the Android ethos or adding loads of random features. You can switch between various Xperia themes, or completely customise your wallpapers and so on.
Sony has added in the usual familiar range of apps too, most of which are links to its own online media and social services. You can take them or leave them, but you can’t remove them (at least, not easily).
As you’d expect, you also get full 4G support for zipping around online and streaming video or music, making the M4 Aqua a true competitor to the likes of Huawei’s Ascend G7.
Performance and battery life
The phone’s 64-bit Snapdragon 615 processor is backed up by 2GB of RAM and for the most part it’s a winning combination, as the M4 Aqua runs as smooth as you like. Apps generally load quickly and flipping between tasks isn’t a lesson in patience. We also had no trouble running the latest action-packed games with a respectable frame rate. The only time we found ourselves frustrated was when using the camera, but more on that later.
As for battery life, the M4 Aqua happily lasts the day, even with plenty of poking. If you’re really restrained you’ll get a full day and a half out of it, and even longer if you employ Sony’s extensive and flexible power saving tools.
If you want to stream media non-stop, expect around five hours of life before death. That’s pretty much average for a modern mobile.
A 13-megapixel camera sits on the back of the Xperia M4 Aqua, packing a fair few of the features found on more premium Sony handsets.
Superior Auto Mode is the standard go-to for your everyday shots and it handles the basics well. You get well-lit photos in dim conditions (although images are quite soft as a result) and the auto mode also does a decent job with macro shots, capturing plenty of detail and rarely producing a blurry or out-of-focus snap. The HDR mode handles awkward lighting well, although you have to keep the phone steady for a few seconds as the phone needs to take a number of snaps and then merge them.
The only real problem is the length of time the M4 Aqua’s lens takes to lock onto your subject, snap it into focus and then finally take the shot. Occasionally this can take a good few seconds, which is the kiss of death if you’re trying to shoot a kid or a pet doing something cute.
Speaking of kids, the little bleeders will love the M4 Aqua’s AR mode and Creative Effect, which add cartoon treatments to your snaps. Social Live can be used to stream live to Facebook, providing you’ve got a decent online connection. And you can shoot up to Full HD video (complete with image stabilisation) straight to the phone’s storage.
Finally, the 5-megapixel selfie cam is another decent snapper. You get full Superior Auto mode, just as you do on the rear camera, so the lens will automatically adjust to the environment and try to cope with dodgy lighting. Of course, if things get too dim then you’ll end up a grainy mess all the same.
For around £220-230, the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is a solid all-round handset, even if it does nothing at all to blow away the competition. The water resistance is a unique feature at this price point, good news if you want a phone for the beach or bath, but there are plenty of rival handsets that also offer similar HD visuals, 4G streaming, respectable cameras and a smooth UI experience for less money.
For instance, take a gander at the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL, Huawei Ascend G7 and Motorola Moto G (4G edition).
That said, if you’re a big fan of Sony’s mobile design but can’t afford the pricy Xperia Z3, the M4 Aqua is a likable alternative. We also recommend hunting down an Xperia Z2 on the cheap, which packs Full HD visuals and a solid camera.