When it comes to the highly-competitive mid-range smartphone world, it is quite difficult to distinguish between one device and another in the sea of smartphones that make up this segment. OEMs are now depending on using a key selling point to help their device stand out from the rest, be it pricing, battery life, camera, design and build quality, and more. In the case of the latest mid-range offering from Sony, that key selling point comes in the form of a signature Sony flagship feature, water resistance. Does choosing to focus on a single element result in corners being cut in other areas? We find out, in this Sony Xperia M4 Aqua review!
The Xperia M4 Aqua retains a lot of the design language of previous Sony smartphones, which isn’t particularly surprising at this point, given that Sony’s design strategy has been largely of the incremental nature, across their entire portfolio of devices. The use of the two glass panels, as seen with the high-end Sony devices, is certainly a nice touch and looks great, even if they are prone to fingerprints. It is in the presence of a plastic frame though that the mid-range nature of this device comes through, and unfortunately feels quite out of place. The mix of the premium-feeling glass and the cheaper plastic is quite unsettling, and makes the phone feel awkward in the hand.
The signature Sony power button returns at its usual location on the right side, ideally placed to be within easy reach. The volume rocker right below it and the dedicated camera shutter button at the bottom of the right side don’t leave a lot of room to comfortably rest your thumb on this side of the device though. The SIM card slot is above the power button, and the microSD card slot falls on the opposite side, both covered by flaps that are necessary to maintain its waterproof nature. Just above the microSD card slot is the microUSB port, which is a very different placement from what most of us would be used to. Finally, the headphone jack and single speaker unit are found at the top and bottom respectively.
With the bulk of the buttons and ports placed on the sides of the device, it does look like quite a lot is going on, and takes away from the minimalistic design we’ve come to expect from Sony. Up front, above the display, is a notification LED on the left of the Sony branding, with a 5 MP front-facing camera on the other side. The Xperia M4 Aqua is still quite thin and light though, with a thickness of just 7.3 mm, and weighing 136 grams. The Xperia M4 Aqua is still quite thin and light though, with a thickness of just 7.3 mm, and weighing 136 grams, and its relatively compact size allows for a comfortable handling experience.
The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a 5-inch IPS LCD display, with a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 294 ppi. As is expected from IPS technology, the viewing angles this display offers are fantastic, but the colors aren’t particularly vivid though, as they are with some other devices that fall in this price range. The display is just decent overall, and not very impressive.
Performance and Hardware
Under the hood, the Xperia M4 Aqua packs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. This processing package is found with quite a few mid-range smartphones and has proven to be very capable, which is also the case here. Day to day performance is smooth and stutter-free, and multi-tasking is a breeze. The device also handles gaming very well, with no issues save for the most processor-intensive of games. While obviously not as fast as the flagships of the world, Xperia M4 Aqua is certainly very reliable in terms of performance.
One area of concern though is the heat output of the device. The Xperia M4 Aqua does tend to get uncomfortably warm to the touch not just while gaming, but even when performing simple tasks like using the camera or downloading apps. There is significant throttling to prevent overheating, but that is definitely not the ideal solution to this performance issue that is becoming more prevalent with the latest Qualcomm processors.
The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with 8 GB or 16 GB of on-board storage, expandable via microSD card by up to 128 GB. The 8 GB version does come with only 1.5 GB available to the user though, so it’ll be a better idea to opt for the 16 GB iteration if you do decide to pick up this device. The usual suite of sensors and connectivity options are available, including support for 4G LTE, but carrier compatibility does vary with each model, so make sure that you check the frequency bands of the model you are getting before picking up the device. For example, this particular review unit is restricted to HSPA+ on the AT&T network.
The single speaker unit at the bottom of the device isn’t great, with the sound distorted and tinny, along with the volume being on the quieter side. As is the case with any device with a bottom-mounted speaker, it is also fairly easy to cover up the speaker and muffle the sound when holding the device in the landscape orientation.
Coming to what is the key selling point of this device, the Xperia M4 Aqua is well protected from the elements, courtesy of its IP68 rating for resistance to dust and water. What this means is that the device can be submerged in up to 1.5 metres of water for as long as 30 minutes, with no negative impact on usability and performance.
The device comes with a 2,400 mAh that is not replaceable, and offers a battery life that is just about average. In my daily use, the device lasted for around 16 hours with 2.5 hours of screen-on time, with usage that involved watching videos on Youtube and scrolling through social media, apart from other general tasks. While not bad, the battery doesn’t stand up to Sony’s claim of the device lasting comfortably for two days. There are a few power saving modes available in the Settings menu, that you might have to take advantage of to get that little bit of extra juice out of this battery.
The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a 13 MP rear camera and a 5 MP front-facing shooter. The rear camera proves to be very capable, with the shots rich in detail and very sharp, even if the colors did lack some punch. The minimalistic camera has only a few modes available, including a manual mode that lets you select between multiple scene types and adjust the white balance. Additional camera modes are available though, which can be downloaded separately.
On the software front, the Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a slightly skinned version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, which also takes on a more colorful motif than the Xperia UI of old. There are some very useful options available, such as the ability to customize the Quick Settings menu with the toggles you most use, screen recording, and also the staple Small Apps menu, which is a tad unpolished in its appearance, but still very useful.
There is some bloatware to be found though, with a slew of apps, including AA Stocks, AVG Protection, and News from Sociallife coming pre-installed, but most of them can be easily removed though. Another negative is the placement of the hamburger menu in the app drawer, that gets in the way when attempting to swipe right, and can be quite frustrating.
|Display||5-inch IPS LCD
720p, 294 ppi
|Processor||1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
Adreno 405 GPU
expandable via microSD upto 128 GB
|Camera||13 MP rear camera with LED flash
5 MP front-facing camera
|Battery||2,400 mAh unit|
|Software||Android 5.0 Lollipop|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot.
GPS + GLONASS
|Networks||3G / 4G LTE|
|Dimensions||145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm
|Colors||Black, White, Pink|
Pricing and Final Thoughts
The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua isn’t officially available in the US yet, but can be found for $349 on Amazon for the 8 GB version, with color options including black, white, and pink.
So there you have it for this closer look at the Xperia M4 Aqua! While being dustproof and waterproof are very useful features, the rest of the package doesn’t particularly justify its price point. The inconsistent design, overheating issues of the processor, and just about average battery life overshadows the positives that include the solid display and capable camera. The competition in the mid-range space is intense, and there are some great options being made available to the public, at sometimes cheaper price points as well, and the Xperia M4 Aqua is a difficult device to recommend.