Sony's new Xperia M4 Aqua is what might be referred to as a mid-range or slightly watered-down (pardon the pun) version of Sony's current flagship; the very slick and very expensive Xperia Z3.
The Xperia M4 Aqua retains the waterproof properties of the Z3 and is only slightly less beautiful in its appearance, but Sony have made significant compromises to reach a price point that's more wallet-friendly.
The camera is a 13MP unit rather than Sony's 20MP model available on the higher-end Xperia phones and lacks the clarity and precision of the higher spec camera. The display is 720P which in today's cut-throat smartphone market lacks the brightness and again the precision of a full HD display.
The M4 Aqua offers style and durability and if this is what you look for in your smartphone then it's definitely worth your consideration. But aside from this it's somewhat of a blunt instrument when you consider what some smartphones are capable of.
The primary camera on the Xperia M4 Aqua is a 13MP unit, which is a significant step down from the 20MP snapper found on the Xperia Z3. However, despite the fact that MPs are the stat used to sell the camera, bigger MPs do not necessarily equal better photos. With that in mind I did take some shots to see what the camera is capable of.
Being partial to watersports, I thought I'd take the phone into it's natural environment to test it. However, the shots taken in 'intelligent auto' mode lack clarity at full zoom. Contrast is lacking, considering the variety of colours on offer and the detail seems to deteriorate the closer to the edge of the shot you get.
Shot taken on 'intelligent auto' mode.
Switching to manual mode you can enable the HDR mode which cannot be done in auto. This will lift the definition in the shots slightly and certainly improves the exposure, contrast and colour particularly at the centre of the image but the deterioration in quality towards the edges still occurs.
Without sounding totally cliché, the images don't 'pop'. Scenery shots can be flat and hazy in places and the camera finds it difficult to balance light and dark, there's also a very odd purple casting which appears sometimes particularly around red hues.
To summarise, the camera will work fine for pictures of you and your mates you intent to post on Facebook but if you want to use it for photography, you'll need to do a fair amount of fettling with the settings to get it taking good shots for you and if this is something you'll need to set up each time you use it, you'd be better off with an SLR camera.
The Xperia M4 Aqua obviously takes its design inspiriation from the Sony Xperia Z3. It sports the same glass front and back with a very similar rounded edging along the sides. Standing back, it's actually difficult to tell the two phones apart, assuming you're using the black version of the Xperia M4 Aqua and not the white or red/pink versions.
In hand, the Xperia M4 Aqua does feel a little less luxurious; the band around the edge is plastic, not metal, and the phone is slightly thicker than the Z3 at 7.3mm.
The plain design, minimalist branding and raised silver power button are other elements the Xperia M4 Aqua borrows from its bigger, more expensive brother the Z3.
Being waterproof has obvious advantages. It will survive spilled drinks, the infamous toilet drop and can be taken into the pool when on holidays. I can personally testify that it survived four hours of kitesurfing in the pocket of my boardshorts.
Sony has managed to do something magic with the micro-USB port on the phone; there's no annoying rubber cover and yet it does not let the water in, very impressive.
One of the most frustrating parts of the Z3 was trying to open the little fiddly cap on the charging port everytime you need to plug the phone in, which let's face it, is almost every day. The microSD and SIM card slots have retained their rubberised covers but these are opened far less frequently.
The Xperia M4 Aqua's display has a 1280 x 720p resolution and a pixel density of 293PPI (pixels per inch). What does that mean? Well, it's not full-HD, the Xperia Z3 has a pixel density of 424PPI by comparison, but it's perfectly adequate to make small web text readable and apps appear nice and sharp. Colouring on the screen is good, however it's not a very bright screen. It can be difficult to use outside under bright sunlight.
Software and hardware
Out of the box, the Xperia M4 Aqua is running Android 5.0 Lollipop, the most recent major release of the Android OS. The same user interface has been applied to the phone as you'll find on most of their recent releases including the Z3.
The interface is easy to understand and navigate making it simple to get to grips with, even for those with little previous Android experience. There is however a considerable amount of needless pre-installed software which is not particularly helpful.
The heart of the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor – an Octa core chip, backed up with 2GB of RAM – an impressive package for a mid-range phone. Apps open reasonably quickly, and although it can sometimes find itself playing catchup, it's not long enough to become annoying.
For everyday tasks like Facebook, Twitter etc. the phone will not have any problems even if it lacks the immeadiacy of some more high-end smartphones.
The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with 8GB of storage. The Android OS takes up about half of the space, with most of what's left being taken up by prelaoded 'bloatware' of which there is a lot on this phone. Out of the box there's only 2.8GB of space for you to add your own apps, photos and music. Needless to say this is not going to last very long, you're going to run out of space quickly.
You will therefore need to use the microSD slot provided but you can also help yourself and the running of the phone in general by removing as much of the preloaded software as possible.
The phone feels cluttered before you've put anything on it. At least you can delete some of the factory software and apps to clear some space.
The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua has a sleek design, waterproof body and plenty of power all provided at a reasonably affordable price point. If you are a fan of the Xperia Z3 but simply can't take that kind of a wallet punch, the Xperia M4 Aqua is certainly worth consideration. It will put the same style in your packet and leave some money in there too.
There are comprimises to be made however. The camera certainly could be better, it lacks some detail. Out of the box storage space could also be better; the phone is packed up with a bunch of factory software that you don't really need, forcing users to seek external storage solutions in the form of a microSD card.
All in all the Xperia M4 Aqua is definitely a case of style trumping substance.