- Great battery life
- Decent price for a phone of this calibre
- Only 2GB of usable storage, which is just not enough
- Camera is average only
- Some performance hiccups during review tests
It may not be entirely obvious, but Sony is asking the right questions with the new M4 Aqua. Do you want a phone for half the price of an iPhone or Galaxy Note 5? Do you think smartphones should be waterproof? If you answer yes to these questions, you might be in the market for an M4.
Water resistance is a key selling point for the M4 Aqua, as it is with most of the phones in the Sony family. It measures IP68 on the ingress protection rating, and can be sprayed, splashed, dunked and submerged in up to 1-metre of water. Better yet, Sony has developed a ‘cap-less’ design, meaning there is no awkward, flimsy flaps that you need to pick out and plug in every time you need to recharge your handset.
This protection from the elements has no drawbacks on the looks or ergonomics of the phone. The M4 shares the same glass chassis seen in the Sony’s top flight phones, like the Xperia Z3, and it measures in at a svelte 7.3mm. If anything, this further proves that other manufacturers could be waterproofing their phones, but as choosing not to shoulder the cost. Sony is a trailblazer on this front.
On paper, one of the significant differences between the mid-range M4 and the premium Z3 is the display. Sony chooses a 5-inch screen size for the M4, but downgrades the resolution to what we know as 720p (720 x 1280 pixels). This works out to be about half as many pixels on the slightly larger Z3, but you know what? It is very hard to tell the difference.
Perhaps more important than the number of pixels is that Sony uses an IPS technology LCD panel. This gives the screen good colours, decent clarity and great off-axis viewing. Visually, Sony calibrates the screen to be a bit brighter than we like, with less contrast, but there is very little to criticise here.
Next to waterproofing, Sony’s badge of pride for the M4 is two-day battery life, thanks to a 2400 mAh battery. For reference, the new Samsung Galaxy S6 ships with a 2550 mAh capacity pack, so the size of this battery in a phone of this price marks good value.
It lives up to the two-day claim well, too. During our tests we could easily make it into a second day of use between charges, unless we hammer the battery life with unusually heavy use. There is a power-saving mode available too, in case you find you burn through the juice at a faster rate than we do.
Internally, the one major oversight by Sony is the inclusion of a paltry 8GB of storage. When you deduct 4GB for the Android system and 2GB for pre-installed Sony software, the user is left with very little to install apps and store photos, music and videos. After just a week of use, and after installing just four apps from the Play Store, the phone notified that 85% of the storage had been filled, and that we should find a MicroSD card to install.
When you have so many other elements right, this is a major letdown, Sony.
General performance of the M4 is good, but not excellent. On paper, you get a fast-sounding Qualcomm Octo-core processor with dedicated graphics processing. In reality, you get good everyday performance with a few performance bumps and stutters along the way. So much so that we restarted the phone a couple of times during of review to clear the memory and start again with a clean slate, performance wise.
Sony’s 13-megapixel camera falls into the same category — decent, but nothing to write home about. We had some fun snapping photos at scenic stops around the city, but when we examined the results we were pretty underwhelmed.
Bright light, like sunlight, is the achilles heel of the camera in the M4. You could say this about many smartphone cameras, but with the M4 we suffered too frequently from poorly exposure shots due to indirect sunlight bleeding in.
The price is right, and waterproofing is excellent, so there is a good reason to take a look at the M4 Aqua. Sony offers its best styling and a premium build to this mid-range handset, too, but lacking storage and performance speed bumps may aggravate heavy users.