Got what it takes to make a splash?
The more entry level E and M series offer a lot for those who wish not to spend so much or do not require the ‘best’ specs but instead want something functional.
The M4 Aqua may look a little like a Z3 and is quite a surprise in what it offers but how does it fare in everyday use?
The Aqua could be classed, as a ‘lite’ version of the Z3 with the following hardware features.
- Android 5.0
- 5” touchscreen display
- 13 megapixel rear camera
- 5 megapixel front camera
- IP65/68 rated
- 4G connectivity
- 2 day battery life
- Octa core processor
Want to see what you get in the box? Check out our unboxing video included below.
Whilst from a distance the matt silver rounded edges and gloss white finish may give the M4 Aqua that Z series look, in the hand it feels considerably cheaper but still retains a lot of strength and robust feel.
The back panel sits ever so slightly proud breaking the smooth flow on the fingertips from the side to back of the handset.
At 140g and 7.3mm thick it still feels good in hand, better than a BlackBerry Leap I recently reviewed which has a similar price and specification.
The 5” display dominates the front, with a bezel running to the left and right side, whilst larger than one would like bezels to the top and bottom.
What looks like stereo speaker grilles on the front are the main earpiece and main microphone.
The front facing camera, sensors and notification light sit just above the screen.
The right side of the handset is home to the omni-balanced designed power button which sits above the volume up and down key. Lower still is the dedicated camera shutter button which will with a long press launch the camera.
On the bottom of the phone to the right is the loudspeaker and a microphone to the left.
The left side is home in the top corner to the microUSB port and the microSD card slot that sits under a cover.
The upper edge has a headphone jack next to a microphone, left of centre.
Flipped over the M4 Aqua has that synonymous design of a Sony. The rear camera and flash are in the upper right corner with the NFC portion of the back cover just below and in the centre.
The Sony logo adorns the middle and the Xperia brand the lower centre of the phone.
Being IP rated, the M4 is safe for a swim in fresh water up to a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. It does to resist dust pretty well too. Just be aware the microSD card slot cover needs to be closed. Do not worry about the microUSB or headphone jack, these are specially protected.
If you want to be blown away with immersive colours and super sharp visuals then this is not the screen to do that. It is however perfectly functional for what the vast majority of us want to do on a mobile device.
Measuring 5” on the diagonal the screen has a 720 x 1280 resolution which equates to a pixel per inch count just under 300.
If you do like to consume a bit of media on the go, the large screen makes this ideal.
The backlight is manually or automatically adjustable and you can even fine-tune the white balance if you choose and smart backlight control can keep the screen on rather than switching off if the phone is detected as being in the hand.
And whilst this is more linked to software, you can now orient the home screen in landscape mode, where for too long homescreens have been stuck in portrait mode.
The display is scratch resistant, but there is no branded Gorilla Glass here. Keys, coins, knocks and bumps should be resisted.
The octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM keep the M4 ticking along quite nicely.
Installed out of the box is the new fresher looking Android 5.0
Sony have added customisation to the software, so it is not pure Android.
Additions include amongst others, an Album, Movies, Walkman and Xperia Lounge and PlayStation as this is a certified device.
AVG comes for free as does an office suite so you can work safely from the moment the device is set up.
Standard Google services from maps, to YouTube to Gmail are all present and there is an FM radio too.
Organise the look and feel of your home screens by changing the wallpapers, layout and more. You can too group items into folders and change the layout of the app drawer.
A new setting allows you to change the home screen to landscape orientation if you like. This is very useful as many still orient in portrait.
Of the 8GB of internal memory under 3GB is available out of the box which is quite limiting. The good news is apps can be moved to the microSD card if you have one installed and more memory hungry content like images and video can be saved here too.
Whether adding your works email account or your social media accounts it is all really simple.
The pull down notification shade gives access to key settings and you can edit some of these as well as add multiple users accounts. So, if you hand the phone to the kids, select the different user profile to avoid them racking up bills or sending odd messages and more!
You can add Facebook, Twitter and corporate exchange accounts too.
With a Google account you can access the Google Play Store and download the apps of your choice whether they be free or paid for.
‘Simple Home’ is an option which can be enabled for simplicity, through choice if you would like it, but also works well for those struggling with sight or mobility ion the fingers. It makes icons considerably larger and makes the interface bolder and arguably easier to interact with if smartphones and modern technology are not so natural to you.
WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, 4G, microUSB, microSD and more, the vast majority of connection requirements you could need are present.
The networks speak of 4G, the M4 has it.
Our internet providers boast great speeds over WiFi, the M4 has it.
The microUSB port is uncovered on the left side, not the ideal location, the bottom would have been better, but no port cover to comply with the IP rating makes it easy to use and ultimately practical.
There is no USB hosting for easy on the go file transfer or MHL support (what is MHL?) for sharing your screen, but Miracast is present, so you can do this without wires if you prefer. Within a few seconds wirelessly share images and media with a TV.
Unlike many phones that have the loudspeaker mounted on the rear, the M4 Aqua’s is on the bottom.
There is quite a high likelihood it can become muffled when held in portrait or landscape mode, but you can easily adjust your grip to avoid such.
Reasonably loud and appearing to manage ok on most sounds it is better than I thought it would be and at a level it really should be for this type of device.
Compare to an HTC One M series and the difference is noticeable, the M4 Aqua has not got what it takes, but it is better than the Xcover 3 from Samsung, if you happen to be comparing the two.
It pains me to say that the image results are not great on the M4 Aqua.
They are better than many, but not where they should be based on Sony’s camera expertise.
I am not big into selfies, as the sample images will clearly demonstrate, but the 5 megapixel camera on the front did an ok job.
Whilst not all about megapixels, the 13 on the rear coupled with Sony’s Exmor RS for mobile should have done a considerably better job.
The white or lighter colours are over exposed against the strong dark colours. Some shots are better, I found in more shaded environments but still with plenty of light, but the consistency of shot left me a little unsure.
In the picture of the pub (shown below) the building looks washed out against the sky and is generally a bit weak.
Now in the M4’s defence I shot these in Superior Auto mode rather than playing around with the settings in manual mode. Why? Well if I gave this to my mum, my auntie or most of my friends, this is exactly how they would use it. Fiddling with controls is not what they want.
I think many of the issues can be resolved in software updates.
There are though many other reasons to like the camera. Countless options for having fun on the camera from creating a photo with sound, to AR effects, to creative effects to vines not to mention the vast array of downloadable additions, many of which are free. As far as out of the box, have fun camera apps go, the M4 Aqua ranks quite highly.
Video can be recorded in full HD, there is the option to zoom in when recording, but it is not all that smooth, even when using the volume controls. You can capture a photo whilst recording video as well as pause and recommence recording in a single clip.
A moderately sized 2400mAh battery keeps the M4 Aqua going for up to 2 days (subject to usage).
There are a lot of battery saving options on Sony phones, STAMINA mode being the most useful and will help even the more power hungry through a long day away from power. Moderate users will get 2 days out of it, I have, but I was generally getting 1.5 days.
Force of habit has me charge a phone most nights as a matter of course.
Lighter users or those willing to really test the battery could probably get a lot longer out of it. Plunge yourself into ‘Ultra STAMINA mode’ and who knows how long you will get, but you do sacrifice a lot of features, so is there much point unless you are lost in woods?! If you are, good news it will go on for a long time!
What is so refreshing is that ‘you’ remain in control. Lots of power saving modes, but you decide what happens and if there are exceptions etc.
Just shy of £230 including VAT, the M4 Aqua is between the cheap but very functional handsets that come in at around £150 and a fraction below the likes of the Honor 6 that offers a lot for £250.
Quite rightly it is positioned above the Motorola Moto G’s and is justifiably £150 cheaper than the premium Z3 from Sony.
Samsung’s Xcover is a little cheaper, coming in at under £200 but the M4 offers a bit more from the camera and software in my opinion.
Ultimately the decision of what price you are prepared to pay and what value you will get from it will be a personal one. Should you have any reservations at this price point of being cheated, think again. For £200 now you are easily getting what were once justifiable of a £300 phone.
On one hand the M4 Aqua offers so much, but on the other, for me the camera ended up disappointing me a little and taking the edge of what is otherwise a great device.
The good news is that software updates will improve this and that I can live with.
Compare it to the sub £100 phones and you can easily see the improvements. Put it next to an iPhone 5s, 6 or high end Samsung or even a Sony and you can see why they charge the premium.
Sitting in the middle it has benefits and compromises depending on what your viewpoint is.
IP rated, no fiddly port covers, the latest version of Android, 4G, a 5” screen, 2 day battery life and cameras with some real potential, you could do a lot worse.
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