Although Sony decided against unveiling its next flagship at Mobile World Congress this week, it did take the lid off of its latest and greatest for the midrange market. The Xperia M4 Aqua, as its name suggests, is a deeply water-resistant handset with respectable specs and a plasticized take on the design language of the Xperia Z3. Sony’s pegged it at €299 (about $330) when it launches this spring, and based on our time with it, that should be a price well worth paying for anyone looking for the right blend of features and affordability.
To be more specific, the M4 Aqua is IP65- and IP68-certified, allowing it to withstand up to 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes without taking damage. It comes with a 5-inch 720p display that’s good for an alright pixel density of 293 ppi. Internally, it runs on a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 615 chipset, which is fairly plentiful for this price range, and it carries 2 GB of RAM. It includes Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box, modified with Sony’s traditionally light UI. Finally, it supports LTE up to Cat 4 speeds, which’ll allow it to download up to 150 Mbps at its absolute maximum. All told, the M4 Aqua doesn’t quite reach OnePlus One levels of power at this price, but it’s still closer to the Xperia Z3 than its Xperia M2 Aqua predecessor.
The M4 Aqua’s build may be its biggest selling point, however. The phone follows in the footsteps of the gorgeous Xperia Z3 before it, featuring exceptionally sharp edges and a frame that’s relatively light (136 grams) and slim (7.3 millimeters) for a 5-inch phone. It still isn’t the most natural feeling device when held in the hand, what with its hard lines and awkward power key placement (dead center on the right-hand side), but that’s not so bad when the phone as a whole is this handsome.
Even though it replaces the Xperia Z3’s glass back with plastic, the M4 Aqua still has that sophisticated, minimalist look that Sony’s gotten so adept at manufacturing over the years. It’s solidly constructed, and comes in a range of elegant colors (silver, white, black or “coral red). It’s a practical design too – Sony’s made it so the USB port can now withstand water without the need for a pesky cover flap, and it’s also included a dedicated shutter key for snapping photos more naturally.
Although Sony hasn’t given it the same Trilumnious backlighting tech that it puts into the flagship Xperias, the M4 Aqua’s IPS panel more than holds its own next to similar midrange panels. Images on screen looked sufficiently sharp during out demo, with well-saturated colors and a good contrast ratio. Our only notable issue was with its brightness, but it’s tough to say anything concrete about that given the poor lighting of Sony’s exhibition area.
The Xperia line is generally bankable when it comes to camera performance, and the M4 Aqua doesn’t look likely to stop that trend. The 13-megapixel Exmor RS sensor on the back here should provide above-average quality for the price if it’s anything like similar units on past Xperia devices. The front-facing camera doesn’t seem like a slouch either, as it carries 5 megapixels and a wide-angle 88-degree lens. A dimly lit demo space isn’t the proper place to judge camera performance, though, so we’ll reserve final judgments until we’re able to test the devices further.
We can say that the M4 Aqua will only come with meager amounts of storage space, though. Only 8 GB of room will be included by default, with a 16 GB option available for a slightly higher price. Both models can be expanded through microSD cards, thankfully, but making them a near-necessity is still a bit annoying.
Outside of the design and cameras, Sony’s other major selling point with the M4 Aqua is battery life. The company says that the phone’s 2400mAh pack should get you two days of juice thanks to its moderate pixel count and light software, but again we’d have to spend more time with the handset before confirming that kind of claim.
For now, though, the Xperia M4 Aqua looks to be another worthwhile entry in Sony’s increasingly impressive smartphone portfolio. It’s a phone that plays to the Xperia line’s greatest strengths, and although it’s more or less a stripped-down version of its flagship siblings, that’s all it really needs to be to represent good value at this price. If nothing else, it’s the kind of phone that can help improve the quality of midrange handsets as a whole, and that’ll always be welcome.