Waterproof smartphones are no longer the rarity they used to be as this year has seen a whole bunch of them being released by the likes of Sony, Samsung, Huawei, Motorola and Kyocera.

The Sony M4 Aqua is one of the latest models to come out, a more rugged version of their premium Xperia Z3 model. It comes with an IP rating of IP65/68, the highest in a smartphone which means you’re protected even if it’s completely submerged. Handy for those cursed with butterfingers.

For a mid-range smartphone, the Sony M4 Aqua is a good looking phone with decent specs, including a 720p display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, a 13MP camera and has Android Lollipop 5.0 already running on it.

With the mid-range smartphone market growing and growing, how does the Sony M4 Aqua compare to the others? Read on for our full review.

Design

At first glance, the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is a sleek-looking, minimalist phone that’s incredibly light, weighing in at 136g. It takes its design cue from the equally stylish looking Xperia Z3 and even has the same button layout. You’ll find the raised, silver power button located in the middle of the right-hand side and the volume bar right underneath it. The USB charge port is at the top as well as a dedicated camera button at the bottom. If you’re new to Sony smartphones, it may take some getting used to this configuration.

Left: Dedicated camera and power buttons Right: USB port and microSD card slot
Left: Dedicated camera and power buttons Right: USB port and microSD card slot
Left: Dedicated camera and power buttons Right: USB port and microSD card slot

Despite the similarities, the M4 Aqua on closer inspection reveals itself as a mid-range smartphone as it’s not quite as easy on the eye. The build quality is fairly solid though it lacks those little features and touches that gives a phone that premium feel.

Rather than metal, the M4 Aqua is framed with a plastic bezel. The back panel too is plastic, furnished in a shiny polycarbonate instead of Sony’s glass-backed Z3. Annoyingly the M4 Aqua also keeps the fiddly, cheap-looking plastic flaps for the micro SD and SIM card slots, though they’ve done away with it for the USB port so you don’t have to keep opening it when you want to charge it.

Display

The M4 Aqua comes with a 5 inch, 720p display packing 294 ppi (pixels per inch). It’s not the most vibrant screen you can find on the market, especially when you compare it to other mid-range phones like the EE Harrier which has a significantly sharper, full HD screen. On the M4 Aqua, colours appear quite dull even with the brightness turned up to the maximum.

Regardless the screen is fast, responsive and scratch resistant. The IPS panel also provides excellent viewing angles. Whether you’re browsing the internet or watching a show on Netflix, you don’t have to shift it around and stare at the screen hard trying to make out what’s being displayed.

OS

The M4 Aqua has Android Lollipop though it’s packaged using Sony’s Xperia Home launcher which I’m not a fan of. One of the first things I did was to install the Google Now Launcher to get that nice, clean stock Android look.

The phone comes packed with a load of bloatware and widgets that I had no intention of ever using. Apps like TalkBack, OfficeSuite and Music (which replaced the Walkman app) can’t be deleted which means that they’re taking up precious space on the phone’s storage.

Speaking of storage, this has been a point of contention for many as Sony have advertised  8GB of usable storage for this phone. However, that’s incredibly misleading as the operating system takes up more than half of this space. As well as bloatware you can’t uninstall, you’ve also got the core Google apps meaning that you have at best 1.5 GB of free storage. While you can boost the storage to 128GB with a microSD card, Sony should have been a lot more conscious of what apps is pre-installed when shipping out the M4 Aqua as this is meant to be a mid-range device.

That being said, not ALL the bloatware installed on the M4 Aqua is totally useless. Being an avid gamer, I regularly use the Playstation app which allows me to keep in contact with my gaming friends when they’re online. I can also purchase games from the Playstation store which can be accessed within the app and add games to my download queue so that they’re ready to play as soon as I get home.

Performance and battery life

The phone’s 64-bit Snapdragon 615 processor is backed up by 2GB of RAM which should do the job. Using the M4 Aqua was initially a frustrating experience as I found it to be quite sluggish, particularly when switching between apps. One firmware update later and all’s well, with the M4 Aqua able to handle demanding games as well as multi-task.

As for the battery life, the M4 Aqua has a non-removable Li-Ion 2400 mAh battery which should last you throughout the day for the moderate user and it loses minimal power in standby mode. With heavy use, the M4 Aqua provides around five of playback when streaming media which is typical for most smartphones.

Camera

The camera is, unfortunately, a bit of a disappointment. While it’s a 13MP camera, it’s only able to produce this quality for photos with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Also, photos came out looking washed out and objects appeared with soft edges.

That being said, it’s not all bad as the M4 Aqua’s 5MP front shooter takes a decent selfie. It also comes with an impressive array of manual settings to tweak photos including red-eye reduction, HDR mode and ISO to reduce image blur.

There’s a dedicated camera button on the side of the phone which allows you to launch the camera app immediately as well astake pictures with it.

While it may be for kids, the Phone Cruncher team enjoyed mucking around with the camera’s AR mode. Fun for breaking up that mid-afternoon slump at the office

AR mode fun
AR mode fun

Additional Features

The M4 Aqua has all the features you’d comes to associate with new smartphones, including 4G internet and NFC capability.

What makes this phone stand out from the rest is that it’s waterproof, with an IP 65/68 rating meaning it caan withstand exposure to water and dust.

The M4 Aqua can supposedly withstand being in up to a metre of water for half an hour. I tested its waterproof capabilities by dunking it in a bowl of water while recording. Not only can it record while underwater it can also take pictures.

What we liked

– Similar in appearance to the Xperia Z3

– Rugged phone that won’t break if dropped in water

– Processor can handle demanding games and applications with no drop in performance

What we didn’t like

– The lack of internal storage

– Mediocre camera

– Dull screen

 

To sum up…

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua will set you back around £200. For that price you could easily get yourself a better mid-range smartphone like the EE Harrier, Vodafone Smart Prime 6 or the Honor 6.

Saying that, the M4 Aqua is a solid, dependable smartphone that’s tough and durable. For those that want a phone that’ll allow you perform basic tasks like checking your e-mails, browsing the internet, playing games during your daily commute and not have to fork out a shedload of money, this is right up your street.

 

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Max joins the Phonecruncher team with years of experience writing and editing content on a range of subjects from tech, films, video games and London pubs. When he is not writing for Phonecruncher, Max enjoys nothing better than to watch and discuss films (Commando is a particular favourite of his) or cheering on his beloved Arsenal at the Emirates (unless they lose). An all-round top bloke, his only weakness he'd say is his fondness for hot wings.