Here’s something that we haven’t seen in the Stuff offices for a while, a mid-range Sony smartphone. Coming from the Xperia pedigree but lacking that all-important Z suffix is the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua. And it’s… surprisingly impressive.
But you’d have a hard time telling this mid-range Xperia apart from its beefier relative, from a distance at any rate. It’s a typical black Sony-branded slab and the only way to really distinguish between this and a Z-series is to turn it on and fiddle with it. Even then, it may take you a moment or two.
The Xperia M4 Aqua actually seems pretty small in the hand when you get your first touch, a testament to how big smartphones have been getting. But it actually sports a 5-inch screen, making it larger than many phones from yesteryear. It’s a typical Sony display, so you’re only going to see the bezel when the screen is active, but being a mid-ranger Sony have only plumped for a 720 x 1,280 resolution.
There’s precious little else to the phone. There’s a charge port and microSD card slot on the upper left, the SIM slot on the upper right and a power button and volume rocker about mid-way down the same side. The rear is a single piece of glass, with the camera sensor in the upper left (when facing the back) barely protruding. Along the bottom of the phone is a speaker grille and there are rounded edges throughout. Simple but stylish design overall, belying the fact that this is a mid-range handset in spec terms.
Even the specs, as mid-range as they are, aren’t anything to sneeze at. There’s a Snapdragon 615, an octa-core processor comprising a pair of Cortex A53 quad-cores (1.5GHz and 1.0GHz), and 2GB of RAM to play with. This is what mid-range consists of now, folks.
The E2303 version of the M4 Aqua, which we had for this review, comes with 8GB of storage as standard, half of which is taken up by the Android 5.0 OS. You’re going to want to avail yourself of that microSD slot, which supports cards up to 128GB.
So it’s lacking in space a bit. Doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in performance though. We banged it through Geekbench and came back with scores of 651 (single core) and 2599 (multi-core). It actually comes fairly close our internal scores managed by HTC’s One, all things considered. Not bad for something this far down the specs ladder. In performance terms though, you’re looking at power around that achieved by the Snapdragon 800 from the M4 Aqua and it shows. Android Lollipop runs smooth as you could want.
Sony have given the M4 Aqua two other important items. The clue is in the name for the first, the handset is rated for underwater use – more or less. It’s got an IP68 rating, meaning it’ll survive a 30-minute dunking up to 1.5 metres and it’ll shrug off dust as well.
Then there’s the camera setup. Sony have given this phone a combination 13MP/5MP camera configuration – for the selfie-inclined, we’d hazard. The rear 13MP camera is definitely the better option, handing well whether you’re using manual settings or Sony’s Superior Auto function. Even low-light images can be quite detailed, though the sensor doesn’t like overbright light as much as you’d think. Softer light, like that found inside (not under Stuff‘s fluorescents), is a much better fit for the M4 Aqua’s camera. So… indoor swimming pool photography is where you can use it, we guess. And standard pics, of course.
There is one complaint about the camera though and that is its placement. The sensor’s place on the extreme edge means that you’re going to find your fingertips wandering into shot quite often, unless you’re very careful about how you’re holding the phone. Not such a great thing for rapid snaps, then.
Sony’s Xperia M4 Aqua, despite the small storage allocation, makes for an impressive mid-range phone. It’s right up there with last year’s heavier hitters despite not featuring the hardware they were toting. But any time you can use a 13MP camera in an octa-core 5-inch handset and call it mid-range, we’re happy. Especially when it looks as good as this one does.