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Hands on: Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

We dive into the mid-range with Sony's Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony has found a way to condense its top of the range experience into the M4 Aqua and offer it at a decidedly mid-range price point.

Few people were surprised when Sony rolled back its plan to unleash a new flagship every six months. The Xperia Z3 didn’t add a great deal compared to the Z2, for example; clearly there’s a reason most manufacturers stick to an annual update schedule.

But Sony didn’t leave us empty-handed in the smartphone department at Mobile World Congress this year. In addition to the headline-worthy Z4 Tablet was an unassuming mid-ranger called the M4 Aqua.

And it’s surprisingly wonderful.

At first glance you could mistake the M4 Aqua for one of its pricier Xperia cousins, but wrap your hand around it and you’ll notice the glass back has given way to plastic, though the metallic frame and shiny aluminum power button remain. In terms of hardware this is essentially a scaled down Xperia Z3, but Sony has chosen where to cut back and where to stand firm very carefully.

It’s a light phone, at 4.8 ounces, and it’s fairly slim too with a profile of just 7.3mm. The balance and weight feels right and it’s comfortable to handle. The M4 Aqua is available in black, white, and pink, which Sony is calling coral — that’s right, no aqua body for the Aqua.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The 5-inch display is a disappointment on paper because of the 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution, but it looks better than it sounds. Sony’s display know-how shines through, and you could easily mistake this for a higher resolution panel.

The 64-bit octa-core processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, which pairs two quad-cores clocked at 1.5GHz and 1.0GHz with 2GB of RAM. If that means nothing to you, just keep this in mind: There’s plenty of processing power here. It’s a fast, fluid experience to tap and swipe your way through Sony’s mercifully light user interface, sitting atop the beautifully animated Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Sony’s display know-how shines through, and you could easily mistake this for a higher resolution panel.

As the name would suggest this is a waterproof phone and it scores IP ratings of 65 and 68, which means you can fully submerge it in water without fear. Sony has even found a way to ditch the flap on the microUSB port.

The big compromise is the battery life, a jewel in the crown of the Z3. The M4 Aqua has to make do with a 2,400mAh battery, versus the 3,100mAh battery in the Z3V. And even with a less demanding display, that’s going to mean a fairly average experience with regards to power. Sony reckons you’ll still get two days between charges, but we’ll have to put that to the test when we do a full review of the M4 Aqua.

Another area Sony has been championing in its flagship Xperia range is the camera. The M4 Aqua’s main camera is 13 megapixels, which falls well short of the 20.1 rating in the Z2 and Z3, but it boasts the same range of interesting camera modes and seems fairly snappy. The front-facing camera is better than you may have expected: It’s rated at 5 megapixels and has a super-wide-angle lens that’s perfect for getting group selfies.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The M4 Aqua also boasts LTE support and has a reasonable 16GB storage with a microSD card slot that can take expansion by another 32GB. It even has dual front-facing speakers, though you won’t find the laundry list of sound enhancements that are on the Xperia Z4 Tablet.

Conclusion

Perhaps the biggest story here is the price tag. Sony has generally stuck to the top end of the market in the past, and we haven’t been overly impressed by its dips into the mid-range segment. The Xperia M4 Aqua is going on sale this spring for 300 euros. That’s going to be around $335, though you’re unlikely to see it stateside unless you buy from Sony direct. At that price it measures up really well, offering a level of quality and a lack of compromise that’s rare in this category. If you’re shopping for a new Android smartphone on this kind of budget we urge you to take a look.

Highs

  • Fast processor
  • Waterproof
  • Decent battery life
  • Great selfie cam

Lows

  • Plastic body
  • Screen resolution