Introduction

The Xperia M4 Aqua is Sony's take on what a mid-ranger should look like. And for the first time in a while it has got us excited. It has all the right specs coupled with a thin profile and premium looks, all bundled up into a €299 phone.

And did we mention this smartphone is waterproof like its more expensive siblings? Oh well, we guess the name should have given it away by now.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

For extra flexibility the Xperia M4 Aqua is also available as a Dual SIM _phone_ under the name Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Dual. It's slightly more complicated than that as both devices have their regional versions. These are mostly the same, save for the LTE connectivity, which lacks on one of the Xperia M4 Aqua Dual models (E2312). The rest all ship with LTE, but with varying band support depending on the intended regions.

So many bands and so many markets - it's always hard to keep track of the different models, but the most important core specs are same and here's a refresher.

Key features

  • Optional Dual SIM support (Xperia M4 Aqua Dual)
  • 5.0" 16M-color 720 x 1280 IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with Triluminos technology
  • Android OS v5.0 Lollipop
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A53; Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615, Adreno 405, 2GB RAM
  • 13MP camera with 1080p@30fps video; 5MP front-facing camera with 720p video
  • 8GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot
  • LTE Cat.4 (150Mbps); Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; GPS/GLONASS receiver, Bluetooth v4.1, FM radio with RDS
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic
  • 2,400mAh non-removable battery
  • IP68 certified - dust and water proof up to 1.5 meter and 30 minutes

Main disadvantages

  • 8GB built-in storage is insufficient, better opt for the 16GB model
  • Non-removable battery

Of course, once you dig deeper, a lot of the phone's true mid-range character starts to show. It runs on the Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615 SoC, which is an excellent choice but not flagship grade. The 13MP camera lacks 2160p video recording. The _phone_ also only comes with 8GB of internal space, which will definitely fill-up quick. Thankfully, there is a microSD card slot, but a lot of current apps still prefer the on-board storage.

The Xperia M4 Aqua doesn't really have any major flaws, but it is the subject of a serious case of sibling rivalry In the face of the Xperia Z3 Compact. You can pick the smaller form factor of Sony's current flagship for just a bit more than the M4 Aqua and it comes packing some serious processing power.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 press images

Design-wise, the phone bears a lot of signature Sony elements and definitely draws inspiration from the Xperia Z3. But while the premium looks are there, some compromises have been made with materials, perhaps to keep cost down.

But cheer up as the M4 Aqua has its merits. It looks good and performs well, the real question is whether this is enough to make it a viable choice. Stick around for the rest of the review, as we intend to find out.

We like to elaborate everything in detail, but if reading through the full 10-page review is not your thing, our video review below should get you through the most important points about the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua in under 4 minutes.

Follow us to the next page for an overview of the design.

Disclaimer: This review is based in a pre-production Xperia M4 Aqua unit, but we were informed it uses the latest available firmware version. It's nevertheless possible that parts of our test observations may not reflect the performance and qualities of the retail product. We'll revisit this review and we'll update the test findings as soon as a retail unit becomes available to us.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua 360-degree spin

The Xperia M4 Aqua boasts a slick exterior. It is quite thin and has that very distinctive Sony look.

Design and build quality

There's no point in beating about the bush, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a spitting image of the Xperia Z3. Sony was quite obviously going for that quite-recognizable premium look of the flagship and there really shouldn't be any shame in this approach. Moreover, the M4 Aqua really pulls it off marvelously. One could easily mistake the couple at first glance, as even their dimension are almost exactly identical - 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm for the M4 Aqua, as opposed to 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm on the Z3.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The M4 Aqua is a spitting image of the Xperia Z3

The M4 has the same overall appearance, down to every corner and groove of the device. Build quality seems to be comparable as well. Everything on the M4 Aqua is nicely put together and fits snugly and it really has to, considering the IP68 dust and water proof certification.

Materials, however, differ greatly between the two devices, although Sony has managed to mask the differences incredibly well. Upon first contact you could easily be fooled that the M4 comes with a metal frame, like the Z3, but it is, in fact a very convincing polycarbonate. Actually, it looks and feels so good, that we can't really find any faults with it.

The back has also underwent a material substitution. Instead of the glass finish on the Xperia Z3, the M4 Aqua is adorned with an equally stylish plastic equivalent. It also looks almost identical and definitely gives the impression of glass. Sadly, it keeps just as many fingerprints as well. We did also notice a give when pushing down on the back of the device, but it is definitely nothing to worry about.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The Xperia M4 Aqua in the hand

Other than that, Sony has really done the best it could with the available materials and add some. The body feels nice to the touch and the plastic does not look cheap in any way. The M4 Aqua comes in three colors - black, white and a pink one, called coral.

Controls

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is equipped with a 5.0-inch display, with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels. It has a pixel density of 294 ppi, which is slightly lower than the one on the Z3 Compact - 319 ppi and worlds away from the 424 ppi of the Z3. The bezels on the device are also quite big, but they are not bothersome, especially on a black unit. The smaller 5.0-inch screen in what is essentially a Z3-sized body leads to a screen-to-body ratio of about 65.2%.

Above the screen, the earpiece features a grill design, again similar to the Z3.

The 5MP front-facing camera is slightly off to the right. The phone does not feature any physical buttons, so the area below the display is mostly empty, except for the mouthpiece, which is identical in design to the earpiece.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The front of the device is very clean

Going round the device, we find the left side housing only a microUSB port and a flap to cover the microSD card slot. It is evident that Sony has applied some additional waterproof coating to the microUSB port, as it is sitting out in the open, without the need to be protected by an additional cover, like on the Z3, for example. This is significantly more convenient for charging and Sony guarantees that it is just as waterproof as its old solution.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The left side of the M4 Aqua is mostly empty, but the USB port is now in the open, which is great

The right-hand side is a little bit more-cluttered. At the top there is a flap. Covering the single or dual Nano-SIM slots. There is the signature round Power/Lock button, conveniently placed slightly above the middle of the device and, below it, a slim volume rocker. Near the bottom, there is a very thin and almost unnoticeable dedicated camera shutter button. It makes taking photos all that more-convenient - especially underwater where the capacitive touchscreen gets confused.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The right hand side is filled with a lot of ports and controls

The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the top of the device near the right corner. Next to it is the secondary noise-canceling microphone.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The top hosts the 3.5mm headphone jack and noise-canceling mic.

The bottom of the Xperia M4 Aqua houses the main microphone and a speaker. They are spaced out as far as possible and shouldn't get in the way easily.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The bottom side holds a speaker and a microphone

Around the back, we find a slick plastic finish, quite reminiscent of glass and equally prone to smudging. It houses only the 13MP main camera and a single LED flash.

Other than that, there is a Sony brand as well as an Xperia brand on the bottom and a little NFC logo. Actually, the back of the M4 Aqua is so similar to the one on the Z3 that it is almost indistinguishable. The only difference is the camera text on the Z3, but you really have to know what to look for to notice. Well, that and you can also probably spot the perfectly flat glass on the Z3. Under light, you can spot a slight unevenness of the Xperia M4 Aqua back surface.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

A clean back side

Display

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is equipped with a pretty simple IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels. With a diagonal of 5.0-inches, it sits right between the Z3 Compact with its 4.6-inches and the Z3, which is slightly bigger, at 5.2-inches. Both the M4 Aqua and the Z3 Compact have 720p screens, which is yet another similarity that pits the two devices against one another on the market.

The Z3 Compact does, however, boast a slightly higher ppi rating, as well as a better screen-to-body ratio. Luckily, the M4 Aqua does have the added benefit of Sony's Triluminos display technology and Bravia tech that enhances colors and contrast by clever processing.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is fitted with an IPS LCD panel with an RGB matrix. It really doesn't look all that impressive on paper, but our test reveal that this is one of the better Sony panel we have ever seen. It has a relatively high maximum brightness.

Blacks are not as deep as we like them, but that's just nitpicking. Viewing angles are also superb, with almost no distortion in the image and only a slight loss of brightness.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua 0.17 176 1012 0.74 828 1115
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact - - - 0.77 725 942
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 201 404
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini 226 432
Samsung Galaxy Alpha 228 456
Samsung Galaxy A5 191 398
Samsung Galaxy A7 175 349
HTC Desire 820 0.18 235 1299 0.45 598 1327
ZTE Blade S6 0.26 248 986 0.46 457 946
Nokia Lumia 830 0.21 223 1087 0.49 533 1078
Nokia Lumia 1020 172 398
LG G2 0.1 149 1522 0.45 667 1495
Huawei Ascend P7 0.13 101 807 0.79 668 843


Sunlight legibility is good at max brightness, so we are quite happy with the display and its performance.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Samsung Galaxy E7
    4.485
  • Samsung Galaxy A3
    4.241
  • Samsung Galaxy S6
    4.124
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    4.033
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
    3.997
  • Apple iPhone 5
    3.997
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    3.895
  • Apple iPhone 6
    3.838
  • Motorola Moto X (2014)
    3.816
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
    3.799
  • Samsung Galaxy A7
    3.679
  • Oppo R5
    3.678
  • Samsung Galaxy K zoom
    3.675
  • Nokia Lumia 930
    3.567
  • Apple iPhone 5s
    3.565
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
    3.549
  • Nokia Lumia 735
    3.547
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    3.543
  • Alcatel Idol X+
    3.527
  • Apple iPhone 5c
    3.512
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3.509
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo
    3.487
  • LG G Flex2
    3.465
  • YotaPhone 2
    3.453
  • Motorola RAZR MAXX
    3.42
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 Active
    3.406
  • Nokia Lumia 925
    3.402
  • Gionee Elife S5.5
    3.386
  • Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4
    3.352
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    3.174
  • Samsung I9000 Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Samsung Ativ S
    3.129
  • Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini
    3.127
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom
    3.118
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    3.023
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.97
  • Samsung Galaxy Premier
    2.958
  • Sony Xperia Z1
    2.95
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Lenovo S90 Sisley
    2.892
  • Samsung I8730 Galaxy Express
    2.861
  • BlackBerry Q10
    2.856
  • Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • HTC Desire Eye
    2.815
  • Gionee Elife S5.1
    2.812
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
    2.801
  • BlackBerry Z30
    2.79
  • Meizu MX4 Pro
    2.765
  • Sony Xperia ZR
    2.672
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    2.618
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    2.616
  • Sony Xperia T3
    2.609
  • BlackBerry Passport
    2.595
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • Motorola Moto G 4G
    2.546
  • HTC One Max
    2.537
  • Nokia Lumia 720
    2.512
  • HTC One
    2.504
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    2.503
  • Motorola Moto G
    2.477
  • vivo Xshot
    2.465
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Xiaomi Mi 4
    2.424
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    2.422
  • Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro
    2.416
  • LG G Flex
    2.407
  • HTC Desire 820
    2.372
  • HTC One (M8)
    2.371
  • Motorola RAZR i
    2.366
  • Meizu MX4
    2.366
  • Meizu m1 note
    2.362
  • Sony Xperia ZL
    2.352
  • HTC One M9
    2.334
  • HTC One (M8) for Windows
    2.291
  • Oppo Find 7a
    2.279
  • Alcatel One Touch Hero
    2.272
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC Desire 600 dual sim
    2.262
  • Nokia Asha 311
    2.25
  • Xiaomi Mi Note
    2.234
  • Motorola Moto G (2014)
    2.233
  • LG Nexus 5
    2.228
  • Nokia Lumia 820
    2.193
  • HTC One (E8)
    2.185
  • Oppo N3
    2.181
  • Nokia Lumia 920
    2.17
  • Huawei Honor 6
    2.169
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Asus Zenfone 2 ZE551ML
    2.149
  • LG Aka
    2.145
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Nokia Lumia 620
    2.142
  • Archos 50 Diamond
    2.134
  • Nokia 515
    2.134
  • HTC Desire 500
    2.129
  • Sony Xperia C3 Dual
    2.12
  • Sony Xperia acro S
    2.119
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note
    2.119
  • Nokia Lumia 1020
    2.103
  • Oppo Find 5
    2.088
  • Sony Xperia SL
    2.078
  • Nokia Lumia 630
    2.056
  • BlackBerry Z10
    2.051
  • Huawei Ascend Mate7
    2.024
  • Samsung I9295 Galaxy S4 Active
    2.022
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • HTC One mini
    2.003
  • Xiaomi Mi 3
    2.001
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    1.992
  • LG G2
    1.976
  • Sony Xperia E4g
    1.972
  • OnePlus One
    1.961
  • Oppo R819
    1.957
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Lenovo Vibe X2
    1.952
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    1.944
  • Sony Xperia E3
    1.943
  • Nokia Lumia 1320
    1.941
  • HTC One mini 2
    1.94
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera
    1.938
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime
    1.935
  • Sony Xperia J
    1.932
  • Acer CloudMobile S500
    1.931
  • ZTE Blade S6
    1.927
  • LG Nexus 4
    1.926
  • LG G Pro 2
    1.922
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3
    1.913
  • Nokia Asha 308
    1.911
  • HTC Butterfly 2
    1.905
  • Sony Xperia T
    1.894
  • Nokia Lumia 830
    1.887
  • HTC Desire X
    1.878
  • HTC Butterfly
    1.873
  • HTC Windows phone 8X
    1.873
  • HTC Butterfly S
    1.867
  • Huawei Ascend P6
    1.865
  • Huawei Ascend Mate
    1.845
  • LG G2 mini
    1.838
  • LG G3
    1.82
  • Nokia Lumia 1520
    1.813
  • HTC Desire 616 dual sim
    1.797
  • Sony Xperia V
    1.792
  • HTC Desire 816
    1.783
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    1.772
  • HTC Desire 700 dual sim
    1.769
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • Meizu MX3
    1.754
  • LG Optimus G
    1.753
  • Sony Xperia T2 Ultra
    1.74
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
    1.735
  • Acer Liquid Jade S
    1.734
  • Sony Xperia SP
    1.733
  • Oppo Find 7
    1.691
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • BlackBerry Q5
    1.682
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.68
  • Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen)
    1.675
  • Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9
    1.672
  • LG Optimus GJ
    1.666
  • LG Optimus 3D Max
    1.658
  • HTC Desire V
    1.646
  • Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2
    1.632
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
    1.622
  • Jolla Jolla
    1.605
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra
    1.578
  • Sony Xperia go
    1.577
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160
    1.566
  • Samsung Galaxy Core
    1.563
  • LG Optimus G Pro
    1.552
  • Motorola Moto E
    1.545
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • Samsung Galaxy Core Prime
    1.507
  • BlackBerry Curve 9320
    1.488
  • Sony Xperia M
    1.473
  • Oppo N1
    1.47
  • Sony Xperia E4
    1.467
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1.462
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Samsung Galaxy S Duos
    1.4
  • Sony Xperia M2
    1.393
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand Neo
    1.393
  • Microsoft Lumia 535
    1.393
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand 2
    1.38
  • Sony Xperia E1
    1.372
  • Nokia Lumia 625
    1.371
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • Sony Xperia L
    1.351
  • Xiaomi Redmi 1S
    1.35
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8
    1.35
  • HTC Desire 510
    1.34
  • Sony Xperia M2 Aqua
    1.331
  • Sony Xperia miro
    1.324
  • Samsung I9082 Galaxy Grand
    1.321
  • Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam
    1.315
  • Xiaomi Redmi 2
    1.311
  • HTC Desire C
    1.3
  • Nokia X
    1.291
  • Sony Xperia C
    1.283
  • Nokia Asha 503
    1.281
  • Nokia Asha 501
    1.27
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • Nokia Lumia 510
    1.268
  • Samsung Galaxy Fame
    1.245
  • LG Optimus L9
    1.227
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Samsung Galaxy Young
    1.22
  • Sony Xperia E
    1.215
  • Nokia XL
    1.204
  • Sony Xperia E dual
    1.203
  • Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176C
    1.198
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.18
  • Nokia Asha 305
    1.178
  • Nokia Asha 306
    1.175
  • Sony Xperia neo L
    1.169
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Nokia Lumia 520
    1.161
  • Samsung S6802 Galaxy Ace Duos
    1.148
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

Battery

Sony has put a 2,400mAh battery inside the Xperia M4 Aqua, which is smaller than both the Xperia Z3 Compact and the Z3 flagship. The Snapdragon 615 should be more power-efficient than the more powerful 800 series in the other devices, so battery life might not be so dependent on battery capacity alone.

We ran our battery test with the battery-saving STAMINA mode off. The handset scored an average endurance rating of 57 hours, which is far from great and can mostly be credited to a good standby and call performance. In the rest of our tests, the M4 Aqua didn't do particularly great.

We were quite surprised to see that the phone only managed to survive about 7 hours of web browsing. Sony has bundled Chrome as the default browser and its track record has been nothing but spotless, so, perhaps, there is some other piece of code misbehaving on the device. Hopefully, it will be fixed with the retail unit.

Just bear in mind that your own mileage may vary and you should only take these numbers to compare the different phones we test. Sony however advertises the M4 Aqua as having a 2-day battery so we seem to be roughly in the ball park.

The battery pack itself is not user-removable, which seems to be the common case with a lot of current devices. At least, the M4 Aqua has a good reason for not breaking the tight seal on the back, seeing how the device is meant to feel right at home when submerged in water.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The Power Saver - now part of the settings menu - helps you extend your battery life by toggling things like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth screen brightness, auto sync and background data on and off automatically, as soon as the battery charge falls below a certain user-defined threshold. You can also choose to automatically turn Wi-Fi off if there is no known Wi-Fi network in range or switch off mobile data when the screen is off, and more.

Our proprietary score also includes a standby battery draw test, which is not featured in our battery test scorecard but is calculated in the total endurance rating.

Our battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you want to learn more about it.

Connectivity

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua comes in single and dual SIM flavors. Both the M4 Aqua and the M4 Aqua Dual offer quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA support. LTE support is also present, courtesy of the Snapdragon 615 SoC except for one of the submodels (E2312) of the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Dual, which is 3G only.

Local connectivity features dial-band Wi-Fi b/g/n and Wi-Fi Direct. There is also support for Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP. Satellite navigation is also a given, with additional A-GPS and GLONASS support. The Xperia M4 Aqua also has an FM radio with RDS. It doesn't offer an IR port, but it does come with NFC.

There is a microUSB 2.0 port for charging and data connections and now, thanks to special coating, it is no longer covered by a flap. Media transfer mode is supported for accessing the phone's built-in memory and microSD card over the USB cable. USB host functionality is also present.

The microUSB port doesn't have any TV-out functionality, unlike the Z3 Compact, which supports MHL, but if you own a compatible HDTV, you can output your phone's screen wirelessly via the Miracast protocol or Sony's Xperia Connectivity Throw option.

The app also lets you share your media over DLNA by creating a media server, as well as connect to a PlayStation DUALSHOCK 3 (or 4) wireless controller.

Android Lollipop with a pinch of Xperia

Sony only recently made the move to Android Lollipop and for quite a while, we were left with the impression that only the premium Z-line would be getting the OS update. We are happy to report that the M4 Aqua also came with Android 5.0 out-of-the-box. This was not the case with recent entry-level devices we have reviewed, like the Xperia E4 and E4g, but, it seems the new mid-rangers have made the cut.

That said, even though we're running the latest currently available (and final) firmware for our pre-release Xperia M4 Aqua, it's possible that there will be certain differences in how a retail version of the smartphone handles.

As far as the launcher goes, Sony has gone to great lengths to preserve its signature look and feel. If you are transitioning from a KitKat Xperia, you will instantly feel that almost everything is right where you remember, just with a fresher material-design look.

This even extends to the bundled application. Most of them are also practically untouched as far as navigation and UX goes, but now employ all the extra visual eye-candy of Android Lollipop. This kind of transition really takes effort and is definitely worth noting.

The lockscreen has undergone some changes with Android 5.0. There are no more lockscreen widgets available, apart, of course, from a selection of clocks.

The multiple panes have been removed as well. There are still quick shortcuts to launch the dialer and camera, which are now at the bottom left and right corners, respectively.

Naturally, you can protect your lockscreen by Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Xperia lockscreen, now lacking widgets

There are five homescreen panels by default and you can set any of them as your primary one. You can't have more than seven panes at any given time though, nor can you change the order they're in.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Homescreens and widgets

You can set various live and static wallpapers, add widgets and shortcut, or change the UI theme. You can also choose which icons will be visible on the status bar, and which should remain hidden.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Customization • Themes

The notification area is no longer arranged it two tabs. It uses the standard Lollipop-style pull-down effect with multiple levels. Quick settings are on the top and notifications on the bottom. The aforementioned can be accessed by swiping from the top twice, but Sony has also preserved its two-finger swipe gesture, which extends the full shade in one stroke.

The toggles are customizable and you can choose between a total of 13 and have up to 9 of them visible. Their order can be adjusted manually, or you can leave that to Lollipop, which will automatically rearrange them according to frequency of use.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Notification area • Quick settings

The app drawer is laid out across multiple pages and you can sort the apps in various ways. The settings for that are accessible via a swipe from the left edge of the screen and you can also search and even uninstall apps from there, as well as download new ones.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

App Drawer

The Xperia M4 Aqua uses the stock Android task manager that lets you switch between the recently opened apps, as well as terminate any of them with a side-swipe. In Lollipop in features a lot more animation and also shows browser tabs as separate apps.

The so-called "small apps" are also available in the Xperia M4 Aqua and are accessible via the task manager. They are similar to Samsung's Mini Apps, and pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can move around and use without having to open the full-fledged app. So far, there's a default set of five of those available: Active Clip, Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Timer and Touch Block. Interestingly enough, we have seen a number of other apps on Xperia devices, like- Chrome Bookmarks, Gmail, Notes and Recorder, which are missing on the M4 Aqua. On the other hand, Touch Block is something we haven't seen on other devices, which is kind of odd.

You can launch only one instance of a Small App, but you can open multiple Small Apps simultaneously.

Sadly, you can't disable the small apps entirely and will always have them cramming your recent apps whether you use them or not.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Task switcher • Small apps

Finally, Google Now integrates with your Google account and can access your daily routine, internet searches, email, etc. and give you information relevant to your interests and daily needs.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Google Now

The built-in 8GB (about 4GB of which are user accessible) of storage gets filled up pretty quickly and the Xperia M4 Aqua needs a microSD card to help carry the load. Unfortunately, some apps will still refuse installing on the external storage so it's best that you grab the 16GB version to begin with.

Benchmarks

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is no powerhouse and its specs shout mid-range all-around. It is powered by a Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615 SoC, which was created specifically to target the mid-range market. It consists of a total of eight Cortex A53 cores, two clocked at 1.5GHz and the other two at 1.0Ghz. This doesn't sound very impressive, but Sony has managed to optimize the OS for a fluent and pleasant experience all around.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The phone is equipped with 2GB of RAM, which is more than enough for most everyday tasks and with an Adreno 405 GPU casual gaming is also a fluent and pleasant experience.

This being said, the Xperia M4 Aqua has a lot of competition. With decent hardware and a price tag of around €300, it is a solid phone. But, there are a lot of alternatives which offer similar and often better performance for around the same price. We have made a mixed selection of the two for our benchmark section. Naturally, we have thrown the Xperia Z3 Compact in the mix, which seems to be quite popular among Sony fans, but seeing how it is powered by a Snapdragon 801 SoC, there shouldn't be much competition in terms of performance.

First up, we have the raw CPU performance test with GeekBench 3, which should be straight-forward enough, but does show some surprising results. The Xperia M4 Aqua sits around the middle of the scoreboard, which is expected, but it is being surpassed by a few, less-than-predictable opponents. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha with its Exynos 5 Octa 5430 SoC sits at the very top, but, it is followed very closely by the Galaxy A7, which is equipped with the exact same MSM8939 Snapdragon 615 chip as the Xperia M4 Aqua.

The two phones are strikingly similar in terms of hardware, so the only explanation of the major difference in performance is software optimization, which Samsung seems to have handled amazingly well. The Galaxy A7 even outperforms the Xperia Z3 Compact, which has a Snapdragon 801 inside, albeit a slightly older version.

Bear in mind, that the Galaxy was tested while running of Android 4.4 KitKat. Also, our Xperia M4 Aqua review unit is a pre-release sample even though we're told it runs the latest and final firmware build for the smartphone.

Predictable enough, the M4 Aqua surpassed the quite aging original Moto X and the LG G2, although not by a lot. And the Galaxy A5, S4 and S5 mini are all left behind, seeing how they all sport slower processors, but are, in fact, in the same price range as the Xperia M4.

GeekBench 3

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3214
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    2880
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    2856
  • HTC Desire 820
    2586
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    2551
  • LG G2
    2243
  • Motorola Moto X
    2123
  • ZTE Blade S6
    2086
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    1895
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 S600
    1869
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    1460
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    1123

AnTuTu is a compound benchmark, which also takes into account RAM and GPU performance. Here we see pretty much the same arrangement. The Galaxy Alpha and Z3 Compact both have a major lead and the M4 Aqua and its hardware doppelganger - the Galaxy A7 are neck to neck, but now, with a slight edge for the Xperia. So, the Sony seems to beat most of its competition in terms of overall performance, which is great news, seeing how CPU power alone doesn't really help you do your work more-efficiently.

AnTuTu 5

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    51905
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    46566
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    34948
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    31436
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    28758
  • ZTE Blade S6
    27198
  • HTC Desire 820
    27070
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    21581

Basemark OS II is another all-round benchmark. It gives an overall score along with single, multi-core performance, math performance and more. We focus on the overall score and the dedicated CPU scores. The Xperia M4 Aqua once again performs admirably well. It seems to lack behind in single-core performance, but it makes up with great optimization in multi-core. After factoring in a lot of other performance factors, Basemark OS ranks the phone well above its direct hardware rivals, which is great news.

Basemark OS II (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    2579
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    2282
  • HTC Desire 820
    1812
  • ZTE Blade S6
    1721
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    1572
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    1520
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    1353
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    1217

Basemark OS II (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    15096
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    10063
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    9590
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    9284
  • HTC Desire 820
    8453
  • ZTE Blade S6
    6064
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    5283
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    4880

After looking at the amazing results, naturally, we suspected there might have been some cheating involved. We ran a special anti-cheat version of the very same software and it did show slightly lower scores, but nothing really out of the ordinary. The decreased performance could be due to thermal throttling, as the M4 Aqua did get quite hot during the tests. So, the performance is really there, but, bear in mind that the M4 Aqua does tend to run on the hot side.

Basemark OS II (anti-cheat)

Higher is better

  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    1104
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    888
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    737
  • ZTE Blade S6
    712
  • HTC Desire 820
    645
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    438

Basemark OS II (single-core. anti-cheat)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    2547
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    2011
  • ZTE Blade S6
    1575
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    1491
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    1387
  • HTC Desire 820
    1275

Basemark OS II (multi-core. anti-cheat)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    14335
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    10052
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    8493
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    5430
  • ZTE Blade S6
    4769
  • HTC Desire 820
    4703

Moving on to pure graphics tests, the Xperia M4 Aqua does fairly well. Its Adreno 405 GPU isn't really all that powerful, but the phone's 720 x 1280 screen resolution allow for some decent framerates onscreen. Offscreen, however, it's a whole different story. The M4 Aqua struggles quite badly with the test and comes in near the bottom of the chart. It is even surpassed by the Galaxy A7, which has the same graphics chip, as well, which might also be due to some heat-management problems.

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    31.3
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    27.4
  • LG G2
    22
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 S600
    17.1
  • Motorola Moto X
    16
  • ZTE Blade S6
    15
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    15
  • HTC Desire 820
    15
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    12.3
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    12
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    6.7
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    5.3

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    48.4
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    41.3
  • HTC Desire 820
    26
  • ZTE Blade S6
    24
  • LG G2
    23.1
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    22
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    15
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    12.4
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    9.6
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    9.3

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    13.4
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    11.8
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    5.8
  • ZTE Blade S6
    5.8
  • HTC Desire 820
    5.7
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    5.5
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    1.8

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    25.4
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    25.3
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    12
  • HTC Desire 820
    12
  • ZTE Blade S6
    11
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    5.8
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    3.9

The Xperia M4 Aqua didn't really shine in the browser test either. It scored surprisingly low, especially considering that Sony has bundled Chrome as the default browser. One again, Samsung seems to have achieved a far better and optimized experience. The Galaxy A7 really shines in this department.

Kraken 1.1

Lower is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    4911
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    6480
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    12266
  • ZTE Blade S6
    12865
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    13083
  • HTC Desire 820
    13568
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    14306
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    15885
  • Nokia Lumia 830
    26542

BrowserMark 2.1

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (S615)
    1655
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
    1500
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    1364
  • ZTE Blade S6
    1271
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    1171
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    1111
  • HTC Desire 820
    991
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    861
  • Nokia Lumia 830
    599

Overall, the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua works quite well. The Snapdragon 615 scores some 70% better than the omnipresent Snapdragon 410 chipset so the Xperia M4 Aqua has that going for it. It, however, didn't really manage to score a clean win in the synthetic tests.

The hardware inside the M4 Aqua is quite capable, not to mention futureproof, so there is really no reason for the device to punch below its category. We are quick to point the finger at Sony, which is all but justified, but Android 5.0 hasn't really been playing well with a lot of devices recently. Bugs are still present across quite a few devices from various manufacturer, so there is still a lot of room for improvement on Google's latest mobile OS.

Great phonebook

The contacts app uses a tabbed interface, consisting of Contacts, Favorites and Groups. It is no longer bundled with the phone app, but you can still quickly jump to it from the dialer. The contact list has a dedicated search filed plus it offers a very nicely animated alphabetical scroll bar.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Phonebook

If you are using two SIM cards, every time you want to make a call you'll be asked to choose which SIM card to use.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Edit contacts

Linking contacts is available, the quick contact feature is here too.

Telephony

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua was able to hold onto signal very well. Calls remained uninterrupted and the sound quality was okay. Voices came out loud enough. Clarity wasn't the best but it was okay nonetheless.

The dialer support smart dialing.

The noise cancelation system is also pulling its own weight ensuring pretty good background noise suppression, as reported by the other side.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Dialer

The loudspeaker on the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua however is rather disappointing. We ran it through our tests numerous times and it still scored only Below Average.

Sony has preloaded a number of features that modify how the speaker sounds. Interestingly enough, xLOUD is no longer among them. The feature was present in the way cheaper Xperia E4g, but is nowhere to be found on the M4 Aqua. Still, Clear Audio+ is available.

Clear Audio+ is a life saver when it comes to the speaker loudness. Without it, the phone is very quiet and, despite our best effort we couldn't actually get a lot of decibels from the tiny speaker even when it was on. But perhaps this sort of a performance is to be expected from a sealed waterproof phone.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua 60.2 57.2 64.5 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy A5 57.9 60.7 66.6 Below Average
LG G2 65.7 62.2 66.2 Below Average
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua (Clear Audio) 67.5 60.7 69 Below Average
Huawei Ascend P7 63.9 66.1 70.9 Below Average
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact 65.9 62.1 73.5 Average
HTC Desire 820 65.6 61.1 75.7 Average
Samsung Galaxy Alpha 66.6 61.7 75.7 Average
Samsung Galaxy A7 64.8 66.3 73.5 Average
ZTE Blade S6 66.3 65.7 76.7 Good
Nokia Lumia 1020 69.8 66.6 72.5 Good
Nokia Lumia 830 65.3 66.3 78 Good
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 70.6 66.2 77.3 Good
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini 73.5 67.7 78.7 Very Good


Messaging and text input

Not a lot has changed here either. Functionality is basically the same, but now with a prettier Material design interface. Text messages and MMS use standard thread layout. Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message automatically into an MMS.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Messenger

Naturally, the Gmail client and the default Email apps are onboard. Gmail can sync only with (multiple) Google accounts, while the generic Email app can handle POP and IMAP and offers a Combined inbox.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Gmail and email

Text input

As for text input, the Xperia M4 Aqua offers a customizable on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. You can choose a different layout (keypad, QWERTY, QWERTY with extra symbols), add/remove the coma and period button, the smiley and voice input buttons and also enable things like bilingual word suggestions if you have more than one language enabled. Different keyboard skins are available too.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Xperia keyboard

You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It's similar to what Swype offers, and even if you've never used a Swype-like input before, you'll quickly get used to it.

Single-hand size keyboard is available too. If enabled, it squeezes the onscreen keyboard to the left or right side of the screen so it gets more comfortable for single handed text input.

Album photo gallery

We should all be familiar with Sony's custom gallery - Album. It organizes images into groups of thumbnails and sorts them by date. You can change the thumbnails size by pinching.

Unlike previous versions there isn't a homepage that hosts all of your albums, instead you get the same navigation drawer as the app drawer is offering. There you can find a selector of all of your online and offline albums.

The gallery can connect to online albums (PlayMemories, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr) and also to other devices on the local network. Maps and Globe albums are also available, which use the geotagging info to sort photos by the location at which they were taken, and faces, which groups photos by the faces of the people in them.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Album

Images can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Filters and effects are also abundant. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also available.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Viewing and editing an image

Walkman music player

The Walkman music player is part of the equipment of all recent Xperia smartphones. The Walkman interface is based on a hidden swipe-able menu that sort your music collection by Artist, Albums, Playlists, all songs and even the songs your friends are listening to (but you need to connect the player to your Facebook account). You can pop up the menu the same way you'd do it in the app drawer or the gallery - just swipe from the left edge of the screen.

The Infinite button is available in the Now Playing screen (just tap the album art) - it will help you find the track's video on YouTube, look up info about the artist on Wikipedia and search for lyrics on Google. Gracenote is used here too and it can automatically download information about your tracks and album art.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Walkman

The Walkman player offers a variety of audio settings - ClearAudio+ option is here, which determines the best audio quality settings depending on the song you're listening to. We liked how it changed the music and carefully accentuated various details.

Dynamic normalizer evens out the differences in the volume between tracks, which is great if you've mixed multiple albums from multiple sources.

The Sound enhancements contain yet more settings. There's an equalizer with presets and manual settings (including tweaking Clear Bass). Then there's Surround sound mode, which imitates the Studio, Club or Concert Hall experience.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sound Settings

FM Radio

There's also an FM radio tuner with RDS. The app features multiple visualizations and integrates with TrackID to recognize the currently playing song. You can even directly send an "I'm listening to..." post to Facebook. The interface is very intuitive and complete with stunning animations. Possibly one of the best FM radio apps out there.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

FM Radio with RDS and TrackID

Of course, you would need to have your headset plugged in for the FM radio to pick up any signal.

Movies

The video playing app is dubbed Movies and it too has a great custom UI. It's connected to Gracenote, which helps you find additional information about the movies and TVs you have on the phone. It will even download posters for them and for movies, it will download metadata like genre, synopsis, director and cast.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work very well for TV shows - it doesn't recognize the S01E02 naming convention and it won't pull info about individual episodes.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Movie app

The Sony Xperia E4g was able to handle videos up to 1080p resolution. It had issues with the AC-3 audio codec and failed to load sound in videos carrying it but that's mostly normal for smartphones these days. MKV movies went through, but without sound because of their AC-3 audio codec.

The video player comes with subtitle support by default, the only requirement is both file names (video and subtitles) to be identical.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Video playback • Settings

Audio output is very good

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua did very well in our audio quality test. The smartphone did a great job in the first part, where it's connected to an active external amplifier and posted very scores top to bottom. Its volume levels come up just below average, but everything else about the output is excellent.

Plugging in a pair of headphones did harm the stereo crosstalk notably, but had no effect on the other aspects of the performance. Once more, the volume levels were nothing worth writing home about, though, so we have to deduct a couple of points and give this one a very good, rather than a perfect mark.

And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua +0.02, -0.06 -89.0 90.1 0.0031 0.0096 -90.6
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua (headphones attached) +0.12, -0.03 -83.6 90.2 0.017 0.081 -56.2
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact +0.02, -0.08 -85.2 85.2 0.013 0.022 -85.3
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (headphones attached) +0.10, -0.01 -85.4 85.4 0.020 0.045 -45.1
Apple iPhone 6 +0.06, -0.02 -94.0 93.9 0.0012 0.0065 -73.4
Apple iPhone 6 (headphones attached) +0.11, -0.06 -93.8 93.8 0.0022 0.099 -65.1
Samsung Galaxy Alpha +0.01, -0.04 -96.6 92.8 0.0058 0.0091 -97.1
Samsung Galaxy Alpha (headphones attached) +0.04, -0.01 -95.7 92.7 0.013 0.033 -65.6

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua frequency response

Sony Xperia M4 aqua pact frequency response

You can learn more about the tested parameters and the whole testing process here.

Underwhelming 13MP camera

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua boasts a mightily impressive 13MP, at least on camera, that is. In reality, the phone's camera had repeated issued with focusing and edge-to-edge sharpness, and white balance, but we're willing to give it the benefit of a doubt as we're dealing with a pre-production sample unit.

The Xperia M4 Aqua shoots with a maximum resolution of 4128 x 3096 pixels (13MP) in manual and Superior Auto modes. It also comes with a LED flash to help you with some low-light photos.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The phone has a dedicated two-stage shutter button. It is meant to aid with focus, but is, in fact, so still that we often found ourselves shying away from it. This seems to be a general problem with all of the buttons on the device. The power-button is particularly hard to press, as well.

Lollipop hasn't really brought much change to the camera app. The interface consists of two panes and is unified with the camcorder one - you can snap a photo or shoot a video without changing modes most of the times. While this is convenient, framing your videos correctly is nearly impossible as they have a different field of view and you only get to see the actual framing only once you've started recording.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Camera UI and camera modes

In the full resolution Manual mode you also get access to "manual controls" on the viewfinder, which sounds more impressive than it really is. There's an exposure compensation slider and a white balance selector. You can also control the ISO, metering and focus modes, turn on/off image stabilization, but those are buried in the settings menu.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Camera UI - manual mode

You do, however, get a dedicated video mode, with a proper viewfinder with manual control, which is nice to have.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Dedicated video capture mode

The Superior Auto shooting mode is what we've already seen in other Xperia phones. There are no settings you can change, everything here is done automagically.

Manual and Superior Auto aside, the Xperia M4 Aqua offers several other interesting shooting modes.

There's Sweep panorama but, it's not really all that great. Stitching is not horrible, but till clearly visible.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Panorama samples in both orientations

Then, there are the Augmented Reality effects, which stamp one of several virtual worlds over your scene and you can even move around in this world thanks to some intriguing motion tracking effect (note that it needs real-life visual cues in the scene to track your motion). Children will love this mode, but us bitter adults are unimpressed.

Other modes include the regular Picture effect mode, which creates a 3 x 3 grid that shows all the available effects in real time.

Image quality

As we already mentioned we're dealing with a pre-production unit and while we didn't see any issues upsofar, the camera performance is one thing it could definitely use an improvement. We won't be commenting on the image quality just yet. We hope that we'll secure a retail unit to redo our tests.

Hera are some successful samples from the 13MP camera:

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua sample photos

The HDR mode is a bit hard to find, but it is present on the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua. You need to go to Manual mode first, then in the Scenes Menu and then you should select Backlight Correction (HDR). The HDR is rather harsh and tends to go to extremes. The processing seems to work better in the absence of direct sunlight.

This is rather odd, considering we have seen far better HDR in entry-level Sony phones, such as the Xperia E4 and E4g.

Here are a couple of HDR samples:

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

HDR off • HDR on • HDR off • HDR on • HDR off • HDR on

We uploaded the full resolution 13MP photos to our photo quality comparison database to compare against other high-resolution smartphones. The image quality and contrast are below average, which is odd, considering the 13MP camera hardware.

Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua in our photo compare tool

Video recording done in 1080p at 30 fps

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is capable of capturing 1080p video. That's a little disappointing, seeing how there are plenty of megapixels and processing power for 2160p video.

The camcorder shares the same UI as the still camera, unless you go into manual mode. In manual mode you can set a timer and fiddle with settings like exposure, metering, focus mode, etc.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

More shots from the dedicated video capture UI

For videos the Xperia M4 Aqua features digital image stabilization, but there's a price to pay - the field of view (FoV) is reduced (it's how all digital stabilization systems work). Also, it takes a huge toll on the quality. The phone is smart enough to detect whether you are shooting hand-held or you have rested it on something stable but you get the reduced FoV either way if the option is turned on.

If you go into video mode from the Manual shooting mode, you get an HDR option, as well as various preset scenes to pick from.

You can also snap stills during video recording but those come out in 1080p resolution.

The phone's 1080p video samples are nothing to rave about. Sharpness and detail are pretty low and there is also quite a bit of noise. The frame rate is around 29 fps, while the bitrate is good at 16-17Mbps with stereo sound recording with a bitrate of 128 Kbps and 48 kHz audio sampling rate.

Rather surprisingly, autofocus was pretty laid back unlike most other Xperia phones we have reviewed and hardly hunted for focus while video recording. It did act up a little bit in the HDR sample, but, considering what it did to overall quality and colors, we don't really consider it usable. It even had a bit of frame drop, making for a very choppy experience.

Here's a 1080p sample, which we've uploaded on YouTube. We also shot one in HDR.



And here is an untouched 1080p@30fps video sample (10s, 25MB) for you to download, as well as an HDR sample (10s, 25MB).

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua manages to resolve good detail in our resolution chart test and under good light conditions, but there is lots of noise and artefacts when shooting in low-light rooms. Again, we're dealing with a pre-production review sample.

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

Sony Xperia E4g in our video compare tool

Google Chrome

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua comes with Google Chrome as the default web browser out of box instead of the generic Android browser. While the minimalist interface hasn't changed since Chrome launched on Android, the browser is being constantly refined by Google, and this has resulted in one of the smoothest and most powerful browsing experiences we've encountered on a mobile.

Of course, one of Chrome's strengths is its ability to seamlessly sync with the desktop version, using nothing but your Google account. This allows you to open an article on your PC and finish reading it on your mobile phone. It also syncs your bookmarks and favorite sites.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Google Chrome

Other pre-installed apps

The calendar has three different types of view - daily, weekly and monthly. The lower section of the screen is reserved for a list of upcoming events. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Calendar app

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua also features the Office Suite 8, which allows for creating, viewing and editing office files (docs, xls, ppt), and it can also read PDFs.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Office Suite 8

Calculator, Clock app (with stopwatch, world clock and timer), Sketch and File Manager apps are available on board the device by default.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Alarms & Clock • Sketch • File manager

The Socialife app comes pre-installed too. It is a service similar to Samsung's My Magazine and HTC One's Blinkfeed. The interface is clean and simple yet beautiful, and there are lots of preloaded feeds. You can add your own RSS links too.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Socialife RSS reader

What's New app has very beautiful UI and will show you the hottest apps and multimedia today.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

What's New

We were quite happy to see that Sony has finally retired the Sony Select App. It was begging to be deprecated for quite some time now, as What's New offers the same features and more.

The Power Saver - now part of the settings menu - helps you extend your battery life by toggling things like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, screen brightness, auto sync and background data on and off automatically when the battery charge falls below a certain user-defined threshold. You can also turn off the Wi-Fi if there are no known Wi-Fi networks in range or turn off mobile data when the screen is off, etc.

Sony also provides a Backup & restore app, which can use the internal storage, a microSD card or even an attached USB mass storage device. You can backup the system and downloaded apps and their data along with any media files.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The Power saver app • Backup & Restore app is really handy

The Xperia Lounge is a sort of custom-tailored deal and promotion aggregator. It gives users the opportunity to participate in various Sony promotions and win prizes. Another interesting little feature is the Movie Creator. Its name is pretty much says it all.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Xperia Lounge • Movia Creator

Oddly enough, Sony has decided not to bundle either the Sony PlayStation app or PartyShare, even though they we present on the low-end Xperia E4 and E4g.

You bet Google Maps and Navigation are also part of the app package to utilize the built-in GPS receiver (now complete with GLONASS support). Offline maps are available, again, since the last update, so you can save some data traffic too.

Whatever you may be missing, there is the always-growing Google Play Store for you.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Google Maps • Google Play Store

Final words

The Sony Xperia Z4 Aqua has a lot going for it. It looks and feels good, has solid future-proof mid-ranger specs, comest with LTE and a dual-SIM option and is also IP68 certified. To top it all off, it is quite reasonably priced at around €300, what more could you want?

Well, the Xperia M4 Aqua does have its merits but there better deals to be had for this sort of money.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Decisions might be tough in the high-end and low-end segments, but the mid-range market is what definitely reels in the money and manufacturers have really started spoiling users for choice.

When we also take into consideration that ex-flagship devices often end up it the same price range after a year or so, it becomes clear that the Xperia M4 is entering into a really tough crowd and simply being a good device, might not be enough to impress users.

And, frankly, the M4 Aqua is far from perfect in a few areas.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua key test findings

  • The M4 Aqua is very well-made and durable. Build-quality is superb and even though compromises have been made with materials, the phone looks quite premium and resembles the flagship Xperia Z3 from design down to the very dimensions.
  • Buttons on the phone, especially the power and shutter one, are stiff and quite uncomfortable.
  • The display is far from high-end with a resolution of 720 x 1280px. However, the IPS LCD is very bright and offers above-average contrast and sunlight legibility.
  • Battery endurance is rather average at 57h. The most notable culprit is the above average power draw while while web browsing.
  • The Xperia launcher runs quite nicely on the M4 Aqua and is packed with a lot of interesting features. The phone is definitely not lacking on the software side and it is astounding how well Sony has managed to transition to Lollipop, without compromising the user experience.
  • Performance-wise, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a solid mid-ranger. It runs great and has enough oomph to handle most everyday tasks and then some. The device does, however, tend to overheat under pressure, which causes noticeable performance drops.
  • The speaker on the Xperia M4 Aqua scored Below Average in out rests. It is really on the quiet side.
  • The camera is disappointing as things stand right now, but we are willing to give it the benefit of a doubt as we're reviewing a pre-release sample.

So, the Xperia M4 Aqua definitely has its ups and downs and requires making certain compromises from the user. This being said, its competition poses a serious threat, as a price tab in the €300 range brings some very formidable devices into play. Still, the M4 Aqua has looks and a solid exterior on its side, but, will that be enough to pull ahead?

The fact is that you don't really need to look far for a viable competitor. In fact, one is hiding in the company's own back yard. We have mentioned the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact on multiple occasions and there is a good reason why. The smaller version of Sony's current flagship now goes for just a few bucks more, if not the same.

For that, you get a clearly superior Snapdragon 801 chipset, not to mention a 20.7MP camera. You do sacrifice same on looks and a little bit of screen size, but overall, we can see why the Z3 Compact is so vastly popular among Sony fans and we highly doubt that the M4 Aqua will do nearly as good in sales.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

It comes as no surprise that Samsung has the €300 segment well covered. There are quite a few current devices, as well as old flagships that meet the bill. The Galaxy S5 mini, for example is right in the ball park and it does tend to perform better than the M4 Aqua. However, it is not particularly popular among users and isn't really all that better than the Sony. If you don't really feel the need to own a very recent device, the highly successful Samsung Galaxy S4 can still be picked up brand new and for about as much as the M4 Aqua, as well.

The to-year-old flagship still packs some power, especially compared to the M4 Aqua. The display on the Galaxy S4, for instance, is exactly the same size at 5.0-inches, but it is better in every way. It has FullHD resolution and uses Super AMOLED technology for superior contrast and colors. Not to mention, that the Samsung has significantly slimmer bezels. Other than that, the two devices offer quite similar specs, complete with practically identical cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini • Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4

Over at Camp HTC we can also find a few interesting alternatives to the Xperia M4 Aqua. The HTC Desire 820 is almost identical to the Xperia in terms of specs, as well as price. The choice between the two might actually boil down to whether you find the Xperia launcher or HTC Sense more convenient. Out test do, however show that the HTC has a slight edge in camera quality and it does also offer a tiny bit more than the Sony, like an 8MP front-facing camera and 16GB of onboard storage. The HTC One (M8s) might also be a viable choice, but it is kind of exotic and has only now started selling.

HTC Desire 820
HTC One M8s

HTC Desire 820 • HTC One M8s

The LG G2, another aging flagship, is also, currently, priced under the €300 mark. The device offers a slightly bigger screen with Full HD resolution and a slightly older, but still more-capable Snapdragon 800 processor. Internal storage is also more-spacious. Software support is still present, as well, with an update to Android Lollipop, already a reality. So, picking up a former flagship, like the G2 is definitely not a bad choice. The LG G3 has also had its share of price cuts so it will run you some €350, which is not so far from the M4 Aqua price. Of course, neither of those offers water-proofing.

LG G2

LG G2

Overall, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a good phone or in fact, the best Sony mid-ranger we have seen recently. And for €300, it's a pretty good deal as well. The problem it is faced with is that it still has quite a bit of imperfections, which rivals are more than happy to cover.

This being said, we definitely have to give Sony credit for what it has achieved with the M4 Aqua, but, we also feel that it's definitely worth to shop around and take your time, as impressive alternatives are readily available and just as budget-friendly.

Disclaimer: This review is based in a pre-production Xperia M4 Aqua unit, but we were informed it uses the latest available firmware version. It's nevertheless possible that parts of our test observations may not reflect the performance and qualities of the retail product. We'll revisit this review and we'll update the test findings as soon as a retail unit becomes available to us.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua 360-degree spin

The Xperia M4 Aqua boasts a slick exterior. It is quite thin and has that very distinctive Sony look.

Design and build quality

There's no point in beating about the bush, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a spitting image of the Xperia Z3. Sony was quite obviously going for that quite-recognizable premium look of the flagship and there really shouldn't be any shame in this approach. Moreover, the M4 Aqua really pulls it off marvelously. One could easily mistake the couple at first glance, as even their dimension are almost exactly identical - 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm for the M4 Aqua, as opposed to 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm on the Z3.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The M4 Aqua is a spitting image of the Xperia Z3

The M4 has the same overall appearance, down to every corner and groove of the device. Build quality seems to be comparable as well. Everything on the M4 Aqua is nicely put together and fits snugly and it really has to, considering the IP68 dust and water proof certification.

Materials, however, differ greatly between the two devices, although Sony has managed to mask the differences incredibly well. Upon first contact you could easily be fooled that the M4 comes with a metal frame, like the Z3, but it is, in fact a very convincing polycarbonate. Actually, it looks and feels so good, that we can't really find any faults with it.

The back has also underwent a material substitution. Instead of the glass finish on the Xperia Z3, the M4 Aqua is adorned with an equally stylish plastic equivalent. It also looks almost identical and definitely gives the impression of glass. Sadly, it keeps just as many fingerprints as well. We did also notice a give when pushing down on the back of the device, but it is definitely nothing to worry about.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The Xperia M4 Aqua in the hand

Other than that, Sony has really done the best it could with the available materials and add some. The body feels nice to the touch and the plastic does not look cheap in any way. The M4 Aqua comes in three colors - black, white and a pink one, called coral.

Controls

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is equipped with a 5.0-inch display, with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels. It has a pixel density of 294 ppi, which is slightly lower than the one on the Z3 Compact - 319 ppi and worlds away from the 424 ppi of the Z3. The bezels on the device are also quite big, but they are not bothersome, especially on a black unit. The smaller 5.0-inch screen in what is essentially a Z3-sized body leads to a screen-to-body ratio of about 65.2%.

Above the screen, the earpiece features a grill design, again similar to the Z3.

The 5MP front-facing camera is slightly off to the right. The phone does not feature any physical buttons, so the area below the display is mostly empty, except for the mouthpiece, which is identical in design to the earpiece.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The front of the device is very clean

Going round the device, we find the left side housing only a microUSB port and a flap to cover the microSD card slot. It is evident that Sony has applied some additional waterproof coating to the microUSB port, as it is sitting out in the open, without the need to be protected by an additional cover, like on the Z3, for example. This is significantly more convenient for charging and Sony guarantees that it is just as waterproof as its old solution.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The left side of the M4 Aqua is mostly empty, but the USB port is now in the open, which is great

The right-hand side is a little bit more-cluttered. At the top there is a flap. Covering the single or dual Nano-SIM slots. There is the signature round Power/Lock button, conveniently placed slightly above the middle of the device and, below it, a slim volume rocker. Near the bottom, there is a very thin and almost unnoticeable dedicated camera shutter button. It makes taking photos all that more-convenient - especially underwater where the capacitive touchscreen gets confused.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The right hand side is filled with a lot of ports and controls

The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the top of the device near the right corner. Next to it is the secondary noise-canceling microphone.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The top hosts the 3.5mm headphone jack and noise-canceling mic.

The bottom of the Xperia M4 Aqua houses the main microphone and a speaker. They are spaced out as far as possible and shouldn't get in the way easily.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The bottom side holds a speaker and a microphone

Around the back, we find a slick plastic finish, quite reminiscent of glass and equally prone to smudging. It houses only the 13MP main camera and a single LED flash.

Other than that, there is a Sony brand as well as an Xperia brand on the bottom and a little NFC logo. Actually, the back of the M4 Aqua is so similar to the one on the Z3 that it is almost indistinguishable. The only difference is the camera text on the Z3, but you really have to know what to look for to notice. Well, that and you can also probably spot the perfectly flat glass on the Z3. Under light, you can spot a slight unevenness of the Xperia M4 Aqua back surface.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

A clean back side

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