Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
DEMO UNIT - CONTENTS MAY DIFFER FROM RELEASED UNIT
* Sony M4 Aqua Handset
* EC450 Charge / Sync Cable (USB to MicroUSB)
* EP800 Three Pin UK Charging Adapter
* Set-up Guide
The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua was announced by Sony at Mobile World Congress 2015 in March of this year with a claim to be setting “the new mid-range standard”.
With flagship specifications such as an octa-core 64-bit Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 615 processor, a 13MP rear facing camera and the flagshipJohn JojJohnthere is little doubt that on paper it should live up to the claim being made. Will this be the case when we dive in an have a look?
Build & Aesthetics
Sony are well-known for delivering high quality builds on almost all of their technology however the Xperia M4 Aqua is slightly different from most pieces of Sony technology.
Whilst giving off a premium feel that you would expect from a flagship device they have also mixed in the cost cutting materials such as a plastic frame around the front and back glass panels doing it no favours at all.
The M4 Aqua suffers from a crowded right frame in terms of ports and buttons with the volume, power, sim card and dedicated camera buttons all crammed in. This makes for an awkward feel in the hand despite the fact that the power button is perfectly placed.
Over on the left hand side of the device sits the open charge / sync port and the MicroSD slot which is covered by Sony’s usual flappy plastic covers.
The top of the device is fairly empty with just the headphone socket and noise cancelling microphone which is much the same as the bottom of the device which hosts the external speaker and primary microphone.
In the market this device is being aimed at there is little question that the display is superior to other handsets in the same field. With good to above average viewing angles the device would suit almost any casual user.
For the fussy type of user, the M4 Aqua display is another area that shows where the premium cost cutting can be seen. Whilst the display is a 720 x 1280 pixel (293.7 ppi pixel density) IPS TFT the colours often look warmer than they should for the quality of TFT being used.
I’ve never really struggled to write about the cameras on a device however with recent discussions around the quality of the photos taken on the budget Kazam Trooper 450L which Gary is currently reviewing and the budget Honor Holly that James recently reviewed I’ve found myself looking at camera’s in a whole new light.
I often found myself comparing the camera on phones to other phones with the same camera specs however I have always known that this is an unfair comparison as there are a lot more aspects to look at such as the sensor, the aperture and the software used to control and manage the camera.
Just before I started to write this review I managed to catch a 60 second video review of the phone that Clove (who lent us this device) put together and within that review the camera didn’t score too well which actually coincided with my own thoughts before watching the video.
This has led me to reconsider my review methodology for camera’s on phones which I intent to cover in a whole post in the near future but for now, here are the images I’ve taken with the phone and I’ll let you decide how good they are (though I have scored the camera already).
Like most OEM’s Sony have skinned their Android user experience to make it stand out from Google Android (a take on AOSP).
The home screen is one of the first areas that Sony have skinned. By pinching the screen with two fingers users can alter the amount of home screens they want (max 7), set a wallpaper, change themes, add widgets / apps and change the home screen settings.
Unfortunately, an area that all OEM’s fall down on is adding their own “bloatware” to their skinned Android experience and Sony are no different. On the M4 Aqua there are a total of 22 apps that simply don’t need to be there (comparing to Google Android). Of those 22 apps I would say that 4 of them (AVG Protection, File Commander, NeoReader and OfficeSuite) have no business being on the phone at all.
The good news for users is the fact that they can remove a lot of the unwanted bloat by simply uninstalling those apps they don’t want (File Commander and OfficeSuite cannot be removed, only disabled).
If the home screen is a little too much for you to handle then don’t panic too much, Sony have added a “Simple Home” to make using the phone that little easier though personally this is something I would never use.
The one good thing about Sony choosing to use their skin on the device is that they add in a lot of new features within settings that Google Android doesn’t normally come with. I won’t detail these for you but the screenshots are below if you want to look.
Another part of the software (via an app) is the Theme Store which Sony have offered for a long time (long before Samsung and HTC added theirs). Unlike the other major OEM’s Sony have a number of licensed themes which are of great quality however do carry a price.
Sony have also added their battery saving modes to the phone allowing users to save on battery when they most need it however like all battery savers, this will decrease the user experience rendering a lot of “non-essential” apps disabled when they are activated. Admittedly, if you want a phone with a 9 day battery life then Ultra Stamina will be for you (highly unlikely that it will last that long though).
A new addition to Sony phones is the built-in answering machine which is a step away from the users own voicemail service via their carrier. This for me is almost useless, it won’t work when you have no signal or when the battery is dead so why Sony decided to add this I will never know.
One of Sony’s greatest things on Android is their camera software. Despite being overloaded with features, the camera modes (apps) offer something for everyone from the budding photographer that likes to change ISO, white balance etc.. to those who simply use their camera for social and fun.
Overall the User Experience is very nice, there are no stutters and Sony have tried to cater for all types of user with their software additions.
The sound output from the M4 Aqua is no different to almost all devices on the marked just now (exceptions are devices like the HTC One M9), loud music in an indoor environment with little to no background noise is possible but the minute you add any background noise you can forget it.
With the volume set to max the output can be a little tinny on bass or voice heavy audio. I certainly wouldn’t recommend listening to a voice heave podcast on the external speaker at full volume as it tends to be over modulated.
As expected though, the on call volume levels are perfect, perhaps a little too loud on ma setting to the point where everyone else can hear the call around you.
Like almost every Sony device, the option to root is there however at the moment there is little in the way of actual development for the handset.
With 2 GB RAM and a Mid-Range Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615 Octa-Core CPU with 4 cores clocked at 1.5 GHz and the other 4 at 1GHz this phone should fly and it sort of does however with that said, the phone does tend to heat up a lot when doing simple things like switching between apps and using the AR modes on the camera though the CPU is seen to slow down to compensate when this happens.
A lot of the blame could be put on Sony’s doorstep for this problem however as we have seen on the latest flagship handset carrying the better and more expensive Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810, overheating is a problem that Snapdragon CPU’s are suffering from a lot.
The Snapdragon 615 CPU could also be to blame for the “just average” battery life. On a full charge I was able to get around 10 hours of use whilst moderately using the device during the day and heavy use in the evening.
One of the best aspects of this phone, the IP65 and IP68 rating, is an area in which it excels against its competitors. Sadly for Sony though, it’s not a feature that many will take advantage of (outside the odd photo in the rain or making a call outdoors when it’s pouring) and it’s not likely to create a surge in sales for this reason.
The M4 Aqua is perhaps overpowered for its price range and its target market but it’s let down in so many other areas such as the optics that this sadly looks to be where Sony have spent the most of their money.