Friday, 7 August 2015

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

An impressive smartphone at a reasonable price

There are a lot of amazing smartphones around these days, but some specifications look too good to be true. Well, here’s a new model with a slim metal case and a glass rear, high-resolution cameras, a big screen and one of the latest lightning-quick processor chips, yet costs just over £210 to buy outright. It’s even waterproof. Surely some mistake?

The M4 Aqua does look gorgeous. It comes in black, white or ‘coral’, which is more red than pink and gives you a tasteful and unusual option. And no, you can’t get it in aqua - this refers to the waterproofing aspect, which is better than most devices that claim ‘water resistance’, covering full submersion up to a depth of 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. The USB charging port stays watertight without needing a fiddly rubber cap, while the nylon corner pieces give you a little bit of bump protection.

This is quite a big phone, but not overly so, and it’s surprisingly light. The display is a little bigger than an iPhone 6 but has slightly fewer pixels, so it doesn’t look as sharp, and we were disappointed by its colour accuracy - everything looks rather bluey-grey. It’s bright, though, and there’s sufficient detail.

What probably matters more is that what’s on the screen responds quickly and smoothly to your touch. You still can’t take that for granted in cheaper smartphones, but the M4 Aqua’s eight-core Snapdragon 615 processor zooms through everything without a stutter. While it’s not the fastest processor around, it’s in the same league as many more expensive phones, and is designed particularly with multimedia in mind. Even the most advanced Android games work fine.

Performance doesn’t come at the expense of decent battery life. Playing videos continuously, the Xperia M4 Aqua lasted 10 hours 16 minutes, which is quite acceptable. If you need longer, Sony’s Stamina mode turns off all the background activity that’s usually burbling away, leaving only essentials like incoming phone calls. You can still use all your apps, and the phone can last up to two days.

The M4 Aqua’s cameras are also notably high-spec on paper; in use, not quite so much. Although we always tell you megapixels aren’t everything, you could be forgiven for thinking 13 megapixels in a phone sounds pretty good. When we started taking pictures, however, we began to wonder if ‘Aqua’ had a hidden meaning. The photos looked blue and washed-out on the M4’s screen - and anywhere else we opened them.

This didn’t sit well with Sony’s claim of ‘perfect shots every time'. It could just be poor automatic white balance, something that could be fixed with a software update. But we weren’t happy with any of our outdoor shots. Inside, everything looked better, and the camera coped well with fairly dim light. Even so, you’d get better pictures from other phones with fewer megapixels.

And the extra resolution comes at a cost: your image files take up more storage space. That’s ironic, because the M4 Aqua comes with just 8GB of flash memory, of which 4GB is taken up by the Android 5.0.2 Lollipop operating system. The remaining 4GB is barely enough to download a couple of HD films from the Google Play store. The idea is that you add a microSD card for more; you could get 32GB for less than a tenner, or 128GB for £60. MicroSD cards don’t tend to be as fast or reliable as built-in flash memory, though, so we wouldn’t recommend relying completely on them.

We can’t quite give the M4 Aqua full marks, because photo quality is important, the dull screen affects everything, and selling any device with only 4GB of free storage is not a trend we like. But all things considered, this fast and durable device is an excellent and elegant phone for the money.

Mid-range smartphones don't get much better than this, but budget for an SD card and take the camera claims with a pinch of salt.

5in 1280x720-pixel screen • 13-megapixel rear camera • 5-megapixel front camera • 802.11n • 3G/4G • 146x73x7.3mm (HxWxD) • 136g • One-year warranty