Our Take on Sony’s Mid Range Offering
It’s been a couple of weeks since we unboxed the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua. We’ve been using (and abusing) it as our daily driver both for work and personal uses. As it stands, the Xperia M4 Aqua is definitely a good step in the right direction for Sony but they have a lot more of refinements to do with their future mid-range offerings if they want to smash it in this price category.
Before we move on to the review, here’s a quick review of the specifications.
Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Specs
- 1.5GHz octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor
- 2GB of RAM
- 5-inch HD display, 720 x 1280 resolution
- 16GB storage, expandable via microSD
- 13-megapixel rear camera
- 5-megapixel front camera
- 3G, LTE, Dual SIM
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS
- Android 5.0 Lollipop
- 2400mAh battery
- SRP: 14,490
With that out of the way, let’s jump right into it!
Exceptionally Designed and Built
If there’s one thing going for the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, it’s the design and build. It uses the same omnibalance design philosophy that Sony employed for all of their Z-series flagships. They just swapped out a lot of the metal and glass with plastic but it still feels solid, looks beautiful, and is amazingly thin. The Xperia M4 Aqua’s design is timeless and modern. It will not go out of style 5 years down the road.
It’s also one of the very few (if not the only), water resistant smartphones in the Php13,000-Php15,000 range. While you probably can’t go diving with this, it will be able to withstand selfies underwater in the pool or tweeting while you’re in the shower. It will also survive random water-based accidents like your juice spilling all over it while you’re at the dinner table.
By the way, Sony got rid of the tray for the micro USB port. It’s still water resistant even if there’s no cover for it which is an awesome development since we tore through three of those trays with our old Xperia Z2, hehe.
One of the major criticisms the Xperia M4 Aqua received when it was announced was that it “just” packed an HD display as opposed to Full HD which several of its competitors are sporting. While the difference can be seen by a trained eye, we barely noticed the difference. Side-by-side a full or quad HD phone will definitely reveal it but after a while your eyes will get used to the pixel density and it really won’t matter.
We did notice two issues with the display that we couldn’t ignore. First, the coating (or film) over the display is a magnet for finger oil. If you have sweaty palms or fingers, make sure you bring a small cloth with you to wipe the phone’s display regularly. Second is that brightness levels are terrible. Even at max brightness, we had issues reading anything on it when under direct sunlight. We literally had to find shade to be able to properly read SMS messages.
Call Performance: Two Thumbs Up if Not on Speaker Mode!
When it comes to calls, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a winner as long as you don’t use the external speakers. The external speakers are so weak that it’s hard to use them when making calls or watching videos. When we put the phone up to our ear in a regular call though we got super clear audio.
Performance: A Few Forgivable Lags Here and There
Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 and 2GB RAM, we expected to get buttery smooth performance for basic and core services. While the phone was flawless upon start-up, it slowly degrades over time as we used more apps. It looks like the 2GB RAM is not enough to be able to keep it at exceptional levels of performance.
For example, we had Marvel: Future Fight running and we realized we needed to attack before our shield ran out in COC. We hit the multi-tasking button from Marvel: Future Fight and we got a 2-3 second lag delay before we get to Clash of Clans. Same experience when moving out of CoC to the Messages app when we needed to reply to an SMS. Take note though that there’s no problem when inside a single app. The spikes only happen during the multi-tasking transition. When we’re in CoC, messages, or Marvel FF, it’s near-flawless.
It’s really the same story across all graphics or memory intensive applications. If we’re just moving in between watching a YouTube clip to checking appointments on our calendar, no problem. However if it’s a YouTube clip switching to a heavy social media app like LinkedIn, then we have that annoying spike in between.
It’s a Gaming Beast
The Xperia M4 Aqua truly shines though when it comes to gaming. We had no problems whatsoever playing graphics intensive titles like Marvel Future Fight on higher settings. In fact, it was a far superior experience compared to the top-tier smartphones in the 6k-13k range. Heck, we daresay it delivered more than the ASUS Zenfone 2.
HOWEVER we did encounter one major issue that prevented us from playing anything for extended periods of time. The problem? The phone heated up ridiculously fast!
HOMAYGOSH THAT HEAT
The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua gets hot. As in uncomfortably hot. The type of temperature where you really have to put it down so that it doesn’t burn you. When it’s normal usage you won’t encounter the issue. However if you’re doing gaming (even if it’s just Clash of Clans) and you have LTE on, it quickly turns into a hot nightmare after around 20-30 minutes.
We’re not sure if this is because of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor but we can verify this once we put out our review of the Lenovo Vibe Shot (it also has the same processor inside).
Camera: Superior Auto isn’t Too… Superior
We had very high hopes for the camera of the Xperia M4 Aqua but unfortunately it’s mediocre at best. We have three main problems with it.
First is that it’s slow. It’s slow to turn on and navigate. The auto-focus is also several steps behind. If you want to take a photo of something fast, chances are your subject is already not in that pose anymore once you get this camera on and focused. It’s kinda a waste since the phone has a built-in camera shutter button. It would have been nice if the camera app was a little more snappy.
Next is the Superior Auto mode. This has to be totally reprogrammed because it’s not that smart in detecting what settings should be used in various environments. It’s better that you just go through the various settings yourself and pick the one that better matches the situation you’re in.
Lastly, the camera sensor (or software) has problems dealing with harsh or direct light. You’ll notice this in the sample photos that we’ve embedded below. There’s a lot of overexposure that happens even if it’s just sunlight bouncing off a leaf or something.
Here are some of the sample pics that we took for this review:
As you can see from the shots above, it actually takes good photos IF the lighting isn’t harsh or strong. Even in low light the camera is still considerably capable. Where it truly shines though is for macro and detailed shots. It’s probably ideal for taking pics of food, hehe. So if you’re the type that just loves Instagramming food shots, this is probably for you. 😛
Outstanding Battery Life
When it comes to battery life we’re all praises for the Xperia M4 Aqua. Even if we had LTE on, brightness at maximum, played games every now and then, and used two SIMs, we got a minimum of 4-4.30 hours of screen time. With moderate and light use we got this up to around 7-8 hours of screen time. Definitely impressive by any standard.
Verdict: So Much Potential and Promise
The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua had so much promise when it was first announced. However after using it as our daily driver for the last few weeks, we can honestly say that it was still lacking to be considered the best mid-range option in the market. While it looks stunning, delivers great battery life, and it can do single-tasks flawlessly, the heat combined with the sub-par camera experience was too hard to ignore. The heating issue is probably the reason why Sony has shifted to Mediatek processors for their newest line-up of midrangers, the C5 Ultra and the Xperia M5.
So what’s our final verdict? If you’re looking for a water resistant smartphone that won’t break the bank, this might be a good phone for you. However if you can wait we highly recommend that you guys just wait for the local release of the Sony Xperia M5. From what we’ve seen on the promotional materials, the Xperia M5 addressed all the issues that we raised in this review of the Xperia M4 Aqua. Check out the official video of the M5 below. 🙂