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Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Review: Literally a HOT Smartphone

We finally review the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua!
We finally review the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua!

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

Class and Timeless Sony Design
Class and Timeless Sony Design

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.

>>>SEE ALSO: Xperia M4 Aqua vs Lenovo Vibe Shot vs ASUS Zenfone 2<<<

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.

Display is competitive
Display is competitive

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

We should put up an Unbox Clan soon on CoC, hehe.
We should put up an Unbox Clan soon on CoC, hehe.

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.

Freeza!
Freeza!

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

One of our favorite games right now, Marvel Future Fight
One of our favorite games right now, Marvel Future Fight

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

Camera is just medicore
Camera is just average

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.

Dedicated Camera button is mana from heaven
Dedicated Camera button is mana from heaven

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.

Skip Superior Auto
Skip Superior Auto

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:

Leaf. Oh yeah.
Leaf. Oh yeah.
WE ARE GROOT!
WE ARE GROOT!
WE ARE RUMFOLD!
WE ARE RUMFOLD!
Taken during the Bactidol Palakasin ang OPM event
Taken during the Bactidol Palakasin ang OPM event
Shot taken outside our balcony
Shot taken outside our balcony
Taken with the front facing camera
Taken with the front facing camera

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. ๐Ÿ˜›

Outstanding Battery Life

Impressive battery life
Impressive 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

Unbox on Google Newsstand
Unbox on Google Newsstand

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Carlo Ople

Carlo is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Unbox.ph. During daytime heโ€™s the Managing Director and Partner of a Digital Marketing Agency in the Philippines and by nighttime heโ€™s living out his passion as a gadget enthusiast and story teller through Unbox.

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32 Comments

  1. Z3+, M4 aqua. Sira ang diskarte ng sony ngayong 2015. Kaya pala may rumors na mediatek ang gagamitin for the next z5 line up. 615 din yung sa oppo r1x ko pero di naman umiinit sa zenonia 5 at asphalt 8 airborne. Baka throttled down yung sa r1x o meron talagang ibang nagpapainit sa xperia m4.

  2. So it’s safe to say the the SOCs to avoid right now are the dreaded SD810 and the SD610

    Excessive HEAT degrades battery performance / shortens lifespan and wears down the motherboard’s capacitors and transistors pretty fast

    1. Actually it’s pretty much all of them starting from the 800/600 series, especially up to the 15s. The newest ones *sort of* solve the problem, but not entirely. Meaning Qualcomm still sucks.

    1. Give it up, dude. American engineering is inferior. Your beloved Qualcomm will die a painful death. The northeast Asians will always be better at electronics.

  3. Good review.
    Well, you could just dip the thing in cold water when it starts to warm, that’d make for a nice conversation piece.

    Jokes aside, WE ARE LEGITIMATELY SCREWED in mobile in 2015.
    – ALL Qualcomms released overheat. Horribly.
    – Mediatek phones are gimped with bad GPU’s, unoptimised software, and near guarantee of NO updates, not when the source and kernel codes to work on the Android builds are not available to anyone anyway.
    – Intel phones and their “unique” architecture mean dire app incompatibilities and stability issues (I know it’s being worked on, but it’s noteworthy.)
    – NVIDIA is a niche product now (Android TV and Game.)
    – Samsung won’t release the Exynos to anyone other than Samsung.

    Who’ll save us now?

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t gaming performance be attributed to the onboard Adreno 405 GPU and the SoC? Quantifiable data makes a review more trustworthy.

  5. they should sell phones at lower prize…. :3 they’ve been selling and creating flagship phones yet there sales aren’t doing well. if sony would sale phones at lower price and of course with good specs we could say bye bye to local phone rebranding company in the philippines. LOL!

    1. Lahat ng galing sa Japan mahal. After all halos kasing laki ng GDP ng US ang utang nila. Tanga lang ang tutulong magbayad ng utang na yan lelz.

    1. lol, nagcomment ang mga walang alam sa economics, malaki utang kaya mahal price? mali,kung malaki utang,mababa ang price,dahil mababa ang value ng pera nila..and anyway,walang kinalaman ang laki ng utang sa lakas ng economy bugok,tayo nga mababa ang utang sablay naman economy.

      sorry for the economics lesson, but if you’d notice, this is now the lowest priced “new release” midranger from sony, heck even the oppo r1x is currently more expensive than this. if this trend continues with the xperia c5 ultra and the m5 then im sold.

      1. Like allsocialist states with High tax rates umaasa lang sa export ang Japan. Matagal na silang tinalo ng Korea sa Electronics. Volkswagen just kicked Toyota’s ass Sales wise. Malakas ekonomiya nila? There’s a generation of young people there who don’t go out because they can’t afford it. And Not for Long since the Chinese are hot on their trail. Camera and batteries na lang yata ang territoryo ng Hapon. It’s only a matter of time before Japan Display Inc gets dethroned (and then what, another consolidation of Japan’s companies? lelz.) Walang mura na binebenta ang Japan. Aside from the fact na mukhang pera ang Sony.

        As for the comparison with PH, apples to oranges since you know, 95% of people in thiscountry are dumber than a cockroach. Sad but true.

  6. nice to know they are now using mediatek SoCs for their next lineup. i wouldnt mind slightly lower performance if its not gonna toast my hands..

    perhaps its actualy a design feature? gets really cold in japan during the winter, hirap magtext pag malamig kamay hehehe.

  7. Wow ha! Kicompare ang gaming performance nito sa Zenfone 2… Paki specify po kung anong version ng Zenfone 2 mas lamang ang gaming performance ng M4 Aqua. Make sure na almost same specs (same screen reso, same CPU and GPU frequency, RAM) sila bago kayo magconclude kung ano ang may mas magandang performance. Just my two cents.

  8. Tama po kayo. Talagang dapat mas smooth ang gaming performance sa M4 Aqua kasi 720p lang ang screen nya. Mas hindi sya nagstastruggle magrender ng frames kasi mas lower ang screen resolution nya. Sa difference nila ng 2,073,040 pixels (approximately 2MP), mas may room pa ang M4 Aqua for smoother frame rates.

  9. >> 16GB storage, expandable via microSD

    Sir Carlo, did Sony PH give you a review unit? Or did you get one from an authorized Sony local distributor?

    Because the M4 Aqua unit available on our market is definitely not the 16GB variant, it’s only 8GB.

    Documentation from Sony PH also indicate that we have the 8GB variant… Xperia M4 Aqua link shows we have E2353 model number —

    http://www.sony.com.ph/product/xperia+m4+aqua/sku/e2353ph_z

    M4 Aqua page specs page from international site —

    ***** Up to 8 GB (E2303, E2353, E2312) Up to 16 GB (E2306, E2333, E2363)

    M4 Aqua white paper from developer site —

    Flash memory Up to 8 GB* (E2303, E2353)

  10. sir wauks/carlo eh ang available lng po ata dito sa PH is yung 8gb ram ng sony xperia m4 aqua hndi po ba? base sa mga nabasa ko 1gig nlng po ata yung free space ng internal..

  11. This is a dramatic change of events from not too long ago when it was Intel that had issues with heat. Now it’s completely the other way around; Intel pretty much got rid of all the problems with its earlier SoCs and is in a position right now to conquer this segment as well. That, and it’s a hella ton easier to work with than Mediatek’s “oooh we gotta be suupaar seekrit” stance when it comes to open standards. Meaning it’s impossible to work with them if you’re a 3rd party, which is like buying a PC that only the parts manufacturer can really fiddle with the OS and drivers for hardware support.

    As for Qualcomm… sorry, it’s just dying horribly. It’s trying to get into the higher speeds department, trying to do that by increasing clock rates (which unfortunately for them is not the only factor that determines speed) but in doing so run into inevitable heat problems because of fundamentally inferior engineering standards.

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