Iíve been reviewing a lot of $250-$400 phones lately and for good reason; With phones like the Moto X Play, Asus ZenFone 2 and Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3, this segment of the market is just red hot with competition.
Not to be left out, Sony has their $300 locked on Bell and Virgin, Xperia M4 Aqua which brings a very uncommon but very practical feature - water resistance. Letís check it out.
vs Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3:
For the same money you can pick up one of my favs, the Idol 3. Both have 5Ē displays, 13 megapixels cameras, Snapdragon 615 SoCís, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.
The Idol pulls ahead with a full HD (1080P) display while the Sonyís is a more pedestrian HD (720P). It also has stereo speakers which sound better and an beefy 3000mAh battery.
On the other hand, the M4ís speakers, while not quite as good, are still pretty damn impressive in their own right. However, the M4ís key advantage is itís water resistant. That plus the speaker make for a great combination in the shower.
Iíd personally pick the Idol 3 but you canít go wrong with either. The Idolís screen looks better and is noticeably sharper but the M4ís water resistance is a very practical feature.
vs Motorola Moto X Play:
While $100 dearer, the Moto also has a larger, higher resolution display. The difference between them is noticeable - the Moto noticeably sharper and bigger. Ditto for the speakers and camera both of which are a bit better.
It also has a 3630mAh battery which is over 50% larger than the Sonyís.
As for updates, Sony has a mixed record with updating their phones. Theyíve been really, really good with their flagships
The Sony has is 3 key advantages, water resistance, a slimmer body and most importantly a lower price tag.
Iíd say if you can swing it go, for the Moto but if every penny counts, then the M4 is also a smart choice.
vs Asus ZenFone 2 16GB:
Then thereís the ZenFone 2; it has a faster SoC, a larger, sharper display, dual SIM cards both of which are unlocked, bigger battery and a price tag thatís $50 cheaper.
The Sony counters with water resistance, a louder and better sounding speaker and a sleeker design.
These are all important points but if you can look past this then the ZenFone offers more for less money.
- 5Ē LCD
- 1280x720 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
- 4 x 1.5Ghz ARM Cortex A53, 4 x 1Ghz ARM Cortex A53
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage
- 13 Megapixel camera
- water resistance
- LTE bands: 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, 28
- 802.11n (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)
- 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm
- Android 5.0
The M4ís body looks a lot like Sonyís other recent flagships with a smooth front and back.
It doesnít feel quite as fancy though - the back appears to be plastic. It actually bends if you press in. The body also flexes quite a bit when you twist it. This worries me a bit since the M4 is water resistance - will putting in your back pocket and sitting on it too many times compromise the water resistance?
For what itís worth, I twisted the M4 a few times. It was able to survive repeated rounds of me singing in the shower afterwards, my wifeís ears on the other hand, were not so lucky.
There are volume, power and a camera button half way down the right side. I kind of wish the buttons stuck out a tiny more but then again, this makes the M4 easier to handle.
Otherwise, is the M4 is comfortable to hold and easy to use.
Note that the M4ís headphone jack and MicroUSB donít have covers on them. The ports themselves are water tight. You no longer need to fiddle around with a port cover everytime you want to connect headphones or charge it. Bravo!
The MicroSD port is located under a door on the left side.
The Nano SIM card goes on the right and is also behind a door.
The M4 has a 5Ē 1280x720 display. Most of the competition is rocking 1920x1080 resolutions these days so this is the M4ís greatest weakness. The difference in sharpness between a 5.xĒ 1920x1080 display and the M4ís is noticeable.
Color is pleasant, off-angle performance is excellent. Itís also great outdoors. The only other problem is that black levels arenít very deep.
If youíre not happy with the colour, you can adjust it manually via 3 sliders.
On the back is a 13 megapixel camera with autofocus and a LED camera flash.
Iím pleased that one of my favorite Sony features, the dedicated camera button made it on to the M4. To start the camera, you just press and hold the button. You can half press it to focus or all the way to snap a picture.
By default it tries to guess the best settings - low light, action, portrait, that sort of thing. I guess other cameras do this but the Sony software really makes sure you know itís doing its best.
Some features from higher-end camera models include some dedicated shooting modes including a nifty augmented reality which puts dinosaurs into your shot (Yes, I did just type that). Another cool one is the ability to shoot video and sync up video on 2 phones simultaneously. Of course, youíll need a supported Sony phone.
Image quality is good for the price point. More importantly, the camera is relatively capable so you donít have to take as many shots to get a decent one.
Video quality on the other hand is pretty awful. By default Steadyshot - really strong digital image stabilization is turned on and it just smears everything and results in unusable video. However, once you turn it off, youíll still notice that video doesnít look all that great - even when youíre outdoors and thereís plenty of light.
The microphone isnít all that great either. I suspect thereís too much noise reduction going on.
The M4 Iím using is running Android 5.0. Some of the competition like the Moto X Play (which came out after the M4) is running 5.1. Hopefully Sony wonít forget about the M4.
You appear to get the same overlay youíd find on Sonyís flagship devices including their small apps which hover over your other apps so that you can use multiple apps simultaneously.
Itís a different approach from Samsung and LG in that you can access the app drawer without having to relaunch the apps youíre currently using.
Like Samsung and LG, the small apps feature only works with a handful of programs.
Performance is in line with what youíd expect from a Snapdragon 615.
The 615 in the Moto X Play is clocked a little higher so its scores are correspondingly higher.
I did notice that the M4 can get quite hot close to the camera when I was setting it up - Iím talking close to 140F hot.
Itís hot enough that the M4 has to throttle processor speed when I was benchmarking. I know this because placing the M4 in my freezer running a whole bunch a couple back-to-back on my desk resulted in a 20% difference in scores.
I also suspect this may be a reason why the M4 wasnít able to complete all the benchmarks I wanted to on it.
You know how I complained that the display could have used higher resolution? Well, one area where this is a plus is when it comes to gaming performance.
The Zenfone 2 on the other hand has an Intel Z3560 SoC which has different cores and GPU both of which are substantially more powerful than the M4ís. In fact, the ZenFoneís SoC compares favorably with Qualcommís Snapdragon 801.
Yeah, the 801 is 2 years old now but thereís still a considerable gap between it and the 615.
Practically speaking, the 615 does feel a bit slower than the Intel and the 801 but you need to use phones with each SoC to really appreciate the difference. Occasionally, sometimes screen redraws stutter a tiny bit but most of the time the 615 feels snappy.
Iíd say performance is more than adequate. I know this personally because I switch between a regular LG G4 and some Snapdragon 615 phones all the time and I rarely complain about the drop in performance.
As a Phone:
Maximum earpiece and speakerphone volume are both average
RF performance is average.
You get a 2400mAh battery. The battery is a tad small while the display is quite bright so power users will need to find a plug halfway through the day. Casual users will probably make it through the day.
Thereís a single speaker at the bottom right. Itís fairly powerful and sounds like itís received a moderate amount of tuning. Itís not quite as good as the Idol 3 or Moto X Playís but it does run circles around the ZenFone 2.
You get around 11GB of storage which is plenty. If you need more you can pop a MicroSD in the left side of the phone.
Overall, I enjoyed using the M4. While I wish the screen was a tad sharper, itís still sharp enough that I donít notice it most of the time.
Otherwise, for the price the M4 is a well rounded phone. Itís pleasant to use and offers a good mix of features and more importantly, it doesnít have any serious weaknesses.
3.5 Howies out of 5.
- water resistant
- slim body
- body flexes a lot
- display could be sharper
- Lousy video recording
- Heat problems