Over the last few years low-cost smartphones have got better, Sony has become one of the leaders within this sector with the reveal a number of different smartphones that include a great range of specifications, features and great looking designs.
One of these new smartphones is Sony’s Xperia M2 Aqua. At its basis the M2 Aqua is a tough, rugged phone that is water-resistant and features a great looking design that is similar to the manufactures high end models.
On top of it being water-resistant the M2 Aqua also features 4G connectivity, making it a great option for anyone looking for a 4G-ready smartphone at a low-cost price.
In terms of design the M2 Aqua looks similar to the Xperia Z3, featuring a tough and sturdy design that makes the Aqua feel like it could withstand almost any situation, despite the plastic packaging.
On the front of the device you will find a 4.8 inch display that has been joined with the Sony logo, front-facing camera, headset speaker and microphone.
This is all joined within what Sony calls the Omnibalance design, which Sony says attempts to bring symmetry to the handset. In terms of sizings and weight the M2 Aqua has the dimensions of 140 x 72 x 8.6 mm and weighs 149 grams.
This means that you will find the sides, top and bottom of the device is all sized the same as the other side, in fact there’s really only one thing that breaks up the symmetry and that is the power button.
Placed right in the middle of the phone’s right hand side the silver and round button that is both easy to find, and press without thinking about it.
In fact the only thing that is different to the Xperia Z3 is that the M2 Aqua does not feature the use of metal and glass, despite the front using Gorilla Glass 3 on the front of the device, the back of the device and it’s core structure is made of plastic rather than aluminium or glass.
In the hand the device feels good to hold, and the matt finish should help to keep scratches at bay, making sure that the device still looks great two years on.
However the main feature of the M2 Aqua is its waterproofing feature, which thanks to the IP68 rating means the phone can be immersed down to 1.5 metres in fresh water, for up to 30 minutes.
However there is a problem with this is that in order to be water resistant the M2 Aqua uses a set of flaps to keep water away from the internals, meaning that in order to use any of the device ports you have to unclip one of the phone’s annoying flaps.
If this is a deal breaker for you however, you would be pleased to know that the higher-up model, the Xperia Z2 has a headphone jack that doesn’t need a separate flap.
In terms of the M2 Aqua there’s a flap covering pretty much everything but the buttons on the phone, including one for the microUSB port, one for the headphone jack port and yet another for the microSIM and the microSD card slot.
If one of these flaps is not slotted back into place then the phone will lose its waterproof ability. However thankfully the phone does try to warn you when it knows that one of these flaps might still be open, such as after charging or listening to music.
These flaps do however mean that the device keeps it’s sleek and smooth design, however shortly after you have had your first battle with the microUSB flap you get pretty bored of that.
There are also a couple of things you can and can’t use whilst the phone is underwater, given that the phone still uses a capacitive touchscreen it tends to go a bit mad once the phone itself is underwater, however thanks to the physical camera shutter button you can take photos whilst the phone is submerged, but obviously we wouldn’t recommend taking it on a dive with you.
This is simply because the phone is only meant to go into freshwater, because sea water would likely erode the sealings that keep the smartphone safe.
Getting back to the other features of the phone, the M2 Aqua has a 4.8 inch IPS screen which is a pretty good size for such a budget phone, however the budget pricing does come in when you look at the resolution, which has been set at a fairly low at 960 x 530 pixels, providing a pixel density of 229ppi.
This means that you won’t get a great quality picture from the display and quite often images and text may look a little blurry, this is to be expected with a smartphone of this price, however it does make it a worse than the fairly cheap Moto G which has a 720p resolution.
On top of that the IPS display looks to be recessed from the top of the smartphone which means that the display’s visibility can look a little washed out, and often doesn’t perform well in outdoor conditions, with the viewing angles of the display highly reduced.
Thankfully however you can turn the brightness up for better views, even with the slightly over-reflective screen. What you have to think about is whether or not this is a compromise you are willing to take for the M2 Aqua’s design and waterproofing.
Inside of the Aqua you will also find a few extra specifications, backed by a 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage and the ability to add up to an extra 32GB of storage via a microSD card slot.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua also runs on Android 4.4 with the same custom Sony interface that you might have seen on other devices in Sony’s range like the Z2.
Thankfully this interface keeps much of what Android has been considered great for, it’s clean and sleek looking, with clear and transparent textures that make it great to look at, whilst not adding too many extras like Samsung’s TouchWiz.
The device we reviewed is also from Vodafone, which means that a number of other things are added to the interface on top of all that like a view widgets that provide a number of stats for the phone, alongside a number of apps like My Vodafone which allows users to find out more information about their current plan.
To keep the device looking clean on the front, the M2 Aqua also uses soft keys which means that the buttons are completely within the UI, but in a more simpler form then Sony’s previous iterations of the interface.
On top of everything else Sony has also included a number of apps that allow you to access a number of Sony services like Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited, as PlayStation Mobile and a number of other social applications. However if any of these are not for you simply uninstall them and you’re good to go.
Coupled with its Snapdragon 400 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua’s performance is pretty good for a smartphone of this price, something which is only enhanced by Sony’s bloat-free interface which helps to keep any major lag to a minimum.
That said you’re not going to be able to play the best looking games from the Google Play Store, however given that the handset does have a quad-core 1.2GHz chipset and a low screen resolution, you will be able to play some of the 3D games out there with a frame rate that is generally consistent and unhindered.
To test the performance of the device we used the Geekbench 3 benchmarking app, within which the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua scored 1133, which is pretty standard for a phone of this spec and price.
Backing up the performance of the device is a non-removable 2,300mAh battery, this will easily get a full day’s use with heavy use, however if you use it with normal use and Sony’s power saving mode you can get to the end of day with up to around 50% battery life still left over for the next day.
We also tested the device’s connectivity features, starting with the call quality.
During our tests we found that the Xperia M2 Aqua performed well with generally good call quality, that didn’t drop at any point during our testing, we did however notice some deterioration in the signal in some usual dark spots, some people we phone did also report that the call sounded like it was echoing, however that could just be a problem with the particular device we were testing, or the other persons device so we wouldn’t confirm that as an issue.
On top of call quality testing we also tested how this device performed whilst using cellular data, during which time we found that Aqua certainly held its own within the 4G category, managing to keep a constant signal to a 4G connection in known areas, whilst still offer 3G speeds in other areas that are not yet covered by 4G.
Much like other Sony smartphones, the M2 Aqua has a focus on its camera features, including a number of camera modes that allow users to change how the camera operates.
By default the Aqua uses something called the Superior Auto Mode which will automatically pick the settings it thinks are needed for various photo situations, allowing users to simply click where they want the focus of the photo to be and simply snap.
On top of Superior Auto you also get a total of 7 other modes to choose from, the first of which is the manual mode which allows you to control some of the camera’s settings, however it does keep some things in auto, but does allow for shooting in a HDR mode.
After that the other modes have been made to take photos with filters and a bit more fun, one of which is Sony’s AR effect mode which allows you to take photos and videos with virtual scenes and characters.
There’s also a picture effect that makes your photos a bit more artistic, a time shift burst that allows you to choose a photo from a number of burst images that have been taken, a portrait retouching mode that can tweak and superimpose your selfies, a panorama mode and finally a social live mode that allows you to share photos on Facebook easily.
All of this makes the Aqua’s camera perfect for the average user and this is confirmed when you use the camera in the wild. When taking a photo the camera does take a little while to focus on your subject, so if you want to shoot objects that move quickly you might find it a little hard to do.
In terms of the phone’s hardware on the back of the phone you will find an 8 megapixel sensor on the back with an f/2.4 lens that results in photos that is okay, but can sometimes under perform in a number of areas.
The dynamic range in images that have been taken is poor, and sometimes the dark and light areas of images can result blurry segments in the lightest and darkest areas of the photo, however with HDR mode you can sometimes boost the range by merging exposures,but this does mean that when this is used shots will sometimes take longer to take.
in direct spotlight the camera will spread out the light, and will result in blurring out the surrounding areas, and creating noise in some areas of the image.
In low-light the photos can sometimes turn out a little worse for ware, and smites details can be hard to see, and with flash the temperature of the image can warm up a too highly.
However in the right lighting and situation the Aqua’s camera performs well enough for the normal user.
(Click on images for full resolutions)
All in all the Xperia M2 Aqua is a great budget smartphone that has been designed for the masses, featuring specs that make it individual to that of other smartphones in its category, features like waterproofing and Sony’s Omnibalance design, and trick of created sleek and clean UI interfaces.
This does however come at a trade off, and that trade off is that the device features a less than spectacular design that is great for most uses, but certainly won’t impress most users.
That said the camera is pretty decent in most conditions for its price, and the addition of connectivity for 4G and NFC makes it a great option for anyone looking to upgrade to new technologies.
If you would like to find out more about the device head on over to Vodafone’s website here, where it is available from £12.50 a month on their Pay Monthly plans.
Disclosure: Vodafone sent us a loan sample of this device for review purposes.