In recent times, Sony has become one of the leading makers of water resistant phones. Just a few years ago weatherproof mobiles like this were big, chunky, and looked like they belonged on a construction site. Phones like the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua are a completely different proposition.
There's nothing in the basic look of this phone that shows it's a tough, rugged phone. That's a good thing, if you're wondering.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua also sees Sony's waterproofing make its way a bit further down the price scale. It's no longer reserved for phones that cost almost as much as your first car.
This is the water resistant version of the Sony Xperia M2, a fairly low-cost 4G phone that we thought was pretty good at review.
The Aqua doesn't solve any of that phone's core issues, and as the waterproofing adds a bit to the cost, it is a slight missed opportunity. However, it's still a solid, sturdy phone and one of the cheaper water resistant mobiles.
As well as offering waterproofing and 4G for a good deal less cash than something like the Xperia Z2, the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua has the sort of stature that seems pretty high-end.
You get a 4.8-inch screen, and a design that has a lot in common with Sony's more expensive phones.
The real Sony mobile phone staple is something it calls Omnibalance design. It's all about trying to infuse a bit of symmetry into a handset, but what most people notice is the power button.
Round, silver and placed slap-bang in the middle of the phone's side, it's both highly recognisable and easy to access with your thumb.
The shape of the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is very similar to the top-end Xperia Z2 as well. It's a somewhat-blocky black rectangle with totally flat back and front panels.
What you miss from the Xperia Z2 is a lot of the metal and glass – both the back and front panels in that phone are made of the glassy stuff. Here, the front is Gorilla Glass 3, but the back is textured plastic. And the core structure is plastic rather than aluminium.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is a bit different to its closest relative the 'plain' Xperia M2 as well. Where the standard M2 has a shiny plastic rear that's basically an impersonation of glass, the Aqua version has a textured translucent top layer that makes the rear feel a bit like textured glass – the kind of stuff used in the mouse trackpads of high-end laptops like the MacBook Air.
It feels good, and I consider it a better choice than the glossy style of the Xperia M2. Matt finishes like this generally highlight scratches less than glossy ones, which should keep the Aqua looking decent well into the two year contract that many of you may buy this phone with.
Of course, tweaks to finishes are not really what the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is all about. Water resistance is.
The actual level of water resistance on offer here is fantastic. It's rated to IP68 standard, which means it's completely impervious to dust and can be held underwater indefinitely without ill effects.
The actual execution of the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua weatherproofing leaves something to be desired, though. I consider the holy grail of water resistance to be a phone that can be dropped in water without requiring annoying flaps.
The Sony Xperia Z2 has a headphone jack that doesn't need a separate flap, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini even has a treated, uncovered microUSB port. We're really getting there.
However, the Xperia M2 Aqua's weather resistance is a pretty old school. There's a flap on the left edge to cover the microUSB port, one up top to cover the headphone jack and yet another one on the right that hides the microSIM and microSD slots. It's truly flap-tastic. With just one of the flaps out of place that IP68 water resistance is flushed down the toilet.
The upside of this style of waterproofing is that with all the flaps in place the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's sides look very pure and simple. No unsightly holes or sockets. However, after you've gotten used to that look (after all of about five minutes), the practical issues overshadow the aesthetic benefits.
Every time you want to plug in headphones or charge the phone, you need to sort out the flap. It gets annoying. And while it's a personal thing I think having a flap draped over your headphone jack looks awful.
You also need to limit your expectations of what water resistance really gets you, especially as the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is marketed as the 'most waterproof' phone there is. It still uses a capacitive touchscreen, which goes haywire as soon as it gets wet – you can't really operate the phone underwater.
In fairness to Sony, though, there is a physical camera shutter button on the phone's side. You can at least take photos underwater. Not in the sea, though.
You're only meant to use the phone in freshwater, presumably because sea water would lead to faster deterioration of the rubber seals that keep the Xperia M2 Aqua's insides dry.
And you may be wondering – exactly why is this phone more waterproof than any other water resistant phone? IP67 is a more common resistance rating, this one is IP68-certified.
Where IP67 can be submerged for around 30 minutes, IP68 devices can be submerged for good, more-or-less. It's not a big difference unless you're thinking of shacking up with a mermaid.
As critical as I have been of the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's water resistance, it is a very handy feature. And handling-wise, the phone is perfectly fine.
The 4.8-inch screen is not oversized, and while the blocky shape doesn't make it feels tremendously thin, it actually is pretty skinny at 8.6mm thick.
Key features and interface
Just like the Sony Xperia M2, one of the M2 Aqua's weaker elements is its screen. It's not bad, but is surpassed by several cheaper models.
You get a 4.8-inch IPS screen, which is a perfectly fine size, but resolution is a little low at 960 x 540 pixels. This provides pixel density of 229ppi – not very high at all.
A few too many mobiles have started to incorporate 720p screens below £200 now, such as the Motorola Moto G and Asus Zenfone 5, and the jump in resolution makes a huge difference.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua just doesn't have the sort of pristine sharpness I'm rapidly coming to expect from mid-range phones, as well as top-end ones. Having to pay that bit more for the Xperia M2 Aqua makes this lack all the more annoying.
Resolution aside, this is not a hugely advanced IPS screen either. It appears slightly recessed from the very top layer of the screen, where top IPS displays almost look like they sit right on the surface. This lesser architecture reduces viewing angles, causing way more brightness loss at an angle, and importantly, reduces outdoors visibility.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua screen is pretty reflective, and while top brightness helps make outdoors use possible, it's not at the level of something like the Nexus 5.
Is screen quality more important than something like waterproofing? Well, it is one of the most important factors in a phone, especially now that most phones above the bottom-rung models have enough power to perform near-perfectly.
I find the screen quality a rather disappointing compromise.
There are a few other little feature compromises in the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua. There's no infrared transmitter, which lets a phone double as a universal remote, and just 8GB of internal storage.
This does not need to be a big issue, though. Hardly anyone uses an IR transmitter much in my experience, and there's a microSD card slot on the right edge to let you add to the memory. 16GB internal memory would have been nice, though, since you don't actually get the full 8GB.
Aside from this, the features list is about right for a mid-range phone. You get 4G mobile internet, NFC and all the usual bits and bobs we now take for granted in an Android mobile – things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS.
The one other little omission in the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is ac-grade Wi-Fi. But I imagine most people wouldn't even notice the difference. It's only of use if you have an ac-compatible router, and offers better speed and range, which should only really be an issue if you have a massive house or a terrible router.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua runs Android 4.4 with the same custom Sony interface seen in the Xperia M2 and Xperia Z2. It's a neat-looking interface too, and has been updated since the Xperia M2 launched.
You get the same interface look as the top-end Xperia Z2. It's clean, clear and doesn't try to pack-in nearly as many extra bits as some other interfaces, such as Samsung's TouchWiz.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua uses software soft keys, and there are no extra stuffy-looking lines or boxes in the apps menu, as there were in previous versions of the Sony interface. Sony has come to a rather nice apex of simplicity in this version.
If there's one thing that lets it down a bit, it's the screen resolution. Small bits of text like the app names, and even the clock read-out, show slight pixilation, and it's a shame.
While the core interface is really rather nice, Sony has packed the Xperia M2 Aqua with a bunch of apps you may not necessarily need or want. They centre around Sony's digital services, and there are ones for music and movies backed up by additional apps in these areas and even some social apps too.
There are a few too many here in my book, although you'll see largely the same roster jammed into just about every Xperia phone.
A simple interface plus a slightly bloated array of apps may seem like an odd combo, but at least there are ways to fix it. You can't uninstall all the apps (not nearly) but you can uninstall at least some, and then put the apps you actually want on the homescreen.
Performance and battery life
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua has a mid-range Snapdragon 400 CPU humming at its core. This has become an extremely popular processor, used in phones all the way down from the £99 EE Kestrel right up to the £300 Sony Xperia T3.
It's partnered with 1GB of RAM. It's enough, but I'd be extremely disappointed with anything less.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is not hugely powerful, but general performance is quite good. As we've seen in other Sony Xperia phones recently, the UI doesn't act as a particular performance leech, keeping lag to a minimum.
I don't believe having a fairly conservative CPU like the Snapdragon 400, which is a quad-core 1.2GHz chipset, will be a big roadblock for most people either. Thanks to the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's fairly low screen resolution, gaming performance is decent even with the more impressive-looking 3D games.
Frame rates are generally fine, but there are other compromises. Being a fairly low-end chipset, the Snapdragon 400 often misses out on a few visual bells and whistles you'd get from a higher-end chipset like the Snapdragon 800/801 and phones with these start at around £250 these days. It's not an upgrade you'd need to remortgage for.
In the Geekbench 3 benchmarking app, the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua scored around 1133. That's exactly what you'd expect from a phone of this spec. And, as I've already noted, it's the sort of power seen in phones from £100 all the way up to £300. Top value? Not quite.
Like the Xperia M2, the Xperia M2 Aqua has a 2300mAh battery that you can't get your hands on. It's firmly locked away inside the phone's structure.
Also common to Xperia phones, this sort of capacity is pretty good in its class. For a fair comparison I'd ideally want to look at a phone with a similar size and resolution screen. One of the closest is the EE Kestrel (a tweaked version of the Huawei Ascend G6), which has just a slightly smaller 4.5-inch 960 x 540 pixel screen.
With a 2000mAh battery, it's a fair bit smaller than the Xperia M2 Aqua's unit.
Thanks to a decent battery and the fairly efficient Snapdragon 400 CPU, you can easily get a full day's use out of the Xperia M2 Aqua. I found that with normal, non-frugal use, without using any of the power saving modes, I could get to the end of the day with a solid 35 to 40% charge left.
You'll only lose a little of that 35-40% of charge overnight, so you should easily have enough power to get you through to lunch time, unless you have a long commute to work, during which you play games or browse.
In our normal video stamina test, which involves playing a 90-minute 720p MP4 video at full brightness, the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua lost just 20%. That was 3% more than the non-Aqua M2, but is still a strong result. Other respectable Android rivals lose up to 30%, and let's not forget the phone's top display brightness is pretty good.
Just like the Xperia M2, the Aqua offers decent call quality, and I experienced no issues with call drops.
However, the internal speaker is nothing to enjoy your favourite music through. There's just a single speaker that fires out through the bottom edge of the Xperia M2 Aqua, and it lacks the beefy power of the Xperia Z2.
The sound is also not terribly refined, and at top-volume there is some mid-range distortion at times. At lower volumes the sound quality is better.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua camera is a mixed bag. As with other Sony phones, you get plenty of modes and there's some fun to be had. But actual pictures suffer from some pretty significant image quality issues.
First, let's have a look at how the app operates. By default, the Xperia M2 Aqua shoots using a superior auto mode that automatically picks the settings needed for all kinds of photo situations. It's 100% snap and go, although you can at least pick where in the scene you want to focus.
If you want to have a bit more control, or want to shoot a few HDRs, you need to ditch auto and head to the manual mode. It's not a true manual mode though, rather just gives you more access to controls. It's still auto at heart.
These are the two main modes, the others being more about fun and filters. Sony's signature extra is augmented reality, which jams 3D visuals into your photos, from fishes to little elf characters. The kids will love it. Adults? That depends on how many drinks they've had.
Other extras include picture filters, panorama and portrait retouching – which tweaks and superimposes visuals onto your selfies. You can also download extra photo apps to plug into the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's photo menu.
It's more frills than serious photographic thrills, but that suits the phone's positioning in the market pretty well. It is not trying to be the Nokia Lumia 1020, after all.
The extent of the M2 Aqua's photo ambition, or lack thereof, becomes apparent when you take the camera for a proper road test.
First, it's not a particularly quick camera. Focusing is a slow for a mid-range phone and there's a solid pause between shots. If you want to shoot fast-moving objects, the M2 Aqua probably won't be able to keep up.
The actual hardware of the phone doesn't sound too bad. It has an 8MP main sensor with an f/2.4 lens. Not great, not terrible.
However, in action the camera is quite disappointing. As well as being a bit slow, dynamic range in images is poor.
Dynamic range dictates how much detail you'll see in the darkest and lightest areas of high-contrast photos. I found that to get a dynamic range that was remotely acceptable in these sorts of scenes you need to use the HDR mode, which artificially boosts range by merging multiple exposures.
Shooting HDRs takes even longer than normal shots too, so the M2 Aqua camera really demands patience.
The M2 Aqua also struggles very badly with intense light sources. There's loads of light 'bloom', where the luminance of the light spreads out, fogging-out surrounding areas. With high-contrast areas of light/dark there is an awful lot of purple chroma noise as well.
This means objects frequently end up with a purple outline or, in the worst cases, are turned completely purple when they should be black or off-black.
Unlike the higher-end Sony Xperia Z2, the M2 Aqua does not have good low-light photo performance either. The more expensive Sony has a handy low-light 'turbo' mode that massively ramps-up sensitivity, making even very dark scenes clear. But on the M2 Aqua a really dark scene will produce an even darker photo, one with barely any visible detail.
Even with slightly lighter low-light scenes where there is something for the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua to work with, shoot without a flash and the colour tends to end up extremely cool, making photos look quite ugly.
It's a shame because when you shoot with the flash the colour temperature warms up hugely, even if your subject is far too far away for it to have any direct effect.
This phone does not have a very good camera. But give it lighting that's either perfect or not particularly challenging and you can take some decent shots. On a nice day with a blue sky ahead of you, it is possible to get more detail than you could get from a 5MP phone.
Adding waterproofing to a solid, not-that-expensive, phone like the Xperia M2 sounds like a good idea, and it is.
However, the Xperia M2 Aqua has exactly the kind of waterproofing I'm keen to see phased-out – the kind that relies entirely on irritating rubber seals. The phone also doesn't really address any of the M2's camera and screen issues, which seems a shame.
Hardcore water resistance means you can happily drop the phone in the bath without worrying about its safety. As long as you remember to keep those flaps in place, that is.
The Sony interface is among the clearest and most attractive custom interfaces around. Aside from having a few too many apps, it's easy to use and fast.
With a design not all that far removed from the more expensive Sony Xperia Z2, the Xperia M2 Aqua makes a good first impression, sure to raise a few eyebrows among your friends.
Waterproof phones are great for peace of mind, but the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's water resistance is awkward. It's all about rubber-sealed flaps rather than properly treated ports, making it pretty fiddly.
At the price you can get much better screens elsewhere. The IPS display isn't bad, but resolution is a little low and the screen architecture doesn't do quite enough to reduce reflections.
The camera struggles in too many kinds of conditions. Give it high light variance or a strong light source and it falls on its face.
The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua adds water resistance to the solid Xperia M2. It's a great idea but the execution is clumsy.
Waterproofing is great, but having to make sure your seals are in place isn't. What if you are unexpectedly thrown into a swimming pool? Or leave a seal slightly open in a heavy downpour? Until waterproofing comes without the seals it'll be far from the perfect solution.
There are a few other lingering problems on the phone. The camera, for instance, struggles if it isn't given the perfect lighting conditions (although it can be used underwater which is a nice touch) and for around this price you can get a phone with a better screen.
However, when it comes to design the M2 Aqua does stand out. The sleek body and slimmed down UI make this a very attractive, fast and easy to use phone.
And as much as the waterproofing isn't perfect, you aren't likely to find it elsewhere for a cheaper price, making the Xperia M2 Aqua decent value for money. If you're considering the Xperia M2 it might be worth looking at its aquatic sibling for that extra versatility.