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Sony’s M4 Aqua is a cheap plastic copy of its flagship Xperia phone

And that’s a good thing!

The Xperia Z3 is the pinnacle of Sony's smartphone range and has reigned in that position for an unusually long time for the Japanese company: a whole six months! A Z4 successor might have been expected today at MWC, but instead Sony is looking lower down the price range with the introduction of the Xperia M4 Aqua. This 5-inch Android Lollipop device looks and feels remarkably similar to the Z3, which is no accident.

Sony is "rebooting the mid-range" by trickling down the features and aesthetics from its high-end phones to more affordable price levels. The M4 Aqua recreates the Z3's OmniBalance design in plastic and does it well. The new phone is noticeably lighter, weighing in at 136g, but doesn't compromise on much. The construction is solid. Internal specs are also sufficient, with a Snapdragon 615 processor, LTE, 2GB of RAM, and up to two days of battery life from a 2,400mAh cell. Most impressively, the display is an attractive IPS panel, protected by tempered glass on the front. Cameras, battery life, and waterproofing: Sony knows what it's good at

The M4 Aqua is a thin device, measuring only 7.3mm in thickness, but manages to fit a 13-megapixel Exmor RS camera on the back and a 5-megapixel selfie shooter on the front. Sony believes imaging is one of its three core strengths and promises superior results to any other devices in the M4's price range. The other two pillars on which Sony is building its mobile portfolio are the aforementioned battery life and something that the M4 Aqua's name alludes to: waterproofing. This new handset is rated at IP65 and IP68, which allows it to be submerged in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes without taking any damage. The M4 even improves on Sony's best phones to date by removing the need to have a cap on its USB port. So long as you dry out the phone completely before trying to plug it into anything, the USB port will be just fine taking a dive into the pool with you.

Sony's M4 Aqua is essentially a stripped-down version of the Xperia Z3. It's a little smaller, doesn't last as long, and isn't quite as powerful, but it retains a lot of the good things that made the original phone desirable. The Lollipop-powered interface is impressively, almost surprisingly, quick and fluid on the M4 Aqua, and Sony has kept with the spirit of Android's new Material Design by emphasizing "that distinctive minimalist approach to user interface, interactions and native apps." I like that.

At a price of 299 euros (roughly $330) this spring, the M4 Aqua is entering one of the most competitive segments of the smartphone market. Cheaper competitors like the Moto G are already out there and MWC 2015 here in Barcelona is only adding to the list of phones that are both attractive and affordable. May the trend continue!

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