Sony didn't follow its traditional flagship smartphone release cycle at this year's Mobile World Congress, resulting in no Xperia Z4, but the Japanese company did pull something else out of the bag - the Xperia M4 Aqua.

The Xperia M4 Aqua is Sony's latest answer to the mid-range section of the market but before you turn your nose up, take a long, hard, look as this €299 device could easily be mistaken for a flagship.

It comes with the aim of "rebooting the mid-range", with Sony claiming everyone should benefit from battery life, waterproofing and a decent camera. We got up close and personal with the Xperia M4 Aqua in the run up to MWC to see what it brings to the table and how it could shake up the sub-£300 smartphone market.

Pretty obvious from its name, the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua is a waterproof smartphone, following in the footsteps of the Xperia Z devices. Sony explained the reasoning behind adding "Aqua" in the name was to build recognition of waterproofing within consumer mindsets, suggesting it isn't quite realised at the mid-range price point.

Measuring just 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3mm, the Xperia M4 Aqua is a slim, slender device that is a lovely size and easily operational with one hand. It brings with it the same OmniBalance design that we have come to expect from the Xperia Z devices but despite having the same thickness as the Xperia Z3, it feels slimmer.

Pocket-lintIMG_6979

The rear and front have the same tempered glass finish, which still picks up fingerprints, while the sides are made from a resin material that looks similar to metal, delivering a premium look. 

As with the Xperia Z3, the corners on the Xperia M4 Aqua are slightly rubberised, which is said to help protect your device if you were to drop it. Side-by-side, the Xperia Z3 and Xperia M4 Aqua are almost identical, which is a pleasure to see given their variation in price.

Pocket-lint2015-02-20 11.47.01

On the rear of the Xperia M4 Aqua, you'll find the left-hand positioned camera lens with a flash underneath, along with the NFC symbol, Sony branding and Xperia logo all in the same centralised positions as they are on the current flagship.

The signature power button remains on the right-hand side of the display with the individual camera button but rather than a microSD slot like the Xperia Z3, the Xperia M4 Aqua has the SIM-slot on the right-hand side instead.

Pocket-lintIMG_6981

The microSD slot is on the left-hand side of the Xperia M4 Aqua, with an open Micro-USB charging port next to it. Yes that's right, no more flap over the charging port and yet it's still waterproof, hurrah! That also means there is no longer any need for the two-pin dock connector, giving the Xperia M4 Aqua a more seamless finish on this side.

The top of the Xperia M4 Aqua has the same headphone socket as the Xperia Z3, while the bottom adds a small rectangular speaker. There are still the same slits in the bezel at the top and bottom of the display, which is a little confusing as it seems odd that an extra speaker as been added, but it doesn't look too out of place and the sound is pretty good from what we could tell in the conditions.

Pocket-lintIMG_7095

The Xperia M4 Aqua comes in white, black, coral and silver colour options and it looks fabulous. At 136g, it is noticeably light to hold, much lighter than the Xperia Z3 and that isn't even heavy at 153g. On first impressions, we are huge fans of the Xperia M4 Aqua's design. Sony certainly seems to have delivered a premium, quality-built and flagship-looking smartphone for what is essentially half the expected price.

The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a 5-inch display with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, which results in a pixel density of 294ppi and this is where you compromise.

Pocket-lint2015-02-20 11.51.12

Colours are bright and punchy and images look good but the reduction in resolution is immediately apparent. The bar at the top where the time and signal bar sit is noticeably fuzzier than it is on the Xperia Z3, which although expected, is still an obvious difference.

Viewing angles on the Xperia M4 Aqua aren't fantastic and whites aren't the whitest we've seen, but we are talking about a mid-range device here and it's certainly questionable whether a crisper display warrants a jump in price and shorter battery life. We would suspect many would answer no.

Pocket-lint2015-02-20 11.51.15

Plus, as we said, the colours are lovely and although the screen could possibly be a little brighter, it does a good enough job from what we could tell in the conditions we saw it in. We won't pass a final judgement on it before we have reviewed it in full but if the screen is the only sacrifice that has to be made for a £300 saving, some slack can probably be granted.

The Xperia Z1, Z2 and Z3 were all marketed on their inclusion of a 20.7-megapixel camera sensor and although Sony has reduced the resolution on the Xperia M4 Aqua, you still get bang for your buck.

The Xperia M4 Aqua sports a 13-megapixel rear snapper with a f/2.0 aperture and ISO 3200 sensitivity, along with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera that features a lens with an 88-degree field of view, playing to the strong-selfie trend.

Pocket-lint2015-02-20 11.42.34

The full suite of camera apps included in the Xperia Z3 including Superior Auto and Sound Photo have made their way onto the Xperia M4 Aqua and there is also a Portrait Retouch feature to refine selfies. Sony has also said the camera features will be available for the front-facing camera too, which previously hasn't been the case.

We didn't get a chance to test the cameras but in terms of numbers, a 13-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera are good going for a mid-range device. To put them in perspective, the Moto G (2014) model has an 8-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera so we are looking forward to seeing how the Xperia M4 Aqua performs when we come to review it in full.

The Xperia M4 Aqua will come with a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor with integrated 4G LTE under its hood, and there is 8GB of internal storage onboard, expandable via the microSD slot we mentioned earlier.

The device will ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop so you shouldn't lose too much in a software sense, apart from that it won't offer Sony's Remote Play feature. For some (those without a PlayStation 4), this will make no difference at all, but to those who want to play their PS4 on their smartphone, it has the potential to be a deal breaker.

The 2400mAh battery capacity might win a few hearts back though as Sony claims the Xperia M4 Aqua will deliver two days of battery life. The company's smartphones are known to last when it comes to battery life and even if it doesn't quite hit the two-day mark, if it comes the slightest bit close it would still give some of the current flagships a run for their money.

We love what we have seen of the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua so far. It's a stunningly-designed device that has a lot going for it. 

The display may let it down a little and the lack of Remote Play is a shame as this is one of Sony's unique features so it would have been nice to have seen it introduced to the mid-range market.

That said, you get a waterproof smartphone with a pretty big battery capacity, a premium looking design and two cameras that sit above the M4 Aqua's competition in terms of megapixels, all for €299. We can't wait to review this device to find out how it performs in the real world because in hands-on world, it's done a sterling job of impressing us so far.