Huawei’s Freebuds range has been building in quality over the past few years. The company released their latest Freebuds TWS buds earlier this month with the Freebuds 4i now available to purchase.
The Freebuds range is usually quite high-end and priced accordingly, but the Freebuds 4i sit at the more affordable end of the range priced at $159. The buds are technically in their value range, but include one big feature not generally seen at this price range: Active Noise Cancellation.
I’ve been an active user of the Freebuds line since they launched, and have been a bit of a fan – but the higher price tag has always been a sticking point for some customers. So, when Huawei wants to bring high-end features down to a cheaper price bracket, I’m super interested.
Huawei has sent over a pair of the Freebuds 4i to check out, and I’ve been using them for just over a week, here’s how it went.
Hardware and Design
The Freebuds 4i, both the case and the buds themselves come in two colours: Ceramic White or Carbon Black. They do come in a third colour, red, but Huawei hasn’t brought that colour way to Australia – and let’s face it, black and white are classic, while red, looks hot but can be a bit divisive.
There’s not much to the case, it’s compact and highly polished so it slides in and out of your pocket with ease. The flip-top case has a USB-C connector on the base for charging and a Bluetooth pairing button on the right, but other than that the case itself is fairly basic. The case does have a flat back which sits nicely on a table without rocking or sliding around when you put them down.
The stalk type buds are glossy like the case and a little fiddly to remove from the case at first, but you’ll get the knack fairly easily. I
The buds themselves are light, and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I wore them through a full battery run-down barely even noticing they were in. This is likely because they’re light – just 5grams each – and also because they include comfortable silicone tips in various sizes for a better fit.
While features like in-ear detection, and wireless charging are out in the name of cutting costs, sound quality isn’t somewhere they’ve skimped.
The Freebuds 4i include some decently impressive 10 mm large dynamic drivers. The sound from these drivers is decently impressive for the price, though lacks a little oomph in the bottom end. Huawei has done a good job of balancing the audio profile for a good overall sound, with decent mids and highs but the bottom end does need some work.
All that said, I spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and the Freebuds 4i played all that back really well.
There’s two features beyond the general sound quality on the Freebuds 4i though: Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and Awareness mode.
The ANC is good enough that you can wear them in a shopping centre and quiet the general hubbub of a thousand people shopping in fairly close quarters. It’s not perfect, and their over-ear Freebuds Studio are definitely better but it works, and works well enough that you’ll appreciate the quieter bubble once it’s activated.
While ANC is great, you will need to interact with people and so the pass-through mode is fantastic as well. As with most awareness modes it sometimes feels like there’s a millisecond or so of lag, but it works well enough and I didn’t have to keep removing the earbuds when talking to someone.
Battery life on the Freebuds 4i is fairly good – though the battery case doesn’t factor in as much as it does on other TWS buds.
For the Freebuds 4i, Huawei has made buds that actually last a long time – up to 10 hours, without a charge. You get another 20 hours or so from the battery case, including a fast charge option which can net you an additional four hours of use from just 10 minutes in the charging case – awesome for when you’re heading to the gym.
They’ve included a USB-C port for charging which is handy for cutting down on chargers you need to keep around, but what the Freebuds 4i lack is wireless charging. It’s not a huge feature in the grand scheme of things, and for a budget earphone some specs had to go.
Real world use? The Freebuds 4i deliver. I actually started having to check the AI Life app to get the battery levels on my Freebuds because I felt they’d been going too long between charge, but they still had a few hours of life left. I’ve been on long walks, or out and about listening to music, podcasts etc. and had to quickly charge other earbuds, but not so with the Freebuds 4i.
There is a slight drop when you start using ANC – and you will use it – but the ANC is very much worth the battery hit, and it’s not overly egregious.
There’s no audible notification for low battery life which you get on some TWS buds, which is my preference as I tend to not check my ear buds – luckily you can get a quick top up if you need on.
There is an LED indicator on the front of the case which cycles through Green, Yellow and Red depending on the battery level (red is less than 20%) or white if it’s in pairing mode. So, there are ways to quickly tell at a glance how you’re travelling on power.
You can also see the charge in your buds fairly easily both in the Bluetooth connection in Android, or for a more accurate picture in the Huawei AI Life app.
If you’re just wanting to use the Freebuds 4i as they are out of the box, you can pair them as Bluetooth TWS earbuds with ease. If you want to tweak the settings like touch controls or get improved battery information or update the firmware you’ll want to install the Huawei AI Life app.
The Huawei AI Life app is only available for Android, however iOS users can still pair the buds and use them using Bluetooth. Functions like the touch controls have defaults – double tap to play/pause or answer/end calls and long press to cycle through ANC, Awareness mode, or switch them off.
The touch controls are pretty decent, though you can miss a touch occasionally which can be frustrating but overall they’re pretty good.
For Android users installing the AI Life app isn’t as straightforward as downloading the app from Google Play. Instead you can either download the apk directly from Huawei and side-load it, or you can install the Huawei App gallery – their own home-brew app store, and install the AI Life app directly from there. Huawei do try to make it easy with a web site with direct links to either choice from a link embedded as a QR code on the back of the box.
Using the app gives you access to a few features like accurate battery tracking for each bud and the battery case, you also get control of Noise Cancelling and Awareness modes letting you switch or turn them off instantly.
The app also lets you configure the shortcut for controls on the buds. You can either double tap or long press on either bud, with the app giving you access to assign functions those touch controls on each bud – but I left them as standard as it was easy to hit either bud to get the same result – but if you want to personalise it you can go for it.
Should you buy them?
The Huawei Freebuds 4i are a testament to Huawei’s attention to detail, as well as ability to cram next-gen tech into a consumer friendly package at a great price.
Without seemingly trying too hard, Huawei has managed to grab a decent amount of mindshare as an audio accessory maker with the Freebuds series, and it’s well deserved with their headphones and earbuds all giving great quality and value, but at $159 with Active Noise Cancellation, the Freebuds 4i are a steal.
The finicky app install process isn’t great but the buds work well out of the box. The Freebuds 4i also drop a number of features you get on the higher end models, like wireless charging and in-ear detection but they’re comfortable to wear, have great battery life and of course Active Noise Cancellation.
There’s not a lot more to say really. If you want good quality sound and ANC in your next pair of earbuds then these are definitely the TWS earbuds for you.