Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Huawei FreeBuds 4i

One-minute Review

There’s no shortage of great wireless earbuds these days with fantastic and varied options found at all price points. In this crowded market, Huawei aims to stand out by offering another value proposition by packing ANC tech at a low and appealing price point. 

Where previous Huawei mid-range earbuds have fallen short, the FreeBuds 4i seem to finally hit the sweet spot between price, features and sound quality to make them a strong consideration for buyers looking for an AirPods Pro or FreeBuds Pro experience on the cheap.

They look great, provide a secure and comfy fit, and deliver solid audio quality that makes them pleasant to use for short and long sessions alike. The only sore point on the sound front is a middling bass performance – compared to the competition, there's a distinct lack of punch in the low frequencies. These earbuds will be more suited to those who listen to pop songs over classic rock and R&B. 

Noise cancellation is surprisingly good for the price, blocking out environmental noises enough to maintain immersion while listening to music, watching movies and playing games. This carries over to call quality, improving voice clarity on both ends of a call.

Battery life is another strong point. The FreeBuds 4i can easily last an entire day’s worth of use on a single charge, with the charging case providing an easy and quick way to top up when you need. 

The only concern here is that for a few dollars more you can find wireless earbuds with more premium audio, although they might not pack ANC. If audio quality is a priority for you then you might want to shop around for a better sounding pair from the likes of Cambridge Audio, JBL and Jabra. However, if ANC is really important for you and you’re looking for an easy to use pair of wireless earbuds that are budget-friendly, then the FreeBuds 4i have little-to-no competition at this price. 

Pricing and Availability  

The FreeBuds 4i are available to buy now globally from select retailers, priced at $99 / £79 / AU$159 / AED299, and come in three color variants - Ceramic Black, Ceramic White and an eye-catching Red (although the latter isn't available in Australia). 

That’s considerably cheaper than premium earbuds like the Huawei FreeBuds Pro and AirPods Pro and still cheaper than other mid-range earbuds with ANC like the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro and Oppo Enco W51.

Design & Fit

The FreeBuds 4i sport a more streamlined AirPods Pro-esque in-ear design than their conic-shaped predecessors, the FreeBuds 3i. The curves on the buds are smoothed out with long stems and silicone tips to ensure a snug and secure fit. 

The earbuds are just big enough to provide a secure seal and lock the Freebuds 4i in place, so even if you shake your head around a bit, they won’t fall out. The cozy fit also comes in handy with isolating extra noise. You get a few options for silicone tips in the box and we recommend testing out the various sizes to see which one provides the best fit. 

Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)

The charging case gets a makeover with a sleek oval shape and flat back that fits comfortably in your hand and is compact enough to fit in your pocket. It doesn’t support wireless charging, which is disappointing but understandable at this price. The case has the same glossy finish as the earbuds, which looks slick but also makes the earbuds slippery to handle and fiddly to remove from the case. 

There are capacitive sensors on the back of the earbuds used to control playback. Out of the box, you can double tap to pause/play music or videos while long taps allow you to toggle between the three noise cancellation modes - ANC on, Awareness mode, and ANC off.

Thankfully, Huawei's app allows you to completely customize these touch controls, giving you the ability to assign different double-tap controls to either ear (including skip and rewind), and you can choose if you'd prefer to just cycle between ANC on and Awareness mode, for instance.

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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)

While we love the customizability, in practice, the controls can be finicky, sometimes rejecting input or being too sensitive and resulting in accidental or unintended input. 

The FreeBuds 4i are IP54 water-resistant up to 1m meaning you can wear them during a drizzle and don’t have to worry if you accidentally splash water near them. This is also good news for fitness fans who can wear them during sweaty workout sessions without worrying about water damage.

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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)
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Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)

Audio Performance

If you have a Huawei phone, setting up the FreeBuds 4i is quick and painless. You’ll see a screen prompt pop up when you place the case close to a Huawei smartphone and from there you follow the on-screen instructions to finish pairing. As with most Huawei wearables you can tweak more settings in the Huawei AI Life app

For all other Android and iOS devices, setup is similar to any other Bluetooth earbuds. You press and hold the small button on the side of the FreeBuds 4i’s charging case to enter pairing mode and connect from your phone’s Bluetooth settings. 

Once connected, the FreeBuds 4i hold the connection reliably, and latency is great too. We noticed no noticeable lag when watching movies or playing games on our phone. Since the ANC works really well on these, you can use them to watch movies in crowded places and still stay immersed.

The tight fit of the earbuds accompanied by silicone tips provide a secure seal within your ears, which aid in passive noise isolation. This combined with the microphones on the FreeBuds 4i, which detect noises in your environment and produce inverted sound waves, do a solid job at reducing background chatter.

Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)

It won’t cancel out noise completely, but will dampen the noise around you really well. The outside world still creeps in as a low murmur but not enough to break your immersion. The noise reduction comes in especially handy during calls where we were told that our voice was clear to people on the other end while on busy roads and crowded places.

If you want to tune in to your surroundings you can switch to Awareness mode with a long tap on the earbud and it’ll let in important sounds like announcements and human voices. Or if you want to use the FreeBuds 4i as a regular pair of earphones you can turn both modes off.

For audio quality, the FreeBuds 4i 10mm dynamic drivers do well to produce neutral tones with well balanced high and lows. This makes for a really enjoyable and solid listening experience. The only sore point, as mentioned earlier, is a slight lack in the low-end department. While it comes across relatively well balanced, it lacks the 'thump' and impact that many competing products possess. 

The FreeBuds 4i sound best when listening to pop, folk and music centered around vocals. Trebles and vocals shine through flawlessly and when the FreeBuds 4i are able to balance out the mids, you get a crisp sound that’s punchy and vibrant. 

However, songs like Bjork’s Hyperballad and riff-heavy classic rock won’t necessarily be fully appreciated, as atmospheric low frequency notes and heavy guitar riffs fall flat. Listening to Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, you can clearly make out the bassline but it doesn’t slap as it would on more premium earbuds. 

Listening at high volumes, the FreeBuds 4i can maintain distortion-free audio without getting too muddy, so if you want to crank up the volume on your favorite tune, you’ll still get a decent amount of clarity. 

Battery Life

Huawei claims the FreeBuds 4i can get 10 hours of playback on a single charge with ANC off, and about 7.5 with ANC on. In real world use with volume above 80% and ANC on, we found 7-8 hours to be accurate. This is particularly strong performance for battery life from the buds themselves.

The charging case stores an extra full charge and another 20% or so, totalling 12 hours of reserve with ANC off. Conveniently, if the FreeBuds 4i die on you, 10 minutes of fast charging can set them up for 4 hours of use (so long as the charging case's own battery is above 80%). 

Seven to eight hours of battery life should be enough in most cases and the pocket friendly charging case is easy to use for a quick top up. If you want more mileage you can turn off ANC to squeeze out more battery stamina. All in all, you should have no trouble getting a couple days’ worth of use out of the FreeBuds 4i without reaching for the charger.

Should I buy the Huawei FreeBuds 4i? 

Huawei FreeBuds 4i

(Image credit: Future)

Buy them if… 

You’re looking for straightforward ANC wireless buds
If you want a no-fuss and easy to use pair of wireless earbuds that feature ANC, the FreeBuds 4i should definitely be on your radar. They’re simple to set up, deliver solid audio and great noise reduction and can be worn for hours without cramping your ears.

You want good battery life
The FreeBuds 4i can last around 8 hours on a single charge with noise-cancellation on and you can extend that further by another 10 or so hours with the charging case. If you don’t use ANC that much you can squeeze out even more mileage.

You’re looking for earbuds for mild sports and fitness activities
One of the best things about the FreeBuds 4i is their fit. The silicone eartips lock them into your ears snugly and ensure they stay in place, and the IP54 resistance rating prevents sweat from being an issue.

Don’t buy them if…

You want premium audio quality
The FreeBuds 4i deliver solid audio quality for their price. However, the bass lacks punch and genres like classic rock fall a little flat. 

You want absolute noise cancellation
The ANC on the FreeBuds 4i does a decent job at obscuring the noise around you, especially at this price point, but the outside world does creep in somewhat. If that’s not acceptable to you then you might want to save up for more premium earbuds from Sony or Bose.

You have an iPhone
While the FreeBuds 4i will connect to your iPhone or iPad you won’t be able to use Huawei’s AI Life app (in some markets) for finer tweaking.

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