Huawei Freebuds 4i Review: Small package, big potential

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Huawei’s new FreeBuds 4i offer a more premium appearance with a comfortable fit, long-lasting battery life, and most importantly, advanced active noise cancellation (ANC) when compared to last year’s version of the wireless earbuds.

These earbuds are the company’s successor to the FreeBuds 3i and could have the potential to replace your primary true wireless earbuds thanks to a variety of features and a wallet-friendly price tag.

Pebblestone-like design with a comfortable fit

I tested the ‘Ceramic White’ variant, but the buds are also available in ‘Carbon Black’ and ‘Red.’ The Huawei FreeBuds 4i adopt an edgeless look for a more inviting appearance. The charging case resembles a pebblestone and is easy to fit in your palm or pocket. Huawei says the case is inspired by Iceland’s black sand beaches, so this design is fitting. The flat backside of the charging case prevents it from rolling off your table.

Even though the case has a glossy finish that attracts fingerprints and smudges, I’ve found it maintains some friction and doesn’t feel like it will slip out of your hand. The case features a pairing button on the right and a light indicator in the middle that changes colour from red to white when charging and pairing, respectively. The charging case weighs 36.5g and doesn’t support wireless charging. However, there’s a USB-C cable included in the box that can fuel up the buds to last about four hours with just a 10-minute charge.

Similar to the case, the FreeBuds 4i also feature a glossy finish, making it difficult to get a good grip on the buds to take them out of the case.

“After testing the FreeBuds for more than a week now, I can confidently say that you won’t feel any discomfort in your ears, even with prolonged usage.”

Once out of the case, it’s game on. The FreeBuds 4i have an AirPods Pro-like feel to them with a long, well-rounded stem and an in-ear silicone tip that locks them in place. They didn’t fall out while working out, running or headbanging to some Megadeth, which I think speaks volumes about the seal these buds create when sitting in your ear.

Each FreeBud features a microphone and built-in capacitive touch sensor near the top of the stem. You can double-tap these sensors to play or pause music and videos or to answer or end calls. Tapping and holding the sensors for about three seconds allows you to toggle between three modes, ‘ANC,’ ‘Awareness’ (lets in human voice) and ‘Off.’

Huawei claims that the touch sensors work in accordance with an algorithm to avoid accidental touches, which I can vouch for, as the buds work as intended 9/10 times. Each FreeBud weighs in at 5.5g and includes special vents designed to equalize pressure, so it doesn’t feel like you’re underwater when you’re wearing them. After testing the FreeBuds for more than a week now, I can confidently say that you won’t feel any discomfort in your ears, even with prolonged usage.

The Freebuds 4i’s true potential shines while playing pop

Right out of the box, the FreeBuds are tuned to deliver an enjoyable audio experience. The FreeBuds 4i utilizes a 10mm dynamic driver to produce an immersive experience with well-balanced mids and highs. The bass on these buds is decent but lacks the punch that some of the other, more expensive wireless earbuds offer, making the FreeBuds more attractive to pop music listeners or anything that is vocal-dominant. That said, even with beat-filled or bass-focused music, the FreeBuds maintain clear vocals at both low and high volume alike.

While the earbuds are not advertised as being for gamers, I tested the 4is out while playing a game of Valorant with my friends. Unlike traditional budget-friendly Bluetooth earbuds, the FreeBuds don’t feature noticeable audio delay or lag. I could even make out the direction of enemy footsteps, which is big plus for non-gaming earbuds. The FreeBuds 4i offer 186ms latency, a big improvement from its predecessor’s, 490ms of latency (latency is the time it takes for the buds to push out audio from the moment a corresponding visual is on-screen and is calculated in milliseconds). While I don’t recommend buying the 4is as your primary gaming earbuds since over-ear headphones are nearly always better, they do get the job done better than I expected.

“…for the price range, the FreeBuds 4i definitely a lot of bang for your buck in regard to battery life.”

Not many sub-$150 wireless earbuds offer active noise-cancellation, especially good ANC. The Huawei FreeBuds 4i hit the sweet spot between ample noise-cancellation and not making your ear feel like it’s going to burst. To test the feature, I turned on an ‘overboost’ on my laptop to make its cooling fans spin 3x faster than they normally would, resulting in it sounding like a jet engine. The buds blocked out the noise without me jamming them all the way into my ears. They also blocked environmental noise like traffic and wind when I walked around outside with very little sound leakage. When it’s safe to do so, I would love to test these earbuds in more crowded places like shopping malls, buses and trains.

The ANC also makes the FreeBuds 4is’ call quality excellent. Thanks to their dual-microphone setup, the person on the other side can hear you loud and clear, without any distortion or muffles and likewise, because of good ANC, you can hear them clearly and without any surrounding noise.

Alongside ANC, the buds feature an awareness mode that filters voices and lets you keep track of what’s happening around you, although I did experience a short, roughly millisecond delay in the voice coming through.

Long-lasting battery life for pandemic binging

This is where the Huawei FreeBuds 4i shine. The buds themselves feature 55mAh batteries, while the case has a 410mAh battery. According to Huawei’s claims, when ANC is turned off, the 4is can deliver continuous music playback or 6.5 hours of voice call on a full charge. With the case, the buds offer up to 10 hours can achieve up to 22 hours of music playback and 14 hours of voice calls. To test this, I revisited a few episodes of Black Mirror.

I watched for about three hours and noticed the battery dropped from 100 percent to approximately 70 percent, which is impressive. By that logic, I could keep watching Black Mirror for about seven more hours and still have some juice left in the buds. Additionally, if the buds die, leaving them in the charging case for about 10-15 minutes should allow you to squeeze out four more hours of playback. I don’t see myself having to charge these buds more than once in two to three days with regular everyday use.

Overall, for the price range, the FreeBuds 4i definitely a lot of bang for your buck in regard to battery life.

Everything else about the Freebuds 4i

The Bluetooth connectivity featured in the FreeBuds 4i is impressive. I could leave my phone and walk about 30-35 feet away without noticing distorted audio or the music cutting out. Additionally, pairing these buds with your smartphone is easy, especially if you have a Huawei device. Similar to Apple’s AirPods or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, all you have to do is open the case and hold it close to your Huawei device and a setup menu should pop up. For other Android and iOS devices, the initial setup requires you to press the pair button (found on the right side of the charging case) for two seconds and then connect the buds from your Bluetooth setting. After the initial setup, 4is will automatically connect to your phone when the case is opened.

Huawei also offers additional controls over the buds via its AI Life Android app. The app lets you keep track of the exact battery percentage for each of the buds and the charging case, along with giving you the option to install the latest firmware. Unfortunately for iOS users, this app is only available on Android devices, giving less control over the buds. The FreeBuds 4i are IP54 water-resistant up to 1m, allowing you to use them in low-exposure conditions like while working out or when it’s drizzling.

This brings me to my last and most important point, comfort. There have been multiple instances this week when I’m writing an article with the FreeBuds 4i in my ears and I don’t feel any stress in my ear canal, which is uncommon in the wireless earbuds space. Pair that with additional silicon tips to match your size preference, and these are some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve used to date.

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