Should I buy the Huawei FreeBuds 4i?
If blocking out ambient noise is a priority and so is holding onto that extra $100 or so that you typically pay to get Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), then Huawei’s FreeBuds 4i will do fine. Music lovers won’t be bedazzled by brilliant sound, but they will get decent playback. Users will also be impressed by the FreeBud 4i’s ability to deliver clear conversations, even in the presence of ambient noise.
Price when reviewed
In Australia the Huawei FreeBuds 4i are priced at AU $159.
Design and build
The Huawei FreeBuds 4i come in two colours, carbon crystal black and ceramic white. I had the carbon crystal black and found its glossy, smooth finish to be exceptionally stylish.
The earbuds are compact and lightweight. However, those wanting a discreet in-ear look won’t find that with the FreeBuds 4i, since they have a stem measuring 3.5cm that extends from each bud. The stem’s function is to enable the microphone system to better detect your voice, even when background noise is high. I found this feature worked well, and for that reason I was happy to overlook the less-discreet design.
The charging case is also smooth and glossy. It has an oval shape and is about the size and proportions of a pebble. For convenience’s sake it sits flat on a desk or table, and it also fits perfectly into the curve of your hand. I found placing it in my hand to be quite fun: like picking up a perfectly balanced stone from a riverbed and admiring its weight. Huawei said this pebble-like design was inspired by the black sandy beaches in Iceland, which wins the company points for originality.
Inside the case are two sizes of tip attachments, small and large, to personalise your comfort setting. The earphones are a comfortable fit. I didn’t feel the persistent pressure build up in my ears that I sometimes do wearing earphones for extended periods of time.
Features and sound quality
By far the most exciting feature of the Hauwei FreeBuds 4i is its ANC technology. It’s not easy finding ANC earphones below $200, so I was itching to give them a go and see how well they worked.
ANC tends to work differently in different earphones. In the FreeBuds 4i, the ANC detects ambient noise via dual microphones in each of its earbuds, and then generates reverse sound waves to reduce that noise. By doing this, Huawei says they can make your audio the hero, even in environments that typically have a lot of background noise.
How does that claim add up? Well, for all intents and purposes the FreeBuds 4i’s ANC worked reasonably well to reduce most low and medium-level ambient noise, like the constant chatter you hear in shopping centres. However, the ANC did struggle to muffle higher-level ambient noise like the roaring engines of buses taking off close by, which meant I occasionally needed to pause my podcasts at crucial moments.
Switching between ANC mode and the Awareness mode, which allows you to hear sounds from your environment, is as straightforward as a long press on your earbud. There’s no chance you will get confused about which mode you are in, since the voice assistant clearly updates you when you change. Pausing and starting music is also very easy and is executed much the same way with a few simple earbud taps. Sadly, there is no option to change the volume or skip tracks on the device itself and users will need to do this through Huawei’s app.
In regards to audio quality for music playback, I thought the Freebuds 4i did a decent job playing music with a range of high and low frequency sounds. I especially liked the way it delivered vocals and piano, which seemed to hold the most consistent timbre. Having said that, the Huawei FreeBud’s 4i don’t deliver the kind of audio depth I’ve been accustomed to hearing playing back music from some premium earphone models.
On the flipside, the audio clarity for conversations is exceptional and this is where the FreeBuds 4i come into their own. Our conversations were crisp and clear even when surrounded by ambient noise. Huawei says it has achieved this by incorporating three technologies: a slit-duct microphone design, beamforming technology, and AI noise-reduction technology, that work together to reduce interference and wind noise and accentuate your voice.
Pairing with our Bluetooth enabled device was also simple and took under a minute. The long Bluetooth range surprised me. I tested the FreeBuds at distances of 10 and 15 metres away from my phone and they still delivered clear audio clarity in voice calls – functionality I found to be incredibly useful for handsfree meetings around the PCWorld office.
Battery testing of the Huawei FreeBuds 4i was carried out by playing music at full battery power through our Bluetooth enabled device. The FreeBuds 4i lasted for nearly 8 hours. Huawei says the earphones can last even longer, for up to 10 hours of continuous music playback and 6.5 hours of voice call when the ANC function is switched off.
If your FreeBuds are powered down, you won’t find yourself waiting too long for power. I found just 10 minutes of juice was enough time to charge them up for near 4 hours playtime.
The bottom line
Huawei was clearly ambitious in bringing earphones featuring ANC technology to the market and for only $159. But, the FreeBuds 4i achieve most of their targets, offering reasonably good sound quality, passable ANC, and a price tag that’s very attractive indeed.