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Huawei FreeBuds 4i Review

Verdict

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Trusted Reviews Recommended

An accomplished pair of budget buds that aim for greatness but fall a little short. Nevertheless, the FreeBuds 4i are worth the price of admission.

Pros

  • Convenient-sized case
  • Effective ANC
  • Good overall sound quality
  • Secure, comfortable fit

Cons

  • Slightly weedy bass
  • No wireless charging
  • Difficult to remove buds from case

Key Features

  • Battery life10-hour run-time
  • ANCActive noise cancellation for suppressing external sound
  • AppAndroid-only companion app

By any metric, Huawei has had a rough time of it lately. Hit by multiple embargoes that have seriously affected its smartphone business, the Chinese firm has pivoted towards audio – among other sectors – as a potential money maker.

Hot off the success of its FreeBuds Pro in 2020, the FreeBuds 4i are an effort to carve out a presence in the budget market. Sporting a svelte form factor, active noise cancellation (ANC), an Android-only companion app and more, these have more than enough bells and whistles to compete with more established players.

As ever, the proof is in the pudding – more features do not necessarily a good product make. With the engineering prowess Huawei has displayed through its laptops, smartphones and more, plus the momentum it created last year, expectations are expectedly high.

Availability

  • UKRRP: £79.99

The Huawei FreeBuds 4i are currently available for £79.99 directly from Huawei and a host of other retailers, including Amazon. Three colour options are offered: White, Black and Red.

  • Secure fit
  • Very portable case
  • No wireless charging

The TWS (true wireless stereo) earbud craze first started with the introduction of the original Apple AirPods in 2016, which came alongside the much-lamented death of the headphone jack on that year’s iPhone 7. The form factor of this ‘new’ segment was centred around convenience, on small portable buds at most that were the same size as the wired options they were to replace.

Many options from manufacturers at all ends of the market today lack this clarity of vision in their design, forgetting that convenience – rather than features alone – should come first. Luckily, Huawei is well aware and, consequently, the FreeBuds 4i are a joy from a design perspective.

These are a masterclass in simplicity, portability and comfort, which starts with the case. Around the size of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg (if slightly flattened), it will fit in most pockets with ease. It’s a shame that it doesn’t offer wireless charging; however, the addition of a coil would likely have increased the thickness considerably.

The only real mark against the case, and arguably the buds, too, is the use of a glossy white plastic for construction. While it doesn’t look bad, it will be prone to scratches over time. These are buds that will require a little babying if you intend to keep them looking pristine over the years.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the buds themselves are rough copies of the original AirPod design, which is to say that they have stalks that protrude from the ear. Lack of originality aside, this means the buds are comfortable in use, and that the microphones have a decent chance of picking up your voice when in a call. The tips are silicon, and I found that even over continual hours of use, the FreeBuds 4i remained comfortable to wear.

Nicely, although the silicon tips provide a tight in-ear seal, they don’t also produce any uncomfortable heat build-up in the ear, which can be an issue with bulkier buds. They’re feather-light and stay well in the ear, even during a vigorous run. Huawei doesn’t quote any splash- or water-resistance, so these may not be the best to take out in the rain.

  • Active noise cancellation is offered with varying levels of intensity
  • An Android-only companion app allows gesture customisation
  • No EQ adjustment is allowed

Especially at the budget level, the presence of features, rather than the execution, defines what is available. Between every Amazon seller and every large player with a big marketing spend, every budget set of buds released comes touting at least a few features that are supposedly the reserve of more premium options.

The Huawei FreeBuds 4i are no different from the rest of the crowd in this regard, offering a grab-bag of goodies. Of these, among the most interesting is the included app. Since Huawei has lost many of its former privileges, it can no longer distribute apps via the Google Play Store. This means that the included app for the buds is downloaded from the Huawei APK collection rather than the Play Store.

The app is of course only available on Android. Once downloaded, it doesn’t offer any control over equalizers, instead focusing on allowing gesture controls to be remapped. The layout is clean, but the general lack of utility and the difficulty of installation means that this isn’t quite the value add it might have been otherwise.

On a more positive note, I found the ANC to be quite effective at blocking out the world, from the screams of grumpy toddlers to the traffic of a busy street – all was sufficiently blocked out. Those looking to dim the din of a jet engine will need to look for heavier-duty options, but for most people, and at the price point, these buds work nicely.

As with most TWS buds, the small size of the FreeBuds 4i coupled with the glossy texture and a lack of sensitivity meant that the control gestures were difficult to activate with any consistency. Although this isn’t a deal breaker, it’s still a disappointment.

Huawei FreeBuds 4i in charging case

Battery life was roughly around that quoted by the manufacturer, minus around two hours in our testing with ANC off and on at varying points. These buds will be able to last for a long-distance flight, with the case offering roughly double this through a full charge.

Bluetooth connectivity was also solid for the most part; I never experienced any cut-outs in connection, with the added perk of experiencing very little latency. However, despite the manufacturer’s claims regarding the prowess of its microphones, callers found the sound quality delivered wasn’t up to snuff.

No degree of splash-resistance or ingress protection is quoted by Huawei, and as such these may not be the best buds for a run in the rain.

  • Not enough depth or punch in the bass
  • Mids have good energy
  • 10mm drivers

First impressions of the Huawei FreeBuds 4i are solid. Starting with Here Comes the Sun, there’s a decently wide soundstage on offer, with good separation between the delicate highs and slightly overbearing bass of that track. Moving to Freewheel by Duke Special, the lack of depth in the bass becomes apparent, while Running to the Sea by Röyksopp conversely shows enough energy in the bass to drive more EDM influenced tracks.

Blitzkrieg Bop puts on full display the lack of attack and punch in the bass, however. Part of this is down to the form factor – TWS buds can’t rival over-ear headsets for output – but the FreeBuds don’t quite keep up with the competition here.

Image of Huawei FreeBuds 4i out of case

Other, less bass-heavy genres are represented more successfully, especially orchestral tracks. Here, the decent soundstage and sparkle in the trebles combine to pleasant effect, and the same is true across folk, pop and more. These aren’t buds that will work especially well on a morning run, then, but the FreeBuds 4i will more than excel on a noisy commute or for more generalised listening.

Huawei hasn’t opted to tune the FreeBuds 4i towards any genre in particular, and as a result they’re slightly everyman in their appeal, which makes them a very good choice for most. Bassheads should look elsewhere, however.

With past forays into new markets, Huawei’s engineering and design capabilities have stood it in good stead as it’s built a presence, and audio is no different. The FreeBuds 4i are built well, have a pocketable case and offer a comfortable fit. Sporting good audio capabilities and effective ANC, too, they’re a very compelling package for the price point.

But for a lack of engaging bass and a more widely available app, coupled with the fiddly touch controls, these could have been truly great buds. As it is, they’re merely highly accomplished and a great choice for most, with the ANC alone being worth the price of admission.

Should you buy it?

You want good noise cancellation For the price point, the Huawei FreeBuds 4i offer powerful active noise cancellation, which will be particularly valuable if you regularly use public transport to commute, making the journey a little less stress-inducing.

You value strong bass These buds cater well to specific genres of audio such as pop music, audiobooks and the like – but they’re not made for anything with a bass-first signature, such as punk or dance. Other options on the market, even at the same price point, do this better.

Verdict

An accomplished pair of budget buds that aim for greatness but fall a little short. Nevertheless, the FreeBuds 4i are worth the price of admission.

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FAQs

What colours do the Huawei FreeBuds 4i come in?

There’s a choice of white, black and red options.

Specification

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IP rating
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ASIN
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Noise Cancellation?
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