Huawei’s FreeBuds 4i: Good sound, great price

Review: New earbuds offer great battery life too

Huawei FreeBuds 4i
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Price: €79
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It may be a result of a year in lockdown, and every day blending into the next one in a long dystopian nightmare, but it feels as if these new headphone releases are coming closer and closer together.

A quick check back reveals that at least when it comes to Huawei it hasn't been that long since its last such event – September 2020 was the launch of the FreeBuds Pro. Before that, it was the FreeBuds 3i, which launched in April 2020. So the new FreeBuds 4i will be the third pair of Huawei earbuds we have seen launched in lockdown.

Design-wise, these latest Huawei FreeBuds are treading much the same ground as their predecessors, with some tweaks here and there. The case has been slimmed down, so it is more compact in your pocket. It may not be an issue now, but when things begin to open up again and the daily commute comes back for some people, that smaller case may be a bonus.

The long stem that Huawei has gone with feels a bit strange, but less awkward to get to grips with than the FreeBuds Pro, and it’s definitely less blocky.


The new FreeBuds, while light and easy to wear, are not as comfortable as the AirPods Pro. As with the Samsung Buds Pro, I had some difficulty getting a good fit with the new buds, because of the shape. The silicone tips fit fine, but getting the entire thing to stay put was a bit of an issue. That may be a "me" problem, but if you have such issues with other rigid earbuds, you may find the same ones crop up here.

These are designed for use with Huawei’s phones. That is how they work best, naturally, but any Android phone will give you most of the features.

Apple users can use the headphones, but Huawei's AI Life app does not do much here. That may change, but for now, extra settings – such as an equaliser, for example, and other customisation options – aren't available to Apple users.

If you are using a Huawei phone, the pairing will be seamless. Pop open the lid of the case and the phone will automatically find the headphones and walk you through the pairing. For other Android phones and iOS users, you will need to manually pair the headphones in the bluetooth menu.

What do we get that’s different from the 3i? A better battery for a start. You get 10 hours from a single charge, as long as you are using the earbuds with active noise-cancelling (ANC) turned off. With it on, you get just more than seven hours. A 10-minute charge will get you four hours of use.

Add in the extra power from the battery case and you will get an overall total of 22 hours of listening time. That’s not bad when you compare it with the earbuds’ rivals: Apple’s AirPods Pro last 4½ hours with ANC and five hours without, with 24 hours when the case is taken into account; the Samsung Buds Pro give you about five hours of listening time when ANC is on.

Day 3,765 in lockdown and you might find a good use for the active noise-cancelling capabilities of these latest FreeBuds headphones. Blocking out the noise from a house full of small children, for example.

If you are expecting the same ANC performance as the FreeBuds Pro, you may be disappointed. The FreeBuds 4i will block out a lot of the more obvious background noise, but I found in general they were less effective than the AirPods Pro or the FreeBuds Pro in this regard.

What did work well was the call quality. The design of the FreeBuds 4i cuts down on wind noise (apparently) and so far, there have been few instances where the call quality was noticeably bad.

You can either switch off the noise-cancelling feature or change to transparency mode. That is handy for shops, when you need to hear someone speaking to you, or when you are out walking and don’t want the background noise completely blocked out.

The sound is good, with the 10mm drivers doing a decent job. Aimed more at generic pop, there is a loss of some quality when compared with more expensive rivals, but overall the earbuds deliver decent quality.

Where Huawei is winning out over all its rivals is in the price. The FreeBuds 4i will cost you €79, far less than the price of their rivals. The noise cancelling may not be as good, but it depends on what you value more: top-notch noise cancelling, or a more affordable price with noise cancelling that isn’t quite as aggressive.

The good:

Decent sound, and good battery life, just in case we ever again get the chance to roam far enough away that it would take us more than 10 hours to get back to the charger. The biggest draw of the FreeBuds 4i is the price though: at under €80 it makes them a really attractive option.

The not so good:

The fit can be problematic for some, and the noise cancelling isn’t quite as good as you might expect. No wireless charging in the case, and the customisation is limited unless you have a Huawei device.

The rest:

The earbuds come in red, black and white. Silicone tips allow you to customise the fit.

The verdict:

A good option for Android users who want a low-cost ANC earbud.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist