The Apple AirPods style of earbuds – in other words, the traditional style of earbuds – may seem archaic in a world of high-tech in-ear headphones that are far better at blocking noise, but it still has its merits. FreeBuds 4 is Huawei’s latest update of its earbuds, and the result is a solid package that warrants consideration if you are looking for something convenient.
Available in Ceramic White and Silver Frost colours, the latter is probably the one thing that will evoke questions from your friends. Freebuds 4 is decked out in a striking colour that’s not too ostentatious when worn, while its gunmetal coloured case is wisely more inconspicuous and won’t look out of place amongst your personal effects. Huawei hasn’t wavered from the previous design too much, and that’s a good thing. The earbuds are lightweight while the palm-sized charging case is slim enough to even fit comfortably in jeans.
Earbuds like these still have a place because of one simple reason: comfort. For all the merits of in-ear headphones, they’re not always the most comfortable; and comfort sometimes comes with a massive price tag. Good news then, that there’s no way that Freebuds 4 will cause discomfort even after hours of wear. The trade-off is that it’s loose-fitting, which has two implications. One, they’re less suited for vigorous activities; two, background noise is something you have to live with. Truth be told, these worked well enough for me while jogging and there was no danger in them falling out of my ear. Reassuringly, the IPX4 rating gives it some resistance to sweat and splashes of water. All the same, I don’t feel confident when if you ask me to do anything more intense than running.
Fortunately, the Freebuds 4 utilises an Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) circuit that reduces background noise to a less distracting level. Huawei claims that its adaptive ear-matching tech will detect your ear shape and apply the appropriate level of noise cancellation. For the most part, it works, just don’t expect Bose-levels of noise-cancelling goodness. But, you can be sure that it cuts off enough noise so listening to music on the move is a solitary experience. And thanks to the earbuds-fit there’s none of the uncomfortable air pressure effect that some noise-cancelling in-ears can have.
Like most ANC circuits, it’s not immune to buffeting air, and sitting in the vicinity of a fan can be annoying as sometimes it keeps trying to adjust the noise cancelling levels. Aside from this, it works fine.
Large dynamic-style drivers are the way to go these days and the Freebuds 4 uses something similar. The large, 14.3mm drivers are paired with a bass chamber, which in theory gives you to have the best of both worlds in terms of low and high-frequency reproduction. Furthermore, Huawei says the Freebuds 4 is capable of reproducing sounds up to 40kHz. This is normally associated with headphones that support high-resolution audio, but there’s a lack of documentation on codecs supported. At the moment, I can only get it to work with SBC and AAC.
Regardless, the proof is in the pudding, and Freebuds 4 performs decently enough over AAC. Its sound signature does lean towards the brighter end of the frequency spectrum, which may or may not be to people’s liking. The upside of this is that there’s no lack of clarity. There’s no way to tweak the EQ though Huawei does offers two presets through the Huawei AI Life app. They aren’t drastically different from the default setting, so I often find myself leaving it as such.
One thing I do appreciate is the stability of the connection. I seldom have connection issues, and in the event that it does happen, the audio pops back in pretty promptly.
Although these earbuds do fine without ANC, I find that the overall listening experience improves with ANC switched on as the audio is more focused and punchy and I leave it on for this reason. With noise-cancelling turned on, you can choose between two settings: Cosy and General. Cosy mode is meant for indoor use and for a relatively quiet setting; for example, you can still hear the TV in the background in this mode. I usually keep it on the General setting, because it’s not really that much more intense.
The audio quality of the microphone is pretty decent and your voice will sound crisp and sharp. The microphone, however, does pick up sounds in the background so it’s still best if you take calls in a quiet(er) place. The app includes a setting that enables HD call quality but I think the difference during normal noise conditions (in a room, for example) isn’t much.
As you would have guessed by now, much of the tweaking is done via Huawei’s AI Life app, which also offers a host of other settings too. Perhaps most important is the ability to check your battery life and to update the firmware in your earphones. Other features include a switch for wear detection (pause when you remove earbuds from your ears) and reassigning gesture controls. If you misplace your earbuds nearby, you can also use the app to make the earbud emit a loud sound so you can find them.
In addition, Huawei mobile users will have additional perks like reduced latency for an improved gaming experience (90ms on HarmonyOS, 150ms on EMUI). Also, it seems that Android users will have additional features; the Android version allows you to create a custom audio profile that is catered to your current hearing ability and you also have a Connection Centre menu that lets you manage your paired devices and even designate your preferred devices. These aren’t found on the iOS version of the app.
Last but not least, the battery life for Freebuds 4 isn’t great for true-wireless earphones, but it’s a fair trade-off for its slim and light form factor. With ANC on, the battery lasts about two hours or so and over three hours when it’s off. With the battery pack, it ranges from around 12 hours to just over 20 hours depending on whether you turn on the ANC or not. It charges quickly as well, so if you are running low, a quick 15 minute charge can buy you close to an hour’s listening with ANC.
If you’re not audiophile-level fussy about your music, the Freebuds 4 are pretty decent to live with as an everyday-use headphone. Its strengths lie in its convenience and ease of use, which is pretty much what the AirPods are all about as well. It’s pretty responsive to pair, it rarely drops a connection, and they don’t sound and look half bad. They’re cheaper than the AirPods, which is in itself a good start.
Huawei Freebuds 4
Features - 7/10
Value Proposition - 7/10
Performance - 7/10
Design & Build Quality - 8/10
Overall - 7/10
While Freebuds 4 aren't exactly cheap, Huawei's latest take on the AirPods is a commendable effort and worth a look at if you find the AirPods a tad pricey.