When looking at Huawei’s marketing game for its new FreeBuds 4, it’s hard not to be impressed. These new wireless earbuds are packed with top-notch features, but come at a price point that is £ 30 cheaper than Apple’s entry-level AirPods, which makes them a pretty attractive buy given their almost identical looks. Huawei promises an improved design, better sound, and the inclusion of active noise cancellation (ANC) usually only found on earbuds, which cost almost twice as much as the FreeBuds 4.
The big question is, are these budget musicians really living up to the hype? The simple answer is, not really. Let’s start with the positives because there’s no question that the FreeBuds 4 feel incredibly high quality. The puck-shaped charging case is solid and clicks into place when the lid is closed.
Take the buds out of the case and you will be amazed how light each bud really is. Huawei put these devices on a serious diet – they weigh just 4.1 g each. This means that they are extremely comfortable in your ears when you wear them, and most of the time you will forget you are wearing them.
They connect very easily when you own Huawei devices with a completely seamless pairing process. And don’t panic if you’re using an iPhone or Android as the buds will have no problem connecting bluetooth. Once connected, you can download Huawei’s AI Life app, which has some good options for adjusting the touch settings on the side of the buds.
That means you can add simple gestures to turn up the volume, turn off the ANC, and skip tracks without reaching for your phone. Take them out of your ears and they’ll automatically pause music as soon as you put them back in your head.
So this is the good, but what about the bad?
Perhaps the most important thing to mention is the ANC technology as it doesn’t really work well. Almost all noise-canceling headphones, including the AirPods Pro and the new Sony WF-1000XM4s, have a rubber-tipped design on the end of the bud.
That means you get a very tight seal in the ear which then helps the noise cancellation block unwanted audio. Huawei tries something different with its FreeBuds 4 and gets an open design that is similar to Apple’s standard AirPods.
The company says that “when noise cancellation is on, the earbuds will automatically detect the user’s ear shape and determine the optimal noise cancellation for each user, resulting in the most comfortable noise cancellation experience.”
In reality, when you turn on the ANC, you’ll notice a small difference, but it’s not enough to drown out the noise of neighbors splashing around in their paddling pool, the rumbling of the train tracks, or anything else that could spoil a podcast.
The next point of criticism we have is the overall audio quality, as we have had a very mixed experience with the FreeBuds 4.
At low volume they sound pretty good but pump up the sound and things get distorted by overwhelming bass. Vocals become difficult to hear and all definitions in the track are lost. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the whole thing is going to be pretty uncomfortable.
The battery life is also a little lackluster as the FreeBuds 4 offers 4 hours of uninterrupted music playback. That’s not exactly market-leading and things get worse when you turn the ANC on as you only have about 2.5 hours before they have to be thrown back into their case.
Finally, there is the overall design of the FreeBuds 4.
There’s no escaping the fact that these buds look almost identical to Apple’s AirPods, but the longer stem means that most of the people in the tube will just look at you and think you shopped on Amazon for a cheap rip off.
Most other manufacturers go their own way with their earbud designs that make them stand out from the crowd and we’re not sure why Huawei is so desperate to look identical to Apple’s hugely popular AirPods.
Huawei FreeBuds 4 in the test: final verdict
ADVANTAGES – Light but first class feeling • Low price • Good touch controls • Easy pairing even on the iPhone
DISADVANTAGE – ANC is pretty pointless • Audio quality suffers at high volume • The AirPods-style design needs to be abandoned • Average battery life
Huawei’s FreeBuds 4 sounds fantastic on paper, but in reality things are not as expected.
The noise reduction is pretty bad, the audio quality could be significantly better, and the design lacks any imagination.
Battery life is pretty standard too, with some competitors offering much longer usage on a single charge. After all, the Galaxy Buds + can keep the party going for 11 hours before needing to be refilled.
It’s not all bad news as the buds are comfortable to the touch in your ears and the case is given a premium finish. The £ 130 price point is appealing too, there is this nice app and the easy connection to Android and iPhone is a nice touch.
But this is a highly competitive market, and with so many other buds to choose from that offer better sound, cheaper prices, or longer battery life, it’s really hard to recommend the FreeBuds 4 over the ever-growing list of competitors.