True wireless earbuds have become a mature product category in just a few short years. Dozens of brands are competing in the segment, pushing prices down and making features like active noise-cancelling (ANC) more accessible than ever.
The Huawei FreeBuds 4i feature active noise-cancelling, water resistance, and solid battery life, all for under £80/€100. But has Huawei cut any corners to make this attractive price possible? We tell you in our Huawei FreeBuds 4i review.
What you need to know about the Huawei FreeBuds 4i
- Huawei FreeBuds 4i: £79/€99 (frequent discounts and promos available)
The FreeBuds 4i are Huawei’s most affordable true wireless earphones. Normally, the “i” model is a follow-up to the “mainstream” model, but in this case, Huawei hasn’t announced the FreeBuds 4 yet.
Huawei is selling the FreeBuds 4i in black, white, or red colorways for a list price of £79 (~$111) in the UK or €99 (~$119) in European markets. As with many Huawei products these days, there are attractive deals to be had — for instance, as of the time of this writing, UK customers can get a free Huawei Band 4e fitness tracker with their purchase from Huawei.com.
The FreeBuds 4i feature ANC and three sizes of silicone ear tips, making them a viable choice for users looking for good noise isolation. They’re not very rugged though — if you prefer sportier designs, the “neckband”-style FreeLace Pro are worth checking out.
How’s the design?
The FreeBuds 4i have an AirPods-like design that doesn’t stand out through much. That’s not to say this inoffensive design is bad — on the contrary, it’s light, sleek, and comfortable.
Both the earbuds and the case are smaller than last year’s FreeBuds 3i. This welcome change comes with an annoying drawback: the earbuds are infuriatingly hard to remove from the case.
The FreeBuds 4i are light, sleek, and comfortable.
The FreeBuds 4i may be petite, but Huawei’s mostly trimmed away the plastic — the capacity of the batteries inside the earbuds is 48% higher than on the previous generation (more about that in the battery life section below).
Do the FreeBuds 4i sound good?
The Huawei FreeBuds 4i sound surprisingly good for their affordable price. They reproduce clear audio and avoid common pitfalls of cheaper earbuds where bass notes make it hard to hear midrange and treble notes.
Mids and highs sound clear and the bass is loud, but not overwhelming. If you prefer heavy, thumping bass, there are better options out there. Overall, I found the FreeBuds 4i frequency response very enjoyable.
Sound-wise, the FreeBuds 4i are slightly better than the FreeBuds 3i, but I wouldn’t say the difference is obvious. Don’t upgrade to the 4i just for better audio. Compared to the high-end FreeBuds Pro, the more accessible 4i hold their own, but I recommend the Pros to more discerning listeners.
How’s the noise-cancelling on the FreeBuds 4i?
Active noise-cancelling has become a table-stakes feature on premium true wireless earbuds, but it’s still rare in the mid-range segment the FreeBuds 4i belongs to.
To activate ANC on the FreeBuds 4i, tap and hold on either earbud. The gesture works reliably, though it’s a little slow. Tap and hold again to go into Awareness mode, which increases the volume of voices and other ambient sounds. This is useful when you want to hear what’s going on around you without removing your earbuds.
Read more: What are the best noise-cancelling earbuds?
The FreeBuds 4i noise cancelling tech isn’t the best that’s come out way, but it effectively hushes low, monotone sounds. Don’t expect eerie silence when walking down the street or in other noisy environments. If you want strong ANC, the FreeBuds Pro are the better choice from Huawei.
Is the battery life good on the FreeBuds 4i?
Huawei quotes a battery life of up to 10 hours on a single charge, some conditions applied. Namely, you’ll get the best battery life if you disable ANC, listen at lower volumes, and use the AAC Bluetooth codec. When ANC is on, the rated battery life decreases by 25%.
FreeBuds 4i battery life falls a bit short of Huawei’s claims. but they still offer plenty of use on a single charge.
The case holds a 215mAh battery — that’s about twice the capacity of the two earbuds combined. In other words, a fully charged case should give you up to ~20 hours of extra listening time.
In real life, FreeBuds 4i battery life falls a bit short of Huawei’s claims, affected by things like weak wireless connections and higher volumes. In my experience, I still got 7-8 hours of battery life, with a mix of ANC and non-ANC use, and that was more than enough for my use.
- Compatibility: The FreeBuds 4i work best with Huawei devices running the latest version of EMUI. This gets you wear detection (the headphones pause playback when you take them off) and quick pairing (via the Huawei AI Life app). If you don’t have a recent Huawei device, they’ll behave like any Bluetooth headphones. This goes for laptops as well.
- One device at a time: The FreeBuds 4i do not support multi-device connectivity. I’ve always found this function more annoying than useful, so it’s not a major issue in my book.
- Touch controls: You control the FreeBuds 4i through touches: tap-and-hold to cycle the ANC modes, and double-tap to control playback. There are a few customization options available in the Huawei AI Life app. Sadly, the 4i’s don’t support swipes to adjust volume like the more expensive FreeBuds Pro.
- Water resistance: The earbuds are rated IPX4 — they can handle sweat and rain, but don’t dunk them in water.
- Mics: Mic and call quality on the FreeBuds 4i are both adequate. No issues there.
Huawei FreeBuds 4i specs
|Huawei FreeBuds 4i|
|Size||Earbuds: 37.5 x 23.9 x 21 mm|
Case: 48 x 61.8 x 27.5 mm
Ear on/off detection
|Batteries||Per earbud: 55mAh|
Charging case: 215mAh
Fast charging: 10m charging results in 4h of listening
|Audio||Codecs: AAC, SBC|
Active noise cancelling
Call noise cancelling
|Colors||Ceramic Black, Ceramic White, Red|
Value and competition
There’s no shortage of competitors in the sub-$100 segment of true wireless earbuds market. However, few products offer ANC, like the FreeBuds 4i do.
If you’re a fan of noise-cancelling, the Panasonic RZ-S500W (£99 at Amazon) feature great ANC, IPX4 water resistance, and quick charging, but their design is not for everyone and the battery life is shorter. The Earfun Air Pro (£69 at Amazon) are cheaper the Huawei FreeBuds 4i and also have ANC and water resistance.
Overall, it’s hard to beat the price and the features you get with FreeBuds 4i. They definitely offer lots of value for your money.
FreeBuds 4i review: The verdict
The FreeBuds 4i provide a great mix of design, features, and value. They don’t excel at anything in particular, but these true wireless earbuds shine when you judge them as a whole.
Very few competitors offer ANC at prices comparable to Huawei’s FreeBuds 4i and that’s probably the biggest reason to buy them. It’s not amazing ANC, but it’s there if you want it.
The FreeBuds 4i provide a great mix of design, features, and value.
Based on my time with the FreeBuds 4i review unit, I can recommend them to buyers who want to graduate from wired, non-ANC, or budget earbuds, but don’t want to spend too much. Even if you already have some experience with higher-end earbuds, the FreeBuds 4i are good enough, as long as you’re not picky about your sound.