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HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i
What we like
What we don't like
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i
These days, headphone manufacturers are falling over each other to offer the best value possible. Once high-end features are now often bundled into more affordable true wireless earbuds. HUAWEI already helped lead the charge of combining value and features with the FreeBuds 4i. These were cheaper than other active noise canceling-capable buds on the market at the time and boasted pretty good-sounding audio. Now, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i are in town. They promise improved noise canceling, water resistance, and audio quality, all for just over $100. But has HUAWEI listened and improved upon previous criticisms of the FreeBuds 4i? Find out in our HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i review.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i review: What you need to know
- HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i: $99 / £89 / €99
HUAWEI released the FreeBuds 5i on January 16, 2023, just under two years since the launch of the FreeBuds 4i. At launch, the FreeBuds 5i were ~£20 more expensive than their predecessors. However, HUAWEI often bundles items and offers deals on its products. At the time of writing, for example, UK customers can grab a discounted pair for as little as £74.99. The FreeBuds 5i aren’t officially available in the US, but they can be found on Amazon for around $100.
An expanse in features justifies the slightly inflated price of the FreeBuds 5i. From the off, they benefit from a shorter AirPod-like, shorter-stemmed design — think a non-transparent version of the Nothing Ear 1 buds and you’re about there. The oval pebble-style charging case comes in Isle Blue, Nebula Black, and Ceramic White, and the FreeBuds 5i feature an improved IP54 rating to resist dust and water.
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i offer noise reduction up to 42dB, IP54 water resistance, an ear fit test, and more.
Without a doubt, these buds are the company’s finest mid-tier headphones to date. They’re smaller, sleeker, and lighter than their previous design, weighing in at only 4.9g per bud. ANC is impressive too, reducing noise by up to 42dB. Users can choose between “cozy,” “general,” and “ultra” levels of intensity to cancel out unwanted environmental sounds. The inclusion of silicon ear tips in three different sizes also helps to form a good seal in the ear to keep noise at bay. The buds stream high-res audio via Bluetooth 5.2 over the LDAC codec, in addition to offering SBC and AAC connectivity.
Sound quality is pleasing, with an improved frequency response between 20Hz and 40kHz, in addition to their 10mm dynamic driver and polymer composite diaphragm. When the earbuds are being worn sub-optimally, the FreeBuds 5i reduce low-frequency audio loss. Users struggling to find their fit can use the “Ear Fit Test” in HUAWEI’s companion AI Life app.
Speaking of AI, the FreeBuds 5i are better at distinguishing between ambient noise and voices than the FreeBuds 4i. Inter-connectivity is easier, especially for those using a HUAWEI phone, which will automatically pair with the buds. In addition, the FreeBuds 5i can connect to two devices at once. Tapping a bud twice will receive an incoming call when your buds are connected to your PC, TV, or tablet. Battery life has vastly improved compared to the FreeBuds 4i, too. The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i can deliver up to six hours of audio playback with ANC activated. When ANC is off, the buds should last up to 7.5 hours and can play up to four hours off just 15 minutes of charge. If you lose your buds, you can find them again using the “Find My Earphones” function.
What I like about the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i’s ANC capability puts them pretty close to the brand’s own flagship FreeBuds Pro 2. Noise canceling on the FreeBuds 5i can eliminate up to 42dB of unwanted noise, while the FreeBuds Pro 2 can reduce unwanted noise by up to 47dB. The main difference here though is that the FreeBuds 5i will set you back ~$100, as opposed to over $100 for the FreeBuds Pro 2.
For the price, you’d struggle to find a pair of earbuds that can achieve noise canceling to the same degree as the FreeBuds 5i. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2 are considered industry champions when it comes to ANC capability. They can achieve up to 50dB of noise suppression, which is extraordinary. The caveat is that they cost roughly $229. You only lose 8dB of noise reduction with the FreeBuds 5i, while spending less than half the price.
It’s also incredibly easy to secure a good fit with the FreeBuds 5i. I’ve often found that my Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro come loose from my ears and nearly fall out. However, the shape of the FreeBuds 5i sits more snuggly and comfortably in my ears. That helps achieve good noise canceling while avoiding the effects of ear fatigue. I’ve worn these buds on a four-hour journey from London to Manchester without any unwanted noise penetrating my music, or feeling the need to rest my ears. The buds also automatically pause your music when you take them out of your ears and automatically resume streaming when you pop them back in. There’s a half-second delay accompanied by a two-tone sound prompt to alert you that your music is about to restart.
Further, the sound quality is surprisingly good for the price tag. Bass frequencies are present, without totally overpowering the overall soundscape. Kick drum notes sound clear, while bass lines sit evenly in the mix. Vocals, hi-hats, and cymbals are prominent in the treble range, without sounding sibilant. Mid-range frequencies are pleasing, allowing synths and guitars to fill the space between voices and the rhythm section.
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i bring superior ANC and high-res sound to the fore at a truly affordable price point.
These buds are also incredibly comfortable. Although they retain the oft-imitated AirPods-like design, the FreeBuds 5i are smaller than their predecessors. The ergonomic shape and interchangeable ear tips are incredibly welcome. The touch controls are easy to use, and the ANC prompts for “awareness,” “off,” and “noise canceling” are useful.
The AI Life app also has some great functionalities to accompany these buds. I was especially impressed with the surface-level option to prioritize between Bluetooth connection quality and sound quality. Aside from Sony Headphones Connect, most earbud apps neglect this option entirely. This means users who want to listen to high-res audio can access this feature in the app, instead of having to navigate through their phone’s settings menu. The app also boasts “Find Earphones” and a “Tip Fit Test” in case you lose your buds or can’t secure the fit you need to take advantage of their superior sound quality and ANC. That said, there are a few holes that could do with filling in to take these buds to the next level…
What I don’t like about the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i
While the cost-to-quality ratio of the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i is impressive, they’re not quite a home run. Although iOS users won’t struggle to get hold of HUAWEI’s AI Life app from the App Store, it doesn’t appear on the Google Play Store. To grab the AI Life app, you either need to have HUAWEI AppGallery installed or download and sideload it directly from HUAWEI’s website. That’s a little frustrating and awkward as a user experience, though it’s very likely a knock-on of HUAWEI’s US trade ban.
When you eventually gain access to the app, there’s very little in the way of audio customization. There are only three EQ presets: “default,” “bass boost,” and “treble boost.” To be honest, I found both the bass and treble boosting performed a little too harshly. While listening to Welcome to the DCC by Nothing But Thieves with bass boost activated, I found that the mix sounded like it was underwater. The kick also appears too far forward in the mix, making the overall balance feel hollow. On the other hand, treble boosting makes the music sound thin, with an over-accentuation on the hi-hats in particular.
The simplicity of HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i touch controls means you have to sacrifice some would-be useful gestures.
I also found the touch controls to be a little basic. You can only alter the double-tap, press & hold, and swipe gestures. That means if you want to include forward and backward song skipping on the left and right bud specifically, you’d have to sacrifice the ability to pause your music. There’s no single or triple-tap functionality, which greatly limits the amount of control a user has. There’s an “identify song” option for the press & hold control, but it only works on HUAWEI devices running EMUI 11 or later. That seems like a missed opportunity for quite a cool function.
The ANC voice prompts are welcome, but they often get lost in the mix below the music, especially when notifying you that ANC is turned “off.” Audio quality in transparency mode also feels slightly more muffled than other buds on the market. There’s a low ambient drone that lingers underneath the audio stream. While that shouldn’t affect your ability to hear speech, it does make it more difficult to discern detail. I also found that having long hair means you’ll hear a “whooshing” sound every time your hair moves over the buds. I assume that’s simply the hair rubbing against the outward-facing microphones, but it is a little distracting.
Further, this may seem like a minor complaint, but it’s more difficult than it should be to pull the earbuds out of the charging case. The magnets that hold them in place are almost too strong, actively working against you. There’s also limited room to grip the buds, as their stems are hidden in a downward-facing hole, which only leaves the ear tips protruding. The matte finish of the case is smooth to the touch, which makes it a little harder to find a good grip to pull the buds out. It may not be the tale of the Sword in the Stone, but it’s a little frustrating nonetheless.
Finally, the microphone doesn’t quite live up to other HUAWEI flagship buds. In a quieter environment, voice clarity is quite good. However, noise from wind or cars means the buds struggle to differentiate between voice and background sounds, as heard in the demos below.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i microphone demo in house (non-standardized):
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i microphone demo on street (non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i Specs
|HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i|
10mm Dynamic Driver
Simultaneous Bluetooth connection with dual devices
Supported. Requires smartphones running EMUI10 or above
Active noise cancellation
Call noise cancellation
AI Life (Android/iOS)
Per earbud: 55mAh (min)
Charging case: 410mAh (min)
Music playback on 1 charge: 6.0 hours (with ANC enabled)
Music playback on 1 charge: 7.5 hours (with ANC disabled)
Music playback with charging case: 18.5 hours (with ANC enabled)
Music playback with charging case: 28 hours (with ANC disabled)
About 4 hours of playback on 15 minutes charge
About 60 minutes for the earbuds (in the charging case)
About 110 for charging case without earbuds (wired)
$109 / £90 / €100
Should you buy the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i?
It’s hard to argue with a pair of good-sounding ANC earbuds priced at under £100 in the UK. The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i are considerably cheaper than many competitors, an improvement on the FreeBuds 4i, and boast impressive noise canceling. Sure, they’re not the best buds around, but you’d struggle to find any as capable for their price point. The FreeBuds 5i nail all of the fundamentals, as well as some nice little extras, such as AI Life’s ear fit test to help secure your sound.
The charging case retains more power than that of the FreeBuds 4i, which only provided enough juice to charge your buds once. This time around, the FreeBuds 5i can be fully charged nearly three times by the charging case. Another improvement upon the FreeBuds 4i is the inclusion of the LDAC Bluetooth codec, good news for those looking to take advantage of streaming high-res music (providing your phone supports it). For those using iOS, the FreeBuds 5i boast AAC connectivity, which is still pretty good.
However, they’re not perfect. The AI Life app has a couple of handy features like the aforementioned ear fit test, but even if it wasn’t a hassle to get on Android in the first place, it’s a little too basic to warrant keeping it, bar the need to install updates occasionally. There are only three equalization settings, for example, which won’t appease audiophiles, and there’s little in the way of tangible audio customization. There’s no mention of Dolby Atmos, and Spatial audio is missing, though the latter tends to be reserved for mid to upper-tier headphones. Bluetooth Multipoint does feature, but only if you’re paired with a recent HUAWEI phone.
The HUAWEI's FreeBuds 5i deliver great noise canceling and sound quality at an affordable price.
The biggest win for the FreeBuds 5i is that most other buds in this price range rely heavily on passive noise isolation. Meanwhile, the FreeBuds 5i boast genuinely impressive ANC, even next to more expensive earbuds. The default EQ setting also sounds great to my ears, so you could argue the sparsity of equalization options isn’t necessary here.
The bottom line is that there aren’t many earbuds around that can claim as much for the price as the FreeBuds 5i. The sound quality of the FreeBuds 5i is well above average for the price, with a good level of bass that doesn’t overpower the mix. Android or iOS users who especially enjoy pop, rock, and dance music should be happy listening on these buds.
What are the best HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i alternatives?
Those looking for superior noise canceling and sound quality should look no further than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ($139 at Amazon), as you can find Samsung’s first-gen Pro buds at a decent price these days. These buds boast a two-way speaker including an 11mm woofer and 6.5mm tweeter for a superior audio experience. This is in addition to an IPX7-rating, keeping your buds safe from liquid splashes and dirt. The battery should last for up to 4.5 hours with ANC activated, in addition to offering Samsung smartphone users the high-res Samsung Scalable Codec. This provides 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio sampling at up to 512kbps.
For less money than the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i, you can grab a pair of OnePlus Buds Z2 ($99 at Amazon) for a comfortable fit. These buds claim up to 40dB of noise canceling, in addition to 11mm dynamic drivers and fast charging five hours of playback from 10 minutes of charge. These earbuds also boast Dolby Atmos, which will please those looking to immerse themselves in surround sound. Bluetooth 5.2 is also present, although there is little in the way of high-res Bluetooth codecs to choose from. The charging case also provides up to 38 hours of additional charge. These buds are exceptionally lightweight, weighing only 4.6g per bud. That helps a lot when it comes to securing superior comfort.
If working out is your priority, the JBL Tune 230NC TWS ($49.99 at Best Buy) might be up your street. They’re very affordable buds, boasting an impressive eight hours of playback time with ANC activated, in addition to some pretty good noise canceling. Bass frequencies are boosted using their 6mm dynamic drivers, which is fairly typical of workout buds. If you want to hone your sound or turn the bass frequencies down a notch, there’s a multiband EQ within the JBL Headphones app. Bluetooth 5.2 is supported, although only the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs are present. That means no high-res audio streaming, unfortunately.
Finally, Android users may want to take a look at the Jabra Elite 4 ($79 at Amazon) for their workout needs. They boast an IP57-rating to resist splashes, in addition to Bluetooth 5.2 and the aptX Bluetooth codec. Unfortunately, iOS users won’t benefit from AAC here, having to rely on SBC connectivity. Noise canceling is solid though, and sound quality benefits from an evenly balanced frequency curve. If you want to adjust your EQ, there are a few handy presets and an adjustable EQ-band in the Sound+ app. Their durability, as well as their reliable ANC functionality, make these a good competitor to the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i review: FAQs
Yes, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i are worth it, especially if you want to experience decent noise canceling at an affordable price compared to the competition. The limited EQ presets may put some people off, but the default sound quality is genuinely very pleasing to the ear. It’s good that these buds play nicely on Android and iOS, even if the AI Life app isn’t downloadable from the Google Play store.
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i are not waterproof, but they do have an improved IP54 rating compared to the FreeBuds 4i IPX4. They’re durable enough for most everyday physical activities, including working out at the gym or running. Just don’t go dunking them in the water!
HUAWEI claims the FreeBuds 5i provide up to six hours of battery life with ANC activated — up to 7.5 hours with ANC turned off. The charging case should also recharge your buds for up to another 28 hours of playtime. This is in addition to fast-charge, which gives your buds up to four hours of life from just 15 minutes of charging.
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5i do not support Qi wireless charging. This in contrast to the more sophisticated FreeBuds Pro 2 which do offer wireless charging.