Earphones true wireless with active noise reduction (ANC) for less than 100 euros? This is what the Chinese manufacturer Huawei offers. On paper, the FreeBuds 4i are enticing, especially with high endurance: up to 10 hours of battery life, according to the manufacturer. Are these in-ear bluetooth headphones a good deal? This is what we will see.
Let’s start with the design. The FreeBuds 4i are more rounded than the previous model, and Huawei has attempted to reduce the size of their rod, although it is still quite long. The charging case also gains in curves, with a vertical placement. Because of their shape, the earbuds are a bit difficult to grab and need to be rotated before putting them in the ears, as the ear tips are positioned on the outside. Also, we were unable to keep the case open when positioned horizontally, which is inconvenient as you have to keep it vertical when storing the headphones.
Owners of Huawei smartphones with the EMUI 10 overlay, and above, will be at an advantage, because the headphones are automatically recognized the first time the case cover is opened. For other users, it will be necessary to go through a classic Bluetooth pairing and press for two seconds on a small button located on the right side of the charging case.
A real success in terms of autonomy
Huawei had been criticized for the low endurance of its FreeBuds 3i, but rectifies the situation with its new model. We measured a record autonomy of 8 h 56 min with active noise reduction, which reaches 9 h 24 min when the ANC is deactivated.
In this area, only the Galaxy Buds +, from Samsung, did better with just over 12 hours of operation. On the other hand, we regret that Huawei is content with a single status LED on the case and bypassing Qi wireless charging.
Comfortable headphones to wear
In the ears, the Freebuds 4i are comfortable – there are three pairs of ear tips to choose from – and stay securely in place. Granted, the stems are a bit long, but that’s okay. The touch control area is located at the top of the rod and is quite responsive. However, the possibilities are limited to a double tap and a long tap. This is used to switch the noise reduction (on, off and transparency mode). We will test it.
Good surprise, the change of mode does not cause beeps or incomprehensible sounds, but we hear a voice message in English that tells us if noise reduction is activated. Unfortunately, it turns out to be very minimalist by eliminating only the very low frequencies. Admittedly, this is better than nothing when you’re on the train or in the subway, but the results are well below what we obtained with headphones such as the Enco X, from Oppo. Perception mode (Awareness, in English) is satisfying to hear your surroundings without having to remove the headphones.
Sound without fullness or warmth
If the FreeBuds 4i offer very good sound quality for making phone calls, they are a bit disappointing for listening to music. The sound is correct, but nothing more. As shown by the frequency response curve, Huawei is betting everything on the midrange and the headphones cannot correctly reproduce the bass, and, to a lesser extent, the treble.
When listening, the sound lacks warmth and even becomes messy when listening to groups with a lot of instruments like Rammstein. On the other hand, the headphones deliver a pleasant sound for the RnB or for music loaded with bass, for example the famous Get Lucky, Daft Punk. It is especially necessary to activate the noise reduction, otherwise the sound rendering seems even more hollow for the listener.
Limits in the app
We would have liked to be able to correct the situation with the free Huawei AI Life application, available for the moment only on Android, but unfortunately it does not have an equalizer.
However, the app is clear and easy to use. It allows you to check the battery status of the headphones and the case, activate noise reduction and update the firmware. We were also able to customize the touch controls on the headphones.
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Unfortunately, this customization is very limited, because it mainly concerns the double touch. The long touch remains limited to the choice between the three modes of noise reduction (on, off, Perception). What a pity that Huawei did not plan an assignment to the volume control. We wouldn’t have had to take out the smartphone to fix it.