HUAWEI managed to put itself in a really good position. As a company, it has an audio product for everyone. Prefer over-the-ear headphones? Check out the FreeBuds Studio. Want a comfortable pair of ANC buds? Check out the FreeBuds 3 (and well, the successor we’re looking at today, the FreeBuds 4). Want both passive and active noise cancelation? Look no further: FreeBuds Pro.
Of course, we only mentioned the flagship products in our enumeration above, but you’ll be happy to find out there are plenty of other products in their portfolio, like the FreeBuds 4i, and the FreeLace Pro, just to name a few, so they really have something for every taste, need, and wallet.
The FreeBuds 4 build on the success of the FreeBuds 3, with the company retaining the design principles and overall looks of the earbuds, but making slight changes and tweaks to improve upon the predecessor. We’ll be looking at those, and of course the resulting product, in our HUAWEI FreeBuds 4 review below.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 4 specs
Compared to the FreeBuds 3, the FreeBuds 4 is slightly smaller, both comparing the buds themselves, as well as the charging case.
One earbud weighs a mere 4.1 grams, and measures 41.4 mm in height, 16,8 mm in width, and 18,5 mm in depth. The charging case weighs 38 grams (with the buds removed) and, since it’s pebble-shaped, has a diameter of 58 mm and a height of 21.2 mm.
Inside, you’ll find a slightly larger, 14.3 mm driver, and the same Kirin A1 chip that is used to power the company’s GT2-series of smartwatches, earbuds, and even the FreeBuds Studio.
Battery capacity didn’t suffer from the overall slight reduction in size, with units rated 30mAh per earbud, and 410mAh for the charging case.
Bluetooth connectivity has been upgraded to Bluetooth 5.2, and the earbuds this year have earned their IPX4 rating against splashes from all directions.
Wireless charging has been dropped, with no clear plans to offer a version that supports it in the future, and so was the bone sensor that was a feature on the predecessor.
Design, build and fit
The design, per se, is beautiful, and pretty much in line with what we’re used to getting from HUAWEI on its premium products. The finish is also top-notch, with nothing further to report.
HUAWEI went with the open-fit design, similar to the FreeBuds 3, which makes me really excited about the FreeBuds Pro’s successor this year. An open-fit design has its pros and cons. We’ll talk about them, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like in-ear canal earbuds (like the FreeBuds Pro and more recently, the FreeBuds 4i), you should definitely take a look at these.
Fit-wise, because of the open-fit design, HUAWEI had more wiggle room to optimize the size and shape of the FreeBuds 4 to comfortably fit most ears. After a couple of minutes, you forget you’re wearing them. They’re comfortable and due to their light weight, you easily get accommodated to wearing them.
Those are two of the major pros of an open-fit design. We’re going to address the cons in the segment below pertaining to audio quality and ANC. However, we’d like to preface this with the fact that they’re only cons if you’re coming from an in-ear canal design. If open-fit is your bread and butter, you should dismiss these so-called cons.
Audio quality, ANC, and Experience
We have to approach the audio quality and ANC conversation from the open-fit design standpoint. Of course, an over-the-ear design will sound better because of the larger drivers, while also offering better noise isolation, and the in-ear canal earbuds will offer the best audio quality and ANC thanks to their passive noise cancelation and isolation of the sound inside the ear canal.
The 14.3 mm drivers inside the FreeBuds 4 offer a really pleasant sound. They’re lacking a bit on the low end of the spectrum, where the bass and lower-mids reside, but that’s just a consequence of the open-fit design. Consequently, if your taste in music involves heavy bass and punchy lows, the FreeBuds 4 might not be the earbuds for you. However, they are really silky on the mids and highs, with emphasis on vocals and instruments.
There aren’t many settings to play with inside the AI Life app in terms of audio quality, and you can even get away with using them without the app which at this point, aside from customizing controls and updating firmware, does little to nothing to improve the audio experience.
Active noise cancelation
HUAWEI claims ANC has been improved over the predecessor. We’re not saying they haven’t, we’re saying that we didn’t see a discernable, significant improvement. ANC is there, and it works.
Does it block out as much noise as the FreeBuds Pro or FreeBuds 4i? Of course not, as those have the advantage of extra passive noise cancelation thanks to the in-ear canal design.
With the FreeBuds 4, noise cancelation will almost fully block out an air conditioner or a fan, but anything beyond that will bleed through due to the open-fit design.
Considering that having ANC on almost halves the battery life (from 4 hours to 2.5 hours), we’ll advise you to keep it off unless you specifically need to turn it on. And, when you do, expect, depending on the environment, for some noise to be blocked out, with most of it seeping through in a muffled, muted, or otherwise unadulterated manner.
We’ve been using the FreeBuds 4 for phone calls, VoIP calls (Signal, Zoom, Skype, Google Meet) as well as listening to music. All of the above was delivered in line with the expectations. We covered the audio quality in the segment above, and voice calls sounded good. On the other end of the line, people said they can hear us clearly, irrespective of the call quality (lesser phone calls, upper VoIP calls).
Dual-device connectivity (the ability to be connected to two devices at the same time) will definitely come in handy if you want to bridge the gap between work and play. I do most of my work on my computer while I listen to most of my music from my phone.
With wear detection, you don’t have to fumble for the pause button when you quickly want to stop your music. Just take them out of your ears and multimedia playback will immediately stop.
Battery life is close to the one advertised. 4 hours without ANC, 2.5 hours with ANC, and 22 more hours with the charging case and no ANC. While this is similar to the numbers of the FreeBuds 3 and definitely manageable, there are other HUAWEI and competitor models that offer more. It’s just fair to mention that!
Charging will take about an hour both for the earbuds and for the charging case. Currently only wired charging is available, so don’t expect to use reverse wireless charging on your phone to keep them going while you’re out.
The stem of the buds is touch-sensitive, and, while you can configure the actions inside the AI Life app, the defaults are double-tapping for play/pause, long-tapping for toggling ANC on/off, and swiping up and down to increase/decrease the volume. Thanks to this feature you can get away with using the FreeBuds 4 without AI Life, on another Android, or even iPhone or Mac.
When you do use the AI Life app, you can update the firmware (we got one update during our review period), configure the aforementioned gestures, and try to locate the earbuds should you have misplaced them.
Last, but not least, HUAWEI seems to have made it a mission for users to struggle to remove the earbuds from the charging case. Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to struggle with every model from the company, and the FreeBuds 4 are not at all easier to remove. It’s a combination of the magnets and the shiny surface and finish that denies the proper grip for easy removal.
The FreeBuds 4 are a perfect pair of elegant earbuds if you’re new to Wireless, ANC-enabled models. We don’t consider them a significant step-up from the FreeBuds 3 in order to advise an upgrade.
The addition of the IPX4 rating means you can wear them in the rain and even the gym, as splashes of water won’t damage the earbuds. That right there is a great selling point, in addition to silky smooth sound (lacking a bit on the low end), and its relatively small footprint.
They currently go for £129.99 in the UK and you get a HUAWEI Band 4 Pro (valued at £49.99) as a gift. You can currently buy them in the EU for €119.00, where they’re currently off (at the time of this review) from €149, but the discounts vary from region to region, so make sure to consult your local HUAWEI store for the latest prices.
Pros and Cons
+ lightweight and comfortable;
+ touch gestures;
+ silky smooth sound;
+ dual-device connectivity.
– weak ANC;
– poor battery life with ANC;
– audio lacking on the low end;
– no wireless charging.