Huawei FreeBuds 4
Along with the Huawei nova 8i, I was sent the Huawei FreeBuds 4 to be reviewed as well. The FreeBuds 4 are open-fit TWS earbuds that feature active noise cancelling and great battery life.
Unboxing and first impressions
In the box, you'll find the round charging case with the TWS buds inside, along with the USB-C charging cable and some paperwork. I must say that adore the appearance of the charging case - although the shape reminds me a little of my usual floss packaging, it's really nice to hold and fits into pockets well too.
The unit I received is finished in an elegant metallic grey, while the earbuds themselves boast a reflective mirror finish. On the front of the case is an LED indicator, while the bottom houses the charging port. The Huawei logo is printed on the back of the case, aligned with the hinge, and the physical pairing button is located on the right.
I must say I am impressed with the build quality of the charging case. The magnetic closure is not flimsy in the least, and snaps shut satisfyingly. In fact, I sometimes found myself toying with it idly cause the tactile feedback is super reassuring.
Open-fit may not be for everyone
The FreeBuds 4 feature an open-fit design - that is to say it has no rubber tips that plug snugly into your ear canal. The buds themselves are remarkably similar to the iconic Airpods, with a long stem and an ergonomic tip that rests gently in your ear.
I have to declare upfront that my ear cavities appear to be larger than normal, with my right ear's being significantly larger than the left's. This resulted in one earbud hanging on precariously while the other side fit in a relatively secure fashion. Apart from being an awkward fit, this also has one notable drawback - the lack of a good physical seal means there isn't good passive noise isolation to complement the ANC feature.
But please take note that this will be only a problem with people with larger ear cavities and shouldn't pose a problem if your ears aren't the size of King Kong's (like mine). In any case, I suggest you to try it out before buying if you are able to get your hands on a tester unit.
A smooth user experience
Anyway, let's move on from the more unsavoury part of this review (I swear I won't mention my large ear cavities again) and proceed to the overall user experience.
Pairing is an extremely seamless process and works just like how you'd expect it to - turn on Bluetooth pairing in your phone, open up the case, and it will automatically pair. This worked on both the Huawei nova 8i I just reviewed, as well as my non-Huawei daily driver.
One great thing about it is that it can be paired to 2 devices at once, and is great at telling which device is currently active, and switches automatically. This is great if you're a multi-device user e.g. phone and laptop, as you won't have to manually disconnect it from one device to be able to use it on the other one.
The controls are also intuitive - it supports double-tap, swipe, as well as press and hold. You can customise what each of these functions do in the Huawei AI Life app. In my experience, swiping as well as the press and hold detection is extremely responsive, while I took a few tries to nail down the timing for the double-tap.
In any case, these are extremely user-friendly, which are huge plus points in my book.
How about the audio performance?
My first impression of the audio was that it is pretty balanced. It's not bass-heavy, which I tend to prefer - however, what bass there is felt rather artificial which took away some of the enjoyment for me. Whether this is due to the poor fit into my oddly-shaped ear cavities as mentioned earlier (sorry, I had to mention it again) or not, I am unsure. But apart from that, the sound is clear and crisp, and the volume is good too.
Removing the buds from your ears will automatically pause the music, and placing it back in will resume it automatically after a pleasant beep sound. By default, touching and holding either bud will activate the Active Noise Cancelling feature.
Huawei claims that it utilises an Adaptive Ear Matching (AEM) system to automatically detect the user's ear shape to determine the optimum noise cancellation setup for each user. While the difference with it on and off is distinct, it still doesn't perform as well as a pair of in-ear buds due to the lack of a proper physical seal as mentioned earlier. However, it still comes in handy to block out more subtle noises such as the air-conditioning, which is decent enough for me.
Good battery life and great comfort
Huawei claims that the FreeBuds 4 will last 4 continuous hours of music playback without ANC, and a total of 22 hours with the charging case included. It also supports quick charging, allowing you to top up 2.5 hours worth of battery life in just 15 minutes. In my testing, these claims seemed accurate - I didn't experience it dying prematurely on me in a typical work session, and thanks to its lightweight design and loose fit, I didn't experience any fatigue or discomfort at all. In fact, you can even forget about its presence after a while - it's that unobtrusive.
One thing to note is that while Huawei boasts a 90 ms low latency on Harmony OS 2 devices, I was unable to test it out as I didn't have such a device in my possession at present. For EMUI devices, the latency is purportedly 150 ms. I tested the latency out on my non-Huawei daily driver, and interestingly enough, while there was no discernible delay while watching videos, it was definitely more noticeable while gaming. While the delay minor is enough to not be an issue for games like Genshin Impact (you might not even notice it if you aren't actively looking out for it), it might prove to be a disadvantage in games where instant audio reporting is crucial, such as FPS titles.
Buy or no buy?
At RM599, the Huawei FreeBuds 4 offers Active Noise Cancelling, multi-device pairing, as well as great battery life. The audio quality is decent and the controls are intuitive and responsive. However, I would definitely consider testing these out before buying if your ears are particularly large.
In any case, the nature of open-fit earbuds means that it will never be as effective at noise-cancellation as closed-fit earbuds. However, if you're not looking for a complete vacuum in your ear, these work well enough for day-to-day use. The lightweight form factor is extremely comfortable, and coupled with the long-lasting battery, the FreeBuds 4 are a great purchase for those who tend to use earbuds over long hours.
For more information on the Huawei FreeBuds 4, you may visit the official product page here.