Huawei Freebuds 4 REVIEW
Here’s a pair of earbuds for those who don’t want alien objects poking down their ear canals. PAT PILCHER takes a listen to the Freebuds 4.
Huawei might be up against the wrath of Uncle Sam right now, but that hasn’t deterred their ear gear division from crafting the next generation of their wireless buds, the Freebuds 4 (not to be confused with their earlier Freebuds 4i).
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Huawei’s FreeBuds 4 may bear more than a passing resemblance to their predecessors, but under their hood is a tidy pile of improvements and refinements. They’re available in either Ceramic White or Silver Frost. Like the FreeBuds 3, they have an AirPods look in the form of a golf tee like stemmed design.
They’re open-fit buds, so they sit in your ears instead of being stuffed into your ear canal. The FreeBuds 4 will appeal to anyone who doesn’t like the feeling of earbuds jammed where no object should ever go. They’re super comfy too. While I was initially worried that they’d struggle to stay put, I found they held fast while completing several onerous tasks (including downing a pint and ripping open a bag of potato chips). Joggers and gym bunnies should also be able to wear them without fear of them falling out. One downside of their lack of grip is that there is no real seal around your ears for passive sound isolation.
Because there’s no seal around your ear (which makes for tricky active noise cancellation), Huawei’s engineers betted heavily on cutting edge dual-microphone technology with the additional mics used to capture external noise and block it out.
Making sure ANC works as efficiently as possible, there is also what Huawei calls Adaptive Ear Matching. It’ll detect a user’s ear shape and tweak noise cancellation to deliver the best results possible. While it gave satisfactory results for me, your mileage will vary depending on how the FreeBuds 4 sit in your ears.
With an open design, ANC was always going to be a mission impossible. Credit where credit is due, the Freebuds 4 do manage to take a sizeable bite out of environmental noise, but some ambient noise is still there, which is distracting.
Audio-wise, the sound emanating from the Freebuds 4 felt polished. Thanks to an LCP composite driver (which Huawei say is more durable and can deliver improved mids and highs), I was impressed by what the Freebuds 4 cranked into my head. I had crisp snare drums and surprisingly rich vocals listening to Van Morrison. With the driver being a 14.3mm beastie (which while tiny, is quite large for earbuds), their bass felt solid once I’d dialled it up via the AI Life app. All this translated into audio that made me feel as if I were there with The Stranglers as they played ‘Golden Brown’. Moving onto Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygen’ remix, crunchy Moog bass pads popped as other synth loops soared around the room.
When it comes to battery life, the news isn’t quite so great. Played with their volume up and ANC enabled, the Freebuds 4 lasted just under four hours from a single charge (the charging case extends this to 22 hours), which will limit their appeal to long haul travellers. Given their ultra-lightweight design, this wasn’t a huge surprise. Speaking of their charging case, it’s a smooth rounded puck-like widget that’ll sit nicely in a pocket or purse. There’s a button on its side for pairing and a USB-C port for charging at the bottom. Surprisingly though, wireless charging isn’t supported.
One of my pet peeves with most wireless earbuds is their unintuitive gesture controls. The FreeBuds 4 come with a bunch of customisable pre-set gesture controls. Huawei has also added the ability to control volume by sliding your finger up/down their Mic stem. The volume gestures are a nice change that felt intuitive.
Getting the Freebuds 4 set up was a doddle when pairing them with a Huawei P40 Pro. I flipped their charging case open, and a pairing prompt popped up on my P40 Pro’s screen. I also liked that when I opened their case, I could see the battery status of the buds and charging case. With non-Huawei devices, getting paired involved a long press of the button on the charging case. The Freebuds will also handily pair with up to two devices.
Taking the Freebuds 4 walkies around Wellington’s CBD allowed me to test their ability to maintain a connection in a cluttered RF environment and to check their call quality in a noisy situation. Stopping at the busy intersection of Manners and Willis St, I called home. My long-suffering wife said my voice was clear and isolated from traffic noise and the rush hour chaos around me. On the connectivity front, the Freebuds 4 proved to be bomb proof. In known hotspots where most other buds typically curled up their Bluetooth toes and conked out, the Freebuds 4 kept on keeping on.
If you don’t like silicone tips jammed into your noggin, then the FreeBuds 4 are worth a look. They’re compact, lightweight and comfy to wear, but there is a trade-off in the form of diminished ANC owing to their open design and lack of passive noise isolation. If you take a lot of calls or spend time on Zoom/Teams/Skype, their voice isolation capabilities will be a real boon. Add decent audio, solid connectivity, and there’s a lot to like.