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- Excellent Active Noise Cancelation and ambient sound
- Long battery life
- Comfortable to wear
- No wireless charging or multiple phone switching
- Bass is not as defining as pricier models
- Charger case takes extra effort to keep open when pairing.
- Needs Huawei’s AI Life app for updates (but will run fine with Android and Apple phones on traditional Bluetooth pairing)
Is it possible for Canadians to get great earphones for $139? The answer is a resounding yes! With today’s announcement of the Huawei FreeBuds 4i in Canada, budget minded folks will get top earphone features like balanced sound, long battery life, and, most importantly, impressive ANC (Active Noise Canceling) that beats earphones selling for more than twice the price.
I have been trying them for the past several days and am impressed with the top features. Here is my take of each:
Active Noise Cancellation
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 4i detect ambient sounds and generate a reverse sound wave to reduce the noise. The noise cancellation algorithm targets typical noisy scenarios at home from loud TV’s to noisy kitchen (wasn’t able to check in a real restaurant due to the pandemic) and outside street walking. I found ANC to be a tad better than Huawei’s flagship FreeBuds, which currently retail for $270.
Awareness Mode, which allows users to hear their surroundings without taking off the earbuds, also scored high, nudging past the FreeBuds Pro.
The third mode Off, played the longest just under 10 hours with medium volume. That’s a battery saver (see next paragraph) as I found that it did well enough in average noise surroundings without ANC due to the additional gentle sealing of the soft silicon ear tips.
The FreeBuds 4i squeeze a 55 mAh high-energy density battery into their compact frame, delivering impressively longer battery life in a smaller package. When ANC is turned off, I got just under 10 hours of continuous music playback or 6.5 hours of voice call. With ANC turned on, I got just over seven hours of music listening and just over five hours of voice calling. With the 215 mAh charging case, the buds squeezed 22 hours of music playback or 14 hours of voice call with ANC disabled. It takes just over an hour to charge the case without the earpieces in. Even better news: with Huawei’s quick charge technology, I got four hours of audio enjoyment from a 10-minute charge.
Mini Size, Modern Look
The FreeBuds 4i’s oval shape and compact design with rounded edges are inspired by the world-famous black sand beach in Iceland according to Huawei. I just say they feel nice and wear long at only 5.5 g each, fitting comfortably in my ears, again with those exceptionally soft ear tips which come in three sizes.
Balanced Audio Output Designed for Pop Music
HUAWEI FreeBuds 4i feature 10 mm large dynamic drivers that do a good job at rich midtones without ear-piercing highs, as Huawei suggests, great for pop music. The earphones use a “PEEK+PU” polymer composite diaphragm credited for the overall rich dynamic response. I found I could easily listen to the different instruments in songs. Still, the bass was more muffled (or not as penetrating) in classical music where earphones with separate treble and bass drivers do better.
Like any earphone, gesture touch gets some getting used to. It just took me a few minutes. Long presses (a bit too long for me) close to the top of the stems (either earpiece) cycle through ANC, Off and Awareness. Tapping twice cycles through Play/Pause music or Answer/End Call. Volume control is not available in gesture touch but is on Huawei’s AI Life app.
For the price you also get two MEMS microphones that support uplink environmental noise cancellation for calls and feedforward active noise cancelation. This means that both parties can hear each other as if they are in the same room, even on windy days. It worked well enough for me and is a plus factor for the affordable price.
Huawei phones of course connect the easiest by simply opening the case and placing it near the phone. Android phones can connect via traditional Bluetooth keeping the earphones in the open case and pressing the side button for two seconds. For the best experience, Android device owners can download Huawei’s excellent AI Life off the QR code printed on the box (you can only update the FreeBuds 4i with the AI Life App). Huawei recommends Bluetooth connection on iPhones.
I should note that although the FreeBuds 4i stood up against the pricier Huawei FreeBuds Pro in several features, the Pro features lighter and smaller buds and a higher capacity charger case that supports wireless charging. It also has additional touch gesture volume controls and when used with AI Life it features a best ear tip size test.
Unless you can splurge on pricier units with all the frills, the Huawei FreeBuds 4i gives you a lot of bang for the buck on features that are most important.
The Huawei FreeBuds 4i are available in white and black (what? Canadians can’t get the red ones?) at selected Canadian retailers including Costco, Staples, Amazon, Memory Express, Newegg, TSC and others. For a limited time, get a free Huawei Band 4 Pro ($99 value) when you purchase the FreeBuds 4i. This GWP promotion will run from April 29th to May 9th.