Huawei FreeBuds 4 review: New wireless earbuds are simply not as good as they sound

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When you look at Huawei’s marketing spiel for its new FreeBuds 4, it’s hard not to be impressed. These new wireless earbuds come packed with top-tier features but arrive with a price tag that’s £30 cheaper than Apple’s entry-level AirPods which, considering they look almost identical, makes them appear a pretty attractive purchase. Huawei promises an improved design, better sound, and the inclusion of active noise cancellation (ANC), which is normally a feature only found on earbuds that cost almost twice as much as the FreeBuds 4.

The big question is, do these budget music makers really live up to the hype? The simple answer is, not really. Let’s start with the positives as there’s no question that the FreeBuds 4 feel incredibly premium. The puck-shaped charging case is solid and has a nice snap when you shut the lid.

Remove the buds from the case and you’ll be surprised how light each bud really is. Huawei has put these gadgets on a serious diet – they weigh in at just 4.1g each. This means they feel supremely comfortable when placed in your ears and you’ll actually forget you’re wearing them most of the time.

They connect really easily if you own Huawei devices with a pairing process that’s totally seamless. And don’t panic if you use an iPhone or Android as the buds have no issues linking up Bluetooth. Once connected, you can download Huawei’s AI Life app which offers some good options to customise the touch settings on the side of the buds.

This means you can add simple gestures to pump up the volume, switch off the ANC and skip tracks all without reaching for your phone. Take them out of your ears and they auto-pause with music starting the moment you pop them back in your head.

So, that’s the good stuff but what about the bad?

Perhaps the biggest thing to mention is that ANC technology, as it doesn’t really work that well. Almost all noise-cancelling headphones, including the AirPods Pro and new Sony WF-1000XM4s, offer a design with a rubber tip on the end of the bud.

That means you get a very tight seal in the ear which then helps the noise cancellation block out unwanted audio. Huawei is trying something different with its FreeBuds 4 getting an open-fit design that’s similar to Apple’s standard AirPods.

The firm says that “when noise cancellation is switched on, the earbuds automatically detect the user’s ear shape and determine the optimum noise cancellation setup for each user, resulting in the most comfortable noise cancellation experience.”

In reality, when you switch on the ANC you will notice a slight difference, but it’s not good enough that you can drown-out the sound of neighbours splashing around in their paddling pool, the rumble of the train tracks, or anything else that might spoil a podcast.

The next gripe we have is the overall audio quality as we’ve had a very mixed experience with the FreeBuds 4.

At low volumes, they sound pretty good but pump up the sound and things get distorted by overwhelming bass. Vocals become difficult to hear and all definition in the track gets lost. We’d go as far as to say the whole thing becomes pretty unpleasant.

Battery life is also a little lacklustre with the FreeBuds 4 offering 4 hours of continuous music playback. That’s not exactly market-leading and things get worse when you switch on the ANC as you’ll then only get around 2.5 hours before they’ll need popping back in their case.

Finally, there’s the overall design of the FreeBuds 4.

There’s no getting away from the fact that these ‘buds look almost identical to Apple’s AirPods, but the longer stalk means most people on the tube will simply look at you and think you’ve been shopping on Amazon for some cheap rip-offs.

Most other manufacturers are going their own way with their earbud design which makes them stand out from the crowd and we’re not sure why Huawei is so desperate to look identical to the massively popular AirPods from Apple.

Huawei FreeBuds 4 review: Final Verdict

PROS – Lightweight but premium feel • Low price • Good touch controls • Easy pairing even on iPhone
CONS – ANC is pretty pointless • Audio quality suffers at high volumes • Need to ditch the AirPods-style design • Average battery life

Huawei’s FreeBuds 4 sound amazing on paper but in reality, things don’t match up to expectations.

The noise-cancellation is pretty poor, the audio quality could be much better, and the design lacks any imagination.

Battery life is also pretty standard with some rivals offering much longer usage on a single charge. After all, the Galaxy Buds+ can keep the party going for 11 hours before needing a refill.

It’s not all bad news with the buds feeling comfy in your ears and the case getting a premium finish. The £130 price is also appealing, there’s that neat app and the easy connection to both Android and iPhone is a nice touch.

But, this is a highly competitive market and with so many other buds to choose from that offer better sound, cheaper pricing or longer battery life it’s really hard to recommend the FreeBuds 4 over the ever-growing list of rivals.

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