There is a lot of competition in the wireless earphone market. Well-known names include Apple, Bose, Sony and Jabra, barely scratching the surface. Huawei is one of the quiet achievers in that market and, by previous experience, delivers quality hardware and sound on a friendly budget.
The Huawei FreeBuds 5i is a very affordable option; one of the most affordable and feature-rich earbuds for a whisker over AU$150.00, but if you keep your eyes peeled for specials, that number will almost certainly drop.
Design and Fit
When Huawei announced its release in Australia, we covered a number of the design elements of the Freebuds 5i. The earbuds themselves are remarkably lightweight and, at times, barely noticeable in your ears. I found these to be one of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve used recently.
In-ear devices are a very personal decision, with factors like weight, size, balance and included ear tips all playing a part in the user experience. I found these to be a solid pass mark on balance and great in terms of size and weight. So from a user experience, it’s a really good start and more to come, although I did have a couple of minor issues with them.
With a few different activities at the gym and around my home, I tried to shake these loose and I managed it. It was pretty noticeable that they were moving around though, so if you’re on a treadmill or pounding the pavement, you’ll know before you lose one. So they’re remarkably comfortable and fit pretty well, but I have tested others that were slightly better for fit in the past. It’s important to note though, that the others were noticeably more expensive than these.
They fit smoothly and snugly into the carry case, which is small enough to drop in your pocket and forget it’s there. Because of the refined design of the individual earpieces, they’re easy to get out of the case too.
Setup, Use and Features
I’ve been testing the FreeBuds 5i as part of my time on iOS, and it’s been a smooth experience there. You can use them without using the app, quickly and easily with a good listening experience. If you don’t use the app, though, you’ll not have access to some features that are controlled within it.
If you’re going down that pathway, the experience is slightly different on iOS from Android in that you’re able to install the AI Life app direct from the App store, versus needing to install the Huawei App Gallery and then install the AI Life app.
To pair your earbuds, you need to follow the usual process of opening the case and pairing them to your phone.
Once you’ve got the app installed, you can control all of the features from within the app or change many of the touch gestures on them. As a default, your controls are quite intuitive:
- Sliding your finger up or down the stem controls the volume
- Long press on the stem rejects calls or cycles through ANC options: ANC, Off or awareness
- Double Tap: Play/Pause playback or Answer/End calls
They also have sensors — as has become the norm — to automatically pause playback when you remove an earbud during playback. I’ve found that this is generally pretty good, but if you don’t handle the earbud by the stem, you can often trigger playback to restart inadvertently.
You can manually pair a second device and easily switch between the two; curiously, this control isn’t part of (or I’m missing something obscure) the app.
Battery Life: The promise is accurate
One thing we often see with wireless earbuds is under-promising and over-delivering on battery life. I completely understand why, because it’s not a great user experience if you’re promised something like 40 hours of battery life, but fail to read the fine print; tested in lab conditions while running at low volume etc.
So part of my testing on earbuds is to get a clear picture of the actual battery life delivered. Huawei has delivered what they promised in the FreeBuds 5i.
- 6 Hours with ANC on, 7.5 with ANC off
- Earbuds and case fully charged total 18 hours of playback with ANC on, 28 with ANC off
Even if you are caught short for battery, 15 minutes in the case will give your earbuds around four hours of playback time, and 1 hour will fully charge your case.
How do they sound?
In terms of audio, you can have the best-looking device and battery to burn but if the sound quality isn’t there, they won’t sell. There is the consideration of “you get what you pay for” but in this case, you’re getting not just what you paid for, you’re getting great bang for your buck.
After a bit of fiddling to find the right fit for me, the audio quality was pleasing. I mean that as an outright statement, not just because they’re only AU$159.00 but because the audio is solid. The audio balance is great for music or video streaming and podcasts and don’t distort the voices of your friends, family or colleagues on phone calls.
Perhaps more important for calls, though, is the clarity of audio that is being delivered to your callers. Having used these on multiple conference calls and video meetings, while there was the comment of the audio being different to usual, there were no complaints of background noise or issues with broken audio, even while I was moving around a presentation area. This is nothing but a great representation of the AI noise cancelling that’s built into the hardware.
To be a little more specific, the mids are clean, offering beautifully crisp vocal reproduction. The bass is surprisingly punchy without overpowering or throwing out the balance of the audio. Perhaps the only slight disappointment is that the highs are a tiny bit flat at the higher end of volume capabilities. Not noticeably so to the untrained ear but on balance with higher quality streams, you can hear that something is just a little lacking.
As with almost any audio equipment, if you’re not quite happy with the balance, you can tweak it to your liking with an equaliser either within your preferred streaming app or a stand-alone option.
Would I buy them?
The short answer is yes, I absolutely would and they’ve now become one of my go-to recommendations when people ask me about sub$200 earbuds. The beautiful part of this is that it’s not just the budget making them an attractive option, the audio is solid and there’s a pretty reasonable range of functionality, much of which is controlled in the app.
The physical earbuds are well-shaped and provide a comfortable fit, with easy access from the carry case. The lightweight, and excellent in-ear balance means that they’re not just comfortable, but comfortable to wear for relatively long periods of time. If you compare them to some of the better-known options, there are some similarities; but the price elevates them over several other options with minimal sacrifices to end-user experience.
If you’re keen to pick up a set, you can grab them on Amazon for $159.00 or at the Huawei experience stores in the eastern states.
Disclosure: The review of the Huawei FreeBuds 5i has been sponsored by Huawei but has not influenced the resulting opinion of the product.
Due to hygiene, Huawei has not reqeusted return of the item.