Huawei Freebuds 5i Review: Budget True Wireless Earbuds

We’re reviewing the Huawei FreeBuds 5i, a budget-friendly pair of true wireless earbuds that still pack in pretty much all the features you’d expect from a more premium pair, including a bit of noise cancellation action. It cost you $100 in the us, or 100 euros.

I’ve been using them as my full-time buds for a few days now, says my Huawei FreeBuds 5i review.

Read Also: OnePlus Buds Pro 2 Review

Design

Huawei Freebuds 5i Review: case Design

Now, somewhat unbelievably, it’s been almost two years since the Huawei FreeBuds 4i came out. So, there have been a fair few improvements in those two years. Starting with the case, at first glance, not much has changed. It still resembles a slightly squished baby bell. You now have this frosted texture, which looks like the case is made of recycled materials, but apparently, it’s just part of a unique scatter process during manual manufacturing. According to Huawei’s reviewer’s guide, it has a skin-soothing texture. I mean, I wouldn’t say my skin feels particularly soothed, but it feels a little bit grainy, kind of nice.

Huawei Freebuds 5i Review: Buds Design

One obvious actual improvement is the hinge. It feels really sturdy now, not flimsy like some of the cases you get with true wireless earbuds. It certainly doesn’t feel like the lid’s just going to snap off under the slightest bit of pressure, so that’s reassuring. And also, if you do have to drop this case, which is perfectly possible because it is quite smooth and pebble-shaped, as usual, that lid doesn’t immediately pop open and send your earbuds flying across the street and down the nearest drain. Like, seriously, it’s fine, okay, no problem.

You can grab the Huawei FreeBuds 5i in a choice of three different colors – white, black, or this rather fetching blue model. The color of the case and the buds are matching, which is nice. And the actual earbuds themselves are a little bit shorter and lighter than the FreeBuds 4i. They weigh just under five grams, nice and light for a compact design. You’ve got a silicon tip as well for a nice firm but comfortable fit, and you’ve got a choice of three different silicon tip sizes bundled in the box.

Personally, I found the FreeBuds 5i give a nice secure, firm fit but are still comfortable to wear for literally hours at a time. All afternoon long, no worries whatsoever without giving you ear fatigue. And when you are strutting your stuff down the street, I found there wasn’t any sort of wiggling or anything going on. They are nice and secure. And I don’t believe there’s an official IP rating, but believe me, they’re absolutely fine when you’re out and about in the rain. They can get very moist indeed without getting all upset about it.

Setup and AI Life App

Huawei AI Life App

Now, like most modern true wireless earbuds, the FreeBuds 5i are compatible with Android as well as iOS devices. They also work with Windows laptops and the like. You can have them hooked up to two devices at once, like your laptop and your smartphone, switching between the two of them on the fly. No worries.

I found that hooking up the FreeBuds to my Android device, in this case, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, was quick and painless. It only took a minute. Then, you’ll want to download the Huawei AI Life app, which unfortunately isn’t available via Google Play. You’ll have to grab the APK file from Huawei’s own website or download the Huawei AppGallery and get it that way instead. It’s a bit of a faff, but it’s well worth the effort because the AI Life app adds a lot of functionality.

For instance, you can quickly jump between different devices that you are connected to. You’ve also got full controls over the noise cancellation and EQ settings. There’s a lot of stuff you can do. Additionally, there’s a handy tip fit test, which basically ensures that you’ve got the right silicon tips fitted on both the buds. You can also update the firmware, and there’s a Find Earphones function as well.

Touch controls

And, like basically all true wireless earbuds as well, the FreeBuds 5i offer a full complement of touch controls. I say a full complement, they are quite streamlined and simplified here, but they work really well. For instance, by default, a quick double-tap of either bud up near the top of the stem will either pause or play your music. You can also swipe up that stem to raise the volume and swipe back down again to lower it. I find this just works absolutely perfectly. It’s some of the best touch controls I’ve ever used on a pair of true wireless earbuds. There’s no learning curve whatsoever. They just work straight away for me, no problems. And not once did I accidentally activate those touch controls.

This is helped along by the fact that there’s no single tap to do anything. It’s all double-tap. You can also long-press in order to cycle through the different noise-canceling modes. These touch controls are customizable via the Huawei AI Life app as well. For instance, on the right bud, I’ve set up the double-tap to skip to the next song instead. But you can also set it to skip back a track or wake the voice assistant. Similarly, a press and hold will cycle through the different noise cancellation modes. You can determine exactly which modes are cycled through. Otherwise, you can also disable it. As you can see, if you’re using a Huawei smartphone, you can have it identify a song that is playing. And likewise, with the swipe up and down, you can have it adjust the volume or simply do nothing at all.

Audio Quality

On the FreeBuds 5i, you’ve got 10mm dynamic drivers housed in an enhanced polymer composite diaphragm, very posh. This serves up a 40-kilohertz frequency response range, which is twice what you got on the older FreeBuds 4i. As far as sound quality is concerned, I have very few complaints whatsoever.

In addition to the bog-standard AAC and SBC codecs, you’ve also got full support for LDAC. So, as long as your smartphone or whatever you’re streaming from also supports LDAC, then you’re golden. I’m not going to say that true audiophiles are going to be impressed by these things, but certainly for the price, the sound quality is fantastic.

When streaming a high-fidelity track from Deezer, I picked up all kinds of detail in most of the tracks that I tried out. One thing I certainly noticed compared with the older FreeBuds 4i is that the bass has improved a lot. Especially for your dance tracks and hip-hop tracks, that bass comes through thick and heavy, but thankfully without drowning out the rest of the track.

If you dive into the EQ settings in the Huawei AI Life app, you can even perform a bass boost, which makes it even more impactful. However, it’s absolutely not necessary whatsoever. There’s also a treble boost if you want to give that a bit of a kick, but those are the only EQ settings available. There are no manual sliders that you can fiddle about with. But, to be honest, I was perfectly happy with the default setup.

Noise Cancellation

The Huawei FreeBuds 5i also offer a lovely bit of hybrid noise cancellation. You’ve got a dual-mic setup as well, with one external mic and one internal mic. These work together to drown out all the crap and kerfuffle that is going on around you. There are three different levels of noise cancellation: Ultra when things are really kicking off around you, General for regular use, and Cozy for when you’re in a nice, quiet environment like a cafe or an office.

I thought that the Huawei would cycle between the different modes automatically based on the noise level of your environment, but they never seemed to do that. You have to manually switch between the modes via the app. Therefore, I just left them on the Ultra mode every time I went outdoors, which, to be fair, is a good way of doing it. Then, I would switch it off entirely by doing a long-press as soon as I was back indoors.

Overall, I have to say I was impressed by the noise cancellation of the FreeBuds 5i. It’s not the absolute best at this budget price point—I found the Soundcore Space Air 40s, for instance, to be slightly better—but it’s still very good. It’s great at dampening down the rumble of passing trains, traffic, and other noisy elements when you’re walking down a busy High Street. You don’t have to crank up the volume on your podcast or audiobook; you can keep it at a nice, comfortable volume and still be able to make out every word.

There’s also very little feedback from the wind, which has been particularly handy in this gusty weather we’ve been experiencing lately.

Mic

I’m in a nice, quiet studio right now, so it’s not much of a test. But give me one sec. Okay, now I’m standing right next to a massive speaker that is blasting out high-decibel sounds, just to test how they might handle all of those extraneous noises and see if my voice still comes through nice and clear.

Battery life

As for the battery life, well, you’ll get around seven and a half hours of full-on use from the FreeBuds 5i, though that is with ANC switched off. I found that with it switched on, it’s still pretty good, and I tend to get around six and a half hours of battery life. So, while it’s not quite reaching the impressive heights of what the FreeBuds 4i accomplished a couple of years ago, it’s still very, very good compared to most true wireless earbuds, which usually offer around five to six hours of battery life with ANC.

While they do take a couple of hours to fully charge when you put them back in the slightly squashed baby Bell case, if you leave them in there for just 15 minutes, they can quick charge, giving you about three hours of use. The case has actually been upgraded in a major way from the FreeBuds 4i. In the past, the battery inside the case was too small, so you could only charge up the buds fully once before the case itself was fully depleted, which frankly was disappointing. Thankfully, there’s a much bigger 410 milliamp-hour battery inside the case. This allows you to charge up the buds almost three full times before the case is empty and needs to be recharged via a Type-C connection.

Unfortunately, there is no Qi wireless charging support, so you will have to use a cable for charging.

Final Thought

They are a very good pair of true wireless earbuds at $100 price point. Personally, I still slightly prefer the Soundcore Space A40s, but if you’re looking for a pair of affordable buds under 100 quid that offer solid noise cancellation capabilities and good audio performance, the FreeBuds 5i are definitely worth considering. The bass is particularly impressive, and overall, they get the job done. Plus, I must say, I really love that blue color option. It’s very nice.

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