Pros: Good sound, relatively good noise cancellation
Cons: fit might be a little loose for some people
HUAWEI’S AirPods-like stalk-shaped Freebuds 4 are priced at around €40 less than what you’ll pay for Apple’s equivalent buds, with similar (or slightly better) audio quality and some extra features.
Chief among these extras is active noise cancellation (ANC).
There isn’t really any in-ear wireless bud that does ANC particularly well; it’s especially challenging for the Freebuds 4, given the physical shape that Huawei has chosen here – a solid stalk with no rubber tip to seal off any gaps around the bud in your ear.
That said, there’s definitely a noticeable difference when you switch it on or off (through the accompanying AI Life app, available for both Android or iPhone, or a long touch of the outside of the bud). It’s more than just faint, too it changes your experience when walking down a busy road. The traffic noises don’t completely disappear (as they nearly would with good overhead noise-cancelling headphones), but the sharper edge of their din fades away.
This happens without really affecting the quality of the sound from the Freebuds 4, which is generally excellent – definitely above what you’d expect to get at this price range.
One difference between the Freebuds 4 and last year’s Freebuds 3 is their weight – the 2021 variant is significantly lighter at just 4.1g per bud.
The fit feels the same, though. Huawei is sticking with that AirPods-like stalk. This has some advantages and some disadvantages. In general, it gives a slightly superior audio reception to more people than rubber-tip buds rivals. This is something that the likes of Samsung – which mostly favours the alternative shape – has had to battle with over the years.
On the other hand, the stalk form is markedly less useful for joggers, or exercisers in general. While the Freebuds never actually fell out of my ear, I did find that I needed to nudge them back into their tightest position at times, something I also have to do with basic AirPods.
One of the likely reasons, other than audio quality, that Huawei sticks with this form factor is for the touch control gestures. Here, there’s a full array of them, from volume control to play and pause, to answering or rejecting a call, to controlling noise-cancellation.
I have mixed feelings about touch controls – they’re a recipe for error and mistouches. Huawei does it better than most, but I’m still not a fan.
The Freebuds 4 give you about 2.5 hours (with ANC switched on; it’s longer with it switched off) between pill box charges and about 22 hours from the pill box between its own charges.
Calls on the buds seem clear.
Overall, the Freebuds 4 are impressive. It must have been tempting for Huawei to try and limit some of the buds’ functionality to its new Harmony operating system, but the Freebuds 4 work pretty flawlessly with Android and iOS devices in my experience.