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Hands-on review: Huawei FreeBuds 5i
Wed, 19th Apr 2023

The new Huawei FreeBuds 5i wireless earbuds are a solid choice for consumers who want to benefit from must-have features like active noise cancellation, Hi-Res Audio and great battery life without having to break the bank.

Priced at $179 NZD, the Freebuds 5i are actually the Chinese tech giant’s mid-spec offering - priced between the entry-level SE and the gorgeous, well-crafted, top-of-the-range FreeBuds Pro 2.

A couple of years ago, we reviewed the FreeBuds 4i and were impressed by their comfortability and well-balanced audio. So, how does the newer model compare?

First impressions

Our review model came in a gorgeous ‘Isle Blue’ - a blue/lilac hue with a nice touch of darker speckles all over the charging case. ‘Nebula Black’ and ‘Ceramic White’ are the other two colours available. The case itself is almost egg-shaped, with one flat side to ensure it remains stable on flat surfaces. 

The case is small and light - it weighs approximately 33g and fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Magnets stop the sturdy lid from opening unexpectedly, and the two earbuds slide comfortably back in with a satisfying click thanks to more magnets. The texture of the case is interesting - it’s grippier than you’d expect and feels nice to touch.

The earbuds sport a simple design, and they’re actually 11% lighter than the previous model. They feel good in the ear thanks to the soft, skin-friendly silicone ear tips. 

Other than the charging case and earbuds, the FreeBuds 5i also come with a USB-C cable for charging and a couple of extra size ear tips to tailor the fit to help maximise comfortability. 

Performance

Considering the price of the FreeBuds 5i, the overall performance of the earbuds is impressive. 

The ability to connect to two devices at the same time is really handy - especially if you choose to use the earbuds in a work environment. It’s great to be able to switch instantly from listening to music on my iPhone to answering a Teams call on my Microsoft Surface.

The FreeBuds 5i are Hi-Res Audio Wireless certificated, and the 10mm dynamic driver units found in the earbuds work seamlessly with the polymer composite diaphragm to deliver great sound across all frequencies. The earbuds can actually reduce low-frequency loss if they aren’t a perfect fit or if they aren’t being worn correctly and still produce great-sounding audio.

The active noise cancellation is one of the best features of the FreeBuds 5i, and although it might not be as fine-tuned as what you might find in more premium models, it still works really well. You can choose between a few different modes to optimise performance in your given environment. AI noise cancellation is another good feature - it uses an algorithm to differentiate your voice from ambient background noise to ensure clearer phone calls. It’s worth noting, however, that using noise cancellation significantly affects your battery life.

On a full charge, the charging case is capable of holding enough juice for a massive 28 hours of listening if active noise cancellation is disabled.

I find the ‘intuitive’ touch controls - which Huawei has offered on several of its earbud products - still rather fiddly to use, and I found myself often reverting to my device to toggle the volume, play/pause music and skip to the next track. If you have a Huawei phone, you can even use the touch controls to take a selfie (which is pretty neat). The general controls can be customised in Huawei’s AI Life companion app.

The IP54 waterproof rating adds some ruggedness to the FreeBuds 5i and gives you confidence when using the earbuds in dusty or wet conditions.

Verdict

I really liked my time with the Huawei FreeBuds 5i. I’ve become familiar with Huawei’s products over the last few years, and this latest offering is a great option for those looking at wireless earbuds with killer features at a competitive price.

Of course, the earbuds are by no means perfect - the active noise cancellation could be better, the touch controls remain fiddly, and owning a Huawei smartphone is the only way to get 100% of all the features on offer. However, for $179 NZD, the FreeBuds 5i are some of the best value earbuds on the market, and they do their predecessor - the FreeBuds 4i - proud.