Huawei FreeBuds 5i review cover

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review – Best Budget Hi-Res Buds with ANC

The successor of last year’s FreeBuds 4i, the new Huawei FreeBuds 5i is part of the brand’s budget range of wireless earbuds and offers improved battery life, more robust water and dust resistance as well as enhanced active noise cancellation.

We managed to get a sample for field testing around the Lunar New Year period and put it to the test with firecrackers, lion dances and a horde of screaming children too. Here’s our Huawei FreeBuds 5i review sample where we share our findings of their latest budget behemoth earbuds!

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review – What’s improved from the FreeBuds 4i

Aesthetically speaking, the new FreeBuds 5i retains the rounded, pebble-smooth charging case design as well as the stem-shaped wireless earbuds of its predecessor the FreeBuds 4i but sports a new set of colourways.

Our FreeBuds 5i review sample comes in a shade of Nebula Black that has a matte black finish and speckled dabs of white for the case combined with shiny grey earbuds.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review ear tips

Closer inspection reveals that the matte finish on the charging case resists fingerprints wonderfully though the earbuds themselves retain a shiny, plasticky finish though it does offer fair resistance to fingerprints. Alternatively, you can also acquire it in a shade of Ceramic White or Isle Blue. 

Among the sundry improvements added are the fact that the new Huawei FreeBuds 5i has more robust IP54 dust and water resistance for the earbuds versus the IPX4 of its predecessor. The charging case understandably does not have any dust or water resistance.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review ear tips

What this translates to is similar splash resistance to fresh water though the new 5i has better dust ingress resistance. The earbuds of the FreeBuds 5i are also 11% lighter too which makes them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

Where it sees the biggest improvements are under the hood. While the new Huawei FreeBuds 5i retain 10mm drivers on each earbud but have upped sound quality with support for Hi-Res audio with LDAC, SBC and AAC codec support to stream high quality audio though this is also contingent on an equally high quality sound source. On paper, the FreeBuds 5i also has more robust active noise cancellation at up to 42dB.

Another upgrade over the older FreeBuds 5i is enhanced battery life and a larger battery in its charging case that’s almost double the older 4i for vastly enhanced endurance in the field.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i Review – Build and Design

Out of the box, the Huawei FreeBuds 5i has a fairly common rounded design and primarily uses polycarbonate for its charging case and stem-shaped earbuds. The case itself has a pairing button on the side and a USB-C charging port on the base. To save on costs, it lacks wireless charging.

The earbuds feature a fairly standard design with a bulbous housing containing the small 55mAh battery and 10mm drivers that terminate in a swappable silicone ear tip along with an extended control stem that houses the microphones.

By default, the medium-sized silicone ear tips are pre installed on the FreeBuds 5i though Huawei has thrown in a free small-sized and large-sized set of silicone ear tips in individually sealed packages to offer a better passive sound seal.

Unlike the somewhat unusual control method used in the higher end FreeBuds Pro 2 which involves squeezing the stems, our FreeBuds 5i review sample relies on the tried and tested method of taps and long presses on its control surface. 

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review box contents

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review – The packaging contains the earbuds themselves, a charging cable as well as a set of small and large silicone ear tips

In addition to the swappable small and large sized ear tips, our Huawei FreeBuds 5i review sample also has a charging cable, the usual set of warranty literature and a card with a QR code that offers three months of free access to the Huawei Music streaming service.

Overall build quality is excellent especially for what you’re paying for and while the plasticky look of the earbuds does make it look a bit low-rent, the whole affair is otherwise exceptionally sturdy and well built. Of note is that the charging case is easy to open one-handed while its smooth finish design ensures that it doesn’t snag in a pocket.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i Review – Setup and Performance

Getting our Huawei FreeBuds 5i review sample up and running is a relatively simple affair. While it works out of the box by default and easily pairs up via Bluetooth 5.2 with other Android and iOS devices out of the box, you can only customise or tweak its higher functions if you download the Huawei AI Life app that can be downloaded for free for Android and iOS.

While the app exists in some fashion on the Google PlayStore and Apple app store, the most up to date version has to be downloaded off Huawei’s own app repository which is on a QR code on the back of the box. 

Once you’ve installed the AI Life app and paired the earbuds with your smartphone, you’re ready to head to the races. Controls for the FreeBuds 5i are fairly straightforward with the default control set being a long press to toggle between turning ANC on or off and cycling through Awareness mode while a double tap allows users to play or pause tracks and to take or end calls. Swiping up and down a stem allows users to control the volume.

The AI Life app does allow some modest amount of customisation and you can swap the double tap and ‘press & hold’ gestures on the left or right ear bud to some degree.

Assuming you’re pairing it with a Huawei smartphone running EMUI 11 or higher, you can even assign the ‘press & hold’ gesture to identify a song you’re playing which is handy in select circumstances though we weren’t able to get this feature working with our review sample when paired with a Mate50 Pro. 

The app also enables you to alter the intensity of the active noise cancellation with your choice of a stock General setting for noisy places, an Ultra mode for really noisy areas and a more muted Cosy mode for quiet places like libraries. At maximum performance, the ANC is rated for up to 42dB of noise cancelling which is the ambient noise in a library for reference. To be fair, the higher end FreeBuds Pro 2 are rated for up to 47dB of noise cancelling while being almost twice the price. 

ANC aside, the Huawei AI Life app also lets you update the firmware and tweak equaliser effects to optimise bass, enhance treble or leave it on its default neutral settings. Unfortunately, there are no options for bespoke equaliser settings and you have to stick with these three broad modes.

If you happen to lose the earbuds, the app also has a Find Earphones option that triggers a loud sound from the earbuds so you can find them if you happen to misplace them. As an afterthought, you can check remaining battery life on each earbud and the charging case itself.

The AI Life app also includes a helpful Test Fit mode that actually tests if your selected ear tips and earbuds are a good fit.

After getting the green light from the app on setup, the comfortable fit of the earbuds and ear tips was such that extended usage over several hours did not present any significant discomfort. They also remained in place even after hopping about and sprinting after the train on several occasions. 

Our Huawei FreeBuds 5i review unit was paired to a Mate50 Pro to see how it performed to its fullest potential. After a firmware update to the earbuds, it was up and running. Oddly enough, there’s no in-app music player with the AI Life app and you’ll have to rely on a separate music player app or the stock phone provided with most phones to do so.

Crammed into each earbud are a 10mm pair of dynamic drivers with a polymer composite diaphragm with a rated frequency range of 20 Hz to 40,000kHz.

When subjected to a variety of tracks on default settings, our FreeBuds 5i review sample proved to be a pleasantly versatile performer capable of handling a variety of tracks from pop to classical music.

Vocals were crisp and detailed while left/right sound staging was excellent and the earbuds were able to offer fairly detailed mids and highs along with a good amount of bass though the provided Bass and Treble modes seem a tad heavy-handed and occasionally drown out other subtler details in tracks.. 

In tandem with a properly selected pair of silicone ear tips, the FreeBuds 5i is capable of surprisingly good active noise cancellation. In Ultra mode at the apex of Chinese New Year celebrations here in Malaysia, it’s able to comfortably dull out the background noise in a bustling mall, mute out most of the high pitch screams of kids running amuck to a pleasant murmur and did a fair job muting out the banal elevator and mall muzak.

It understandably wasn’t quite able to mute out a lion dance performance at point blank range seeing the cacophony of cymbals and drums from five paces away.. For what you pay for, this is one of, if not the best ANC you can get in this price range.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review open top

Of note for power users is its ability to pair up with up to two devices be it  Windows or Mac, Android or iOS phone at a time with the ability to swap between them via the AI Life app. This came in handy when paired with a Windows PC and an Android phone so that incoming calls could easily be tackled on the earbuds at will. Call quality in general was good and audio was clear across both sides.

In terms of battery life, our Huawei FreeBuds 5i review sample performed very close to its officially stated limits. On paper, each earbud is rated to last up to 6 hours with ANC on and with a collective total of 18.5 hours of use inclusive of the charging case.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review menu

Our tests managed to achieve close to these figures with a total of about three to five hours a day of use with ANC on split between breaks primarily for music and calls across four plus days paired with a phone and a PC before it needed a top-up. A full charge takes an hour plus though a 10 minute charge nets about 4 hours of playback time without ANC on. In terms of overall endurance, this is easily in the upper echelons of battery life. 

Should you buy the Huawei FreeBuds 5i?

The Huawei FreeBuds 5i features a host of improvements over its predecessor including Hi-Res audio support and enhanced battery life.

Hitech Century Silver award

As it stands, the FreeBuds 5i punches above its price point with good ANC, a comfortable fit paired as well as solid overall performance to make it one of the best choices available if you’re looking for a sub RM400 pair of TWS earbuds. 

Specifications
Price RM399
Driver 10mm Dynamic driver with active noise cancellation
Battery 55mAh (earbud) / 410mAh (case) 18.5 hours with ANC/ 28 hours without ANC / 6 hours per earbud with ANC enabled / 7.5 hours with ANC disabled | 60 minutes charging time
Size/Weight 30.9 x 21.7 x 23.9mm /4.9g (earbuds) | 48.2 x 62.8 x 26.9 / 33.9g (charging case)

Huawei FreeBuds 5i review sample courtesy of Huawei Malaysia. For more details and to purchase, please visit their official online store here.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i Review – Where to download the latest version of the Huawei AI Life app?

For convenience and in case you accidentally dumped the box, here’s the correct link to download the most up to date version of AI Life at https://smarthome.hicloud.com/d/?p=ZAA9

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