The market for wireless headphones is crowded and choosing good products at a reasonable price is getting bigger, but also more difficult. The Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones are a perfect example of this – they offer all the functions that are important to the user in the middle price range. They have been significantly improved compared to the previous model Huawei FreeBuds 4i. They are lighter, smaller, have better noise reduction and Hi-Res audio certification. They also have a really good pairing and active connection mode with two devices. With these many advantages, there is only one minus – the headphone application cannot be downloaded directly from the Google Play store. If we do not have a Huawei phone, we must download the APK file from the website.
Main advantages and disadvantages of Huawei FreeBuds 5i
Advantages of Huawei FreeBuds 5i:
- There is a matte and a glossy version of the case
- Dedicated pairing button on the housing
- IP54 sealing
- Comfortable – they do not fall out of the ears
- Pairing and active connection with two devices at the same time
- Improved, much more effective noise reduction
- The ability to choose one of three levels of noise reduction
- Simple and easy to remember operating gestures
- Good sound
- Good quality of voice calls
- No problems with the range or disappearance of sound in one of the headphones
- Good battery life
- The AI Life application has everything you need, while being clear and simple
- Good value for money
Wady Huawei FreeBuds 5i:
- The AI Life application is not in the Play Store (it is in the App Store for iOS) – you have to install it from the APK file
- The equalizer only has three options – standard, bass boost and treble boost
- Switching from noise reduction to ambient awareness takes too long – about 5 seconds
- They do not support wireless charging
How do we evaluate design?
Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones are available in three colors and two types of housing finishes. The white model is made of smooth, glossy plastic, while the blue and black versions are matte. The manufacturer describes it as a mat imitating the structure of the stone. The matte versions also do not have a completely uniform color. This helps to hide touch marks or scratches.
The case, as in other TWS headphones, also acts as a charger and powerbank. It is equipped with a USB C socket, a pairing button and a multi-colored LED. The button is an often overlooked accessory. Some models of TWS headphones do not have it and then support for simple functions such as re-pairing or reset forces the user to read the instructions. Huawei headphones do not have this problem.
The headphones are sealed according to the IP54 standard, so they are resistant to rain, water splashes and sweat.
Compared to the previous model FreeBuds 4i , the latest model 5i has a 7 mm shorter headband, each earbud weighs 4.9 grams instead of 5.5. The case is also smaller and lighter.
Along with the headphones, we get a short USB C cable and two additional sizes of rubber tips made of medical silicone. Each ear is different, my headphones fit very well with the default tips. I had no problem with comfort or headphones falling out.
You can complain about the similarity of the shape of the case and the headphones themselves to Apple AirPods and other models of TWS headphones, but in visually distinctive models I had problems with falling out and comfort much more often. So I decided to consider that if this form works, it’s good that it hasn’t been changed by force.
Mobile application and additional features
I have ambivalent feelings about the functions and the mobile application, because the headphones have everything you need, they are user-friendly, but we cannot install the application for them from the Play store.
The function of pairing and maintaining an active connection with two devices made a very good impression on me. The headphones can be connected to a phone and a tablet, or a phone and a PC, or to two phones. To use them alternately, you do not need to reach for the Bluetooth menu. We can play the sound once from one device, once from another, alternately, and each time we will hear it through the headphones without the need for any action on the part of the user. Importantly, if we play music or a movie on one device, turning on playback on the other will not switch us immediately. This prevents your favorite song from being brutally interrupted by an auto-playing video on Facebook and Twitter. However, it is enough to stop the playback for the process of activating the sound from the second source to become automatic. An incoming call on the other device can always be answered. This is how it should work, and in many models of headphones this function is either absent or does not work as well.
In addition, in the application on the phone, we can view the list of paired devices, see which one is currently streaming audio, and manually select the priority device. We have full control. If we do not want to change anything, the function works without an application, as well with mobile devices as with a PC.
Controlling the noise reduction function is also possible without the application, from the headphones themselves. In the application, however, we can additionally choose one of three noise reduction modes. In addition, in the application you can change the priority from sound quality to call quality. In the latter case, latency is reduced, which is useful when watching movies and playing games.
The AI Life app also allows you to check for software updates, carry out a headphone fit test, turn on the “find headphones” function and configure gestures. The default layout is simple:
- Double tap to pause or resume playback (or answer and end calls)
- Long press toggles noise canceling mode (or rejects a call)
- Swipe up and down on the headband to increase and decrease the volume
This layout avoids unwanted interactions and is easy to remember. However, you can add track switching or voice assistant functionality by splitting the functions between the left and right earbuds. You can also change whether the ambient noise reduction change should include all three modes – noise reduction, off and awareness mode, or only two of these modes. You can also activate the song identification function, but it only works with Huawei smartphones with EMUI 11.0 or later.
In addition, in the settings, you can disable the auto-stop function after removing the earphone from the ear and activate a special low-latency mode.
I have only two reservations about the functions and applications. First of all, switching between noise reduction mode and awareness mode takes less than 5 seconds with the hold gesture and voice message. It’s a lot if we wanted to hear a message at the train station or airport and removing the handset from the ear will be noticeably faster. With the Sony headphones , you can tap and hold the headphones to instantly let ambient sounds in and let go to go back to noise canceling.
Secondly, the AI Life app is not available in the Play Store. It is available in AppGallery on Huawei smartphonesand can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS. For Android smartphones, the only option during my tests was to download AI Life via a browser as an APK file and manually install it “from unknown sources”. The degree of inconvenience of such a solution will depend on the user. If he has already installed such applications, it will hardly make a difference to him. If he’s doing it for the first time, it’s a kind of unworthiness and a new scenario to practice. If, like me, he uses Google’s extended account protection, he will not be able to install apps from outside the Play Store at all. I realize that there are probably a per mille of such users, but they should know about it in advance. Maybe the AI Life app will return to the Play Store in the future – it’s not out of the question.
Music & Sound & Noise Reduction
I recently had the opportunity to try out a few pairs of old wired in-ear headphones and compare them with the new TWS models. My feeling is that the sound quality of the headphones as a whole category improved significantly. What we perceive as standard today was previously offered by premium headphones. Although we are used to thinking about wired headphones as those offering uncompromising quality (because without compression), the higher price level of TWS headphones allowed to increase the sound quality even in models positioned lower.
In my opinion, the sound quality of the Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones is good and they work well in bass electronic music as well as in instrumental and rock music. I don’t feel any shortcomings. The sound quality is positively influenced by the use of the LDAC codec, which offers high quality and a bit rate of 990 kb/s, which the previous model of headphones did not have. In addition, FreeBuds 5i are Hi-Res audio certified. The manufacturer boasts 10 mm diaphragms and an extremely wide frequency response from 20 Hz to 40 kHz. People, especially my age, can’t hear such high frequencies, but the sound of headphones is simply good, regardless of marketing slogans.
While good sound is more common today, noise reduction is an aspect that varies significantly between headphones. Huawei boasts that compared to the previous model, noise reduction is twice as effective. I do not have a direct comparison, but in fact the effectiveness of reducing ambient noise in FreeBuds 5i is very good. They significantly reduce urban noise, allowing you to enjoy music. Among in-ear headphones, they are certainly in the TOP10 headphones that reduce noise the best and may be one of the best in their price range.
Huawei FreeBuds 5i have two microphones in each earphone. It is true that there are models on the market that have 3 microphones, but in practice I have not found any problems with voice calls. During the one-and-a-half-hour phone conversation, my interlocutor never once complained about how he could hear me. When I asked directly about the quality of the conversation, the interlocutor said that he did not realize that I was talking through headphones. Good call quality combined with the ability to pair with two devices is particularly useful and FreeBuds 5i can be used for telephone calls and teleconferences on a computer.
How long does the battery last?
Each earphone has a 55 mAh battery. The case is enough to fully charge the headphones three times. The manufacturer gives the following operating times:
- 7.5 hours of continuous playback without noise reduction for the headphones alone
- 6h of continuous playback with active noise reduction for headphones alone
- 5.2 hours of voice calls without noise reduction for the headphones alone
- 4.7h of voice calls with active noise reduction for the headphones alone
- Combined with the battery in the case, the headphones offer 28 hours of listening without noise reduction
- Combined with the battery in the case, the headphones offer 18.5 hours of noise-canceling listening
- 10 minutes of charging allows you to listen to music for 4 hours
- The headphones charge from zero to full in 60 minutes
- The case charges from zero to full in less than two hours
During my hour and a half conversation on the phone with active noise reduction, the headphones discharged to 70% of the battery. The result coincides with the manufacturer’s promises. A week of listening to music 4 hours a day is a good result for a set of headphones with a case.
Huawei FreeBuds 5i do not support wireless charging. In this price range, however, this is a rare feature.
I liked the Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones in many ways. They provide a solid foundation in the form of good sound, effective noise reduction and good quality voice conversations. They complement the functionality with useful features: pairing and maintaining an active connection with two devices at the same time, simple gestures and the ability to adjust the noise reduction power to the user’s needs. The button on the housing facilitates basic activities such as pairing or resetting the headphones. The battery life also meets my expectations
The AI Life application also allows you to personalize gestures for operation, view paired devices and prioritize them. It also allows you to start the mode with less delay as well as view the battery charge level. Unfortunately, the AI Life application will not be found in the Play Store. You have to install it from the APK file downloaded from the website. This is not a big inconvenience, but no other headphones that I tested require this from the user. However, I have no comments on the operation of the AI Life application – it is transparent and has everything you need. Headphones can also be used without a problem without the AI Life application, only then we will not have access to all options.
The European price for the Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones is 99 Euro. There should also be a promotion to start the sale.
We love: hassle-free proactive connection with two devices
What we don’t like: the lack of a dedicated AI Life app in the Google Play store
Who are the Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones for:
- For people who value good sound
- For those looking for effective noise reduction at an affordable price
- For people who want to pair the headphones with two devices at the same time
Who cannot recommend the Huawei FreeBuds 5i headphones:
- Not for people who require wireless charging from headphones