For the first time since its arrival on the European market, this year Huawei has not announced (and probably will not announce) any high-end smartphones in the Old Continent. The entire consumer division of the Chinese giant, crippled by the attacks of the US administration, has had to fall back on all alternative products to phones, that is, those that can still escape the blockades imposed by Washington more than two years ago.
Among these are the new Freebuds 4 headphones, earphones with active noise cancellation (in abbreviation, Anc), which we have been able to thoroughly test over the past month. Overall we have discovered a good product, which however does not quite keep its promises, especially as regards the reduction of noise. Audio quality is good, but the price seems completely off the charts, especially when compared to the (lower) one of the Freebuds Pro model.
Design and technical features
The new Freebuds 4 are open fit and therefore lack the rubber caps used by most noise canceling in-ear headphones. This feature determines the design, which is very similar to that of the AirPods (especially in the white version, a little less in the silver one). However, Huawei’s earphones are slightly larger than Apple-branded competitors and the case is round rather than square.
The earphones are very light (they weigh just 4.1 grams each) and comfortable. Despite their small size, they integrate 14.3 mm dynamic drivers, with a frequency range that goes up to 40 kHz (useful detail to avoid distortions in the range of audible frequencies, i.e. up to about 20 kHz, but in fact it has no effect on the final quality of audio reproduction).
The stem of the two earphones is touch sensitive: with a double tap you can answer a call, control music playback or activate the virtual assistant of the smartphone; swiping your finger up or down adjusts the volume, while a long press turns active noise cancellation on or off. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn. Just adjusting the volume with the swipe of your finger it is a bit cumbersome, because you have to repeat the gesture several times to increase the audio level one step at a time.
The connection to the devices works very well thanks to the reliability of the Bluetooth 5.2, which also enables the ability to connect headphones to multiple devices at the same time. So so instead the battery: With the headphones fully charged, music playback lasts a maximum of 4 hours, but drops to 2.5 if you activate noise cancellation. Not the best, considering that the Freebuds Pro (which now cost less than this model) guarantee 8 hours of playback without noise cancellation and 5 with the Anc on. However, there is a positive aspect, and that is the charging of the headphones once inserted into the case is very fast. If we also consider the case, therefore, the total playing time is 22 hours without Anc and 14 with noise cancellation activated.
The (non) active noise cancellation
Even in active noise cancellation, however, the Freebuds 4 can’t hold a candle to the Freebuds Pro. The reason is simple: being able to get a good level of Anc on in-ear headphones with open fit design is very difficult, if not impossible, and even these new earphones from Huawei do not in any way escape the laws of acoustics.
The reason most Anc in-ear headphones come with ear tips in various sizes is simple: to achieve effective noise cancellation the cuff must seal the ear. If even a breath of air passes between the outside and inside of the ear, as in the case of open fit headphones, the acoustic waves will inevitably also pass, nullifying even the best noise reduction software system.
The rest Huawei itself says so, in a note on the official Freebuds 4 page: “The closer the earphones fit to the ear, the better the noise canceling effect. The earphones provide better noise cancellation in the presence of smaller ear cavities than larger ones. To optimize noise cancellation We recommend that you wear the earphones snugly ear “.
It is difficult to marry the content of this note with the text concerning the tecnologia Open Fit 2.0, because on the same page Huawei writes that with “FreeBuds 4, open-fit active noise cancellation reaches new levels thanks to an innovative technology that adapts to the shape of the ear to offer even more immersive audio. The design open-fit it keeps the air pressure uniform, leaving the most important ambient sounds perceptible, so as to guarantee a safer and more comfortable experience, even after several hours of use “.
In short, of the two, and our experience confirms that the open-fit design it almost totally nullifies the noise cancellation. We have tried to verify its effectiveness in various situations: in train or plane the noise attenuation is totally negligible, but the Freebuds 4 struggle to hide even noises that are easy to filter, such as the laptop fan or the washing machine running in another room.
Perhaps it depends on the size of the auricles of those who use them, but it is still difficult to accept that earphones whose noise cancellation works only for certain types of ear we can define headphones with Anc. Especially if their shape cannot be adapted in any way to the physiognomy of the auricle.
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Audio quality and advanced features
If the ANC leaves something to be desired, the audio quality is instead promoted. All frequencies are well defined: the lows are clean, mids and highs never distort, even at maximum volume. The general feeling is that the EQ is a little too flat, but the only two options are for pumping up the lows or the highs.
They can be selected from a dell’app AI Life menu on Huawei, which acts as a control center for all the other features of the Freebuds 4. From the application you can activate or deactivate noise cancellation, set touch controls, check battery power or manage the connection with multiple devices. This function is perhaps the most interesting of all: if connected to more than one smartphone, or to a tablet Android, the Freebuds 4 are able to automatically connect to the active device and can keep user preferences in memory. It’s something very similar to what AirPods can do on devices Apple, but in this case everything also works on Android devices from different manufacturers.
App Gallery and security risks
But there is a but: the version of the AI Life app that allows you to do all this it is only available on the App Gallery and not on the Play Store (probably because we need advanced services related to Huawei Mobile Services). This is not a problem: it is normal for Huawei to want to use its hardware to push its vision of an alternative ecosystem to the Google standard. The trouble is that the procedure to install the App Gallery involves the so-called side-loading of the application from the Web.
In order to proceed you must disable Chrome’s security mode which prevents an app from being installed starting from the apk download. For those who are experts it is not a problem, but for the average user this means disabling a security measure which, in most cases, will then remain disabled, exposing the smartphone to non-negligible security risks. Sure, after installing App Gallery just go back to Settings and disable sideloading via Chrome again, but how many will do that? After all, the indications of Huawei they are limited to the installation procedure, with no mention of the need to re-secure Chrome after activating the App Gallery.
Huawei Freebuds 4, what we liked
- Good quality constructive
- Read and comfortable, after a few minutes you almost forget you are wearing them, as is the case with many open-fit headphones.
- Custody compact and convenient to keep in your pocket.
- The ability to connect headphones to multiple devices managing the connection automatically is very useful and works well.
Huawei Freebuds 4, what can be improved
- The cancellation active noise leaves something to be desired.
- The battery it doesn’t last long, especially if the ANC is activated.
- The version of the Huawei AI Life app on the Google Play Store is not compatible with this model of earphones: to be able to control all the functions of the headphones, you need to download the App Gallery, the alternative store of Huawei, with a procedure which can pose a security risk.
- Design almost indistinguishable from Apple AirPods: it didn’t take much to make them more original.
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If you are looking for good open-fit true-wireless headphones, with satisfactory audio quality, light and comfortable and equipped with advanced smart functions, the Huawei Freebuds 4 are certainly an option to consider.
The price, however, is completely out of scale with respect to the features: on Amazon they are available for 149 euros in the version with case compatible with wireless charging. At the same time, again on Amazon, the Huawei Freebuds Pro, released in mid-2020, are for about 120 euros: the advanced connection functions are missing, but the audio quality is superior and active noise cancellation really works, unlike that of the Freebuds 4.
And if you just can’t stand the feeling of the rubber in your ear, the fascia from i 60 to 100 euros is packed with other manufacturers’ true wireless open-fit headphones, often with longer battery life. Also in this case, you have to give up some smart connection features, which, however, are not worth such a high price difference compared to the competition.