Huawei’s FreeBuds 5i earbuds are familiar. Their design is ordinary, they don’t have the best audio capabilities, and the battery life is average for the market. But what sets them apart is their price.
At $179, these earbuds offer advanced features like in-ear detection, dual-connectivity, LDAC support, and decent active noise cancellation (ANC) usually reserved for more expensive competitors.
While the FreeBuds 5i may not reinvent the wheel, they excel in their affordability, making them one of the best options in the mid-range earbuds market.
If the top-of-the-range earbuds are too expensive for you but you still want advanced features, the FreeBuds 5i are a very good option.
The FreeBuds 5i cost $179. This makes them mid-range earbuds competing with others like JBL’s Live 300TWS which cost $150. As opposed to the best-of-the-best earbuds which cost anywhere from $300 to $450.
The FreeBuds 5i boast the same bud and stem design synonymous with other earbuds like Apple’s AirPods. They’re lightweight and comfortable with three different size silicone tips, small, medium and large in the box to fit almost any ear. But there isn’t anything new or unique in regards to their design.
They come in three colours, White, Black and Blue each boasting a glossy finish which looks good. They have an IP54 resistance rating which protects them from water sprays and small particles like dust.
The case is ordinary, it’s small enough to fit comfortably in your pocket or bag. The lid has good magnets so it snaps shut and it has a flat back, so it sits nicely on flat surfaces. There’s a button for Bluetooth connection on the case which allows you to put it into pairing mode, and a USB-C charging port.
The earbuds support touch controls – Huawei calls them Gestures – and they’re not great. There aren’t any single tap input options here, only double-tap, touch & hold and swipe.
While most commands you’d expect are here – like skip song, previous song, play/pause and ANC on/off – there aren’t enough touch inputs to accommodate everything I want to be able to do with my earbuds.
For example, touch & hold inputs only allow for noise control commands, this is where you can turn ANC on or off. The problem is this means I can’t assign next song, previous song or play/pause to touch & hold inputs. For these commands, you’re restricted to double tap inputs. This creates an issue as you’re only able to assign one command to each earbud meaning I couldn’t have next song, previous song and pause inputs all assigned at the same time, I could only have two. This got frustrating as I would have to forego one of these commands and they’re the ones I use daily.
Both earbuds house 10mm dynamic drivers and they’re Hi-Res audio certified with support for LDAC. This is a standout feature as not many earbuds in the price range support LDAC. It does pay to remember that you will need to use a device and a music streaming service that can deliver audio in this resolution though, so this will only appeal to some.
These are earbuds tuned for pop music, so don’t expect booming bass and long prominent sub frequencies here.
The bass capabilities are fine. It doesn’t pound as dominantly as other earbuds, but they don’t muddy the mix either. It’s well controlled, ensuring vocals come through clearly and the mid-range remains the dominant frequency.
Listening to hip-hop tracks like Blow Yr Head by Asher Roth, the bass didn’t come through as present as I would’ve liked however, songs like New York City by moe in which the bass isn’t as prominent sounded much better.
Frustratingly the EQ options here are limited. There’s only two preset options Bass Boost and Treble Boost. There are no options for personalisation which is disappointing.
The ANC here is very good. It’s not as good as the best-of-the-best earbuds however for earbuds in this price range it’s above average.
There’s three ANC modes, Cozy, for quiet places, General for noisy places and Ultra, for very noisy places. I never had a reason to change between these, I left it on the Ultra setting as I didn’t notice any changes in battery life when using the other modes.
In Ultra mode the FreeBuds 5i do a good job at cancelling out most audio, however sounds at the more extreme ends of the spectrum – the low and high frequencies – are where they struggle. The rumbling of a car engine or the tapping of a keyboard will sometimes seep through.
This is something the best earbuds manage to cancel more effectively, however they’re often several hundred dollars more expensive. For $179 I was more than happy with the noise cancellation capabilities of the FreeBuds 5i.
There’s a lot of premium features on offer here. In-ear detection – in which the earbuds will pause music or videos if you take the FreeBuds out – works very well. They support dual connectivity in which you can connect them to two devices at the same time. There’s a comprehensive ear-fit test to ensure you get the best fit for you, they support Find My earphones in which the earbuds will play a tone if you misplace them and as mentioned earlier they support LDAC.
There’s also Huawei ecosystem features that enhance the experience if you connect the earbuds to a Huawei device. Unfortunately, Huawei phones are hard to come by in New Zealand so I didn’t get to test this, however I would have loved to be able to try Huawei’s Identify Song feature in which you can figure out the name and artist of a song you’re listening to much like Shazam. This requires a Huawei device running EMUI 11.0 or later though.
The Huawei AI life app is straightforward. If you’re using an Android device you may have to sideload it via the Huawei website as it’s not on the Google Play Store, however it’s a doddle. Everything you’d expect from an earbud’s app is here. You can customise touch controls, change the ANC levels, EQ your audio and check the battery life. It’s fine.
The FreeBuds 5i boast a six-hour battery life with ANC on and seven hours with ANC off. It’s okay. It’s a way off the best-of-the-best but it’s average for this price range. The JBL Live 300TWS boast similar capabilities.
Typically, the mileage you get with the earbuds will depend on your usage. If you’re playing music at high volumes with ANC on, the battery life decreases significantly.
The earbuds charge via the USB-C port on the case which can hold a total of 28 hours.
They don’t support wireless charging but there is fast-charging support here. A 15-minute charge will give you 4 hours of playback which is impressive and genuinely useful.
Huawei’s FreeBuds 5i earbuds are relatively bland. In regards to design, audio capabilities and battery life there’s nothing that makes them stand out from the crowd. We’ve seen everything they have to offer before, on numerous occasions.
Where they do succeed is in their value. For $179 there’s a lot on offer here. Features like in-ear detection, dual-connectivity, LDAC support and decent ANC are often reserved for far more expensive earbuds. The touch controls are frustrating and the lack of EQ personalisation is a missed opportunity, but overall, this is a decent package.
The FreeBuds 5i are capable earbuds and at $179 they’re easily some of the best mid-range earbuds I’ve tested.
If you’re not looking to pay upwards of $300 for the top-of-the-range options, the FreeBuds 5i will do a good job without breaking the bank.