Huawei FreeBuds 5i Review: In-ear headphones that are really cheap and good

The true wireless in-ear headphones (TWH) market has become ever so saturated with a price range from S$20 to over S$300. The latest Huawei FreeBuds 5i is a pair of mid-range TWH with a price tag of S$128.

What you get out of the box. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Despite the affordable price point, it comes with plenty of features, such as active noise cancellation (ANC), LDAC Bluetooth support and touch controls.

  • Price: S$128, get it at Shopee and Lazada
  • DRIVERS: 10mm dynamic
  • CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 5.2
  • WEIGHT: 4.9g (each earbud); 33.9g (charging case)

Available in three colours of white (reviewed version), blue and black, the FreeBuds 5i is a doppelgänger of its predecessor FreeBuds 4i. But the 5i’s earbuds have a shorter stem, which makes them look even more like Apple’s AirPods Pro.

FreeBuds 4i (left) vs Freebuds 5i. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The FreeBuds 5i comes with silicone ear tips of three sizes. I find the medium-sized ones fit my ears the best. I tried shaking my head vigorously to dislodge the earbuds, but they stay snugly in my ears.

In addition, the FreeBuds 5i is really lightweight (each earbud weighs just 4.9g) and super comfortable to wear. I can wear the earbuds all day without noticing or feeling it being there.

The FreeBuds 5i’s colour-matching charging case has a pebble design with a USB-C port at its bottom for charging and a pairing button on the side. On the downside, the charging case does not support wireless charging.

The Huawei FreeBuds 5i comes in three colours of blue, black and white. (Photo: Huawei)

I don’t know about the other colour versions. But the white version’s glossy surface makes both the earbuds and charging case smudge and fingerprint magnets. While not as bad as the FreeBuds 4i, I find that it is still a little hard to pry the earbuds out of the case due to the slippery surface. The easiest way is to pry the earbuds out by its silicone ear tips.

Very affordableNo wireless charging
Very comfortable to wearA little bit hard to pry the earbuds out of case
Impressive ANC for its priceCannot customise equaliser settings
Great audio qualityBattery life not as good as FreeBuds 4i
App offers plenty of customisations

As you might expect, the most seamless pairing for the FreeBuds 5i is with a Huawei smartphone. This is especially so with Huawei’s AI Life app on a smartphone running Huawei’s latest HarmonyOS 2 mobile operating system. If you are using the FreeBuds 5i with other Android smartphones or iPhones, you have to do the pairing via the Bluetooth menu.

Nonetheless, you can still use the AI Life app to change the equaliser settings, upgrade the firmware or customise the tap controls of the earbuds or toggle ANC function.

By default, touching and holding your finger on either earbud will turn ANC on or off. Double tapping either earbud will play or pause music. Swiping up and down increases and decreases the volume. With the app, you can customise the controls such that one earbud plays the next song and the other plays the previous song.

For the touch-and-hold function, you can add the Awareness mode – which lets in ambient noise – into the options. So you can be toggling through ANC On, ANC off and the Awareness mode.

In addition, you can now select the ANC strength from Cozy, General and Ultra. For its price, FreeBuds 5i’s ANC performance is pretty impressive. It is able to cut out most of the ambient noise, rivalling most of its more-expensive counterparts, especially when in Ultra mode.

I like that the earbuds automatically stop the music when I take one out of my ear and resume playback when I put it back on. If you prefer otherwise, you can deactivate this Smart wear detection in the app.

The FreeBuds 5i is really comfortable to wear. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The AI Life app now has two equaliser (EQ) settings – Bass boost and Treble boost – apart from the default EQ. As their names imply, they literally boost the bass and treble when turned on. It is a shame that you cannot create your own EQ settings.

However, I find myself sticking to the default EQ. The earbuds’ 10mm dynamic drivers deliver well-balanced audio output with clear mids and sharp highs. The bass is punchy enough but yet does not drown out the vocals.

Whether it is high-tempo tracks from Korean girl group BlackPink or rock-smashing hits from Taiwanese rock band Power Station, the output is always scintillating and heart-thumping. The slow ballads with sharp vocals from my favourite Korean artist IU showcase the balanced soundscape of the FreeBuds 5i.

The FreeBuds 5i also holds it together nicely with distinct separation of the different instruments playing when playing classical music, from Pachelbel’s Canon in D Minor to Vivaldi’s Summer.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

On paper, the FreeBuds 5i is rated to last 6 hours with ANC enabled. During the review, I usually turned the volume to around 75 per cent with ANC at Ultra. And I found that after 3 hours of listening, the earbuds’ battery level dropped to around 55 per cent. So, I guess the battery life is not far off from advertised. But it is a step down from FreeBuds 4i, which can last around 7.5 hours with ANC enabled.

Apart from some quirks such as un-customisable EQ and no wireless charging, the Huawei FreeBuds 5i offers great value for money with its budget-friendly price tag of $128 (online discounts mean it is cheaper), high comfort level, impressive ANC and great audio performance.