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Hands-on review: The Huawei FreeBuds Pro wireless earbuds

02 Dec 2020

Unveiled at Huawei Seamless AI Life New Products launch event this year, the FreeBuds Pro are essentially an upgrade of the FreeBuds 3, with one major improvement: The introduction of ‘Intelligent Dynamic Active Noise Cancelling’, which is a fancy way of saying that each earbud is fitted with microphones that detect (and block) ambient sounds.

Look

At first glance, the FreeBuds Pro can’t help but remind me of Apple’s AirPods Pro. I personally was never a fan of the AirPods design, but that aside, the FreeBuds Pro have their own merits.

Each earbud is around 26mm long and 29mm wide. On the ‘stick’ part of each earbud, there is a touch sensor that controls volume, track skipping, etc. I personally found this sensor too small to use and after a few careful ‘pinching’ attempts, I felt moments of frustration as I tried to get my feeble commands to register. It is an awkward touch control mechanism, Huawei’s design aesthetics, have, unfortunately, sacrificed accurate touch feedback for a smaller device. 

The earbuds enter pairing mode as soon as you take them out of the box. You can also pair them to two devices at once, also known as multipoint pairing. Bluetooth range is only about 9 metres (when obstacles are in the way), so keep your phone close.

One interesting little hardware design is the inclusion of a ‘bone voice sensor’, which apparently interprets bone vibrations to help provide clearer audio. I’d love to know the science of how this works.

If you’ve selected the right silicon tips, the earbuds won’t fall out of your ears or come loose while walking or exercising. They’re also very comfortable.

The earbuds have a 55mAH battery, and Huawei says that battery life can last up to 7 hours with ANC disabled, or 4 hours with ANC enabled for music playback, and for voice calls, 2.5 hours with ANC enabled, and 3 hours with ANC disabled.  Oddly, I found that one earbud discharges quicker than the other - we're talking less than 0.5%, but it is a strange phenomenon.

I found the music playback times to be reasonably accurate – Huawei says the earbuds will charge within 40 minutes in the charging case, and it will take about an hour of wired USB 3.0 charging to charge the case (2 hours if charging wirelessly).

What I was impressed by was the speed it took to put a small amount of charge the case to prepare for a software update. You won’t need to take too much time out of your day to keep the music (or calls) playing.

Sound

Huawei says these FreeBuds Pro have a noise cancellation rating of 40 decibels, according to their lab tests. There are a variety of different factors that can change this number – chewing gum, for example. These earbuds will also take your ears down to about 30hz bass-wise, which is plenty enough rumble for most songs. 

There are four ANC settings: ultra mode (public transport, loud areas), general mode (cafes, restaurants), cozy mode (quiet indoor spaces), and dynamic (auto-detection). The headphones will also provide ANC for phone calls too.

Awareness mode will mute ANC to bring in more ambient sounds in your surroundings. 

Be warned though, you're at the mercy of your device’s EQ settings or from a third-party app, as there are no options for this in the AI Life app. More on that soon. Once I had tailored my own EQ settings, I was surprised by just how good these FreeBuds are at delivering rich music to my ears.

Huawei’s AI Life app for Android

All of Huawei’s documentation points towards the AI Life app as the central point for headphone settings. But don’t download it from Google Play. You either need to down the app directly from Huawei or if you have a Huawei device, download from Huawei’s App Gallery.

And in small print on Huawei’s website, the company says that the AI Life App is NOT available on iOS or Windows smartphones yet.

The app displays charge levels, noise control settings, an earbud ‘tip fit test’ to determine whether you’ve got the right earbud tips in, wear detection, and a reminder of the gestures you need to know.

Verdict

Besides the awkward and fiddly touch controls on the earbud stalk, the FreeBuds Pro are a perfectly suitable pair of wireless earbuds for those looking for something lightweight with good sound. They’re available in Silver Frost, and Carbon Black. 

In New Zealand, the FreeBuds Pro earbuds are available in Silver Frost and Carbon Black for NZ$299. They're available now from PB Tech, and coming soon to 2degrees.