This Huawei Freebuds 5i review is for anyone on the hunt for a pair of the best cheap headphones but who doesn’t want to compromise too much on design or sound quality.
One thing Huawei does really well is design, everything from their top-of-the-line laptops to their affordable earbuds are very considered and you’re guaranteed a good-looking piece of kit. The Huawei Freebuds 5i are a good example of that, they’re both practical and polished from looks alone, but to add to that, they’ve got a fair amount going on when it comes to performance and features as well.
Huawei has a few pairs of true wireless earbuds under its belt now, like the Huawei Freebuds Pro 2, the Huawei Freebuds SE and the previous generation of these the Huawei Freebuds 4i, so how will these compare? You’ve come to the right place to find out.
Huawei Freebuds 5i review: price and what’s new
The Huawei Freebuds 5i officially go on sale on the 16th of January 2023 with prices starting from £89.99 in the UK.
Following on from the Huawei Freebuds 4i which were released in March 2021, the Huawei Freebuds 5i have taken a winning formula and improved on it in a number of ways.
Firstly the Huawei Freebuds 5i come in a new charging case which weighs just 33.9g down from 36.5g before, and the earbuds themselves are lighter too with a much shorter stem which makes them feel more comfortable and look even sleeker than they did before.
You’ll get more in the way of battery life too with a total of 18.5 hours of listening time when ANC is switched on, or 28 hours when it is switched off. As well as that, the noise cancellation has been improved, cutting out up to 42dB of noise, up from 22dB before.
Huawei Freebuds 5i review: design and fit
You can buy the Huawei Freebuds 5i in a few different colours, including Ceramic White, Nebula Black and Isle Blue. I tested out the white earbuds and thought the glossy colour looked very smart.
The pebble-shaped charging case is the first thing you see, and when you open it up, you reveal two tiny little earbuds, each has smooth curves and a dangling stem with Huawei printed discreetly in grey across it.
Made from sturdy, glossy plastic these feel built to last, and thanks to their IP54 dust and water resistance rating, they should survive any little accidents, beach trips or sudden rain showers. Sweat will be fine too, making these a solid choice for workouts.
Inside the box, they come with the standard three sizes of silicone ear tips to help you find the right fit, and at only 4.9g per bud, the Huawei Freebuds 5i are pretty comfortable. They’re really lightweight so you can barely feel them in your ears and I found they stayed secure as well, no matter what I did with them in, even running up and down stairs.
Touch controls on the outside of each earbud let you pause or play the music with a double tap, turn on the noise cancelling with a press and hold, or adjust the volume by swiping up or down along the stem. The controls work well and are easy to remember, and they aren’t too sensitive like on some other pairs of headphones.
You can expect to get about 7.5 hours of use of the earbuds with ANC switched off, which drops to 6 hours with it turned on. Alongside the charging case, that’ll give you a total of 28 hours of music without ANC, or 18.5 hours with it. Granted that’s nowhere near the best in class but it’s not bad either.
When you recharge the case, it’ll take just under 2 hours to go from flat to full, the earbuds will take about an hour to charge inside the case. There's no wireless charging capability here.
Huawei Freebuds 5i review: performance and features
Using 10mm drivers, the Huawei Freebuds 5i sound a lot better than you’d expect at this sort of price. Each track I played through them came across clear and well-balanced with lots of detail. You can hear every instrument, every backing vocal and every lyric.
The sound has plenty of punch without being too bass-heavy although I found that in some cases the treble was ever so slightly drowned out by it, nevertheless, it wasn’t actually too noticeable and overall I enjoyed the clean experience you get through these headphones.
Built-in active noise cancellation helps you to keep your focus on the music, and it does a decent job of cutting the world out even if you can still hear a lot of what’s going on around you. There’s also an awareness mode which boosts sounds from your environment allowing you to hear things like nearby conversations, road traffic or announcements on the train.
To make the most out of these earbuds, you’ll need to download the AI Life smartphone app which is available on the Apple Appstore and the Huawei App Gallery. Unfortunately, you can't get it on the Google Play Store so you’ll have to scan the QR code on the box and download it from your browser instead which not everyone will be willing to do because of safety concerns.
If you do choose to download it, the app will allow you to switch between 3 EQ modes including Default, Bass Boost and Treble Boost. Admittedly, some other apps give you way more options and even detailed manual controls, but unless you're a dedicated audiophile, that shouldn't matter too much.
As well as that, the app lets you adjust the gesture controls to better suit you, you can also perform an earbuds fit test, and you'll be able to see which devices you are currently connected to.
You can also choose to prioritise sound quality over connectivity - that can lead to a slight lag in the audio but you won't notice the difference when you’re listening to music, it’ll only cause an issue streaming video or playing mobile games.
Connecting to these headphones is dead easy, especially if you already use a Huawei phone, laptop or tablet. With an Android or iOS device, you’ll simply need to head to your Bluetooth settings to get set up, or if you have a Huawei device, it should recognise the Freebuds as soon as you take them out of the case and prompt you to connect to them.
Once connected these are very reliable, thanks to the latest BT 5.2. They stayed hooked up to my phone even when I wandered away with them in. In terms of codec support, you’re looking at LDAC as well as AAC and SBC. But what’s really good is multipoint connectivity which makes switching the audio between devices completely fuss-free.
Finally, the call quality was fine, the person on the other end could hear me and I them. It’s not the most impressive call quality you’ll find in a pair of true wireless earbuds but even so, I didn’t have any complaints.
Huawei Freebuds 5i review: verdict
For a pair of headphones that cost less than £90, the Huawei Freebuds 5i are surprisingly effective. Not only do they look fantastic but they sound good too.
One big problem with these is that the AI Life app which gives you a bunch of handy extra features isn’t available on the Google Play Store although you can get it on the Apple Appstore. If you use an Android phone you’ll need to download it directly from the internet or by downloading the Huawei App Gallery first.
Despite that, no one can take away from what fantastic value for money the Huawei Freebuds 5i are - you get a lot of bang for your buck here with plenty of features including ANC which means they’ll be good for everything from workouts to commutes.
Huawei Freebuds 5i review: also consider
Looking at these might remind you of the Apple AirPods Pro because the design isn’t that different, especially when it comes to the white colourway. If you use iOS then those will naturally be the better choice if you don’t mind splashing out a bit more cash on them.
Another affordable pair of earbuds to consider are the Sony WF-C500, they’re a fair amount cheaper than the Huawei Freebuds 5i and while they don’t sport that same dangling stem design they do look pretty nice. But what’s really great about them is the sound quality, despite not having ANC, the audio is very impressive and you can manually adjust it too.