Instead of an IFA kick-off event, Huawei held a slightly belated annual developer conference and used that as a vehicle for launching some new products, including FreeBuds Pro, Watch GT 2 Pro, and some other notable hardware.
Every single manufacturer now has their own version of wireless earbuds. It makes sense to create a total package that will keep buyers in your mini ecosystem. The problem is that Huawei’s ecosystem is becoming increasingly difficult to sell. Therefore, accessories and extras that aren’t necessarily based on Google Play Services or the western versions of Android that we all know and love are far more important.
The Huawei FreeBuds Pro are a true sequel to the FreeBuds 3 earbuds that were released exactly a year ago. As we said in our review of those buds last year, it̵
Again, you might want earbuds that work much more closely with your Android phone. As with all Android-geared Bluetooth earbuds, the FreeBuds Pro can be an enticing prospect thanks to the tighter integration with your Android smartphone. How do they stack up?
Design & hardware
Let’s not gloss over the design, it’s very similar to what you’ve seen before, but with a nice twist in the hardware formula, to be completely honest. Lazy Design Stereotype Time: Imagine box-shaped AirPods Pro and you probably have a good idea of what the Huawei FreeBuds Pro look like – especially the white model.
The FreeBuds Pro have a bulbous head and a box-shaped handle. They feel like an eye-catching combination of styles and are put together impressively. The metallic “Silver Frost” paint is particularly tempting when very few OEMs are willing to adopt such a color.
My only concern is that this could age pretty quickly, but right now I probably like this color more than most and it helps differentiate itself from the “AirPods white” that seem like the go-to option for earbuds.
I wish the tote bag was a lot smaller. It’s not that the Huawei FreeBuds Pro case is huge, it’s just really big when compared to other brands on the market. In addition to the Pixel Buds case, it’s much bigger. The matte gray-silver finish is also prone to fingerprints, which is not a complaint, but something to be aware of.
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and the earbud shape is eerily similar to that of the AirPods Pro. We hate to compare to Apple’s own earbuds, just as you hate hearing them over and over, but it’s up to the OEMs to differentiate themselves – not us. Even the silicone earbud tips and speaker grilles have the oval shape that the AirPods Pro are known for.
The biggest innovation in the Huawei FreeBuds Pro is the improved noise cancellation. There are four different levels to choose from: Dynamic, Comfortable, General and Ultra. The “dynamic mode” is set by default when it is first activated. I found this a little mediocre, but if you turn up the settings in the AI Life app, you’ll notice the difference in background noise reduction.
“Cozy” is used for places with little noise and seems to work the least. The General mode has lowered the background noise so much for my comfort that the Ultra option makes things even better. Using a loud mechanical keyboard all day and listening to podcasts helped me focus entirely on clacking, which was replaced by faint clinking as I pressed the keys.
When I was out in public – a rarity thanks to a global pandemic – I found the “general” mode in parks or public spaces to be sufficient. I would imagine a busy coffee shop or coffee shop would need the “Ultra” mode to reduce the sound that is invading your listening experiences.
I’m unable to compare these to the best noise canceling earbuds in the industry from Sony and Apple. However, the difference between the Huawei FreeBuds Pro and the FreeBuds 3 is significant.
As is often the case when I try noise-canceling headphones, the “closed” feeling in the earphone form factor is a bit uncomfortable for a long time. I also find that it has a detrimental effect on the actual sound quality. The audio performance of the Huawei FreeBuds Pro isn’t particularly high, but personally I think it can be felt.
I would describe the audio experience as “crisp” with these 11mm dynamic drivers. While many other wireless earbuds try to boost the bass, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro feel rather mediocre in my time with them. With good isolation, the sound profile has many nuances, with wide, spacious mids and basses that are not lacking in oomph. When listening to vocal focused tracks, there is real detail with an excellent separation between background audio and lead vocals.
Instrumental parts of tracks do not feel hollow or overly enclosed even with the ANC activated. The sound profile suits most genres, while those who want a really exceptional pair of earbuds may not be satisfied. The Huawei FreeBuds Pro offers great “everyday” sound. I have to say that the sound quality is a significant step up from the Huawei FreeBuds 3 that were released last year.
I’m not sure what the use is of the Kirin A1 audio chip, but latency when watching videos wasn’t an issue. The stem design also means that while you’re on the phone or even activating the Google Assistant on your smartphone, you’ll be heard well and clearly – assuming you’re using an Android device.
When the Huawei FreeBuds Pro are built in they are absolutely fine, they are neither the most comfortable earbuds I have ever worn nor the least of them. I would put them right in the middle of the package, probably just below the Pixel Buds but above the OnePlus Buds.
To put it this way, if the stem-style earbuds you are used to fit in, you will have no problems with the Huawei FreeBuds Pro. This stem really adds to the stability, while the earbud shape is so general that it sits in most ears without wobbling or moving. I’ve found the silicone tip really helps keep it securely in my ears, but I haven’t tried using it while exercising.
The touch controls are pretty terrible in my experience. I’m not sure why Huawei decided it was a good idea to move the touchpad activation area to the side of each stem. The pinch controls are new, but if you want to swipe and tap you are having problems.
I will not fault the accuracy of the faucet, wiping and squeezing detection. Instead, it’s just awkward to perform these movements if you’re used to swiping and tapping the outward-facing portion of similar earbuds. I can be a little forgiving as this design decision eliminates phantom touches and so on.
You can largely customize all the controls in the AI Life application on your device. This is the hub for almost all new Huawei accessories and smart devices. It’s pretty intuitive and easy to understand. It’s a little disappointing that there aren’t any options for adjusting the EQ settings.
This is one area that I was pleasantly surprised by the FreeBuds Pro. Each earbud has a 52.5mAh battery that is enough to last a few hours without dying. In total, I spent around 20 hours with the case and earphones within a week before I had to charge it with extensive noise suppression.
Wireless charging is almost essential for me in terms of earbuds, and luckily, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro doesn’t need to be plugged in to charge. While it bothers me less if a smartphone only charges via cable, wireless earbuds are much more convenient without the need for a plugin.
The biggest criticism I have of FreeBuds Pro is that they hit the market a bit late, although pretty solid, most people will likely already have a solid pair of earbuds. However, if you are looking for a pair of earbuds that offer impressive noise cancellation and are ready to manage the extra functions and features with the help of an application, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro might be a tempting prospect.
The Chinese company may be in a tough spot in the smartphone space, but expects further investment in its broader device ecosystem as Huawei offers compelling, affordable options in this space that, while having a hint of “Apple” flavor, are relatively light to recommend.
If you’re ready to raise the money for a more “experimental” pair of buds, be sure to check out the recently released Galaxy Buds Live. While we can’t say for sure what Huawei’s long-term future will look like in terms of Android, the Buds Live may receive faster support and updates.
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