One of the best sets of noise cancelling earbuds you can buy
The Huawei Freebuds Pro arrive at Direct Mobiles HQ for review at exactly the right time. We have just finished playing around with Samsung’s Buds Live and want to test some more earbuds for running – for year’s I’ve been using Powerbeats Wireless Earphones, but have been considering making the jump to truly wireless earbuds (i.e. no cord dangling around your neck). The resistance to making the switch (outside of just for review purposes) has mainly been from being unsure just how well they would stay in my ears when running (or even just walking the streets) – I can’t be dealing with earbuds falling into the mud, or poor battery life.
Bluetooth wireless earphones and earbuds have improved considerably in the audio department over the years, with all the big name brands, Huawei included, capable of producing good quality sound for music and voice. Therefore when reviewing new earbuds, whilst audio is of course key (and often a personal preference), the other big considerations are usability, battery life, price, comfort, wear and tear and additional functions. Thankfully, the Freebuds Pro tick all those boxes, and whilst they’re not perfect, they’re easily one of our favourites, and certainly the best we’ve used in 2020.
Huawei kit is known for being a credible alternative to the likes of Samsung and Apple gear, but that’s not really been the case in the ear/headphones department to date, with Apple, Samsung, Bose and Sony being the benchmark when it comes to sound quality. With the Freebuds Pro, Huawei have raised their game in the audio department. The older Freebuds 3 weren’t the most user friendly of earbuds and they needed more bass. The Freebuds Pro have fixed both of those problems. Throw in the impressive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and you’ve got a product that can easily hold it’s own up against it’s main competitors.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Overview
For anyone not familiar with ‘earbuds’ – they’re essentially earphones that sit inside your ear, with no cable joining them. Bluetooth provides the connectivity between the two buds and your device, i.e. your mobile phone, laptop or compatible smartwatch.
The Huawei Freebuds Pro include all the usual wireless earbud features you’d expect from the upper end of the earbud range: touch controls, in-ear detection, a portable charging case (which supports wireless charging) and some additional settings within the AI Life smartphone app (if you’re on Android).
The Freebuds Pro work perfectly fine with iPhone, but you won’t be getting the additional Android-only app features which allow you tweak some of the sound settings. This review was actually conducted using an iPhone 11 though (and Dell XPS laptop) and I can safely say, I didn’t feel I was missing out on a huge amount of additional settings and to be honest, I can do without having to use an app to perfect my earphone audio experience – I’d rather they worked well out of the box, which these do.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Features and design
The design is similar to many earbuds, in that they’re small and fit in your ear. However, Huawei have gone for a less rounded, more rectangular design when it comes to the microphone – it’s unique and perhaps a design trend we’ll see more of (may be Huawei know something we don’t).
The Freebuds Pro have silicon eartips that seal in your ears which mean you get really impressive noise cancellation which is further enhanced when you enable ANC. These tips also mean the earbuds are pretty good at staying put. How well they fit will be down to the individual – the default tips were a good fit for me but did fall out on my second run with them. Changing to the larger tips provided a better fit for me personally.
They’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time, I’ve had no problem keeping one in my ear whilst working at my desk. And when out running, once you get the right size tip for your ear so you don’t worry about them falling out, it’s nice to be able to run without the cord knocking around your neck so you feel less tied to your tech.
The rectangular design of the microphone stem also has its benefits when it comes to using the controls on the earbuds. As it’s a flat rather than rounded surface, it makes it easier to use the controls. The sensor for the controls require a squeeze to operate them rather than touch. This takes a bit of getting used to but only because it’s different to what you may have used before – once you’ve sussed it, it starts to make sense as you’re less likely to make a mistake when selecting a command. Squeezing the sensor once plays or pauses your music and accepts or ends a call. A double squeeze skips to the next music track and a triple squeeze skips back to the previous track. You can also activate ANC or Awareness mode with a long squeeze.
Volume controls are more of a traditional slide gesture and are easy to operate – slide your finger up or down the sensor to adjust the volume.
The FreeBuds Pro charging case is a well-designed, smooth pebble shape that fits in your pocket and provides a satisfying magnetic click when you insert each earbud. I did struggle initially though pulling them back out of the case. As they’re so smooth, it can be tricky to get a grip on them until you’ve practised a few times. It’s a small complaint that surely the designers also experienced so not sure why it wouldn’t have been addressed. It’s a minor problem as you’ll soon perfect it, but still not as user-friendly as it could have been.
The charging case can be charged using the included cable or wirelessly which makes for a very convenient setup if you have a wireless charger always to hand – just place them down and the case starts charging, or use the included cable.
The in-ear detection on the Freebuds Pro works well – take one of the earbuds out of your ear and the audio will pause, continuing again when you put it back in. It’s a small but very useful features, that so far has worked every time.
Of course, you want great audio on your earbuds, but what about those listening on the other end of your phone call? Fortunately, the microphones are some of the best we’ve tested. There are three microphones built into each earbud – two are used to capture the direction of your voice and the third one faces inwards to enhance speech detection. There’s even a bone sensor which will analyse the vibrations in your jaw to adjust the mics’ sensitivity.
We tested the ceramic white Freebuds Pro but they’re also available in black or silver.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Battery life
Battery life on the Freebuds Pro is about 4-5 hours whilst listening to music with ANC feature enabled and around 7 hours with it off. 4-5 hours isn’t a huge amount of time if you’re using these earbuds all day but fortunately, the included charging case will grab you a further 14-15 hours of extra juice – just remember to place the earbuds in the case when you’re not using them for long periods.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Sound performance
Some people can’t stand the heavy bass on Powerbeats, I personally like it – especially as I mainly use them when I’m running or heading out in London. The Freebuds Pro aren’t as bass heavy, but they handle low end frequencies really well, allowing for a well rounded, balance audio experience. Rock, Punk, Hip Hop and House music all performed brilliantly, helped by the secure fit of the earbuds and of course the ANC. Vocals are clear and bright – they’re definitely some of our favourite earbuds for music.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Active Noise Cancellation
The ANC is one of the stand out features of the Freebuds Pro and it’s this feature that helps set them apart as some of the best earbuds money can buy. You won’t get the full functionality of the different ANC settings if you’re using an iPhone as some of the customisation has to be done within the Android-only app, however, I found that the standard ANC setting was plenty, even in busy traffic. And to my point earlier, I’d rather not be playing around with an additional app to get my earbuds working.
If you need to hear what’s going on around you, you can enable Awareness mode, which lets in some ambient sound. It works really well when listening to music, although on phone calls it picked up a bit too much of my own voice which was distracting so I only enable it in busy places if I’m listening to music.
Huawei Freebuds Pro: Our verdict
Overall, I’m really impressed with Huawei’s Freebuds Pro. They hit the right spot in terms of price and features, and their active noise cancellation works better than pretty much every other earbud we’ve tested. The touch controls work well and the audio for music (and podcasts) is clear and well balanced. They’re also comfortable to wear. The fiddly process of pulling them out of the case is a bit of a design flaw but you’ll work that out, and it’s not enough to tarnish what are the best ANC earbuds I’ve used this year.
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