With its new true wireless, Huawei has not just winked at Apple by partly taking the name of its best headphones. The Freebuds Pro benefit from the latest technologies in vogue on this type of device, from active noise reduction to wireless charging.
Test performed by Alix Denoyers
Last September, Huawei unveiled a myriad of connected devices including new true wireless headphones, the Freebuds Pro. For this fourth edition, these Pro, which succeed the Freebuds 3i, do not seem to have overlooked any major characteristic. In-ear headphones, active noise reduction, touch controls, wireless charging … Huawei offers everything you would expect from a product of this type in 2020. Better yet, with a rather successful design, Freebuds Pro seem to live up to their disturbing resemblance to Apple’s AirPods Pro perfectly.
These headphones sold significantly cheaper what could the most famous models of the competition overshadow them by the end of 2020? We used the Freebuds Pro on a daily basis, for a few days, to both listen to music, play video games, watch streaming programs and make our calls. Are these headphones the new kings of silence as Huawei claims on its site? Here is our verdict.
Price and availability
Available in Ceramic White, Silver Frost or Carbon Black – That is to say in white, gray or black, the Freebuds Pro headphones, delivered with their charging case, 3 sets of plastic tips and a USB cable, were launched last October at a price of 199.99 euros.
They are currently benefiting from reductions that could reach 25% at certain major e-commerce players. They can thus be purchased at a price of 149.99 euros from Boulanger or Amazon, while Darty, for its part, offers them a little more expensive at 159.99 euros, but maintains Huawei’s launch offer. It consists of offering, for any purchase of Freebuds Pro, the manufacturer’s Band 4 Pro connected bracelet, valued at 79.99 euros.
Hopefully the prices don’t go back up after the Black Friday period. Because these tariffs position Huawei as a challenger of choice, for the consumer, vis-à-vis the key players in the sector such as Sony, Bose, Jabra or Apple.
A design inspired by Airpods Pro, slightly heavier
Huawei will not have waited long to launch its 4th generation of true wireless headphones. Released in May 2020, the previous Freebuds 3i had brought its first letters of nobility to the Chinese brand in terms of active noise reduction, but remained too “entry-level” to establish itself among the best.
With the Freebuds Pro, design has clearly taken center stage. Even though it is difficult to really innovate with this type of product – only Samsung has been able to create a certain difference with its bean-shaped Live Buds -, it is impossible to dispute the family resemblance between these Pro, more particularly those of white color, and the market leaders that are the Apple Airpods Pro.
As with the latter, Huawei’s headphones are in-ear, protected by a shiny plastic shell and are equipped with small stems. The latter, however, are not tubular, but of a square shape and a little shorter.
To recharge the two headphones, plug them into the housing transport delivered for this purpose, bulkier and therefore heavier than Apple’s. With its almost 60 grams (72 grams even, with the two headphones) and dimensions of 7 x 5.13 x 2.46 cm (against only 6 x 4.5 x 2.17 cm for its competitor), it will fit in the pocket, but will be clearly less discreet.
The shape of the case of the new Freebuds is oval, so a little less square than the case of the AirPods Pro. In the Silver Frost version we tested, this case is covered with a satin plastic high-end, a fairly dark gray, almost anthracite.
It incorporates a USB Type-C socket for recharging, a barely visible button on the side, to press for pairing with a Bluetooth device (smartphone, tablet or PC), and it features the brand’s logo in a small rectangle with a shiny texture, a rectangle that hides the hinge of the lid.
Extracting the headphones from their case is not easy, so much they are magnetized. If this case is unexpectedly dropped, there is little risk of an earpiece being ejected and lost. Weighing just over 6 grams each, the headphones conform naturally to the shape of the ear and hold well, once inserted enough, a prerequisite for fully enjoying the audio quality.
Criticized by some, however, the in-ear system is not too invasive here. It also makes it possible to passively reinforce the active noise reduction.
AI Life: the “intelligent” application that wants to make your life easier
The pairing of Freebuds Pro is done easily from any device equipped with Bluetooth (Android smartphone, iPhone, PC, tablet, etc.). Those who have an Android smartphone will be able to download the application Huawei AI Life.
She will offer them help, additional functions and above all the possibility of check that the tips they have chosen, among the three available sizes, are the correct ones. The very ones that will offer them the best possible sound quality and optimized noise reduction. This “smart” test is not just a few written advice but actually validates that the headphones are positioned correctly.
The application that launches in the form of a pop-up window on your smartphone as soon as you open the Freebuds Pro box to use them, allows you to check at a glance the autonomy of each earpiece and the box.
The noise reduction active offered on the new headphones automatically adjusts by default according to the ambient environment, more or less sound (so-called Dynamic mode). With AI Life, you can choose from 3 other modes: Ultra (boosted reduction), General or Cozy (low noise environment).
To complement its intelligent character, the application offers a tutorial (called Shortcuts) that helps you use your headphones effectively through gestures. Because Freebuds Pro integrate a rich and rather efficient touch control mode – like AirPods Pro. In pinching one or the other rod of his headphones, you can control your music or manage your calls.
You can even adjust the volume with a slide of your finger on the rods, which Apple headphones do not allow. A movement not so easy to acquire but quite practical on a daily basis… if your fingers are not too left.
The little seasoned users who are tempted by Freebuds Pro can rest assured, an instruction manual, essential for learning about gestures that are not necessarily very intuitive, is delivered with the headphones.
AI Life can be downloaded from the Huawei AppGallery or as an APK from the earphones QR Code. Although this application is also available on the Google Play Store, it has not been updated since August 2020. As a result, Freebuds Pro are not recognized by AI Life. It is therefore essential to download the latest update accessible from the AppGallery. If it is also possible to do without AI Life, that is to ignore the tutorials and advanced features provided by the application.
Sound quality: bass finally present, without being invasive
Now let’s move on to the most important for headphones: equipped with 11mm transducers, do these Freebuds Pro offer good audio quality and effective noise reduction? From the first use, we are surprised by the excellent bass rendering, the opposite of what the first true wireless models offered.
Without being as exceptional as with Sony’s flagship headphones, the WF-1000XM3, the overall sound quality in music listening is very satisfactory, as is the dynamics, despite treble slightly behind.
We would have appreciated the presence of an equalizer in the AI Life app to fill this gap a little or at least to make the bass a little less present, for those who do not like them. We must be satisfied with the automatic and real-time equalization function integrated by Huawei to enjoy “balanced sound”. And it is quite successful! Huawei also seems to have abandoned any attempt to integrate high-definition Bluetooth codecs (home or Aptx). We must be satisfied here with the support for classic AAC and SBC. But this is the case with all in-ear devices.
On call, the sound is clear, perfectly audible which is ultimately quite rare for wireless headphones which often provide a very messy rendering, even in the absence of noise pollution. This clear communication is aided in this by an efficient ANC in most environments as we will see.
The active noise reduction we expected
The active noise reduction or ANC has precisely been considerably improved according to Huawei. Difficult to control that Huawei’s promise is kept, namely that Freebuds Pro cancel noise up to 40 dB, but one thing is for sure, it is significantly mitigated regardless of the environment in which you operate. By the way, when listening to music or the radio in the street, it is better to be careful, as the traffic noise is fading. Oddly enough, it’s not so overwhelming about the sounds of a lively conversation standing next to you, but with some music, even at low volumes, you can still benefit from some appreciable isolation for working. quietly.
When the ANC is activated, telephone conversations in relatively noisy environments are also clearer and better audible than with previous Huawei devices. And this, on both sides, since it has been confirmed to us by our own ears as well as by those of our interlocutors! To achieve this efficiency, Huawei explains having combined a system of 3 microphones – 2 of which face outward for noise cancellation and 1 inward so your interlocutors can hear you better – and a bone conduction sensor that interprets vibrations in the ear to improve your voice. Wind noise when you make an outside call is still noticeable, but much less than with Huawei’s second generation, the Freebuds 3, which is still in its infancy in terms of noise reduction.
A way Perception, more commonly called “Transparency”, a function that has been democratized by AirPods Pro on in-ear devices, will allow you, without removing your headphones, or even cutting the music, to perceive surrounding sounds. Useful for hearing a question or gaining vigilance before crossing a street. Huawei has also added an additional function to its Perception mode (only available from the AI Life application) which makes a voice more audible.
Let’s take the opportunity to point out that while the application is for the most part French-language, this is not the case for the voice instructions which allow you to easily control the functions in a tactile manner by manipulating your Freebuds Pro. The passage between the three main modes will be done with the sound of “Noise canceling”, “awareness” and “off”. Too bad, for these only three words, an effort could have been made. Huawei offers updates regularly, it is not excluded that this will be corrected.
Comfortable battery life, with fast, wireless charging
Huawei says its headphones offer 4 hours of battery life with ANC and 7 hours without ANC and the promise is kept to within a few minutes, knowing that the measurements can of course vary according to your use (in particular a higher or lower volume). This is fine for true wireless, especially since the box allows you to fully charge (from 0 to 100%) your headphones three times in a row.
Also, count only 30 minutes to fully charge (still 0 to 100%) the headphones placed in the case and a little over an hour to charge an empty case. In the event of total fuel exhaustion, only a few minutes will allow you to set off again for at least 2 or 3 hours of listening.
Finally, let us specify that the case is compatible with wireless charging. If you have a compatible smartphone, whatever the brand, you can, subject to activating the function on the latter, give this box all its autonomy by placing it on the back of the mobile. Handy if you don’t have an electrical outlet nearby.
Know that each earphone works independently of the other. It may therefore happen that one of the two discharges more quickly. If it is even completely flat, this will in no way prevent you from using the second to continue, say a conversation.
Finally like all good true wireless headphones, Freebuds Pro offer smart detection (which can be deactivated in the app). If you take them off, the music pauses, then resumes when you put them back in your ears.