Huawei FreeBuds 5i Review: Punching Above Their Weight

The Huawei FreeBuds 5i offer fast charging and noise cancelling along with a balanced set of features good enough to rival competitors double its price. Sound quality isn’t audiophile-level, but still more than good enough for most people.

Key Features

  • ANC (up to 42dB)
  • Up to 7.5 hours of listening per charge

  • Battery Life: 7.5 hours (ANC off), 6 hours (ANC on); case adds around 3 charges
  • Charging Case Included?: Yes
  • Microphone?: Yes, dual
  • Brand: Huawei
  • Audio codecs: AptX, LDAC
  • Bluetooth: 5.2
  • Price: $ 99
  • IP Rating: IP54
  • Solo bud mode?: Yes
  • Driver Size: 10mm
  • Wireless Charging: No
  • Case battery: 410 mAh, 3 charges
  • Weight: 4.9g (per earbud) + 33.9g (case)
  • Dimensions (earbuds): 30.9 x 21.7 x 23.9mm
  • Dimensions (case): 48.2 x 61.8 x 26.9mm
  • Colors: Light blue, black, white
  • Charging Port: USB-C
  • Compatibility: Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, Windows
  • Sensors: Wear detection
  • Noise Cancellation: Yes, up to 42dB (advertised)

  • Amazing ANC
  • Good sound quality for the price
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Lots of customization options
  • Feels like it costs a lot more

  • Lacks a good battery indicator
  • EQ could have more options

Buy This Product

The meteoric rise of True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds began with Motorola’s 2014 Hint. TWS wasn’t even a concept back then: the Hint was a single-sided earphone focused on calls, like every Bluetooth headset at the time. Like many ideas in Tech, it took a few years and Apple making their own version for TWS to become popular. Dozens of manufacturers, from unknown brands to studio equipment makers, including the major players, have announced TWS models since.


Huawei is one of them. They aren’t one of the top names in this game, but still offer great value for money in their products. One of the newest members of the FreeBuds family, the 5i, have been my main earbuds for the past few weeks.

Unboxing the FreeBuds 5i

Box contents for the FreeBuds 5i are quite standard. You get the buds themselves, the charging case, three pairs of tips with different sizes, and a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging.

huawei freebuds 5i box contents

The buds themselves are made of glossy plastic, while the case comes with a matte finish and “pebble-like texture” on the outside for the blue and black paint jobs, being glossy on the white version. Innards are always glossy regardless of color. The case is oval shaped, with a flat back.

FreeBuds 5i: Setup and Connection

The initial setup for the FreeBuds 5i is straightforward, like any Bluetooth 5.2 device. Just open the case lid, and it will enter pairing mode. Huawei and Honor’s devices using EMUI or HarmonyOS can detect the earbuds without even needing to open Bluetooth settings.

After initial pairing, the FreeBuds 5i will automatically connect to the paired device as soon as you open the lid, every time. If you want to pair another phone or computer, simply keep the buds inside the case and hold the side button until the LED starts blinking in white.

The FreeBuds 5i can stay connected to two devices at the same time. This is good if one wants, e.g., to use their phone for music while being ready for video calls on the computer. Be aware, however, that songs and videos on one device will pause automatically if any sound is played on the other—even a notification chime—and won’t resume by itself after.

The connection quality on the FreeBuds 5i isn’t outstanding, but it does the job well enough. I was able to wear them while walking around my apartment without major connection issues. Considering that I live in an old building with thick walls, and Wi-Fi issues are common here, that’s impressive.

Latency is fine, and I didn’t have problems with audio and video out of sync while watching movies or TV shows using the FreeBuds 5i. There’s an option to lower latency at the cost of audio quality if needed.

Do the FreeBuds 5i Fit Well in the Ear?

huawei freebuds 5i being worn size fit

I’m extremely picky when choosing TWS earbuds, since most models tend to hurt my ears. That isn’t the case with the FreeBuds 5i. The plastic part fits just right, with the silicone tips providing good sealing.

Three tip sizes are included in the box. Some makers include even more, but the ones provided by Huawei get the job done. The AI Life app (which I’ll talk about in a bit) has the option to test how well the tips fit in one’s year, so you can check which one works better for your ear format.

While walking or doing light exercise, the FreeBuds 5i remain firm in the ear. I actually wore them to bed a few times, but since I move a lot when sleeping, they fell out of my ear at some point during the night.

The FreeBuds 5i Sound Like They Cost Twice Their Price

Sound quality was a very nice surprise. I reviewed the entry-level FreeBuds SE a few months ago and, while it should be expected at that price point, I was really displeased by how flat and unappealing they sounded.

The FreeBuds 5i are a completely different story. They punch above their weight in sound quality, beating some earbuds that cost twice their price.

The AI Life app (again, more on it in a bit) doesn’t have a dedicated EQ, but does offer some basic customization, with the “normal”, “bass boost” and “treble boost” audio modes. For further tuning, you’ll need a separate app.

The normal and bass boost modes sound great, and the aforementioned boost isn’t too heavy to hinder listening to voice or instruments with a higher pitch. The treble boost mode is also good, but I’d recommend it for podcasts or other types of audio heavy on human voices.

This is the playlist I use to test headphones and earbuds. It’s continuously being updated to include more music styles, but at the moment it features a lot of post-punk, some folk music, a bit of electronic and nu-metal, and also some Brazilian traditional styles. “Husbands”, by the post-punk English group Savages, is a great way to test the different modes in the app. It features heavy bass on the instruments, while Jehnny Beth’s voice goes easily from neutral to high pitches.

I also recommend classical music for audio mode tuning. Vivaldi’s “Winter—Allegro Non Molto” has both cellos in the main voice and strident violins in the background. The version I use, taken from the Wednesday TV show soundtrack, sounds completely different in each mode. And mostly great in all of them.

FreeBuds 5i: Battery Life and Charging

This is another topic in which the FreeBuds 5i shine. Huawei promises 28 hours of total listening time (buds + case), with the earbuds rated for up to 7.5 hours with noise canceling off.

That’s a bold statement, and the FreeBuds 5i delivers it and then some. I didn’t run out of battery once in over a month, wearing them most of the day and charging the case every two days. This is a pair of earbuds one can count on to last a whole work day; at most, you’ll need to charge it a bit during lunch break.

huawei freebuds 5i charging case

With ANC on, battery life is expected to take a hit. It does, but the FreeBuds 5i still lasts at least six hours before needing to get back in the case. It lasts as long with ANC turned on as most competitors I have used with the option turned off—but TWS earbuds are known for their terrible battery life.

Comparably, the charging case is the weakest link in that chain. While 28 hours is still a solid mark, it means less than four full charges. Perhaps I’m being too picky, however, since there aren’t many competitors that offer better.

A full charge (buds+case) takes two hours or so, and the case itself gets from 0% to full in about an hour and 40 minutes. The buds take 50 minutes to fully charge when placed in the case. There’s no wireless charging for the case.

Another bold promise by Huawei is that the buds can last 4 hours with 15 minutes of charging in the case. I didn’t test this to the full extent, but it did give me over two hours of listening with ANC enabled, so the claim sounds about right.

huawei freebuds 5i article cover picture

My sole complaint about the FreeBuds 5i is the battery indicator. The buds don’t have one, while the case has a single LED that flashes green when charged over 20% and red otherwise. Having at least three LEDs lighting up to show how much juice is left would be a step up, but you’re limited to checking this on your device.

Noise Canceling in the FreeBuds 5i Is Just Amazing

Now for the part I loved most: the ANC. The official rating by Huawei is 42dB, but I’m inclined to say this is a conservative estimate. During the Brazilian Carnival—known worldwide as a massive street celebration—I pushed the noise canceling on the FreeBuds to its limit.

And oh how it worked amazingly. At some point, I was standing next to a giant boom box, one of those used in concerts, and the ANC made me feel like I was standing a block away or so.

While working at home, the ANC makes it sound like my ceiling fan is silent. Street sounds coming from the window—and considering that I live right next to a busy avenue—also are almost non-existent.

Overall, this is the best ANC I’ve experienced yet. If this feature is your priority for a pair of earbuds, just stop looking and buy the FreeBuds 5i right now.

AI Life Is Huawei’s App to Manage the FreeBuds 5i

Like most IoT and wearables from Huawei, the FreeBuds 5i can be managed using the company’s AI Life app. It’s available for iOS devices in Apple’s App Store, but Android users need to download it directly from the maker’s page, since it isn’t available on the Play Store.

After creating an account, you can check the remaining battery for the buds and the charging case. Selecting the FreeBuds 5i on the main screen takes you to the settings page.

ANC can be configured here, including Awareness mode, which passes some of the ambient sounds through, so you can talk to people or hear vehicles coming while crossing the street. You can also set the amount of noise cancelation you want (though it’s actually called Modes in the app), and can be either Cozy, General, or Ultra.

Sound quality takes you to the basic EQ options I mentioned before. This page also has a setting that allows you to choose between connection or sound quality.

In Gestures one can set up multiple, well, gestures. It includes settings for double-tap (in-call or otherwise), tap and hold, and swiping. The last one is just great for volume control: sliding the finger up the bud’s stem makes the volume louder.

There are also options to find lost earbuds (using the location feature of Bluetooth 5.2), test tip fitting, and update the FreeBuds 5i firmware.

Lastly, Settings allows you to change the Bluetooth codec, enable or disable wear detection (pausing music or video if a bud is taken off the ear), as well as low latency mode (which reduces audio quality to provide lower ping, good for gaming, but, in my experience, not needed for video).

The FreeBuds 5i Are Amazing Bang for Your Buck

After extensive testing, I found a single downside on the FreeBuds 5i: not having a clear battery indicator. The case lacks wireless charging, but that’s not essential for TWS earbuds.

At $99, the FreeBuds 5i are a steal. They sound and last like they cost much more. In Brazil, where most electronics usually retail for double or triple their price in dollars, they cost the same.

My advice is: go and get some. They’re totally worth the price.


🧪 |Medical Laboratory Scientist 🥇 | Mindset over Everything. 
 🤝 | Let's Grow Together.

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