Today is the day that Huawei revealed the P30 and P30 Pro, after much leaking and speculation as to what the phones might involve. Being a good tech company it also used this opportunity to throw an extra product out into the world: a pair of earphones called 'Freelace'. Earphones that have a pretty bizarre charging system, and I'm not sold on how practical it is.
The good news is that Huawei hasn't tried to launch its own proprietary charging port, or anything crazy like that. The thing about Freelace is that they've been designed to let people plug them directly into their phone's USB-C port for power. In other words, while almost all devices use a female USB-C cable, Freelace uses a male connector like so:
Huawei's reasoning for this is to avoid having to carry around a cable to recharge your headphones. That's all well and good, but it's not like USB-C cables are a hassle. Everyone needs one to recharge their phone, barring Apple users who wouldn't buy these anyway, so what's the problem with using that same cable on your headphones? It kind of suggests that Huawei doesn't have faith in the quoted 18 hour battery life either. You don't need to top up headphones that have a decent battery life.
Of course, the male connector also offers some logistical problems. For instance Huawei readily admitted that you needed a phone that offered power sharing, and there aren't a great deal of them out there. I plugged the Freelace buds into a OnePlus 6 and nothing happened, which kind of defeats the purpose and limits the consumer base. Plus the lack of cabling means you're going to have to plug the earphones directly into a USB-C power adaptor, or cough up the money for a male-to-female extension cable.
Despite the flack people give cables, they seem almost deliberately designed to put some space between the gadget they're charging and the plug. The longer the cable, the more freedom of movement you have, and no cable means Freelace has to dangle directly out of the port and likely have to sit on the floor. To be honest I feel if Huawei wants to offer phone-to-ear charging then reverse wireless charging might have been the way to go. Not that adding wireless charging to gym-style earphones would have been particularly easy, if it's possible at all.
There is an advantage to this way of charging, however. Huawei has promised that plugging a pair of Freelace into a Huawei phone will instantly pair the two devices – much like the way a lot of headphones use NFC to avoid the standard Bluetooth pairing system. Not that it's actually that difficult to do, provided you're not surrounded by visible Bluetooth signals.
But you know, if the weird charging system appeals to you, then you should know a few things. The first is that Huawei is including a magnetic clasp on each earbuds, letting you stick them together to switch off the earphones and all media playback. Naturally pulling them apart kicks things back off from where they left off. They also have a 'memory metal cable' at the back back of liquid metal and silicone, alongside the option to call up a voice assistant and IPX5 water resistance. So they're not waterproof, but they are splashproof.
If you're not big on wires Huawei did surprise everyone with 'FreeBuds' which are proper wireless earbuds, with a similar design to Apple's AirPods. Thankfully they have an in-ear design, rather than the abomination Apple and Google seem to like. They have a wireless charging case, capacitive touch controls, some sort of water resistance, and auto-wear detection. The buds have a 3 hour battery life, which extends to 10 hours with the case.
UK pricing is still TBA, but the Freelace will cost €99 while the FreeBuds will be €119.