The Huawei Freebuds 3 is the first open-fit earphones with active noise cancelling. Despite its best efforts, it is extremely challenging to cancel noise with open-fit earphones. It works to a certain extent, and provides noise relief to consumers who totally cannot take the stuffed-up feeling of in-canal earbuds.
Then the Freebuds 3i comes along. Usually when smartphone manufacturers produce in-house audio products, they are usually not comparable to the audio specialist brands. Hence I am delightfully surprised that the Freebuds 3i delivers an overall excellent product that I would use it as my daily driver.
I’d be honest – as I always have on my reviews, the audio quality is not audiophile-grade, but it does not sound poorly. What the consumer wants is “clear treble, strong bass”. And the Freebuds 3i has it. The bass is tangible without too overpowering. The treble is clear and bright, nicely balancing the bass. Midrange has sufficient details thanks to the controlled yet forthcoming bass, but not as full as neutral earbuds. The mid-treble like the crashing cymbals could sound a little harsh, an attempt to make the earbuds sound more presence, but not too harsh to make me reject them. I enjoy listening to them at lengths, but there’s more to why I like the Freebuds 3i besides audio quality.
I also find the audio codec processing not as good. Even though it supports SBC and AAC, I detect compression artifacts causing upper frequency to be slightly fuzzy. You will only hear it if you listen hard, so it doesn’t bother me much.
The Freebuds 3i is intuitive to use, quite similar to what Apple has done with the AirPods Pro. I won’t convince you that the Freebuds 3i is better than AirPods Pro, but at half the price, the Freebuds 3i is probably about 90% as good as AirPods Pro. And at 45% of the price.
Noise Cancellation and Awareness
Huawei did pretty well in this area. The ANC and Awareness (ambient mode) is not adjustable, but the quality is good. When riding on underground train, the Freebuds 3i takes away most sound, except for some fine high-pitched noises which would be covered by your music. The Awareness mode is also natural sounding, so much so that sometimes I could not tell if it’s on. In this mode, the earbuds do not exaggerate the ambient sound, which is good. It actually sounds like you are wearing an open-fit earbuds, so I think consumers who dislike feeling stuffed up might find the Freebuds 3i acceptable to use.
Critically speaking, the Sony WF-1000XM3 still does a better job in absolute noise cancellation, but I would bring out the Freebuds 3i anytime to use compared to the Sony buds, which is a lot more cumbersome to use.
The Freebuds 3i has a sensor that detects whether the earbuds are in your ear or not. When it’s out of the ears, the noise cancellation and Awareness (ambient sound) mode will be disabled. At the same time, the music will auto-pause. When you place the earbuds back in your ears, the ANC features will resume, and with EMUI 10 devices, playback will auto-resume too.
Smart Mic For Voice Calls
The mic quality is one of the better ones I have reviewed in recent months. There is good volume and clarity, and does not sound too tinny. What I am impressed is that the active microphone will switch to the earbud that is on your ear. If both are on your ears, the Awareness mode will be enabled so that you can have a balanced conversation.
Custom Touch Controls
The touch controls can be changed from the AI Life smartphone app. Although the options are fixed, it works well for me. I opted to use touch-and-hold action for noise control (ANC, Awareness, Off) and double-tap for track changes – double-tap left earbud to go previous track, and double-tap right earbud to skip to next track. Volume controls are not supported. If I want to pause the track, I just remove one of the earbuds and audio will pause. To resume, I could double-tap and it somehow resumes playback – this is not documented.
It’s a small detail, but one that is so sensible. Most other earbuds uses either number of LED or blink patterns to communicate the remaining battery life. Huawei Freebuds 3i does that with the colour: green means full, yellow means half, red means low. It’s so unambiguous! No guesswork.
The Freebuds 3i are rated with 13.5 hours battery including case. It’s not a lot compared to other brands, but in an urban setting, you can charge it regularly.
The Huawei Freebuds 3i is the best value noise cancelling true-wireless earbuds to buy. I like the intuitive functions using the proximity sensor to enable the noise cancelling, pause the audio, switch the active mic during calls
At a price of S$168, the Freebuds 3i is awesome value, delivers ANC very well for the price, and an excellent starter for consumers trying out noise cancelling earbuds.