Reviewing new tech doesn’t get boring, but now and again a device comes across my desk like the Huawei Freebuds 3i that prove you don’t always have to spend a fortune to get excellent quality sound. They’re not the best sound quality I’ve ever tested or the least expensive, but they’ve been priced just right and provide a perfect balance between price and performance.
My review unit came in ceramic white, but they’re also available in carbon black.
They look similar to the previous versions right down to the pill-box shaped charging case. They look more like the original AirPods than the newer AirPods Pro, but in terms of features, they share more of the AirPod Pro features.
Fit and comfort are key features of any earbuds and this will come down to the individual. For me thanks to the supplied soft earbud tips, I was able to find a secure and comfy fit. The newly designed ear tips feel great in the ear and in my case, they provided a tight seal offering good passive noise isolation. Of course, like all earbuds, your mileage may differ. I found overall comfort for long periods of use reasonably good too. They come complete with flexible silicone tips that come in four different sizes. The FreeBuds 3i are also IPX4 water-resistant.
The charging case has a USB-C port for charging, but it isn’t wireless charging capable. It takes a full hour to fully charge the case and buds if they’re empty. Battery life is a little short at three hours on the buds (ANC turned on) but you do get up to 14 hours with the charging case. I’ve also noticed that if you don’t use the FreeBuds 3i for a while, you may find that they’ve run down to empty. In five days, they when from the earbuds being 100%, case 70% to earbuds 95% case 5%. This is something I’ve also noticed on the more expensive FreeBuds 3.
The AI Life app provides full details of the charge state of each bud and the case. You can also get a quick indication of the charge state by looking at the LED on the case.
Setting up the Freebuds 3i with a new Huawei device running EMUI 10 is a simple matter of opening the case and an animation will pop-up on the bottom of your screen asking you if you want to pair the new device. With other non-Huawei devices including iPhones, you have to hold the button on the back of the case and pair it through your phone's Bluetooth pairing feature.
Once paired you’ll hear a friendly tone to let you know you’re ready to listen to audio. Take them out and sensors will detect a change and pause the audio you’re playing including video apps like YouTube, Netflix or Prime Video.
Each bud has capacitive sensors used for touch controls. These can be configured individually to control pause/play, answer incoming calls, wake the voice assistant and skip the next/previous track with a double-tap. Touch and hold for switching between noise-cancelling on, off or awareness mode which lets outside sounds in.
The AI Life app also allows you to turn off smart wear detection if you don’t want your audio pausing every time you take out an earbud. There’s no single tap gesture and this means that accidental touches don’t cause unwanted actions.
On the downside, there’s no AI Life app for iOS, so you’re stuck with the default gestures and no way to update the firmware. There’s also no way of turning up the volume unless you wake the virtual voice assistant.
I’m a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones, especially for travel but in recent times, I’ve had little opportunity for that. The ultimate test for me is plane or train noise and in general, I prefer over-ear noise-cancelling headphones for that.
That being said, there are times when small, pocketable headphones are far more convenient for some situations and the FreeBuds 3i are more than capable of blocking out the hum-drum noises around the house or low bassy tones of road noise while travelling as a passenger in a car.
Its effectiveness is in part down to the good tight seal created between bud and ear, but also the excellent active noise cancellation, which does a better than expected job from such compact and light in-ear buds.
I’m not an audiophile but the FreeBuds 3i sound good to my ears. Like I said already, I’ve heard better from buds that cost two and three times more. The bass is a little underwhelming while the mids are warm and highs clear if not a little too sharp at times.
Overall, sound quality is excellent and better than most other true wireless earbuds in this price range. Most users will enjoy the bright sound and decent stereo soundstage while listening to a broad range of musical genres. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t experience any major lip-sync issues while watching YouTube videos or Netflix.
Using the FreeBuds 3i for watching your favourite shows or movies is especially good with ANC turned on for a fully immersive experience. You will hear lots of details on sounds effects and things like explosions feel big and powerful.
Call quality I found the call quality on the original FreeBuds excellent and the long stems on the 3i make them just as good if not better. Background noise is kept to a minimum so callers won’t hear the sounds around you easily.
The Huawei FreeBuds 3i are all-round performers with excellent sound, reasonable but not exceptional battery life and sound quality and features that punch above its price class.
* Available now €99