As always with Apple, they seem to somehow make new technology become the norm. They did it with the iPhone, and they’ve recently done it with the Airpods; making true wireless earbuds part of people’s lifestyles. Since then, many companies have taken a crack at making their own wireless earbuds including Huawei, whose latest product is the Freebuds 3.
The Freebuds 3 aren’t any regular wireless earbuds though, it is an active noise cancellation capable one that comes with an open fit design. That means that it does not come with ear tips and sits on your ear instead of going into your ear canal.
Of course by utilising this open fit concept, what you end up with is a product that unabashedly looks like its competitor. In fact, there is little to differentiate the Freebuds 3 from the regular Airpods design-wise save for the former having stems. It also comes in black as well so that you can at least avoid confusion if someone else in the household has Airpods.
The charging case that comes with the Freebuds 3 is fortunately more discernible. The case is circular in design and is reminiscent of dental floss casing or compact cases for makeup — it’ll definitely won’t look out of place among items you’d find in a bag.
The size of the charging case is also small and light; its design allows for it to be easily carried in one hand while also not taking up too much space in your pocket. Opening up the case will get you the earbuds as well as the LED indicator for battery life and pairing.
Pairing is fairly easy to do; simply open up the charging case with the earbuds and hold the pairing button at the side for a few seconds so that your phone can detect it. Subsequent pairings only require you to open the case for your phone to automatically connect to it. Huawei smartphone users will, of course, have an easier process, with the phone delivering a special prompt just Apple does with its devices.
The process of doing subsequent pairings is not consistent however. In my attempts trying to pair the earbuds with my phone, there will be an occasional error connecting and I would have to repeat the process.
Wearing the Freebuds 3 evokes the same feeling you’d get if you were to wear Airpods or its wired brother, the Earpods. For my ears at least, they don’t fall out while running or jumping about, which is great, but I could never shake the feeling that the Freebuds were precariously positioned and was also paranoid it would fall out.
The experience I had would, of course, differ from person to person, so I would suggest borrowing an Earpod to see if it fits you comfortably first.
Before I even go into the performance of the earbuds, there should be a big disclaimer for iPhone users. If you do use an iPhone as your main phone, you simply will not be able to experience the full capabilities of the Freebuds 3.
That is because the iPhone does not support the Huawei AI Life app; an app that is freely available in the Google Play store that brings extra features to the earbuds, including seeing the battery percentage and adjusting the noise cancellation level — the latter’s exclusion being a notable aspect which I’ll delve into later.
On the sound quality for the Freebuds 3 itself, they do sound very good. Audio playing on the earbuds has a lot of clarity on the sound, especially on vocals. Unfortunately, bass lacks kick until you pump up the volume, but even then you only get a whiff of it. Overall though, for an open fit earbud design, sound quality is rather impressive.
Controls for the earbuds are rudimentary though, double taps on the right earbud start music or skips to the next track if you already have music playing.
Now we get into the noise cancellation feature, and I have to say that this is highly contentious. How the noise cancellation actually performs depends on the shape of your ears, so like the fit of the earbuds, the results differ between people. You can toggle the noise cancellation by lightly tapping twice on the left earbud.
For me, the noise cancellation was mediocre, barely even noticing it even in public spaces with lots of noise. It only cuts about 15 to 20 percent of outside noise, and you’d still hear distant chatter if your volume is about 50 to 60 percent. Audio podcasts are a particular problem to listen to as I could never drown out ambient noise despite my volume being nearly maxed out.
It is a shame that the Freebuds 3 came out at the time that it did since now we have the Airpods Pro which also has noise cancellation. On trying the Airpods Pro, the difference is night and day. If you are looking for active noise cancelling wireless earbuds in general, there’s no question which you would go for.
This brings us back to the Huawei AI Life app. Why having the feature to tweak the noise cancellation is so important is because you’d be able to see a remarkable difference compared to just using the default settings. Since the iPhone does not have this feature, you are essentially playing the lottery to see if you get good noise cancellation or not.
Battery is also fairly sub-standard compared to other ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) earbuds. Huawei claims that the Freebuds 3 should be able to last about 4 hours with ANC turned off. On my testing, I’ve gotten about 3 hours or so with ANC on, which is rather short.
The charging case gets you four extra uses of the earbuds before going flat and also takes about half an hour to get it fully charged, which mitigates the short battery duration a little. You can also charge the case wirelessly for more convenience, which will take roughly an hour to get it back to full.
Huawei had the right idea when they released the Freebuds 3, a capable competitor to the Apple Airpods that offers a bit more with active noise cancellation. Unfortunately when you compare it to other flagship ANC wireless earbuds that have since come out, it is a pale imitation. The lack of iPhone support also is very frustrating. Only get it if you are thinking of getting Airpods and have yet to experience the better ANC earbuds.
Photo by Soloman Soh and Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC team.