Huawei released a little device at the tail end of 2019 called the Freebuds 3 — wireless earbuds with an open-fit design which also had active noise cancellation, the first and so far only major device with that design to do so. We tested the device around its launch but were underwhelmed with the features it had. So back to tradition seems to be the way the company is going with their newest earbuds, the Huawei Freebuds 3i.
The earbuds have ditched the open-fit design concept for a regular in-ear implementation, which may either be a good or bad thing depending on the person you ask. But how does the Huawei Freebuds 3i function as a whole?
Before getting into earbuds specifically, let’s first talk about the charging case that comes with the Huawei Freebuds 3i.
Instead of the dental floss design of the Freebuds 3, the 3i uses a pill-shaped case to house the earbuds. A gloss finish surrounds the exterior of the case, which you can get in either a black or white colour.
The design of the case is less gaudy than that of the Freebuds 3, but I prefer using the previous case purely from a convenience standpoint. The pill-shaped design, combined with the glossy exterior, is slippery on the fingers and hard to open with one hand, especially if they are wet or a little oily.
It also is a little bulkier in size, which wasn’t necessarily a problem for me when I was carrying it in my pockets but may feel more noticeable for those who frequent tight-fitting shorts or pants.
There is a LED indicator on the charging case, which helps to indicate whenever it is pairing as well showing the various stages of the battery level with different colours. The latter is perhaps the best addition to the case as you can now tell when the case has been fully charged, something that the previous Freebuds 3 wasn’t able to do.
On the earbuds themselves, the design is very much evocative of Airpod Pros, with the stems protruding out from your ear when you wear them; very uninspired perhaps, but there isn’t a need to fix what isn’t broken.
The Huawei Freebuds 3i fit snugly in the ear throughout when I wore them for various occasions; there wasn’t any fear of them dropping out whenever I was running or biking while wearing them. The default earbuds were comfortable enough for me to use, but it does come with various other sizes should you need to change to fit your preference.
Sound on the Huawei Freebuds 3i retains many of the good qualities from its predecessor and has some improvements to it as well — much of it owed to the new in-ear design.
Volume doled out from the earbuds was not a problem; I rarely had to adjust from the comfortable 60 to 70% level that I was listening on. It was a significant problem that I had to deal with while using the previous Freebuds 3, with the open-fit design often leaking in noise which hindered my listening, especially with content like podcasts.
Clarity on the sound is also of a high standard, with voices sounding clear whether it be on music leaning on vocals or podcasts with multiple hosts. This also extends to the instruments in the mid-range; they sound distinct from one another and deliver a clear beat when listening.
Improvement on the bass quality can also be heard. Thumps from the bass have a lot more punch to them; they fit right in the middle ground of not over-delivering on that aspect while being satisfying to hear.
Finally, let’s delve into the active noise cancellation. Long story short, it is better, but not by much.
The earbuds do a better job at blocking out sound from outside compared from before; environmental noise like conversations and passing traffic are less noticeable. However, like with the other improvements mentioned above, I’ll likely attribute this to the in-ear sound isolation from the earbuds rather than actual noise-cancelling technology,
There is also an inherent problem I’ve noticed with using active noise cancellation. Part of how the Huawei Freebuds 3i’s noise cancellation technology works is on using an outward-facing mic to detect ambient noise and countering it with anti-noise. The problem is that it also picks up wind, producing a static-y sound whenever it is blown into the mic.
It is the biggest detraction of using the active noise cancellation mode for the wireless earbuds. The experience proves to be very annoying whenever you are trying to listen to music, and the static distracts from the sound. It is especially susceptible if it happens to be a windy environment or you use it while running or cycling, sometimes it even picks up the wind from a nearby fan. Simply, put, just turn it off if you are in any of these situations.
The Huawei Freebuds 3i makes use of touch controls, with a long press toggling the active noise cancellation mode on and off while a double-tap plays and pauses your audio content. It’s a limited control setup, but at least you can make use of these controls on either earbud.
I lamented the fact that the earlier Freebuds 3 was unable to pause playback whenever you took them off unless you enabled it on their proprietary app, but now they work out of the box, which is excellent news for Apple users. Unfortunately, that is the full extent of support you get on the iPhone; there still isn’t a dedicated app for it.
Of course, the wireless earbuds work best on a Huawei device, pairing seamlessly together with NFC. Still, Android devices can also join in the fun with the Huawei A.I Life app available on the Google Play store.
The app functions as the hub for the Huawei Freebuds 3i, providing precise information on the battery for each earbud and the case. But it also allows you to tweak the noise cancellation feature, which could improve the quality of it for you.
You could also customise the touch controls on the earbuds to have specific functions on each side of the earbud if you want a little more functionality out of the controls.
The battery on the Huawei Freebuds 3i doesn’t last spectacularly well compared to the competition. I’ve gotten roughly 3 hours or so with the ANC turned on, a little bit extra with it off. The charging case gets you about three more uses before needing to charge it completely.
Charging time does at least work relatively fast, I was able to get it back up to max capacity in just over an hour. However, no wireless charging is available for these earbuds.
The Huawei Freebuds 3i is a marked improvement on the previous Freebuds 3 wireless earbuds. Judging on sound quality alone, there would be no qualms from me on recommending the device. However, it still has several shortcomings that sully the listening experience as a whole. Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that the buds are very competitively priced, so I suggest you weigh the pros and cons before committing.