The true wireless earbuds market has been dominated by Apple’s AirPods. We see affordable and innovative earbuds pop up frequently nowadays but Apple has managed to stay ahead of them all. Huawei aims to eclipse some of Apple’s success with its own lookalike pair of earbuds.
The FreeBuds 3 are Huawei’s third generation of truly wireless earbuds. Aside from design similarities to AirPods, the FreeBuds 3 come into their own by offering something the regular AirPods don’t - noise cancellation. They also use Huawei’s homegrown Kirin A1 chip to intelligently adapt noise around you, and make voices pop during phone calls.
Pricing & Availability
You can pick up the FreeBuds 3 across Huawei stores and other retail stores in the UAE for AED650. They come in two color finishes - White and Black. The price may not seem high compared to Apple AirPods, but given what Huawei delivers, we think it’s priced more than it should be and you should evaluate other devices.
Design & Fit
We’ve seen several takes on the true wireless buds design over the past few years, but Huawei has chosen to emulate Apple’s AirPods. They have long stems with metal tips at the end that unlike the AirPods, go past the earbuds. It might seem like a weird design choice but we found that the extra length at the top makes the FreeBuds 3 easy to grip and get out of their case.
Much like the AirPods, the FreeBuds 3 have an open-fit design that follow a one size fits all policy to sit in your ears comfortably outside the canal, rather than in-ear earbuds that have silicone tips plugged into ear canals.
This is a good because they’re super lightweight and don’t cram your ears which means they have no fatigue. So, if you have long commutes or are a heavy listener, the FreeBuds 3 can be essentially worn and forgotten about.
Even though they lack the grip that comes with silicone ear tips, the FreeBuds 3 will stay in your ear. Unless you thrash your head vigorously, the FreeBuds 3 will stay put during light workouts.
The open-fit design also means that they don’t provide a lot of passive noise isolation, which affects sound quality and their ability to immerse users in what they’re listening to. This isn’t a bad thing if you don’t want to fall out of touch with your surroundings.
The charging case that comes with FreeBuds 3 looks nothing like what Apple ships with its AirPods and we like it. It’s a circular design that opens with a nimble flick. There’s a pairing button tucked on the side and a USB-C port at the bottom.
Controls & AI Life app
The FreeBuds 3 work like any other Bluetooth earphones when it comes to pairing. On Huawei phones, you’ll see a screen prompt pop up when you bring them close- much like it does on the iPhone with Apple’s AirPods. On other phones, you press a small button on the side of the charging case to enter pairing mode and the earphones connect swiftly and consistently across Android and iOS.
There are no physical controls on the FreeBuds 3 save for double-tap touch gestures on each earbud. By default the left double-tap is set to toggle ANC on and off while the right double-tap is used to skip tracks. We would like to see some form of volume control on the earbuds, but it’s a feature that several true wireless earbuds lack due their small sizes.
The touch controls can be moody, and don’t always register double-taps. More frustratingly, they register a double-tap when you’ve only touched the earbud once. This usually happened when we reached to adjust the fit and ended up unintentionally skipping tracks.
You can remap the double-tap gesture to another action if you have access to the Huawei AI Life app - a device management app from Huawei where you can control a myriad of smart Huawei devices. The app is available through Huawei’s App Gallery and will eventually make its way to Android and iOS app stores.
On the AI Life app, you’ll see a quick battery summary and get to tweak some of the settings like levels of noise cancellation and changing what the double-tap gestures do. You can adjust the double tap to Play/Pause, wake voice assistant, enable/disable noise cancelling or disable it completely.
Sound Quality & Noise Cancellation
The audio quality on FreeBuds 3 is not consistent, which makes them a little hard to judge. With the right song, the sound is well-balanced and rich enough to be enjoyable. But other times it’s just okay with upper registers getting a little too sharp for our tastes. If you’re listening to orchestral music, sound gets a little tinny and the quality is painfully mediocre.
The middle is where you’ll get the most rounded sound. For commuters, the sound quality is more than adequate, so you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite tunes at loud volumes or listen to podcasts with crisp vocal clarity.
Where the FreeBuds 3 fall short is in the bass department. For all the tech and dedicated bass tunnel that Huawei claims to have added to the FreeBuds 3, it doesn’t have the kick to satisfy bass lovers. It’s not particularly good at picking up low frequencies either. Music with sub-bass presence doesn’t come in as clean, and lacks that low-end boom that makes songs from artists like Frank Ocean sound satisfying.
Audio woes aside, the FreeBuds 3 do offer decent noise cancelling - at least better than what you’ll usually find in other open-fit designs. The built-in mics are excellent at making sure you’re heard clearly at the other end of a phone call, and the ANC lets you hear your callers with good clarity even in noisy areas.
Enabling active noise cancellation takes two simple taps on the left earbud and for what it’s worth, it does help boost the low-end - but not enough to make a remarkable difference. Since the earbuds don’t form any kind of seal around the ear, passive noise isolation is just not possible, and as a result you’ll always be able to hear what’s happening around you whether ANC is turned on or not.
It manages to isolate ambient noises down to a dim faraway lull, so if someone’s speaking close to you, their voices become distant mumbles. It’s good for when you’re on the metro or at a crowded airport and want to drone out the excessive noise but still be aware of your surroundings. It’s not so great when you’re watching a movie or a video, as you’ll find that the FreeBuds 3 tend to pick up voices selectively and makes them sound louder than they need to be.
Huawei claims the FreeBuds 3 last four hours on a single charge which can be stretched to twenty hours when you use the charging case. For the most part, we found this true during our tests. If you keep the FreeBuds 3 at a reasonable volume and use ANC modestly, you can get close to Huawei’s figures.
During our week and a half of testing, which involved heavy daily listening, we only charged the FreeBuds 3 case twice. We reckon most users can get away with charging it once a week with moderate listening. Of course, continuous use of ANC will drain more battery than usual and if you crank the volume to the highest, you’ll be reaching for the charger more frequently. Thankfully, charging the FreeBuds 3 is extremely convenient.
The charging case can be recharged within thirty minutes with a USB-C cable, which is super handy if you’re in a rush. The case can also be charged wirelessly through a wireless mat or through reverse wireless charging on compatible Huawei phones.
The FreeBuds 3 are a good alternative if you’re an Android phone owner and want a pair of wireless earbuds that look like Apple’s AirPods. They work especially well with Huawei smartphones where you get to enjoy features like quick smart pairing, customization of controls and reverse wireless charging.
Other than that, comfy fit and convenience are all FreeBuds 3 have to offer. The sound quality is good but not great, and the lack of bass is disappointing. As is the lack of low frequencies, which pulls too much fun out of the music. While the noise cancellation does an average job of isolating sounds, it does come in handy during phone calls.
If sound and noise reduction are priorities, then you’re better off checking out some of the great alternatives in the market. There’s the slightly more expensive Sony WF-100XM3 for deep bass and impressive noise isolation, or if your budget doesn’t stretch that far then last year’s Jabra Elite 65t are still one of the best true wireless earbuds alternative around.