Wireless earbuds are value for money

It was only seven months ago when I reviewed Huawei’s FreeBuds 3 true wireless in-ear headphones. Now, a new variant has arrived – the FreeBuds 3i.

Like the FreeBuds 3, which bears a close resemblance to Apple’s AirPods, the FreeBuds 3i looks like the AirPods Pro with its all-white exterior (an all-black version is coming later) and silicone ear tips. It also features active noise cancellation (ANC) to block out ambient noise.

However, there are slight visual differences from the AirPods Pro. The FreeBuds 3i’s earbuds have a much longer stem and its in-ear section is less curvy. On each earbud’s exterior is a flat touch-sensitive surface for tap controls.

Unlike the FreeBuds 3, the FreeBuds 3i uses silicone ear tips. It comes in four sizes and I find the medium-sized ones fit my ears the best. When I try shaking my head vigorously to dislodge the earbuds, they stay put. During jogs, they feel secure and do not fall out.

In addition, the FreeBuds 3i is light (each earbud weighs just 5.4g) and super comfortable to wear. I wear it all day without noticing it being there.

The FreeBuds 3i’s all-white charging case has a pill-box design with a USB-C port at its rear for charging. It does not support wireless charging – a feature that is good to have, but not a deal breaker.

Instead, it is the positioning of the earbuds in the case that irks me. The earbuds face outwards in the case and you have to turn each earbud 180 degrees after removing it from your ear to insert into the case. You might accidentally drop the earbuds when doing so.

As you might expect, the most seamless pairing for the earbuds is with a Huawei smartphone. This is especially so when you use the Huawei AI Life app (available for Android only) and when the phone runs Huawei’s latest EMUI 10 mobile operating system.

With AI Life and EMUI 10, it offers an Apple-like pairing experience. Open the lid of the charging case with the earbuds inside, bring the case close to the Huawei smartphone and a window will appear on the phone. Tap Connect in this window and the pairing is done.

The app also lets you upgrade the firmware and customise the tap controls. By default, touching and holding your finger on either earbud will switch ANC on or off. Double tapping either earbud will play or pause music.

However, you can customise the controls such that one earbud plays the next song and the other plays the previous song. You can also add the Awareness mode – which lets in ambient noise – into the touch-and-hold function, so you will be toggling through ANC On, ANC off and the Awareness mode.​

FOR

• Affordable

• Impressive active noise cancellation given its price

• Super comfortable

AGAINST

• Charging case does not support wireless charging

• In-case earbuds placement not intuitive

• Lacks equaliser setting

• No app for iOS devices

SPECS

PRICE: $168

CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth

WEIGHT: 5.4g (each earbud), charging case (51g)

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

BATTERY LIFE: 3/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

OVERALL: 4/5

I like that the earbuds automatically stop the music when I take one out of my ear and resume playback when I put it back on.

If you are using the FreeBuds 3i with other Android smartphones, you have to do the pairing via the Bluetooth menu. But you can still use the AI Life app to customise the double-tap or toggle ANC function. No such luck, though, if you are using an iPhone.

On the downside, the app does not have an equaliser setting. Thus, you are stuck with the audio output Huawei has set.

I find the FreeBuds 3i’s audio quality decent, with clear mids and highs. However, the sound lacks richness and bass punch.

On the other hand, its ANC performance is quite impressive. It is able to cut out most of the noise, rivalling most of its more-expensive competitors.

Battery life is rated at three hours of playback with ANC switched on, with the charging case adding another 14 hours. This is average, compared with the competition.

At $168, the FreeBuds 3i offers superb value for money with its mix of cool design, decent sound quality and great ANC performance.

If you own a Huawei smartphone, this is the “AirPods Pro” for you.

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