Updated: Aug 20, 2021
We reviewed the Huawei FreeBuds 3 previously, but weren’t too impressed by the choice to use an open-fit design since that affected the effectiveness of the ANC. Huawei now has the FreeBuds 3i, a more affordable version that’s not open-fit, so how does it perform?
First off, the design has been completely changed. The FreeBuds 3’s charging case was a circular puck, while the FreeBuds 3i comes in a rectangular case that somewhat resembles a longer, more angular version of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+’s case. Plus side is that there’s USB-C charging, but unfortunately, no wireless charging so I couldn’t take advantage of my phone’s reverse wireless charge feature.
The earbuds are placed downwards and side-by-side, which I’m not that big a fan of. Due to that awkward placement, the earbuds need to be rotated around 90 degrees whenever removed from the case before it can be placed into the ears.
Once in the ears though, the earbuds are super light and comfortable, and you might even just forget they’re there. Thankfully, Huawei has gone with silicone ear tips and not the open-fit design. This means that they fit more securely in my ear and gives better passive noise isolation as well, which goes hand in hand with the ANC.
Speaking of ANC, it’s even better than the FreeBuds 3. Thanks to the ear tips, they seal better. Wind noise is still an issue though, so if you’re out and about on a windy day, it might be better to just turn ANC off. There’s no noise-cancelling adjustment for these, but there’s an Awareness mode that pipes in external noise.
The earbuds can be controlled via touch-sensitive areas at the top of the stem, and it works pretty well. It’s definitely more sensitive to touch than the FreeBuds 3, which is great since I had difficulties getting those earbuds to register my taps.
Using the Huawei AI Life app, you can customise the touch controls and add or remove options. The app is only available for Huawei and Android phones though, so this makes the earbuds quite a tough sell for people using iPhones.
These work best with Huawei phones though. Similar to how Apple does it with their iPhones and AirPods, once you open the case of the FreeBuds 3i near a Huawei phone, there will be a popup displayed on the phone and the option to connect by simply pressing a button. From then on, whenever you open the case nearby, the popup will display the battery level of the earbuds and case, which is a nice feature.
Other Android phones will have to manually pair the earbuds through the Bluetooth menu on their phones, but the Huawei AI Life app can still be used for customisation.
Sound quality is quite similar to the FreeBuds 3, but with the same downsides too. The mids and highs are generally clear and sound good, but the bass lacked punch and detail. If you’re a big fan of artists who emphasise the bass or if you want detail and accuracy, you might want to look elsewhere.
There’s no EQ feature for these in the AI Life app either, which means you’re stuck with how these sound whether you like them or not.
That being said, these are earphones that are meant to sit below the FreeBuds 3, so it makes sense that there were features cut for the price dip.
Battery life is just a tad worse than the FreeBuds 3. The FreeBuds 3 came in at 3.5 hours for me (4 hours claimed) and the FreeBuds 3i lasted for about 3 hours with ANC turned on. Huawei was spot on with their estimate, and with ANC turned off, I’m sure the buds could eke out another hour or so. There are an additional 14 hours in the charging case, so with moderate usage, one could probably use the earbuds for 3 to 4 days before needing a charge.
So who should get it? Well, iPhone users won’t even have to think about it, it’s a no. Android users might consider it, if only for the more affordable price.
Where these really shine is when paired with a Huawei phone, and Huawei smartphone users will definitely get more out of the FreeBuds 3i than other phone users.
More information about the Huawei FreeBuds 3i (S$168) can be found on the Huawei website.