The world of true wireless earphones has seen a dramatic influx of products in the last few months. Consumers have a range of options that are both good quality but also pocket friendly. In light of this, the Huawei Freebuds 3i brings Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) to the mix, which is a rare sight at its price tag of Dh399. While these earphones are cheaper than the Freebuds 3, can they be seen as an improvement?
Design and build quality
Huawei packages the Freebuds 3i pair in a capsule shaped housing, that is both compact and durable. Although a matte finish would have been the cherry on the cake. Opening the lid is satisfactory and inside, you find the pair of earphones. Given their horizontal position, they can be a bit difficult to pluck out but that is not a deal-breaker. Plus, the magnet inside it fairly strong. The case itself is also clean looking, with branding, an LED indicator to convey charge levels, a Type-C USB port for charging and a pairing button on the rear.
Taking a look at the earphones themselves, they are on the larger side. The stem is longer than usual however one great design element is the silicone tip. This provides an added level of sealing in the ear over typical open-fit earphones like the original Apple Airpods or the Huawei Freebuds 3, which helps the Freebuds 3i stay in place for longer periods of time. Although largely subjective, silicone tip earphones are a win in my books not only for that extra comfort but also because this design is more suited for ANC. Although the 3i fit is not perfect, jumping around does not dislodge them but wearing them for long does take a slight toll on your ears. The tips of the earbuds though can be customised based on the size of your ear with the extra ones provided out of the box. They do not seem proprietary so you will be able to replace them with third party alternatives if you prefer.
Pairing process and Huawei AI Life
Given that I was using a non-Huawei smartphone, pairing these is done via Bluetooth 5.0. Holding the pairing button for a few seconds starts the process and from there, it is simply a case of finding the Freebuds 3i in your Bluetooth menu. For devices such as the Huawei P40 Pro running EMUI 10 or later, pairing can also be done by simply opening the case. This pop-up and pairing method is intuitive and works well. From here on, every time you re-connect gets you information about the battery life of the earbuds and the case.
By downloading Huawei AI Life, the same information can be displayed on any smartphone. Additionally, the application gives users information about the different shortcuts the earbuds are capable of as well as notifications if there is any firmware update. If you happen to own multiple devices, connecting the earbuds quickly between them is also easier thanks to the application.
Given the price tag of the Freebuds 3i, their sound quality is good. But audiophiles will certainly nitpick. With songs that have a bit of complexity, sound can come off as flat. The middles and trebles are represented well but sometimes, they are too prominent whereas bass falls a bit short. On the overall though, this is typical of a pair of earphones at this price point. But drawing a parallel to the Oppo Enco W31, these fall short on songs with vocals, complex instrumentals and bass heavy tracks. Although, we still have to give it to Huawei for overall detail retention and peak volume.
Active Noise Cancellation
According to Huawei, the pair of Freebuds 3i is capable of a noise reduction of 32dB. In simple terms, this means a quiet experience. The ANC on the earbuds is possible due to the outward-facing microphone to detect background noise and an inward-facing one for inside your ear. This duo was able to minimise day to day household noises such as construction work, the crackling in the kitchen or the sound of my mechanical keyboard just fine. And even if sound was not suppressed altogether, it was enough to render it unnoticeable. This is quite impressive given that it was done without introducing much white noise.
By using the Huawei AI Life application, you can also toggle between an Awareness mode, ANC off or ANC off simply by holding the right earbud. The Awareness mode is great to listen in on your surroundings however with ANC off too, the earbuds deliver a good deal of background noise isolation. This is thanks to their fit with the silicone tips. Another feature worth pointing out here is ANC during phone calls. Thanks to a special third microphone and the aforementioned duo of microphones, speaking with your loved ones is a breeze. With ANC enabled, most background sounds are eliminated unless there is a consistent breeze blowing at you. Sometimes, voices can become slightly robotic but on the overall, sound quality remains good.
Battery life and charging
After a week’s worth of usage, the earbuds consistently gave us between 3-3.5 hours of playback with ANC enabled. They take 30 minutes to charge from 0-100 per cent whereas the case takes 1 hour and 15 minutes to charge fully. With this combination, you should be able to get 4-5 charge cycles from them but on the overall, we think the battery backup could have been better. For the earbuds themselves, perhaps an extra hour of playback would have helped immensely. As far as the case goes, that is the sacrifice you make with a portable housing like the one you get for the Freebuds 3i.
From a general perspective, there is nothing wrong with the Huawei Freebuds 3i. They offer superior value for money and decent battery life. One could argue that their sound quality is also fairly good for true-wireless buds. However, for the audiophile and perhaps the gamer, they may not be the ideal choice. For everyone else, ANC at Dh399 is a huge deal and thus these could definitely be a viable option.