It was only seven month ago when I reviewed Huawei's FreeBuds 3 true wireless in-ear headphones. Now, a new variant has arrived, called FreeBuds 3i (available on Amazon, Lazada and Shopee).
Like FreeBuds 3, which bears close resemblance to Apple's AirPods, 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. They come in four sizes and I found the medium-sized ones to fit my ears the best. When I tried shaking my head vigorously to dislodge the earbuds, they stayed put. During jogs, they felt secure and did not fall out.
In addition, FreeBuds 3i is really light (each earbud weighs just 5.4g) and super comfortable to wear. I wore it all day without noticing its presence.
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 good-to-have but not a deal breaker.
Instead, it is the earbuds placement scheme of the case that irks me. The earbuds face outwards in the case, in a way that you have to turn each earbud 180 degrees after you remove it from your ear in order to insert it into the case. You might accidentally drop the earbuds when doing so.
As you might expect, the most seamless pairing 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 on 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 turn the ANC on or off. Double tap on 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.
I like that the earbuds automatically stop the music when I take one earbud 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 that Huawei has set.
I find FreeBuds 3i's audio quality decent, with clear mids and highs. However, I find the sound lacking in 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 turned 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.
- Very affordable
- Impressive active noise cancellation for its price
- Super comfortable
- Charging case does not support wireless charging
- In-case earbuds placement not intuitive
- Lacks equaliser setting
- No app for iOS devices
WEIGHT: 5.4g (each earbud), charging case (51g)
BATTERY LIFE: 3/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5