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Huawei FreeBuds 3 review: AirPods Pro killers?

Mark White
15 Nov 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
169
inc VAT

Huawei’s new wireless earbuds are lightweight, comfortable and offer ANC, but they stumble in one or two key areas

Pros 
Comfortable and stylish
Noise-cancelling technology
Wireless charging
Cons 
Incompatible with iOS
Bass is lacking
Touch functions can be unresponsive
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We’re more than 180 days into the Huawei US ban, and though the average consumer is still as unsure about the Chinese firm’s mid- to long-term future as when the news first broke, that hasn’t stopped Huawei releasing a brand new set of FreeBuds in the UK.

FreeBuds 3 are the third iteration of Huawei’s AirPods rival, following FreeBuds 2, which were only released earlier in 2019. This update sees a brand-new charging case and the introduction of noise-cancelling technology to the buds.

READ NEXT: The best over-ear and in-ear headphones you can buy

Huawei FreeBuds 3: What you need to know

If you’re an iPhone user thinking of buying the FreeBuds 3 as a cheaper alternative to the new AirPods Pro, however, you can forget it because they aren’t fully compatible with Apple products. Naturally, you can connect them as you would other Bluetooth earbuds, but since the companion AI Life app isn’t available from the iOS App Store, you’d only be getting a very limited experience.

AI Life is offered in the Google Play store, so you can use the FreeBuds 3 with all non-Huawei Android devices. That’s good news, because they’re a really impressive product on paper. Indeed, they’re unusual, as they’re open-fit true wireless earbuds with active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology.

That might sound like something of a contradiction, but despite only resting loosely in your ears, these AirPods lookalikes do indeed promise to cut out some of the background buzz that interrupts your everyday listening. As with the AirPods, you can use them to make calls thanks to their built-in microphones, too, and when they need recharging, all you need to do is pop them back in their small carry case.

Huawei FreeBuds 3: Price and competition

FreeBuds 3 are available in the UK for £170. That’s £10 more expensive than Apple’s AirPods 2, which don’t have ANC and £80 cheaper than the superb AirPods Pro, which do. It’s worth pointing out, however, that since the latter have silicone tips to achieve a tight seal, they deliver much greater noise attenuation.

Elsewhere, judging the competition can be difficult, given that no two products offer quite the same sound quality or features. The RHA TrueConnect, available for £150, are in-ear wireless buds that lack ANC but deliver deep bass response, whilst the Sony WF-1000XM3 are a little pricier at £219 but offer superb battery life and noise-cancelling.

Huawei FreeBuds 3: Design, comfort and features

The first thing that hits you about the FreeBuds 3 is how similar they look to AirPods: squint and you could mistake them for the Apple earbuds. From the metal tip at the end of the stem to the flick-to-open case, it’s clear where the design inspiration has come from.

The Huawei buds feel a lot like AirPods, too. They’re extremely light and easy to forget you’ve got them on; they don’t block out the outside world completely, which may well be your preference, given that your voice can feel like it’s bouncing around your head with some earphones.

READ NEXT: Best wireless earbuds

The FreeBuds 3 are perfect for using out and about on your commute as well as at home. They’re even adequate earbuds to use out running or at the gym, though their lack of silicone tips means they don’t have quite the same grip as some earbuds that sit snugly in your ear canal.

A nice touch is the ability to tap the buds themselves for actions. The default for the left bud is set as toggling the ANC on or off, while the right allows you to skip tracks. This is a handy feature but not without its niggles; the actions don’t always respond straight away. The left-hand bud comes with its own annoyance: rather than activating the ANC with a simple sound effect, it announces it via a voice telling you “Noise cancelling on”, which interrupts your music.

On a more positive note, FreeBuds 3 connect in a matter of seconds to your Android phone, with just a flick of the case even if you don’t have a Huawei device. If the buds themselves ape AirPods in style, the case itself feels more like a white, plastic Babybel. It’s compact enough to fit in your pocket and you’re unlikely to mistake it for your wallet or your phone, such is its unique shape.

Pairing the buds to your phone is easy – simply press the small button on the right-hand side of the case. Once connected, you can use the two tiny LED lights at the bottom and the inside of the case to check how much battery is left: the greener the lights, the more juice left to run.

READ NEXT: The best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy

Huawei FreeBuds 3: Noise cancelling, sound quality and battery life

The sound quality of open-fit earbuds can vary hugely. However, the FreeBuds 3 are more than capable of producing a rounded, balanced sound, if not a little treble-heavy. Played loudly, the higher registers can be a little sharp and the bass does lack kick, but overall, they sound good. The sound certainly doesn’t have the tinny feel that a number of earphones that rest in your outer ear have: it’s also a satisfactory earbud for listening to on public transport, given that it can drown out more background sound than the average open-fit earphones.

The big question that many will have about FreeBuds 3 is regarding the effectiveness of this noise cancelling. It seems hard to believe that such a design could shut out much of the outside world, but the earbuds’ ANC is surprisingly impressive. There’s a noticeable difference when you switch to the noise-cancelling mode and it also gives the sound a touch of much-needed low end.

Having said that, the FreeBuds 3 don’t cancel out background disruptions in the way you’d get from over-ear models such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 or even in-ear ANC buds with silicone tips. There’s simply not enough passive isolation for Huawei’s earbuds to compete in this respect.

As for battery life, the FreeBuds 3 deliver up to four hours between charges. This can be extended to 20 hours with the case; for comparison, Apple claims the AirPods can last five hours on a single charge and more than 24 with the case. If you do happen to want to use them for an extended period, they’re easy to recharge either with a USB-C cable, via a wireless pad or even with your Huawei P30 phone. The FreeBuds take just 30 minutes to charge too, which is good news if you’re in a rush.

Huawei FreeBuds 3: Verdict

It makes sense to invest in FreeBuds 3 if you’re a Huawei user who wants quick pairing with your phone. They’re a good addition to the Huawei brand and a comfortable companion to your Android device.

If you’re considering the FreeBuds as an alternative to the AirPods Pro, however, you’re perhaps looking in the wrong place. The ANC isn’t as powerful as an earbud that comes with a silicone tip and there are brands out there that offer better sound quality for similar prices.

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