Huawei’s various corporate and regulatory problems have taken a strong toll on its businesses, but that hasn’t stopped it from launching new products, particularly in the audio and wearables segments. Like many other brands, Huawei has entered the true wireless audio space in India, with the launch of premium, competitively priced products that hope to take on flagship options from Apple, Samsung, and Sony. Among its most recent launches is the product I’m reviewing today, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i true wireless earphones.
Priced at Rs. 9,990, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is seemingly on par with options such as the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3, but significantly more affordable. These earphones feature active noise cancellation, app support, and more, but how do they sound? Find out in this review.
Simple styling, comfortable in-canal fit on the Huawei FreeBuds 3i
While we’ve seen a bit of adventurous styling and eye-catching designs on true wireless earphones in this price segment, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is unlike most other options. The earphones are simple-looking with a glossy plastic finish and have a shape that somewhat makes them resemble the Apple AirPods. There are no logos on the earpieces at all. You do get a proper in-canal fit, which ensures effective noise isolation and thus makes for functional active noise cancellation.
Available in two colour options – black and white – the earpieces of the Huawei FreeBuds 3i each have three microphones which are used for active and environmental noise cancellation as well as voice calls. There’s no IP rating for dust and water resistance, or indeed even any stated form of protection from spills or environmental exposure, so you’ll have to be careful around water with these earphones. Each earpiece weighs 5.5g, and I found the fit to be comfortable over long listening sessions.
The earpieces have touch sensors at the top; you can control playback, invoke your phone’s voice assistant, and control sound modes through gestures. The controls can be customised using the Huawei AI Life app (available only on Android). The app also lets you update the firmware of the Huawei Freebuds 3i, when available, as well as see the exact battery levels of each earpiece and the charging case. It’s a simple enough app that does its job, which is a good thing.
The charging case is neither too big nor too small, and matches the colour and texture of the earpieces. There are indicator lights on both the outside and inside, and a pairing button at the back for when you need to pair the headset with a new device. Charging is through a USB Type-C port at the back.
What I didn’t like about the charging case is the way the earpieces need to be placed inside; they slot in magnetically, but are positioned sideways. I was often confused about which earpiece went where, and while it wasn’t terribly inconvenient, it definitely wasn’t as intuitive as I’d have liked.
The Huawei FreeBuds 3i uses 10mm dynamic drivers, and has a claimed noise reduction of up to 32dB. For connectivity, the earphones use Bluetooth 5 with support for the SBC and AAC codecs. The claimed battery life is 3.5 hours for the earpieces and a total of 14.5 hours with the charging case; I managed to come close to these figures in testing with mixed usage. This isn’t particularly great compared to other options in this price range, even considering there’s active noise cancellation.
Good active noise cancellation on the Huawei FreeBuds 3i
Priced at Rs. 9,990, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is among the most affordable true wireless headsets with active noise cancellation. While such a feature is usually quite basic in terms of quality and flexibility on entry-level earphones as compared to premium options, the FreeBuds 3i actually offers very good ANC performance for the price. Its three-microphone system seems to be quite effective, and audibly takes the edge out of everyday noise.
I paired an Android smartphone that supports the AAC Bluetooth codec with the FreeBuds 3i, using the earphones for music, videos, and calls. In additional, I occasionally used it paired with my MacBook Air. Sound quality, while not quite as good as on some of our top picks in the budget true wireless space, is pleasant enough for regular listening and calls.
Starting with high-resolution music on Tidal, I listened to a Masters version of Close To You by The Avalanches. The first thing I noticed was some sparkle in the sound, with the Huawei FreeBuds 3i capably reproducing the highs in this sample-based house track. The lows were refined and calculated, but didn’t quite sound as good as on the Lypertek Tevi and Creative Outlier Air.
With Bruno Mars’ Treasure, I was able to hear the level of detail in the sound, as well as the capabilities of the mid range. Unlike most other true wireless earphones in this price segment, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i has a somewhat balanced sonic signature; the sound isn’t as natural-sounding and straightforward as with the Lypertek Tevi, but it’s definitely less bass-and-treble focused than options such as the JBL Tune 225TWS. The sound was fairly detailed, with a reasonably spacious soundstage as well.
Much of this can be credited to the quality of the source tracks. Standard compressed audio streams from Spotify and YouTube Music sounding a bit less detailed and clean. Although the sonic signature was the same, Treasure sounded a bit less refined and slightly lacking in finesse when it came to detail. The sonic signature also seemed to narrow a bit, and the sparkle in the highs occasionally hit unpleasant levels of sharpness. The Huawei FreeBuds 3i needs good input to produce good output; standard compressed audio does bring out the weaknesses in its tuning.
Although sound quality is far from the best in this segment, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i makes up for that with effective noise cancellation that is largely on par with what you’d get with much more expensive options such as the Sony WF-SP800N. There was an audible reduction in typical household noise, including the hum of ceiling fans and air-conditioners. Even outdoors, the FreeBuds 3i managed to make things a lot quieter.
This helped with regular music listening and calls, making the general usage experience much more pleasant than with true wireless earphones that have outer-ear fits. Call quality was good in most situations, with the active and environmental noise cancellation working together well to ensure good sound on both ends of the call.
While we’ve reviewed some impressive options in the true wireless market priced under Rs. 10,000 over the past few months, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is the first with active noise cancellation. Even though the sound quality and codec support doesn’t match up to that of the Lypertek Tevi – our current top pick in this price range – it’s still a worthwhile pick if noise cancellation is important to you.
There are a couple of other shortcomings, including battery life and the lack of water resistance, but on the whole the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is a decent pair of true wireless earphones that gets its core functionality right. If you’re looking for a well-rounded experience with good ANC, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i is worth considering. That said, the Oppo Enco W51 offers active noise cancellation at half the price, and might be worth looking at as well.
Price: Rs. 9,990
- Comfortable in-canal fit
- Good app
- Balanced sonic signature
- Very good active noise cancellation for the price
- No advanced codecs supported
- Average battery life
- No water resistance
Ratings (out of 5)
- Design/ comfort: 4
- Audio quality: 3.5
- Battery life: 3
- Value for money: 4
- Overall: 3.5
Which are the best truly wireless earphones under Rs. 10,000? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.