Huawei FreeBuds 3 review: Tit for tat
Should I buy the Huawei FreeBuds 3?
Huawei’s latest effort to ply potential AirPods customers are a hard sell. They’re cheaper than Apple’s product to be sure but you feel those cut corners every step of the way. The battery life isn’t as good. The sound quality is unexceptional. The app is buggy and the noise-cancelling sometimes feels like it may as well not be there at all.
If you’re getting them for free with another Huawei product, which is often the case these days, the FreeBuds 3 are an OK introduction to the world of true wireless earbuds. However, In a world where Apple upped their game, Huawei haven’t and the results aren't pretty.
The FreeBuds 3 are left barely adequate in a category where it’s increasingly easy to find something exceptional.
Price when reviewed
At the time we wrote about them, the FreeBuds 3 were priced at AU$299.
Freebuds 3 full review
The Huawei FreeBuds 3 retail at RRP AUD$299 and are available in two colours – Carbon Black and Ceramic White – through Vodafone, Optus, Amazon, Catch, Mobileciti, Kogan, Happytel and the Huawei Authorised Experience Store.
Design & Build
The Huawei FreeBuds have always been the Chinese brand’s answer to the AirPods and, the third time around, things are no different. Huawei’s third-generation true wireless earbuds are a smart update that pulls plenty of cues from the recent AirPods Pro but, apart from that, the core conceit is the same.
Essentially, they’re AirPods without the Apple-y bits. You get the same glossy look with microphones that arc outwards from your ears like toothbrushes. You get a compact, puck-like, carry-case that charges them when not in use. You get fast & easy pairing with select Huawei hardware.
Unfortunately, the one key thing that Huawei seem to have overlooked here in their emulation of Apple’s true wireless earbuds is the addition of proper ear-tips.
The new AirPods Pro saw the company leave the days of clumsily sticking small speakers into your ears behind for silicone ear-tips that creates a superior seal between you and the outside noise and allow for a more comfortable wear over long periods of time. This oversight leads to a listening experience that’s often uncomfortable and rarely immersive.
Another feature that the FreeBuds 3 have also failed to steal is Apple’s excellent haptic controls. Instead, you’re stuck tapping on the earbuds themselves to play and pause music or disable noise-cancelling. In action, this control scheme is honestly pretty abysmal. It’s not well explained, it’s inconsistent and it’s no fun to blindly poke at your ears.
Features & Sound Quality
Partially due to the poor seal against outside noise, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the sound quality and listening experience offered by the FreeBuds 3. They’re better than the cheap earphones you’ll find bundled in the box with most smartphones but not by all that much.
They sounded fine when used to blast things like True Damage’s “Giants” or Watsky’s “Advanced Placement” but if you’re listening to something a little quieter, like a podcast, I found I struggled to hear my content over any outside noise.
What’s more, the adaptive noise-cancelling tech that Huawei are pushing as the major upgrade for the FreeBuds 3 over the previous models is itself a bit underwhelming. Even when I had it enabled and turned to the max, I just didn’t find it made that much of a difference.
Though you can use the FreeBuds 3 with any Android phone by pairing them via Bluetooth, Huawei have reserved a few perks for using them with one of their own devices and in tandem with their AI Life app. This app, which allows for a more visual-driven customisation of the settings for the earbuds, also allows you to set control shortcuts, play with the noise-cancelling settings and download software update - although the latter here proved surprisingly problematic. Every attempt we made to update the firmware on our FreeBuds ended in an error.
The FreeBuds 3 offer four hours of playback with another 16 hours of usage stored via the charger. In total, you get about twenty hours of usage. This is less than the AirPods but broadly in line with where most modern true wireless earbuds sit.
In addition to charging via USB Type-C, the case for the FreeBuds also supports wireless charging.
The Bottom Line
Look, if you’re looking at grabbing yourself a $299 pair of true wireless earbuds and aren’t attached to the AirPods-inspired form-factor here, you can probably do better than the FreeBuds 3. Likewise, if you’re looking for an excuse to spend the extra $100 on a set of AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3s, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
There's a good set of true wireless earbuds in there somewhere but, for the most part, the FreeBuds 3 sound like a let-down.
Keen on a cheap set of true wireless earbuds that don't cost the world, check out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds here.
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