Huawei’s audio technology keeps getting more impressive with each iteration. The latest FreeBuds 3i, a noise-cancelling alternative to the FreeBuds 3, is now available in South Africa and it feels far more comfortable than its predecessors.
This is thanks to its soft ear-tip seals that are similar to the Galaxy Buds and Jabra Elite series earphones, which have proven that if there’s going to be true wireless audio, it needs to be sealed tight in one’s ear.
The FreeBuds 3i fall between the FreeBuds Lite and FreeBuds 3 in terms of functionality, as well as price. For now, the FreeBuds 3 remains the premium option for battery life at five hours, a full hour and a half ahead of the 3i. Nevertheless, three and a half hours of audio playback is still impressive from these tiny wireless earphones. The case also allows for a few more charges, bumping the total battery life up to 14.5 hours.
Out of the box, users are greeted with a minimalist pill charging case, four pairs of silicone ear tips for different sized ears, a quick-start guide and a USB-A to USB-C cable. Within the charging case, the earphones are mounted horizontally, as opposed to hiding the stem as other FreeBuds do. On the back of the charging case, there is a small button that is flush with the case and a USB-C port.
If you open the case next to a Huawei phone with EMUI 10, the pairing process will start automatically and it couldn’t be easier. However, if you don’t have a Huawei phone, you’ll have to hold in the button on the back of the case until the green light on the case flashes white, then navigate to your devices Bluetooth settings to pair the earphones.
Any Android phone can download the Huawei AI Life app from their respective app store, and this allows customisation of noise-cancelling, OTA updates for the earphones and the case, and information about the charge levels of each earphone and the case.
The connectivity inside the earphones is mid-range: it’s Bluetooth 5 and supports SBC and AAC codecs, putting the earphones on par with Apple’s AirPods. Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX LL (low latency) technologies are absent, but that’s one of the selling points of the more expensive FreeBuds 3.
The sound is pretty clean for pop and rock music, but the bass doesn’t quite come through as much as it does with the Jabra Elite series earphones. The mid and high frequencies are, however, very well calibrated and make the FreeBuds 3i ideal for podcasts, spoken word, and most movies.
The silicone ear-tips keep most of the external sound outs without Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) being on. The cancellation level can be adjusted within the AI Life app to suit the user’s environment. With ANC on full, it can feel like one is in a sensory deprivation chamber so users should be very aware of their surroundings when using this mode.
There are touchpads at the top of the earphone stems which allow users to perform actions like activating ANC (with a long press) and pausing/resuming a song (with a double-tap). These actions can also be changed from the AI Life app, so iPhone users are out of luck if they want to change the touchpad functions.
Overall, the FreeBuds 3i is a great alternative to the FreeBuds 3, especially for those who want to use the silicone ear tip seals to keep the earphones in place. The FreeBuds 3i is being sold by the Huawei Store with a 10,000mAh power bank for R2 000.