Tech review: Huawei Freebuds 3
€179 from Carphone Warehouse
This reviewer has tested umpteen rivals to Apple's AirPods. In general, most aren't as good. Either they're unwieldy, have awkward charging mechanisms or just give poorer audio quality.
Huawei's new Freebuds 3 probably comes closest, in terms of quality and design, to Apple's world-beating wireless earphones.
The signature feature is that they also include active noise cancellation, which Apple charges an extra €100 for in its new AirPods Pro.
The sound quality on the Freebuds 3 is more than passably good. It is immersive and sonically faithful to the component bits of the music you probably know well. Of course, some of this depends on how well these fit your ear. For me, it was just fine.
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It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Freebuds 3 follow what is now the industry-standard aesthetic (after Apple invented it) for wireless earbuds: a smooth, pill-type box that holds the earbuds and also recharges them, while itself being rechargeable. Instead of the AirPods case's slightly rectangular shape, the Freebuds case is round and flat, like a smoothed-out pebble or the waxy shell of a miniature wheel of cheese. I like this aesthetic a lot. The Freebuds case slips smoothly into almost any pocket, although because it is slightly wider and heavier than an AirPods case, it will occupy a little more of your pocket.
The one complaint I have about the Freebuds case is that it is an almighty fingerprint magnet. Maybe it's the gloss black finish, but after a few seconds, you'll see your own smudge prints glaring back at you.
The Freebuds themselves are a little bigger than AirPods, although they are essentially the same design. There are no rubberised tips to replace, as with Samsung's Galaxy Buds or Apple's latest AirPods Pro. Instead, it's a plasticky, carbonised solid earphone with a stem, just like a regular AirPod.
The case is rechargeable via USB-C, meaning you probably already have a few cables that will do it. You'll get a few hours audio from the buds before you need to give them a quick top up in their case.
Are they as good in audio quality as AirPods? It will be a matter of personal taste, but I would say not quite. I've done a lot of direct comparison tests between the two. The Freebuds hold up pretty well. But when I test them with demanding tracks, such as choral music or requiems, the AirPods appear to me to have a slightly deeper, more expansive audio range. Then again, we're talking small degrees of difference. And a real audiophile would probably sniff at my holding AirPods up to be anything worth crowing about from a high-fidelity perspective.
One thing I was intrigued by was the idea of active noise cancellation in an earbud format. I'm well used to the technology in large headphones, but it's boosted by the cans completely covering your ear.
In the case of the Freebuds, there's definitely a dampening effect, though it's not as effective as larger headphones. You turn the noise-cancellation on or off, as well as varying it, via Huawei's AI Life app on your phone, which is a little awkward. But overall, it does make a difference.
The main attraction of the FreeBuds 3 is that you get good audio quality and a pretty advanced feature for €100 less than what Apple charges.