Huawei launched their new affordable Freebuds 3i back in April with an incredible launch price of just £89.99, making them the most affordable active noise cancelling wireless earphones on the market.
I have previously reviewed the Freebuds 3, I found them to be superb, even though the open fit design does not really work with my weird shaped ears. However, with a little modification, I still use them most days. I have found them to be perfect for going on walks where I want something more balanced rather than the very bass dominant Jabra 75t.
For the past week, I have been using the Freebuds 3i and 3 equally, to try and decide which I prefer.
Huawei Freebuds 3i vs Freebuds 3 Specification
|FreeBuds 3i||FreeBuds 3|
|Design||Closed fit||Open fit|
|ANC||Yes by 32 dB||Yes - customisable|
|Driver||10mm dynamic||14mm dynamic & bass tube|
|Software/Pairing||AI Life, pop up & pair||AI Life, pop up & pair|
|Dimensions||41.8 x 23.7 x 19.8 mm (per earbud)||41.5 x 20.4 x 17.8mm (per earbud)|
|Case Dimensions||80.7 x 35.4 x 29.2 mm (charging case)||60.9 x 21.8mm (charging case)|
|Earbuds Weight||About 5.5 g (per earbud)||About 4.5g (per earbud)|
|Case weight||About 51 g (charging case)||About 48g (charging case)|
|Charging Port||USB-C||USB Type-C (5V 1.2A 6W)|
|Wireless||No||Qi standard (2W)*|
|Charge Time||About 1 hour for the charging case (wired)|
Huawei Freebuds 3i vs Honor Magic Earbuds
I have already compared the two previously, but from what I can tell there is no difference between these and the Honor Magic Earbuds, it is the same design, same price, same battery life. Both the Honor and Huawei pages indicate the same 10mm dynamic driver too.
There is one minor difference when looking at Amazon, the Honor listing states an IP54 water and sweat resistant rating, but I can find no reference of this anywhere else, including the Honor site. Huawei makes no mention of this.
Design and Fit
For me, I much prefer the silicone tip design for all earphones, compared to the open fit of the Freebuds 3 and the normal Airpods. This is subjective, and the shape of your ear will affect the fit, my partner much prefers the open fit style.
The sealed nature of these make more sense for a pair of ANC earphones, so I am saying these are a better design regardless.
Like all earphones of this design, they come with interchangeable tips to customise your fit. The selection of tips is standard, and they seem to use the same hole size as other brands, so you should be able to replace them with 3rd party or foam tips if you require.
As for the fit itself, I found them to be good, they don’t fit as snug in my ear like the Jabra 75t, but no matter of head wobbling or jumping up and down seems to dislodge them.
Pairing and AI Life App
When I reviewed the Huawei Freebuds 3 I was running EMUI 9, so I paired the earphones the old fashioned way by going into the Bluetooth menu, I was then able to control features of the earphones via the AI Life App.
If you have a newish Huawei device with EMUI 10, you now get pop up and pair, similar to how iPhones pair with the Airpods. When I open the case to the earphones, I have the option to pair almost immediately.
When already paired, each time you connect the pop-up notification comes up showing both the charge of each earphone and the case.
If you don’t have a Huawei device, you will have to put up with things the old fashioned way.
AI Life App – The old AI Life is not working – you need to download and install via QR code
I already had the AI Life app installed on my P30 and P40 Pro, but I could not add these earphones at all. I assumed the lower price point meant they were not compatible, but the documentation indicates it is. Then I assumed it was just not compatible with it yet.
Finally, I decided to scan the QR code in the documentation, which allowed me to install an APK. I didn’t think it would make any difference, but it did. The Freebuds showed up immediate, furthermore, following the installation when I connected to the earphones I was informed of a firmware update.
Installing the new app meant that I ended up with two versions of the AI Life app on my phone. So Huawei still needs to work on the way they deliver and update software.
For a pair of sub-£100 ANC earphones, the sound quality is excellent. These are much more bass dominant than the Freebuds 3, it is not overwhelming, I quite like it, but it is a very different sound profile.
The mids and highs are well represented, I don’t get the typical harshness I find on other similar price options when listening to the volume moderately high. However, in some heavy rock/metal tracks with a mixture of loud frequencies, things can get a little muddled.
In comparison, the Freebuds 3 are more balanced, the reduced base is not just from the open fit design either. I used silicon tip adaptors on them, and there is a significant difference in the way the bass is handled.
Even though they lacked this bass, I found the overall quality of the low frequencies superior and less distorted, which make sense considering the dedicated bass tube.
There Freebuds 3 generally have better separation and clarity throughout the frequencies, no doubt audiophiles will nitpick about the sound quality, but if you prefer a slightly more natural sound, these are much more accurate and generally a superior sound quality overall.
With the current issues I have obviously not been travelling much, and I haven’t set foot on a plane this year. So my ANC testing had to be synthetic via some airplane cabin white noise videos on YouTube.
In the marketing materials, Huawei states the Freebuds 3i offer up to 32 dB of noise-cancelling, while making no mention of the performance of the Freebuds 3.
The Freebuds 3i naturally have superior noise cancellation due to the silicon tip design creating a physical barrier in your ear canal, so in theory, these should easily outperform the Freebuds 3.
During my limited testing, it wasn’t quite as clear which was best. I think the ANC technology inside the more expensive earphones is better, and the ability to tune noise cancelling can give you superior performance.
With the 3i, there is no ANC control within the AI Life app, it is on, or it is off. It does a good job, but I am sceptical of the claims Huawei make. In general, they block out a lot of the annoying low-end drum of engine noises but leave most of the mids and highs. I found the Freebuds 3 could be tuned to perform better, but some of the tuning options then introduced some white noise static sounds.
It is a far cry from the Mu6 Space 2 I recently reviewed, but these are over the head and double the price, so perhaps not a fair comparison.
Overall, considering the price of these, the ANC is good, and it would make travelling, especially slights, much more tolerable.
Battery life is OK, you get an hour less than the Freebuds 3, and the 3.5-hour rating is far lower than many none ANC earphones, some of which hit 8 hours.
In general, though, I never found I ran out of battery, and the earphones charge up quickly when in the case. However, long haul flights, train journeys or all day in the office, you may end up having to charge mid-way through which would be mildly annoying.
I don’t like using the phone at the best of times, less so with earphones in. However, I did some limited testing with these. Indoors they work perfectly well, as do most earphones.
Outdoor performance is OK, better than average, especially at this price but perhaps not quite as good as the marketing literature and 3 microphones per earphone may suggest.
Price and Competition
The obvious competitor here is the existing Huawei Freebuds 3, at launch they were £169 and if that were still true, I would be inclined not to make comparisons. At the moment there is just a £22.50 price difference.
If the Huawei Freebuds 3 had a similar design, I would unequivocally recommend them over the 3i, and if you like the open fit style design, then these would absolutely be the better option.
The Honor Magic Earbuds are identical to these and currently priced about the same, but you may prefer the Blue colour you can get them in.
Beyond that, in terms of ANC in-ear headphones, there is not much competition. The Sony WF-1000XM3 will no doubt be superior but cost much more at £169.00. Then the Apple AirPods Pro will set you back £249 at full RRP.
If you are not bothered about ANC then the world is your oyster, there are too many excellent options to choose from. The Samsung Galaxy Buds are about the same price as these, and the Jabra Elite 65t are only a touch more expensive.
There is a lot to like about the Huawei Freebuds3i, being some of the most affordable in-ear ANC headphones on the market they tick a lot of boxes from the get-go.
With the launch price much lower than the premium Huawei Freebuds3 there would normally be no comparisons to be made, one is premium, one is not. However, you can currently pick up the Freebuds 3 for as low as £109 vs £86.52 on Amazon. That is still quite a bit of difference, but not a massive jump.
This then gives you a tricky choice between the two. The FreeBuds 3 sound better but are less bass-forward, they have a better battery life and reduced latency. However, the open fit design means they are not naturally as good at ANC (but you can tune it), and the design can make getting a good fit in your ear hard for some people.
In my opinion, both earphones are superb, but the design and sound profile differences need to be factored into your purchase decision more so than the price difference.
Attempting to be as objective as possible, the Freebuds 3 (assuming a £20 price difference) are the better option overall, the hardware is superior, even just looking at the spec sheet, and the battery life is better, so I think that easily justifies the extra £20 or so.
However, if you want a pair of earphones for under £100, and think you could benefit from ANC then nothing I am aware of competes.
If you are interested in the MateBook 13 2020 AMD you can currently get a free pair of the Freebuds 3i with it.
Huawei Freebuds 3i Review Rating
Overall - 85%
Overall, these are superb, offering an affordable price point for active noise cancellation for wired free earphones. I'd say that the Freebuds 3 offer better price/performance but it is a close call, and your design and sound profile preferences need to be factored in.
Most affordable ANC earphones on the market
Closed fit design
Pop up and pair
Frequencies can get a little muddled
Audio quality is not as good as Freebuds 3
Battery life is not amazing
Last update on 2021-01-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API