Huawei Freebuds 3
FreeBuds 3 was launched at last fall's IFA fair, and became available in Norway not long after. They replaced FreeBuds 2, which had earned a reputation as a worthy Airpods rival. In the first round they came in the colors black and white, but close before Valentine's day it also came in red - Valentine Red Edition . And it was really this fresh feature that, for some reason, triggered me to take a review of FreeBuds 3, even though the test specimens came in my preferred color black.
FreeBuds 3 comes in a fairly compact case with an optimal form factor, in that it really resembles a good old fashioned piece of soap. In the same color as the plugs, of course, and when that color is black high gloss, it means that you have a perfect area for collecting fingerprints. The lid has a magnetic lock, and each FreeBud is also magnetically attached to the "stable". This is effective, and they sit so tight that you who are a little slippery on your fingers might not succeed on your first try to pull them out. Until a few seconds later when you explore that Huawei has been far-sighted enough to create a geometric shape that allows you to just twist them to get them out.
FreeBuds 3 provides a playing time of approx. 4 hours, depending on the volume you use. And with extra charges in the case, you can extend the total battery life up to 20 hours. This is very good, but not conductive. And it is also a great advantage that the case itself can take wireless charging.
Here we encounter the first speed dump caused by the fact that FreeBuds 3 is not among its own family. Because if you own a Huawei mobile with itsrunning on Android shell named EMUI 10, there will reportedly be an almost spooky automatic pairing while an App will automatically pop up even the first time you open the case cover.
With an iPhone - and by far any Android mobile other than Huawei's, you have to go a little more manually. This too works perfectly smoothly. Only the magic of the integrated Huawei solution is something you miss.
For daily use after first pairing, there is a good user interface, even combined with iOS devices. They automatically connect as you take them out of the case and start playback by double-tapping on the right pod. And when you take them off and put them back in the case, playback stops automatically. This is nothing outstanding, but there is no element of mismatch between Huawei and iOS.
One limitation with FreeBuds 3 is that you do not have volume control on the pod itself. This means that many people have to access the mobile phone itself to control the volume, in our case the iPhone. But here the Apple Watch comes to rescue. As long as you have playback in progress, the control panel is on the dial, and the crown is a classic volume control. Even more comfortable operation than making some cryptic and in many cases unstable touches on teh pods. And the watch also enables start and stop, and next and previous track, instead of tapping two or three times respectively on the right FreeBud
Noise cancellation is activated or deactivated by double-tapping the left FreeBud, supplemented by a voice telling you what`s up.
Single tapping is not on the menu, and this can be a smart move to avoid accidental malfunction. Experience from one of the competitors has taught me that it can be annoying.
With FreeBuds 3, Huawei brought along several news. Most important is that the processor chip is Huawei's fresh Kirin A1, with high processing power in a very compact design. It provides Bluetooth 5.1, with the benefits this entails. FreeBuds 3 has a pretty impressive range and stability. The only situation during my test where they had to kind of resign was when I left the cell phone a couple of times at my office one day while I went to refill coffee, 25 meters and two doors away. Even then, it did not completely resign up, but began stuttering a bit. But a walk into a small room of practical nature 5 meters closer, but with two extra doors to pass went smoothly. This is pretty impressive range and stability. But it must be added that there were only light walls with plasterboard - no concrete or masonry.
Compared to the first generation of BeoPlay E8, this is excellent. The E8 had a vulnerable point in terms of stable connectivity, but this must be presumed to be definitely out of the world on the 3rd generation, which also has Bluetooth 5.1.
Kirin A1 also provides the ability to send to multiple recipients in parallel. For example, 2 pods, instead of transmitting to one, leaving it to transmit the signal to the other ear. This results in lower latency, which among other things is important for gamers. I also imagine that this is a contributing reason for a pretty good precision in the soundscape, but it may of course have completely different causes.
Noise cancellation is also a novelty, and is a point where FreeBuds 3 distances itself from Airpods 2. In Apple's world, you have to step up to Airpods Pro, which is both significantly more expensive and is also a completely different concept with its sealed construction.
Initially, I must mention that I have a somewhat relaxed relationship with noise cancellation on pods. I am at least equally keen to maintaining some contact with my surroundings, whether I use them while cycling, or in some semi-social contexts.
And with a completely open construction, you have a good starting point for contact with the surroundings, and a correspondingly demanding starting point for noise cancellation. That's also probarly the reason why Apple dropped this on their regular Airpods and switched to a closed solution on Airpods Pro, where they have noise cancellation.
And the difficult starting point is also the fact that the noise cancellation isn?`t the topic where FreeBuds 3 shine the most. Voice noise doesn`t really perform quite a lot of reduction, but it is also the exercise where it is most demanding to achieve results. Then there is a sustancially more to be achieved in the cushioning of even noise, like a hissing from a machine. I would also assume that the flight noise could be damped quite well, but without trying this in a real flight.
It should also be added that noise cancellation testing with iOS device provides a clear limitation. Huawei`s app called AI Life is offering to adjust the noise cancellation, but this app only works on Android. Thus, there is reason to believe that it is possible to achieve better results in combination with an Android device.
But anyway - if you buy a completely open pod for the purpose of being able to isolate yourself totally from the outside world, it might be time for a small talk with your regular psychologist ...?
The comfort of a set of ear plugs is a decisive factor. And here there will probably be quite enormous individual variations, where one have different preferences.
For me, the time with FreeBuds 3 has been a real positive surprise. My ears seem to be consciously designed to fit in with these pods. I have often spent many hours in a row, and have occasionally forgotten that I have them on, long after the music has stopped. I have been a bit sceptical to this concept in the past, but with such a good use comfort it is an ... ehhh ... ear opener. It is something quite different from screwing in your ear plugs partially into the ear canal, and being depending on at a more or less successful fit on the plugs in question.
It goes without saying that you have an extra security with partially wireless pods, where a cable between the right and left pod acts as a security link if one of them should fall out. But on the other hand, FreeBuds 3 sits so secure in my ears that the concern for them to fall out during regular use is minimal. Even with cycling, the only concern is that the strap to the helmet should get into the shaft and tear off the pod. Also, I wouldn't have considered using them during a Squash session. Should they fall out, I know where to find them.
During this test period with pretty intensive use, they didn`t fall out once!
Then we have come to the most important thing - the sound. Here, too, FreeBuds 3 is a positive surprise. The open structure provides a natural constraint in the bass area. But at the same time, you avoid the catastrophically bad solutions that occur when closed plugs have an inadequate fit. The bass in FreeBuds 3 rolls off pretty early, but they still have a comfortable and sociable frequency response even in the lower areas. And perhaps a little surprisingly, I enjoyed a lot listening to the double bassist Sigurd Hole's fresh album Light / Dark. Of course, it is not with a couple of FreeBuds 3 you get the greatest audiophile experiences, for this you need something completely different than ear plugs. But it is nevertheless a surprisingly high level of musical pleasure one can squeeze out of them. Also clarity and air are served in surprisingly good quantity on many records.
Upward in the register is also delivered higher than expected. A nice balance is only slightly disturbed by the fact that Kari Bremnes can sound a bit edgy in the transition between treble and midrange on some tracks if one exaggerates the volume.
All in all, surprisingly good sound from FreeBuds 3. They do not quite reach the quality of Beoplay H5 or E8 (1st gen) with optimally tailored rubber plugs, but they are very close.
FreeBuds 3 makes an extra good figure during phone calls, better than most I've compared it to. And then it is not primarily the user who benefits from this, but the one you talk to. For speech quality is well above medium, thanks to microphones that get close contact with the jawbone when you speak.
FreeBuds 3 has made a very good figure, and has managed to change my attitude to what kind of concept a pair of earpods should have. From swearing to closed structures, I'm now far more open to a couple of open rod pods, provided things are done right.
And Huawei has done most things right with FreeBuds 3. A sound quality beyond expectation combined with superb comfort for my ears is a winning combination, a combination that is complemented by an extra high voice quality in the microphones. Noise cancellation is not its strongest side, but on the other hand, the main competitor and most other competitors completely lacks the possibility of noise cancellation.
I'm not going to make a bombastic judgment in comparison to Airpods 2, for that I have too little experience with the main competitor. But FreeBuds 3 being very strong in the competition there is no doubt, and casual listening tests on Airpods 2 are in Huawei's favor. And if you, like me, prefer black pods over white, the case is closed. Huawei makes a good figure in a permeated iOS environment as well, so there's no need to worry about braking the automatic default choice for iOS users. I guess we`re more into Jimi Hendrix than Bob Dylan, here..
Recommended price for FreeBuds 3 is NOK. 1.790, -
Read more about FreeBuds 3 at Huawei