Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Smart Phones

Huawei FreeBuds Pro 3 Review: Great sound, sketchy design


Huawei continues to evolve its ecosystem despite the US ban, and even though smartphones have been hit hard by the lack of Google Mobile Services, the company’s wearables and audio products are still going strong. The Huawei FreeBuds Pro 3 is the latest iteration of Huawei’s flagship earbud model.

These buds come with a slew of attractive features, such as the distinctive design, great sound, noise cancellation, Hi-Res audio support, and multipoint connectivity. There are still things to iron out and polish, and we could use a change in design and color options, but all in all, this is a pair of solid earbuds. Our deep dive starts now!

Table of contents:
Design and Color Options
Fit and Feel
Pairing
Companion App and Features
Touch Gestures
Noise Cancellation (ANC)
Sound Quality
Battery Life and Charging
Final Thoughts

Design and color options

Designing a pair of earbuds isn’t an easy job nowadays. There are only so many designs, and it’s hard not to look derivative. Huawei made a great fashion statement with the FreeBuds 5 model and its teardrop-shaped design. The FreeBuds Pro 3, on the other hand, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, featuring the same sculpted design with short stems.

The earbuds are made of shiny, high-gloss plastic, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. To be honest, these shiny visuals contribute to the first impression of a not very expensive product. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, so I won’t be focusing too much on this. What Huawei could’ve done is offer more color options; we only have three, and when you factor in that Ceramic White, and Silver Frost are your regular white and grey, we’re left with only one cool color: Green.

Fit and feel

The FreeBuds Pro 3 earbuds come with four different eartip sizes: XS, S, M, and L. You will most likely need those, as the sculpted design won’t fit each and every ear out there. I needed to put on the L-sized ear tips to stop the buds from falling out of my ears. There’s a fit test inside the app, and I advise you to get through it in order to achieve the optimal fit.

There’s another tiny problem with the fit of the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 3. When you put the buds in your ear, the stems lay on the antitragus, a small cartilage protruding from the lower part of your ear. This makes it extremely hard to pinch the stem with two fingers or perform any gesture without disturbing the position of the bud.

Another problem is that the streamlined and sculpted design of the bud itself doesn’t allow for much contact with the topology around your ear canal. Basically, these buds are held in place by the silicon tips most of the time, which is not perfect. On the plus side, each bud weighs 5.8 grams, so you practically forget that you’re wearing them after a couple of minutes.

Pairing

Pairing is a breeze. I know I complained in the past about the App Gallery and the need to install the AI Life app. Things have improved; you can set these buds up in seconds. Just scan the QR code or download AI Life from the Play Store or App Store, and you’re all set.If you own a Huawei phone with Harmony OS and you’re logged into your Huawei account, you can get the same experience as using a pair of AirPods with an iPhone; the phone will recognize the buds when they’re close. Chances are that not many people will make use of this scenario, but either way, there are no problems with pairing the FreeBuds Pro 3 to iPhone or Android devices.

Companion App and Features

Speaking of the AI Life app, it hasn’t changed much since my test of the FreeBuds 5 earbuds. You can peek at the battery level of the buds and case on the home screen, and when you tap on the model, you enter the buds detailed settings.

Through the Control Center, you can set your preferred device (these buds support multi-conection); further down, you can set your noise cancellation level between Noise canceling, Off, and Awareness. When you have Noise canceling enabled, you have four more settings to fine-tune your sound: Dynamic, Cozy, General, and Ultra. These are pretty much self-explanatory, and I’ll talk more about each one in the Noise canceling section of this review.

In the Audio Quality section, you can choose from several EQ presets (Bass boost, Treble boost, Voices, Symphony), or manually set up the 10-band EQ to your liking. The Gestures section is more of an informational page and offers limited customization. You can also perform a tip fit test, find your buds, and toggle the smart wear detection on and off.

Touch Gestures

Most of the touch gestures involve pinching the stem with two fingers. There’s a tutorial to teach you how to do this, and it is essential, in my opinion, because it requires quite a squeeze to get these gestures recognized. At one point, I took off the buds and searched for a hidden physical button (maybe there is one; I’m still not sure; there’s an audible click when you squeeze the stem, but whether it’s simulated or the sound of a real physical button, it’s hard to say).

Here are all the gestures you can do with FreeBuds Pro 3:

  • Pinch once—answer or end call, or if you’re listening to music, play or pause the song
  • Pinch twice—reject the call/next song
  • Pinch three times—previous song
  • Pinch and hold—noise control
  • Swipe up or down—volume control

The only customizable option is the “pinch and hold” one. You can set one of the buds to wake your preferred voice assistant with this gesture. Overall, due to the somewhat loose fit and the force needed to perform these pinches, I ended up not using gestures much.

Noise Cancellation (ANC)

Huawei boasts that the FreeBuds Pro 3 ANC capability has been improved by 50% in comparison to the previous model. The truth is that we’re talking about earbuds, and they can only do so much. The part of your ear around the ear canal is exposed and transfers sound inside; that’s just how it is.

That being said, the Ultra noise cancelling setting is quite good for earbuds, all things considered. It also subjectively improves the sound quality. You can pinch-cycle through the main ANC modes: On, Off, and Awareness.

Sound quality

The Huawei FreeBuds Pro 3 are one of the best-sounding earbuds I’ve tested. Even on the Default sound setting, these buds produce detailed and rich sound, which I can only describe as high-definition.

The EQ presets are all very usable, and the option to make custom presets with the 10-band EQ is just pure gold. Listening to Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies through these buds is a joyful experience. The clarity is exceptional, and everything is well-balanced—not harsh, not muffed, just great.

Hard rock and heavy metal songs also sound great; there’s plenty of volume on tap. If you’re into R&B, Drum and Bass, or other bass-heavy genres, there’s a surprise right there. With optimal fit, these buds sound quite bassy in a good way.

I cycled through other genres that are not my go-to things: pop, folk, disco, and techno, and all in all, the FreeBuds Pro 3 tackled everything I threw up at them with ease. The call quality is also great on these earbuds; the other side wasn’t aware that I was using earbuds at all, which speaks volumes.

Huawei says its PireVoice 2.0 system picks up voices 2.5x better (whatever this means) thanks to neural network algorithms and a bunch of mics. Leaving aside the overly techy mumbo-jumbo, the call quality is just great.

Battery Life and Charging

When it comes to battery life, the FreeBuds Pro 3 earbuds fall a bit short. 2:20 hours of music at moderate volume with ANC on drained 50% of the battery, and in the end I managed 4:30 hours before the buds switched off. Huawei’s own test yielded 6.5 hours on a charge with ANC off, which is achievable in my opinion but still not great.The charging case pumps up the battery of the buds from 0 to 100% in about an hour, and this takes around 30% of its own juice. This means that if you charge everything up, you’ll have four charges, or around 18–20 hours of listening with ANC on. This is far from the cited 31 hours, but if you turn ANC off, you could probably stretch that to 24 hours.

Final Thoughts

Time for the final verdict! Should you buy the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 3? If you value great sound and want impeccably good call quality for not a lot of money (these cost 199 euros), then the answer would be yes. There are, however, things to consider.

The fit is not perfect, and if you have the chance to try these before you buy them, you’ll save yourselves some headaches. The touch controls require quite a lot of force, and it might get tiresome real quick. The battery life is far from ideal; you will end up charging those buds quite often, especially if you use ANC.



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