One look is enough and it becomes obvious where Huawei got the inspiration for the Freebuds 3: The Chinese manufacturer wants to build on the success of Apple's Airpods. The design and use in the ear is the same for the normal Airpods and Freebuds 3. There are no essays and the earplugs are not screwed into the ear, but hooked.
In the first and second generation Airpods, Apple has succeeded in building the earplugs so they can fit comfortably in many ears without slipping out. Nevertheless, they are not entirely immune to accidental slipping, partly because of their very smooth surface. Huawei makes the same mistake: The Freebuds slip out of the ear very easily. Both models are therefore not suitable for sports activities.
For Huawei it would have been a better decision not to rely on as smooth a piano finish as possible. On a slightly slippery surface, the plugs would hold more securely in the ear and Huawei could have gained an edge over the Airpods – but the opposite is true.
Freebuds 3 slip out of the ear during operation
The feel in the ear we like better with the Airpods. With the Freebuds 3, we always have the feeling that they are about to slip out of their ears. The Airpods sit a bit safer and firmer in the ear. Since there are no essays to adapt the plug as needed to other ear molds, users have the disadvantage that the plugs just do not sit and always fall out the same. The Freebuds 3 is therefore not guaranteed to hold securely in each ear. However, this only occurs after the purchase, and for hygiene reasons, a replacement is usually not possible.
Huawei's Freebuds 3 in the loading case (Image: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)
We can operate the Airpods with touch gestures without the earplugs slipping out of the ear. This is not possible with the Freebuds 3: As soon as we tap the plugs from the outside, they slip and even threaten to fall out of our ears. With every operation, we have to hold the plugs so. This is very uncomfortable and much worse solved than the Apple product.
When used under a cap the Freebuds 3, however, achieve the same good results of all Airpods models: From a cap, the plugs are neither painfully pressed into the ear nor unpleasant cockroach or Raschelgeräusche occur. With so many competing models, that's different, which makes using the products under a cap almost impossible.
Too strong bass emphasis
We compared the Freebuds 3 in terms of sound, above all, with the Airpods Pro and the normal Airpods. It is striking that the Huawei plugs deliver a very intense low bass. However, the bass is so overstressed that it is at the expense of the overall sound. Singing voices are less well understood and the good mid range is drowned out by the intense bass.
Huawei does not allow the sound to be adjusted. Maybe the freebuds 3 would do a lot better if we could downsize the bass part if needed. We like the intense, but appropriate bass mixing on the Airpods and the Airpods Pro much better. The Apple plugs deliver a more balanced sound than the Huawei devices.
Telephone calls are pleasant to hear in both Hörstöpseln and the call quality was at a good level. We were well understood by callers and we were able to hear their conversations as well.
On the left the Airpods 2 in the charge case, in the middle the Freebuds 3 in the charge case and on the right the Airpods Pro in the charge case (Image: Martin Wolf / Golem.de)
The Freebuds 3 are equipped with Active Noise Canceling (ANC). This is intended to reduce disturbing ambient noise by producing a suitable counter-sound for them. In particular low-frequency areas can be filtered well if the ANC is correspondingly efficient. We compared ANC performance with Apple's Airpods Pro and Bose's Noise Canceling 700 Headphones.
Weak Active Noise Canceling
Compared to the competition, the ANC performance of the Freebuds 3 is significantly lower. This is also because the design of the earplugs lets in outside noise without hindrance. Here Apple has chosen the necessary step and said goodbye to the model with ANC technology from the previous Airpods structure. Huawei did not take this step – with the corresponding consequences.
When we hear music, outside noise is only very slightly insulated. Much of the noise is still audible. The Freebuds 3 are well behind the Airpods Pro in terms of ANC performance and far behind the Bose headphones. If you just want to create silence with the Freebuds 3, you will not succeed. The Airpods Pro can not do it, but come closer.
Huawei seems to be aware of the low ANC performance. Because after switching on the Freebuds 3, the ANC function is always deactivated. For most other ANC devices, this feature is useful by default. We find it very annoying that we always have to remember to turn ANC on when we take the plugs out of the charging case and put them in our ear. Although the ANC feature is pretty weak, it does bring a little. Without them, much more outside noise would be distracting.
The freebuds 3 only know one ANC level. In the app, the Active Noise Canceling can be adjusted by means of a rotary knob. Huawei speaks of it that the ANC to the "personal hearing channel" could be adjusted. Given the weak ANC performance, we were unable to gain any benefit, finding it rather tedious to find an optimal setting. Here we clearly prefer the concept of competition to simply provide the maximum ANC performance.
In light wind Freebuds 3 are no longer usable
In outdoor use, the freebuds 3 have significant problems with wind noise. Even when the ANC function is disabled, wind noise is immediately heard loud and audible. The enjoyment of music is thus greatly disturbed. When the ANC function is activated, the whistling noises are even more audible. Unlike Apple, Huawei has done nothing to stop the problem, at least when ANC is enabled.
Huawei does not offer a "Hear-Through" mode or "Transparency mode", which is common in many ANC competing products – and implemented particularly well in the case of the Airpods Pro and the Noise Canceling Headphones 700, for example. This allows you to hear the environment without having to remove the headphones or remove the earplugs from your ear. Both models offer a natural-sounding hear-through operation.
In terms of app support, Huawei follows the inglorious models of Samsung and Apple by offering a matching app for only one platform. But there are other weaknesses.