Huawei’s only major product announcement at IFA 2019 wasn’t a phone, but the Huawei FreeBuds 3 - its third generation of wireless earbuds, loaded up with a new wearable chipset, active noise cancelling, high-quality audio and zippy charging.
Given recent wireless earbud highlights like the Sony WF-1000MX3 and Libratone Track Air+, not to mention the ubiquitous AirPods, we can’t help but feel the market’s getting a bit crowded. We got hands on with the FreeBuds 3 to see if they can do something to stand out.
Design and build: look familiar?
There's no denying that the FreeBuds 3 bear more than a passing resemblence to the Airpods.
The buds themselves look very similar indeed, with stalks that hang down from your ears, holding the microphones. They're a bit larger than AirPods so aren't quite as elegant, but they look nicer than some of the more affordable options, like Motorola’s exceptionally mediocre Verve Buds.
They come in a handsome polished plastic case that differentiates itself from that of the AirPods by being bigger, and a round, circular shape, and they're available in a choice of black or white.
Sound and performance: a triple threat
First, let's talk call performance. At the bottom of each FreeBud 3's stalk is a metal nubbin, which is actually a microphone duct. According to Huawei, this ensures that when you’re on a call, you’ll get less interference than you would on the competition. Even when cycling at 20mph, Huawei claims you should be able to chat away without issue.
That's helped out by a bone sensor enhancement, which helps the earbuds recognise when you’re speaking and isolate your voice accordingly.
While we haven't been able to listen to them yet, the audio specs certainly seem promising. For starters, there’s active noise cancelling (ANC) at up to 15dB, which has only been widely available for in-ear buds in recent years. Huawei loves a world-first too, so the FreeBuds are the first active noise-cancelling buds with an open-fit.
Sound is handled by a 14mm high-sensitivity dynamic driver with dedicated bass tube, while Huawei's new Kirin A1 chipset is on board to pull the whole thing together.
It's the world's first (we told you they love 'em) Bluetooth 5.1 wearable chipset, and it supports dual-channel Bluetooth with up to 30% lower latency and 50% lower power consumption than its competition.
Looking for latency numbers, fact fans? The FreeBud 3s manage to deliver just 190ms compared with 564ms by the Samsung Galaxy Buds, and 220ms on the AirPods 3. In reality, that means they should deliver smooth playback with very little lag.
The A1's focus on quality extends to support for up to 2.3Mbps high-res audio. That’s a seriously high transfer-rate, with Sony’s popular LDAC tech only clocking in at 900Kbps. This bitrate is unlikely going to be supported by the FreeBuds 3, but it's good to know they're futureproofed.
Battery life: speedy charger
With fast charge tech, Huawei's buds power up 100% faster than AirPods 2, with a charging time of 30 mins. When full, they deliver four hours of playback time, with - as we mentioned above - extra charges in the case up to get an extra 20 hours.
Huawei FreeBuds 3: first impressions
The Huawei FreeBuds 3 have a lot of interesting tech that could well stand them in good stead to make their mark in an increasingly busy market.
With pricing and availability yet to be confirmed, we can't tell you when you'll be able to buy the FreeBuds 3 just yet, but we do know that we'll be getting a pair to review at the end of September, so there isn't long to wait.
If these AirPod-esque buds pick your interest, check back in the coming month for our full verdict.