Gadgets for humans

Comparing Huawei’s FreeBuds 3i to AirPods is fair, but misguided

It's not about looks, it's about the ecosystem

header image huawei freebuds 3i

These days if you release a phone, you damn well best release a pair of true wireless earbuds too. And Huawei‘s no different. So, say hello to the FreeBuds 3i!

The company’s latest true wireless earbuds were leaked almost two weeks ago, but have now been made official.

Huawei’s FreeBuds 3i have a new design, active noise-cancelation, and will cost around $110 (they’re being sold for £90 in the UK). On first inspection, that’s a fucking bargain.

Let’s all have a look at the things:

Huawei FreedBuds 3i
I think I may have seen you somewhere before…

Yup, it’s hard not to look at them at think AIRPODS AIRPODS AIRPODS, but we’ll get into that shortly. But first…

Some further details on the Huawei FreeBuds 3i’s features

While we’re here, we may as well throw some bullet points about Huawei‘s FreeBud’s 3i’s specs together, so you have all the information you need.

  • The noise-cancelation is done with two outward facing mics, which detect ambient noise and lowers it by “up to 32db” (30db is the sound of a rural area)
  • There’s also an inward facing mic to help improve calls.
  • Huawei has ensured the FreeBuds 3i sync up and pair easily with other devices from the company (of course they’ll work with general Android devices too).
  • You can control playback with sensors on either side of the earbuds.
  • They’ll also pause when removed from your ears.
  • Sound-wise, the FreeBuds 3i are meant to deliver “authentic and balanced audio” — but Huawei would say that, wouldn’t it?

I mean, let’s be honest, that’s a pretty alluring package for $110. We need to address the elephant in the room though: AirPods.

Are the FreeBuds 3i just AirPods rip-offs?

I’m going to say no.

Yeah, it’s pretty easy to draw parallels between the FreeBuds 3i and the AirPods, and a lot of that is Huawei‘s fault. I mean, just look at this:

Huawei FreeBuds 3i earbuds

You’d think they could’ve done something to make them not look identical to regular AirPods. No, they didn’t need to go the Pixel Buds route and make earbuds that look nothing like Apple’s, but a little bit of effort would’ve been nice.

Still, as much as companies rip AirPods off, I do feel kinda bad that almost every new pair of true wireless earbuds is compared to them.

Are they white? Then they’re like AirPods. Intelligent pausing when removed from your ears? AirPods do that. Noise-cancelation? AirPods.

Of course, the FreeBuds 3i warrant some comparison to Apple’s hardware, but it’s something beyond that. Specifically, that’s interconnectedness.

One of the major plus points of the AirPods is just how seamlessly they work with Apple devices. There are probably better earbuds out there for sound alone, but the convenience of AirPods for iOS and macOS always keeps me coming back.

If Huawei makes sure that the FreeBuds 3i work slickly with their phones — and are, you know, actually good — then they could become the sort of everyday companions that the AirPods are for so many people.

In other words, they’re copying Apple, but not in the way most people think. Instead of just trying to imitate the hardware, Huawei looks to be attempting to create its own version of the company’s ecosystem.

How well will this work? Well, Huawei isn’t really a lifestyle brand like Apple, but there’s only one way to make that happen — and it’s through releasing things like this.

The FreeBuds 3i go on sale on May 20, so we’ll have a chance then to really put them through their paces.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published May 6, 2020 — 13:18 UTC

Corona coverage

Read our daily coverage on how the tech industry is responding to the coronavirus and subscribe to our weekly newsletter Coronavirus in Context.

For tips and tricks on working remotely, check out our Growth Quarters articles here or follow us on Twitter.