huawei freebuds 3i earbuds side by side
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority

The Huawei FreeBuds 3i take a hard swing at the cheap true wireless market. Today, we’re directing this comparison between the Huawei FreeBuds 3 and the more recent Huawei FreeBuds 3i. Both are great solid true wireless earbuds, so let’s see which is best for you.

Read: Huawei FreeBuds 3 review | Huawei FreeBuds 3i review

Update, March 20, 2021: This versus article was updated to include more technical information and to include a contents menu.

What are the main differences between the Huawei FreeBuds 3i and Huawei FreeBuds 3?

huawei freebuds 3i in charging case
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority

Let’s start with the differences between the earphones: the Huawei FreeBuds 3i seal to the ears unlike the FreeBuds 3. Not only does this promote a more secure, stable fit in a wider swath of listeners’ ears, but it also yields improved audio quality. The FreeBuds 3i silicone ear tips create a seal to the ear canal, and passively block out environmental noise. The open-fit design of the FreeBuds 3 can be a good thing, if you want to remain aware of your surroundings at all times, but this comes at the expense of sound quality.

Learn more: Headphone buying guide: Everything you need to know

Huawei changed up its audio hardware with the FreeBuds 3i, and moved away from the 14mm drivers and dedicated bass tube, opting instead for a 10mm dynamic driver system. Sure, it may appear simple, but that’s a good thing: it allows the housings to be slimmer and frees up space for larger battery cells.

Aside from the earbuds, the FreeBuds 3i and FreeBuds 3 cases sport different designs, with the former being more compact and squared off compared to the latter. The original FreeBuds 3 case features a tall, circular design with a lid that’s easy to pop open with one hand. The FreeBuds 3i is more rectangular and a bit more difficult to operate single-handed.

Similarities between the Huawei FreeBuds 3i and FreeBuds 3

Man taking the Huawei Freebuds 3 out of white charging case with P30 Pro in the background

Both models merit an IPX4 water-resistant rating and share a similar stemmed design. They both support two Bluetooth codecs, AAC and SBC. This means that if you’re using either headset with an Android device, you’re not guaranteed consistent high-quality audio. If you use either pair of FreeBuds 3 series earphones with an iPhone, though, you’ll enjoy consistent high-quality audio quality.

See: Best true wireless earbuds: There’s more than Apple

Both stemmed true wireless earbuds use onboard touch controls to adjust playback, take calls, and access virtual assistants. You can remap the touch controls and adjust noise-cancelling intensity of either pair of earphones from the Huawei AI Life app.

Both headsets support the same Bluetooth codecs and remappable touch controls.

Microphone quality is good with either pair of earbuds, but they use different technologies: the cheaper FreeBuds 3i features a standard three-microphone array, while the FreeBuds 3 use bone sensors to transmit your voice. This is basically the voice-detecting accelerometers we’ve seen in the Apple AirPods Pro and new Google Pixel Buds (2020). It works well to ignore distracting environmental noise, too, in tandem with Huawei’s active wind-reduction technology.

The FreeBuds 3i have more consistent noise-cancelling

huawei freebuds 3i in ear
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority

The FreeBuds 3 debuted with adaptive noise-cancelling technology that promised up to 15dB of attenuation. This is one of those specs that reads well on paper but under delivers in practice. While Huawei’s noise-reduction claims technically proved true, it really depends on how well the earbuds fit an individual’s ears. Since the FreeBuds 3 don’t seal to your ear canals, you’re unlikely to experience this degree of noise-cancelling in the real world.

Related: Best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds

The new FreeBuds 3i have more effective active noise-cancelling properties because of the nozzles. The FreeBuds 3i ANC performance won’t blow your socks off, but it’s certainly better than the pricier model. If it seems like I’m harping on the new design in this comparison, it’s because I am. Ear tips and a proper seal make a world of difference, and one that permeates every aspect of sound quality. This revamp in build is a big deal between the two headsets.

Battery life is better with the FreeBuds 3

White Huawei Freebuds 3 in its charging case pictured alongside P30 Pro and the black color

The Huawei FreeBuds 3 offer four hours of playtime on a single charge, 30 minutes more than the FreeBuds 3i specifications indicate. The old FreeBuds also supply more on-the-go battery life from the charging case: 20 hours compared to 14.5 hours of additional playtime. Listeners who want to take advantage of wireless charging capabilities will have to go with the pricier FreeBuds 3.

For better Bluetooth features go with the premium Huawei FreeBuds 3

Huawei’s FreeBuds 3i use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and standard Bluetooth transmission practices. In other words, information is sent to a primary earbud which then relays it to the secondary earbud. This is a simple design that is the root of many true wireless connection hiccups.

Glossy white Huawei Freebuds 3 on the P30 Pro smartphone

The FreeBuds 3 may be older but they use more advanced Bluetooth 5.1 technology and the Kirin A1 chip. Not only does this allow for immediate pairing and re-connecting, but it also means listeners can enter dual-mode, exclusive to EMUI 10 devices, which sends data to each earbud individually. This affords a handful of benefits: greater power efficiency and decreased latency.

Should you get the Huawei FreeBuds 3i, or stick with the FreeBuds 3?

huawei freebuds 3i out of charging case with huawei mate 20 pro 9

We recommend the Huawei FreeBuds 3i, so long as you go in with realistic expectations. For far less than $100, you get a solid pair of durable noise-cancelling earbuds with some extras. The FreeBuds 3i give other affordable true wireless earbuds a run for their money, but again, not everyone will love the design or accept the sub-standard battery life.

The FreeBuds 3 aren’t perfect either: the open-fit design has far too many drawbacks, and alienates swaths of people who don’t have an “average” ear shape. What’s more, you’re paying for ANC technology that’s hardly effective, again due to the unsealed fit. If you want a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds for around the same price, check out the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro instead.

No matter which headset you get, you’ll enjoy the ease of use, especially across other Huawei devices. For listeners on a budget, the Huawei FreeBuds 3i are a fine pair of earphones, but there are plenty of even cheaper competitors out there. Alternatively, we highly recommend the Huawei FreeLace Pro neckband earbuds for listeners not yet ready to go truly wireless.