Zoom fatigue is a thing in the post-COVID world. Suddenly Bluetooth headsets that were used in public transport and the gym can reduce some of that fatigue as we spend countless hours in meetings and more than the occasional webinar. Huawei’s AirPods challenger lands in a sweet spot (Rs 10,000 to 15,000) that’s cheaper than some of its well-entrenched rivals like the AirPods Pro or the Bose SoundSport Free and a tad pricier than Samsung’s Galaxy+ buds. The Huawei FreeBuds 3 come with two key features that we approve of, but does it have what it takes to be your ‘go to’ ear buds?

If you experience a sense of déjà vu in the design, you’re not alone. Huawei calls it Dolphin Bionic Design, inspired by the natural curvature of a dolphin’s vocal cavity. But it’s tough not to miss the similarity with the first gen AirPods. The stems are marginally longer, the buds are feather light and sit easy on your ears. The other design element that we dig is the pebble shaped case. This smooth, circular case slips easily into your smallest pockets and stands out in a earbuds case world full of squares and rectangles.

The headline feature of the FreeBuds 3 is noise cancellation. At Rs 12,999 it’s one of the most affordable Bluetooth earbuds with this handy feature. A simple tap activates or deactivates this feature and it’s quite effective despite not possessing the same ear seals (with different size buds), as the AirPods Pro, it still does an effective job. The buds are quite simple to pair. They work best with Huawei smartphones with prompts similar to an iPhone pairing with AirPods. The Huawei AI Life App is (available on Android) offers controls that includes adjusting the noise cancellation levels and also drill-down battery data. I tried pairing it with the Huawei P30 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ and the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone experience is almost similar to using your AirPods with an Android device with limited customisation and menu options.

Sound quality is a big win for the FreeBuds 3. It’s on par as the first gen AirPods but isn’t quite in the same league as the pricier AirPods Pro. It packs a lot of thump but misses out slightly in the ‘deep bass’ sweepstakes. I played everything from alternative to lounge on my assorted playlist and it didn’t let me down. It’s not just the music experience that drives purchase for this category. The FreeBuds 3 aces calls too. My callers could hear me clearly whether I connected from indoors or the street. Battery life is acceptable, our test results matched Huawei’s claims of four hours for the buds and about twenty hours with the case. Wireless charging is a useful add-on, one that competitors like the first gen AirPods, Bose’s SoundSport Free don’t offer.

The FreeBuds 3 is a great option for all Android users. It scores on form and function. If you’re an iPhone user and don’t want to spring Rs 24,900 for the AirPods Pro, you could consider this device if you don’t mind trading off the limited controls for noise cancellation and wireless charging at a compelling price point.

The Huawei FreeBuds 3  cost Rs 12,990