Honor Earbuds 3 Pro: one-minute review
Yes, they look very much like Apple’s AirPods Pro and no Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review worth its Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity can ignore this fact. But rather than joining the ever-growing poor imitation pile, in so many key areas the newer Honor earbuds have actually taken what was good about the Cupertino giant's AirPods Pro and then bettered them. And not just for Honor smartphone owners.
So, the promised temperature sensor health monitoring tech never actually materialized – Honor did not come good on beating Apple to the punch there. But what of it? Look beyond this and there's so much to celebrate.
Despite the Earbuds 3 Pro's familiar headshell and toothbrush-head design, under the hood Honor has gone out on a limb by implementing the world’s first coaxial dual-driver design with 11mm dynamic driver and piezoelectric ceramic tweeter. Basically, it’s a tweeter-inside-driver situation; the two individual drive units are built concentrically so that they radiate sound from the same point – or axis. And it could have been a disaster. Only, it is quite the opposite. It's a resounding triumph and heralds its swift inclusion in our best true wireless earbuds guide and our best wireless earbuds guide.
Honor has taken the shape of the pro-suffixed AirPods and added on-device volume control to the stems, a more customizable and enjoyable noise-cancellation experience, a new slick and easy app (as long as you don’t own an iPhone) and most importantly delivered a fuller, meatier bass, a more expansive soundstage and a better, more detailed sonic experience overall. And it has managed to do it all at a more palatable price point than Apple’s Pro alternative.
Two-line review? Honor just made one of the best noise cancelling earbuds out there. Bravo, Honor.
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: price and release date
- £170 / €199 (approx. $178, AU$367)
- Released February 28, 2022
At €199 in Europe and £170 in the UK, Honor’s Pro-suffixed buds are aggressively priced when you consider that Apple’s AirPods Pro launched at $249 / £249 / AU$399. That said, buyers hoping for a price similar to the August 2021-issue Honor Earbuds 2 Lite (at $60 / £70) will have to cough up a fair bit more cash if they want the newest and frankly, far superior Honor earbuds.
But here's the rub: although Honor split from its parent company, Huawei, in November 2020, that didn't seem to fully extricate the now-independent Chinese smartphone maker from the ongoing trade ban instigated by the USA, against Huawei, in April 2020. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that you may not be able to buy them in the US and, truly, that is a shame.
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: features
- Bluetooth 5.2 and intuitive, well-featured app support for Android
- Four effective noise-cancellation profiles plus ambient aware
- On-ear volume control and dual device pairing
First things first: the user-friendly, slick, well-designed Honor AI Space app is only available for Android. And that supremely iOS-esque quick-pairing feature, whereby you simply open the lid of the box and an image of the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro presents itself ready for pairing, only happens if you’re using an Honor device. But we tested these earbuds using an Honor Magic 4 Pro, a Samsung Galaxy S22 and an Apple iPhone 11 and even without the quick-pairing function (Samsung) or the app support (Apple) we still found these earbuds more than stood up to the competition in other areas.
That said, this is a resoundingly made-for-Android set of earbuds. Although no app is needed to scroll through the ‘noise canceling’, ‘off’ and ‘awareness’ profiles – you simply long-press either earbud – access to the Honor AI Space app unlocks four new profiles within noise-cancelling. Tap on ‘noise canceling’ within this Android-only app and you’re given a choice of four ‘modes’: ‘intelligent’, which claims to moderate the level of noise-nixing to your surroundings; ‘cozy’ which is described as suitable for quiet environments such as an office; ‘moderate’ for noisier environments; and ‘ultra’ for situations where constant noise-eradication is necessary, such as a plane. And very effective they are too. We stroll down a city street with 'intelligent' deployed and bus engines, constant cars, the general thrum of road activity is largely quashed and, crucially, not to the detriment of our music.
Elsewhere, the buds include Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity and a battery life of up to 24 hours when combined with the charging case – which, handily, also offers two hours of playback from five minutes of fast-charging. The juice in the buds is not especially impressive, at six hours of playback on a full charge with no noise cancellation or four with noise-cancellation deployed, but it's acceptable given the quick-charge feature – and the app gives very clear indications of remaining battery in each earbud and the case, to help you stay prepared for long journeys.
Another feature worth shouting about here is on-ear volume control. Although you might not think it's a game-changer, the fact that you cannot swipe up or down on your AirPods Pro to control your music, but you can here, becomes no small perk over time. Not having to dig your phone out of your bag to turn the music down on a packed train: huge.
One last thing of note is the promised and much-hyped temperature sensor feature – because it isn't here. The claim was that you'd be able to take your temperature by tapping the earbud three times. Also widely reported was the option to track a continuous measurement over time, and to activate an "abnormal temperature alert". But you won't find any of it in the app, or when you tap the buds. To put it bluntly, your earbuds still can't tell you you're hot.
Why the swift about-turn? Well, Honor previously claimed its AI temperature algorithm had an 80 per cent chance of achieving a ±0.3 Celsius or less error within a lab setting; however, the actual margin of error may vary depending on the individual and environment – and to give credit where credit's due, the company always said the product should not be used for medical purposes.
When Honor announced that its temperature monitor sensors were definitely going to be included in its new earbuds (and thus, it had beaten Apple to the punch), it did caveat the announcement with the fact that the tech had yet to receive regulatory approval.
Honor told us: "In every market that Honor operates in, it strictly complies with the local laws and regulations. Considering these factors, the introduction of features and products in markets will also vary, depending on the requirements of the market.
Hence, Honor Earbuds 3 Pro won’t have temperature sensor in the UK and EU markets."
All of this aside, the fact that the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro won’t have the promised temperature sensor in the UK and EU markets is the only minor blip in an otherwise exhaustive suite of features.
- Features score: 4.5/5
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: sound quality
- Detailed, expansive soundstage across the frequencies
- Powerful, snappy bass and textured vocals
- A new class-leader for Android devices sonically
Arguably the biggest difference between the AirPods Pro and the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro is how much better the latter sounds. Let's let that sink in for a moment. It is no small or incremental improvement on Apple's top-tier offering either.
We streamed music from Tidal and Apple Music from our iPhone, Samsung's Galaxy S22 and the Honor Magic 4 Pro. The bass floor through Stormzy's Vossi Bop and Dave's PSYCHODRAMA is deeper, snappier and more impactful through the Honor earbuds. Vocals sound more expressive too; Dave's lamenting, brooding lyrical stylings shine that bit brighter thanks to the extra ounce of texture and realism that the Honor earbuds are able to unearth.
The soundstage is a touch more expansive across the frequencies, too, although that is a more closely-run race. Ultimately, it's the extra detail – the cleaner leading edges of notes, the emotive quality of vocals – that makes the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro the clear winner across the course of our listening.
Honor's novel (and potentially risky) coaxial dual driver design has been integrated with all the skill of a surgeon's unwavering hand, to the effect that the Earbuds 3 Pro sound more engaging, more zealous and more sparkling through the easily handled treble than their AirPods counterparts. Any reservations we might have had about the driver configuration are quickly quashed as we tap our feet in time to the unrelenting and challenging musical strands found in System of a Down's B.Y.O.B, all of which are held masterfully in check by the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro.
Stream Debussy's Deux Arabesques, performed by Mehahem Pressler, and the three-dimensional keys soar up through the registers with enough space around each well-timed treble note to feel both musically pleasing and actually played by lilting, breathing human hands.
- Sound quality score: 5/5
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: Design
- Available in white grey
- Just 5.1g per earbud
- So AirPods Pro-esque it's almost funny
There's no getting around it. If imitation be the sincerest form of flattery, Honor had some very nice things to say about Apple's AirPods Pro when fashioning the Earbuds 3 Pro. It's alarming how similar the two propositions look, side by side.
That said, Honor has gone just a touch better here again in some ways. As well as white, Honor has released a silver colorway and, with one bud weighing just 5.1g without the tip, Honor has also shaved three decigrams off the AirPods Pro's listed 5.4g per bud. It's a minor improvement, but if you like the look and fit of the AirPods Pro, you'll have no complaints here.
Additionally, when both products are under our nose, the Honor's box is just a touch shinier and more rounded at the edges, with silver branding across the hinge of the lid which is held together with decent and reassuringly strong magnets.
We can't help but return to the on-ear volume function either; swipe up or down along the straight spine of either earbud and a little beep reassures you that the earpiece has registered your request and done the business for you.
While there's little in it for battery life – Honor Earbuds 3 Pro promise four hours of playtime and AirPods Pro claim up to 4.5 hours of listening, both with ANC on – the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro support USB-C charging and Bluetooth 5.2 where AirPods Pro are back on Bluetooth 5.0 and sport a Lightning port – and remember, although AirPods already have an audio-sharing function, specific features that were introduced in version 5.2 of the Bluetooth Core Specification may well mean that Honor's proposition can support Auracast audio sharing in the future.
- Design score: 5/5
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: value
- AirPods-like specs and battery life for less than AirPods
- Easily betters AirPods for sound
- No Find My features or scope for head-tracked immersive audio
All things considered, the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro represent exceptionally good value, especially if you're an Honor smartphone owner and can have at that AirPods-esque quick-pair feature for nowhere near AirPods money.
In terms of feature set, Honor sits top of the class for value too. At €199 in Europe and £170 in the UK (which is roughly $178 or AU$367), Honor’s flagship buds come in comfortably less than Apple's AirPods Pro price, but with comparable features – although admittedly, Honor's solution is devoid of the Apple Find My suite and head-tracked Spatial Audio.
Honor customers are not used to paying this much for sonic deliverance though, with $60 / £70 the going rate for the older siblings to the Earbuds 3 Pro. Will buyers pay? We hope so. For the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro represent excellent value.
- Value score: 5/5
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro review: should I buy it?
|Features||Overlook the lack of temperature sensor and it's a competitive proposition||4.5/5|
|Sound quality||Impressive. Easily surpasses the competition for detail, bass weight and timing at the level||5/5|
|Design||Excellent, but so AirPods-like it's criminal||5/5|
|Value||An excellent buy for the money, as long as you don't own an iPhone||5/5|
Buy it if…
You want AirPods looks and features but for an Android phone
The Honor Earbuds 3 Pro delivers more thrilling sound than AirPods Pro and that should be enough. But for Android owners, the app is a joy to use and the design is a proven winner.
You prioritize sound over a unique or quirky design
There are no big surprizes in the design and when wearing them, you may feel as if you're following the herd. But the sonic chops here cannot and should not be ignored, because the step up in terms of clarity and detail is quite startling.
You own an Honor phone
This is a no-brainer. Get ready for Apple-esque quick-pairing on top of the slick and likeable Honor AI Space app (only available on Android) and a levelled up sonic experience. What's not to love?
Don't buy it if…
You own an iPhone
Don't get us wrong, the sound still beats Apple's AirPods Pro hands down, but the Honor Space AI app is not available for iOS, which means you'll lose access to those four useful noise-cancellation profiles in addition to quick pairing.
You're often losing your headphones
There's no Find My equivalent onboard here which, given their price, is a little worrying if often take Ubers and like wearing jackets with big pockets…
Think the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro might not be the true wireless earbuds for you? That's OK, here are three alternatives that might offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you're looking for.
Grell Audio TWS/1
The Grell Audio TWS/1 are here to shake up the big names in wireless earbuds, and they succeed. They sound fantastic, and we can easily forgive slightly weak noise cancellation when the music is this good.
Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0
Lypertek continues to punch above its weight and outside of its pricing bracket with the PurePlay Z3 2.0 true wireless earbuds, a stellar-sounding package with top-notch battery life.
Sony is largely responsible for the rude health of the active noise-cancelling true wireless in-ear headphones market, and with the WF-1000XM4, the company has combined performance, ergonomics, and build quality more effectively than ever before. They’re not perfect, but as an overall package they’re hard to beat.
- First reviewed: June 2022
- How we test: explore TechRadar's review guarantee