After my original Bluetooth earbuds died I opted to replace them with a pair of Soundcore A3i active noise cancelling ones. I've had these since September and have been pretty impressed so far. At the time of purchase these were on offer for around £33, with full retail price being around £50.
Part of my reason for choosing the A3i was because I have a lot of Anker kit, and find the quality and usability to be acceptable (there'll possibly be a few Anker reviews coming, see this tag). I'm also able to use the same Soundcore app to control the A3i as I use for my previously reviewed Q30 headphones.
Disclaimer: I purchased this with my own money and this is an unbiased review. I am not gaining any benefit from the company from this review, and the company does not know I am writing this.
What's in the box?
There's not a lot to these, and the box contents reflects that. These earbuds come in a charging case and were shipped inside, ready for use. I don't recall if there was a USB-A to USB-C cable for charging, but I've got plenty of those already. There were also two additional rubber cushioning pieces, allowing for different sized ears.
Construction & look
Previously my right and left earbuds were joined by a wire, with the controls and microphone on a module handing from the right hand side. The A3i earbuds are completely separate, with a single button on each. There's a lightly embossed Soundcore logo on each one, with a hole (presumably for the microphone) at the top. No lights are found on the earbuds, only on the case.
Each earbud isn't particularly heavy, and has a rubber cushioning piece around each tip that goes in the ear. You can remove the rubber pieces for cleaning / swapping for a different size.
The charging case is also not too heavy (I usually keep it in my pocket) and features a USB-C charging port on the bottom plus a pairing button used for override situations if you have to reset the earbuds. The hinged lid is quite sturdy.
At around the size of the top part of my thumb, and being black, the earbuds are quite obvious when worn. That seems to be less of a problem these days as headphones and earbuds are more common in daily use, but worth noting. If you're after some covert spy operation earpieces then these are not what you want!
Do they fall out?
This was my biggest concern when moving away from a pair of buds linked by a wire - would an ear bud fall out. While I have had them fall out (once on its own, once because I knocked it 🤦♀️), generally I've not had a problem. I've also been able to jog with the earbuds in without problems.
As always, your mileage may vary and it will require you to have inserted the earbud correctly.
Like my Q30 headphones, the A3i earbuds are also capable of pairing with multiple devices at once, maintaining a link to two devices simultaneously. This mostly works fine, but occasionally I've had problems where device switching hasn't completed at the end of a call. That might be a problem of the host device of course. You can see a history of devices in the Soundcore app.
Active noise cancelling is an important feature for me, and if you're wearing both earbuds then noise cancelling is available. Understandably, if you've only got one earbud in then you won't receive that benefit.
On wearing a single earbud, that's a feature explicitly listed of the specification for the A3i. When I'm out walking I only have a single earbud in so I can still hear traffic (and other people), so it was crucial that the earbuds could be used in single ear mode. This works really well, with all audio channels (left and right) sent to the earbud you are wearing. If you later want to put the second earbud in (or conversely remove one), they quickly adapt and adjust the sound accordingly.
According to the marketing there's an "AI enhanced microphone" to reduce background noise. I'm not sure what's "AI enhanced" about it, but it seems to work OK. Strong wind isn't completely removed, and if you're in a very noisy environment where others are on calls that does seem to come through.
Annoyingly the case does not have a loop, or any method to attach one, so you cannot clip the case onto your belt. That may be a good thing, as it reduces the risk of the case opening and the earbuds falling out, but I'm aware competitors have a loop - if that's important to you, you'll be disappointed here.
My primary usage for these is listening to podcasts when I'm out walking, and they perform that task admirably. The app also has a dedicated podcast equaliser profile, which I tend to use when I remember. Switching equaliser profiles (there are many provided) in the app happens very quickly (same as for the Q30) and you've got the option of adding custom profiles if you want additional controls. It's worth noting that equaliser settings are only available when using both earbuds.
Playing music is also not a challenge for these earbuds, although I'd probably rather use my Q30 headphones. Given their size, the amount of bass these earbuds can produce is actually pretty good.
One of my test tracks is Eva by Nightwish and I have noticed some distortion with the A3i earbuds when playing Eva at a reasonable volume (both with "BassUp" enabled and not). I don't have the same problem on the Q30.
I was honestly impressed at how effective noise cancelling was with these earbuds given they don't have any surrounding foam to enclose the ear. Given I tend to have the case in my pocket it's meant I've got active noise cancelling on hand when in busy environments or when on public transport, without the need to carry my Q30 headphones (significantly bigger).
There's three modes - noise cancelling, transparency mode, and normal. Noise cancelling has just the one profile, so it's not possible to tune it for different environments. In transparency mode essentially microphones are enabled and passes the ambient noise straight through to your ears (bypassing noise cancelling).
Normal mode disables noise cancelling, and just leaves you with what you'd hear normally.
One thing to note, that I presume is related to the noise cancelling, is that when inserting both earbuds they sometimes whistle briefly. A bit like a hearing aid would do if you get something too close.
Similar to my Q30 headphones, the battery life on the A3i earbuds is very good - partly assisted by the fact the case has its own battery and charges the earbuds when they're put away. Given I use my earbuds every time I'm out walking on my own (admittedly only a single ear), I only tend to charge these once every two weeks with my current usage. I've never seen them run out of charge, so it's hard to know how often I'd need to charge them. Conservatively, I'll assume I use the earbuds for a minimum of one hour a day (while out walking).
Bluetooth range & moving around
Again Anker has excelled itself here and the Bluetooth range is incredible. As a test while writing this review I set a podcast playing while using a single earbud. Leaving my phone and the charging case on my desk (second floor / loft) I was able to get into my garden, and even into my metal "Nanderson shelter"  without a drop out. I could still use the button on the earbud to pause and resume playback too. Interestingly though, walking down the side of the house resulted in a drop out, but moving back into range caused an immediate reconnection.
I've paced around with the earbuds in and while on a call and the other person hasn't noticed. As mentioned above, windy weather isn't completely filtered out when walking outside though.
I will highlight that range is directly affected by your surroundings. When I'm at home the range is as described above, but at my local co-working space there's a breeze block wall that kills the signal almost instantly.
The Soundcore app
A nice feature is the ability to customise the button controls, with options for pressing the button once, twice, or holding for two seconds. Annoyingly these settings are different when in double or single earbud mode (single earbud mode only allows you to customise pressing twice or holding for two seconds. In either case, you can put different settings on the left and right earbuds. It would be nice for the press once setting to be available in single earbud mode though.
Confusingly, despite being the same app, the app features differ between the A3i and Q30. For the A3i it's possible to see the devices the earbuds are paired with (under settings > dual pairing) and can see the history.
I'm really pleased with these earbuds, and especially glad they don't fall out and get lost when out walking. Being able to use a single earbud is really handy and the change from single to double is really quick and pretty seamless. I'd recommend these earbuds if you need something at a reasonably cheap price point that includes active noise cancelling.
Banner image: The earbuds in their charging case.
 I'll probably write about that another time, but it's an aluminium workers' hut on a brick base on the garden, with bunks and portholes.