I kick off 2023 with my top 5 CarPlay AI Box adapters that you can buy in 2022/2023. Links to buy each dongle mentioned, and view my reviews, are all below.
What is a CarPlay AI Box?
CarPlay AI Boxes are small standalone computers that run an Android operating system on your CarPlay display. You simply connect the AI Box to the CarPlay USB port in your car, and the AI Box will take over your CarPlay interface and replace it with an Android tablet operating system. From here you can install any app that’s available from the Google Play AppStore, including streaming video apps like YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix, to games like Candy Crush and Call of Duty.
You can also operate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wirelessly on your CarPlay display, stream local media files and output to a connected HDMI display. So in short, they are smart little devices that open new opportunities for your CarPlay display, and they are perfect if you find yourself in the car for long periods of time, or whilst you’re waiting for your EV to charge.
24 CarPlay AI Boxes Tested
So I first gathered all the AI Boxes that I have reviewed on this channel. I then checked to see if they were still available to buy – because there is no point in recommending an AI Box that you can’t buy anymore. If any were discontinued or have been out of stock for a long period of time, they were removed from the list.
I then ran each one on a number of CarPlay systems to test their versatility. This included my Pioneer 93DAB receiver, the Alpine X902D receiver, and two standalone displays from Coral Vision and Carpuride. If any didn’t display correctly on more than one of them, they were removed from the list too.
The Final 11 CarPlay AI Box Adapters
And after these initial tests, I narrowed 24 AI Boxes down to just 11 finalists.
I next checked their boot-up times into their main launcher software. Some Boxes have animated startup sequences to distract and hide the long loading process, and some simply don’t hide it and just get right in there. All of the finalists took between 28 and 51 seconds to boot into their main menus.
Each AI Box comes with a certain version of Android. My 11 finalists ranged from Android 9, which was released in 2018, to Android 12, which was released in 2021. So within three years, there is varying compatibility with apps, as well as security, functionality and features between each version.
I then score each of their launcher software. These varied between basic dated-looking menus, with floating sub-menu buttons, to more modern designs with large functional widget panels.
Checking each of their Wi-Fi specs is also important for use with personal hotspots, casting wirelessly from your phone, as well as connecting to wireless CarPlay or Android Auto. AI Boxes that had faster max data speeds were rated higher, and channel width, Wi-Fi band and standard were also considered too.
AI Boxes that supported screen locking earned additional points, and their CPU and GPU Geekbench scores were also tested and scored based on their benchmark values.
Most AI Boxes came with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, with the exception of one finalist that came with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which earned an extra point as more RAM helps with multitasking between running apps.
All finalised supported wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. So I tested the time it took to pair and display each platform, testing their input and audio lag. Only a few finalists had USB-A ports, but neither offered wired CarPlay or Android Auto support. Each finalist used a variety of CarPlay and Android auto connectivity apps, from the more feature-rich Zlink5 app with support for split-screen mode in Android Auto and HD streaming options to more basic apps from MultiPlay, SpeedLink, and AutoKit, some of these offered the ability to choose your own custom home app icon in CarPlay.
Only 4 of the 11 finalists offered video casting support, with varying performance. The same number offered HDMI output to display content onto a separate screen, and just 1 offered HDMI input to allow the use of stream boxes or game consoles on your CarPlay display.
Most finalists offered SD card storage, one offered USB-A media playback instead, and all finalists featured a 4G SIM card slot for a more reliable local-based internet connection.
Only 1 finalist didn’t support any secondary Bluetooth connections, whilst the rest supported at least a Bluetooth remote control connection, and 6 offered both remote and Bluetooth game controller support.
A few of the finalists offered 60fps display specs, but on installing an FPS counter app, all of them but one were actually locked to 30fps.
My Top 5 CarPlay AI Box Adapters
So after many extensive tests, I narrowed down my 11 finalists to just my top 5. All of these AI Boxes are worth looking at, yet some may offer better connections and features, so depending on what you want out of your adapter, you might find an AI Box in second or fourth place that is a better fit for you.
5. Exploter ApplePie Ultra
In fifth place is the Exploter ApplePie Ultra. This AI Box along with many other Ultra brand alternatives offers a fast Qualcomm 665 chipset, SIM card and TF card slots. It performed a solid average score throughout all its tests which meant it earned its place among the top 5 finalists. It’s the only adapter in the top 5 to feature the newer Android 12 operating system, and although its launcher software isn’t the best out of the final 5, it makes up for this with 8GB of RAM for better multitasking and 128GB storage more storing more apps, media and games.
It was 1 of 2 finalists to offer dual Bluetooth support, and although it was the slowest to boot into its main menu launcher, it was the fastest to boot to wireless Android Auto. However, due to some poor Wi-Fi specs, it’s wireless experience can be a bit laggy and less as responsive than the other 4 finalists.
It’s priced second highest out of our finalists, so this makes it harder to recommend this AI Box, unless you’re looking for dual Bluetooth support, more RAM and storage, support for casting and better wireless options thanks to its Zlink5 app.
4. Ottocast Picasou 2 CarPlay AI Box
In fourth place is the Ottocast Picasou 2. This round, puck-sized AI Box carries the same fast chipset as all the other top 5 finalists. It has an older Android 10 operating system, but it makes this up with one of the better launcher interfaces.
It has great Wi-Fi specs, so expect great wireless performance in its rather basic MultiPlay app. It was the third fastest to boot into its main launcher menu, but it was the second slowest out of the 11 finalists to boot into wireless CarPlay and Android Auto.
It has Bluetooth remote support, and it is the second fastest-performing AI Box when it comes to launching apps like Spotify, Google Maps, Youtube and Netflix.
Costing very similar to the ApplePie Ultra, if you’re looking for a solid all-rounder with a great-looking launcher, HDMI output support, and a fast performer in launching apps, but have less desire to use it for wireless CarPlay or Android auto, then this is one AI box worth checking out.
3. M.I.C. HDMI Box GT0464EA / CP-508 CarPlay AI Box
Third place goes to the M.I.C. HDMI Box GT0464EA. You can also pick this AI Box unbranded as the CP-508. This AI Box is a good solid performer, sadly though it is difficult to buy outside Europe, the CP-508 can be shipped in from a few AliExpress sellers if you’re willing to risk it.
This AI Box also runs Android 10, and it offers one of my favourite simple launchers, that has no floating buttons and it has a persistent side dock with simple, yet functional, home and back buttons—making it great to navigate apps with.
It has great Wi-Fi specs that make it a solid performer for wireless CarPlay and Android Auto and its HDMI output port allows you to connect it to an external HDMI display.
It’s the second fastest to boot into its launcher menu, and the second fastest to boot into CarPlay. It only supports a Bluetooth remote and it has an average speed in launching the four key apps.
As the cheapest of the top 5 AI Boxes, this AI Box is a good all-rounder with solid foundations. It’s fast to boot as well as launch wireless CarPlay. It gets the job done without any fuss or frills. So if you’re on a budget, and you’re looking for speed and reliability, you can’t go wrong with this AI Box.
2. Ottocast Picasou 2 Pro CarPlay AI Box
In second place we have the Ottocast Picasou 2 Pro. This is a new entry AI Box that I have yet to bring my full review on this channel, but it made good sense to size it up alongside all the other AI Boxes. Thanks to its overall performance it managed to easily sneak its way into taking second place in my top 5.
Spec-wise, it’s an identical match to the fourth-place Picasou 2 AI Box, with the exception of adding a USB-A media port instead of an SD card slot, and it has both HDMI output as well as HDMI input ports. So with this AI Box, you have the opportunity to plug in a games console or an HDMI streaming stick into this AI Box and have it display on your CarPlay display as well as an external HDMI display in the car.
It was the fastest AI Box to boot into the same launcher menu as its rounder brother. Yet I found it had average wireless performance in its MultiPlay app for CarPlay and Android Auto.
Its launch speed in the 4 test android apps was high to good, not the best, but you will likely not see a significant difference between the speed of the top 4 AI Boxes.
Scorning just two points off the top-place winner, the Picasou 2 Pro is a great AI Box. It is the most expensive out of all the top 5 finalists, so you really have to want HDMI Output and Input, fast wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, or USB-A media playback over an SD card, to choose this adapter over its brother in fourth place.
1. CarlinKit CPC-200 T-Box Plus CarPlay AI Box
And finally, the number one CarPlay AI Box is the CarlinKit CPC-200 T-Box Plus.
This is Carlinkit’s third revision of their Tbox branded lineup. In this latest revision, they have thrown in the same fast chipset as all the other finalists, upgraded its operating system to Android 11, and improved its launcher software.
It’s let down by its shared low Wi-Fi performance along with the fifth-place Ultra, and it was the second slowest to launch into its main menu. But its software seems to be more optimised than the other AI Boxes. And as a result, it is the fastest to boot into wireless CarPlay and the second fastest into Android Auto.
Like the Ultra, it offers dual Bluetooth support for both wireless remote and game controllers, and again, thanks to its optimisations, it was the fastest to boot into all of the 4 test apps including Spotify, Google Maps, Youtube and Netflix.
Its general performance has helped this AI Box score the highest out of all the 11 finalists, yet its position is also justified because of its price. Costing the second lowest out of the top 5 finalists, if you’re on a budget and want the best bang for your buck, then this AI Box from CarlinKit is the best AI Box for your money right now. Just as long as you don’t mind its rather lacklustre Wi-Fi performance in wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. Otherwise, if you can spend an extra $70, you will get a better all-rounded AI Box with the Ottocast Picasou 2, which would be my own personal recommendation, regardless of how it scored in my tests.
So there we have it, these are my top 5 tested CarPlay AI Box adapters. I hope you have found this roundup helpful. Please check out the links above to buy and watch my reviews of each of these dongles, and subscribe to my channel so you will know when I review newly released AI Boxes in 2023 and beyond!
0:00 – Brief overview
1:08 – Testing Process
5:03 – Top 5 Finalists
5:27 – Exploter ApplePie Ultra
6:41 – Ottocast Picasou 2
7:40 – M.I.C. HDMI Box / CP-508
8:59 – Ottocast Picasou 2 Pro
10:30 – CarlinKit CPC-200 Tbox Plus
11:52 – CarPlay Life Recommended AI Box
12:15 – Top 5 Wireless CarPlay Adapters & 2-in-1 Android Auto Adapters