For many years (and still to this day for most of us) Apple CarPlay has been mostly a wired experience in the car. Whether you are using a factory-fitted Apple CarPlay system or an aftermarket receiver, the majority of us users have been running Apple’s in-car entertainment solution via a USB to Lightning cable that’s connected to the USB port in your vehicle glove box, centre console or dashboard.
Since its availability some four years ago with the launch of iOS 9, anyone who wanted to experience wireless Apple CarPlay will have to either purchase one of the very few recent vehicles that have wireless CarPlay installed in them or install a wireless Apple CarPlay aftermarket receiver from Alpine, Pioneer or Kenwood.
Some wireless Apple CarPlay aftermarket receivers have even yet to be purchasable within the UK and Europe. So unless you have 30K+ to drop on a new car, wireless Apple CarPlay is a little out of reach for many of us. That’s until now, thanks to the CPLAY2air dongle that’s available from carplay2air.com.
A wireless solution in two flavours
The CPLAY2air dongle comes in two flavours: One costs you $109.95 and it will only work with receivers that run an Android operating systems. The second dongle is the CPLAY2air wireless adapter for factory CarPlay, which costs $159.95 directly from carplay2air.com and ships worldwide. It is this the latter dongle that I will be covering here in this review.
How the CPLAY2air dongle connects is very simple and it doesn’t require any tinkering with your existing system. You simply connect your existing wired Apple CarPlay factory system or an Apple CarPlay enabled aftermarket receiver, and by connecting the dongle to the same USB port in your car, you can connect to the CarPlay system/receiver, wirelessly instead.
You may be thinking that this all sounds a little too good to be true. I even remember saying a few years ago that I hope someone would create a dongle that fools the wired CarPlay receiver into thinking it was connected to an iPhone, albeit wirelessly.
Well, someone has actually gone and done that! So does it this dongle work as intended? Let’s find out…
What’s in the box & connection
The CPLAY2air dongle comes packaged in a clean-looking Apple white box. Inside you’ll find just the dongle itself and a small two-page instruction manual written in both English and Chinese. Although one page reads like it has been written for the cheaper Android receiver dongle, the other page is more related to the adapter that’s in the box.
It lists instructions to simply replace the USB to Lightning cable you use for wired CarPlay with the dongle’s own USB connector, connecting into the same USB port in your glovebox, centre console or dashboard. Once the dongle is connected to your USB port and turning the ignition key in your vehicle, your head unit will come to life as normal, and once the dongle has powered up, you simply select the same CarPlay button to reveal the dongle’s fairly simplistic main menu interface. From here you begin to search for your iPhone over Bluetooth and begin to pair with it.
It is at this point (or just after plugging this dongle into the same USB you use for wired CarPlay) that will you know if this CPLAY2air dongle will work with your vehicle’s wired CarPlay system or aftermarket wired CarPlay receiver. There are two lights on the end of the dongle, these will be your indicator for sheer joy or misery with this dongle. If one of the lights turns blue, things are looking good and you can begin to pair with your iPhone over Bluetooth. If it continuously stays red or never switches to blue, or you don’t see anything appear on your CarPlay screen, then you have some troubleshooting ahead of you.
Luckily for me, I was in the blue light camp on my Alpine X902D-G7 aftermarket CarPlay receiver in my Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7. Once I paired my iPhone 11 Pro to the dongle’s Bluetooth connection I was soon asked by the iOS software if I wanted to use it for CarPlay. Once I selected this option my iPhone was soon connected to my receiver and I was running Apple CarPlay wirelessly on my Alpine receiver. Smiles soon followed, and after briefly staring at the CarPlay Home screen, in amazement that it all actually worked so flawlessly, I began to play around.
It just works!
Everything functioned when using the CPLAY2air dongle as if I was still connected to my Alpine over a wired connection. Apps sprung to life, instantly with a tap, and playing music and running navigation apps was just like I had my iPhone plugged in with a cable, with audio coming through my car speakers without any noticeable delay. It is very impressive what this little credit card-sized black box can do when plugged into my car’s USB port in the centre console.
When closing the compartment door to the centre console, where the dongle was able to sit neatly tucked away inside, it had no effect on the performance of the dongle. The way wireless CarPlay works should not affect the performance of the dongle if it is hidden in a glovebox or tucked away in a centre console compartment. Bluetooth from the dongle first connects your iPhone. The iPhone then securely initiates a Wi-Fi connection with the dongle, after which the video and audio feed is sent over Wi-Fi to your CarPlay display, wirelessly from your iPhone.
This dongle also supports Android Auto, but only over a wired connection. Using the female USB port on the end of the dongle, you can connect the dongle to an Android device via a USB-A to micro-USB or USB-C cable connection. You can also use this USB-A port to connect to your iPhone and charge your iPhone on longer journeys where wireless CarPlay would easily drain the battery.
Early issues & firmware updates
One early issue I encountered was that the dongle can sometimes not load up the CarPlay display screen, instead, it shows a blank black screen. This has now been fixed however in the recent December 31st update. It seems any issues occur mostly if you interact with the head unit before the dongle is able to boot up and initiate the pairing process. Firmware updates for the dongle have been rolling out regularly, each addressing issues that users have been reporting.
For anyone experiencing difficulties with this dongle, such as vehicle/aftermarket compatibility, or improvements with general reliability and performance, you can update the dongle fairly easily. You can do this by connecting to the dongle’s Wi-Fi, open up the Safari browser on your iPhone, and go to the IP address – 192.168.50.2 – From here you can view the current firmware and find out if there are any firmware updates for the dongle and update it.
Updating the CPLAY2air dongle is very quick with the small file size of the firmware downloads over your mobile data connection and the updating process occurring through the mobile browser.
I have read in a forum that many owners were frustrated at the dongle’s inability to work in their vehicle. It does look like many compatibility issues and performance issues are being addressed though. Some users are also experiencing issues with performance and reliability. For me though, I have had very little issues with my dongle in my Alpine X902D-G7 installed in my VW Golf GTI Mk7.
Compatible vehicles and aftermarket receivers
The CPLAY2air dongle currently lists support for 31 vehicle brands that have factory fitted CarPlay installed in them. These currently are Acura 2017+, Alfa Romeo 2018+, Audi 2017+, Bently 2017+, Borgward 2017+, Buick 2017+, Cadillac 2016+, Chevrolet 2016+, Citroen 2016+, Ford 2017+, Genesis 2017+, GMC 2016+, Honda 2016+, Honda Bikes 2016+, Hyundai 2015+, Jeep 2017+, Kia 2015+, Lexus 2019+, Mercedes-Benz 2016+, Maserati 2017+, Mazda 2018+, Opel 2016+, Peugeot 2017+, Porsche 2017+, Renault 2017+, Seat 2016+, Skoda 2016+, Toyota 2016+, Vauxhall 2016+, Volkswagen 2015+ and Volvo 2016+.
Its maker does not list any aftermarket systems, however, if you watch my video in our CarPlayLife YouTube Channel, you can see that I was able to successfully install the dongle for wireless Apple CarPlay on a 2014 Pioneer SPH-DA120 receiver, one of Pioneer’s first aftermarket CarPlay receivers. So there is hope for a number of wired aftermarket CarPlay receivers that are already out there, it is just a case of trying it out on them and crossing your fingers, unfortunately.
Swapping devices and wheel controls
If you have two or more iPhone devices in the same vehicle, you can switch between them in the dongle’s main menu. Apple hasn’t made the process of swapping between wireless devices any easier. So you have to do this when you first start the vehicle and make sure you intercept the pairing of the device it will otherwise automatically connect to. If you are already in motion, however, your only choice then is to pull the dongle out of its USB port and reconnect it again to get back to the dongle’s main menu. Until Apple supports multiple phone switching over wireless Apple CarPlay, this dongle is best used with one single device in the car. If you have multiple devices paired, the dongle will connect to the last used iPhone device, which is a better compromise at least.
Once connected, all my steering wheel controls functioned as they would when using wired CarPlay in my VW Golf Mk7. I was able to skip tracks back and forth and invoke Siri by pressing the voice button on the wheel or by calling out ‘Hey Siri’. Everything executed as intended here, without any noticeable delay between button presses and the action occurring on the iPhone and CarPlay display.
Bootup times and phone calls
Phone calls through the dongle worked flawlessly for me. My first call did have issues with the recipient not being able to hear me. This may have been a rare localised issue, but calls afterwards were executed and handled just fine, without any lag to or from the recipient. Some users in forums have reported different experiences however, with some reporting some lag in their calls, this could have possibly been due to an early version of the dongle’s firmware. All of this can be improved with future firmware updates for the dongle.
Booting up from cold took on average around 35 seconds on my Alpine X902D-G7. This was timed from turning the key to seeing Apple CarPlay displayed on my Alpine’s screen. Vehicles with longer or shorter system boot-up times will increase or decrease this startup time. It takes around 13 seconds from ignition to the CPLAY2air menu screen and the remaining time is the Bluetooth pairing process and Wi-Fi hand-over connection. Overall though, this amount of delay wasn’t much of an issue for me. During this time I could be either getting ready in the car or if I were to drive off straight away my Alpine would be showing the CarPlay screen by the time I reach the end of my street. No big deal.
Is the CPLAY2air dongle worth buying?
If you have a wired CarPlay system and your vehicle or aftermarket receiver is mentioned under their compatible list, a CPLAY2air dongle is a small price to pay over replacing your existing infotainment system, your car, or even sourcing and installing a wireless CarPlay aftermarket receiver. Doing the latter would cost around 10x the price of this $150 dongle. The only risk here is with its current performance and compatibility with your existing wired CarPlay system. For aftermarket owners, it can feel like a bit of a risk. With no compatible list mentioned, you only really have to look out on comments and forums for anyone who has decided to take a punt themselves and buy and install a CPLAY2air dongle.
Personally, for me, buying the CPLAY2air dongle is worth pursuing, just for the sheer convenience alone of having wireless Apple CarPlay. For short journeys or using alongside a Qi wireless in-car charger, the convenience is certainly worth exploring. I can easily live with the bootup times, which I think is really a non-issue and it may be improved with a future update.
Because this dongle is currently in the ‘early adoption’ phase of its life, where buying customers might be used as ‘compatibility testers’, issues will likely surface with this newly released box of technology. The CPLAY2air dongle is being asked to work with so many different in-car systems, and across many years of technology. There is going to be some early niggles, and its maker seems very keen to address and fix them. This is shown by the compatibility and performance updates already available for the dongle.
If you hate wires and desire wireless CarPlay in your vehicle, our options are very pricey and pretty slim. So if you wish to save money on retrofitting your own a wireless system, or installing a newer wireless aftermarket receiver, the CPLAY2air dongle it is a relatively small ‘no-brainer’ purchase that will breathe new life into your existing wired Apple CarPlay system.