UPDATE: #1 Wireless CarPlay Dongle in my new 2022 round-up – View this here!
Enjoy my CarlinKit Mini 3.0 Wireless Dongle Review.
So CarlinKit has been one of the more popular brands for Apple CarPlay dongles. They were the first major brands to bring us the USB Apple CarPlay dongle for Android systems, and they also lead the charge with one of the first wireless Apple CarPlay dongles too. So it is always interesting to see what they come out with next, and this new Apple CarPlay Mini 3.0 dongle is just one of the newly updated dongles they have released over the past month.
In the box, you get the Mini 3.0 dongle itself. There is a small USB-C to USB-A cable that connects the dongle to your car’s CarPlay USB port. And there is a small paper manual that tells you how to operate and update the dongle.
Features & Comparisons
The dongle itself is noticeably smaller, hence the ‘mini’ name. It’s shaped and styled similar to an Apple AirPods case. Compared to the other CarlinKit dongles, it’s just over half their length and it is a few millimeters thicker and wider.
There is only one USB-C port on this mini dongle. So unlike other older dongles, there is no USB-A passthrough or any means to be able to update the dongle manually using a plugged-in USB drive. With this particular dongle, updates will only be available over the air.
On the top of the case, there is a criss-cross pattern of holes for ventilation and cooling of the chipset inside. And on the bottom, there is a small single hole that shows a green or red LED to inform you that the dongle is powered and operational, or whether there are any connection errors or compatibility issues.
The cable that comes supplied is of a similar length to the other dongles, and it is also detachable from the dongle, should you need to replace it with a longer cable or replace the original one if it becomes faulty in the future.
In The Car
In the car, I first booted the dongle up to check its initial bootup speed to the boot menu. This dongle uses the U2W-Autokit firmware with its signature red UI. As you might have seen in my other recent dongle reviews, this firmware boots up nice and fast, and in the case of this Mini 3.0 dongle, it mirrors the same speeds as other dongles using this same software. From its boot menu, you can access the same basic settings menu to toggle various languages, pairing options, and auto iPhone connection settings.
Once it has booted up and it displays its boot menu on the CarPlay display. You then need to connect your iPhone to the same Bluetooth ID that is displayed on the boot menu screen. On pairing to the dongle from my iPhone I could see the same connection and CarPlay boot-up speeds as seen on the other dongles I have tried that run this same firmware.
Once CarPlay has launched, everything runs as you would expect from this new wireless CarPlay dongle. Audio lag is going to be the same as any other dongle, due to using Wi-Fi to stream the CarPlay audio, video and touch input to and from your wirelessly connected iPhone. I have read some people say the audio is improved on this particular dongle, but personally, I couldn’t notice any difference, and I have found the audio to be generally fine on all the dongles I have reviewed.
GPS in navigation apps was just fine and calling quality seems just the same as you would expect, with your iPhone and car microphone doing all the heavy lifting for both of these functions.
Performance-wise, I ran this dongle for over four hours on a road trip and it didn’t lag out or slow down in any way. However it still crashed on me after around 1hr 30mins into my journey, listening to the radio and using the Waze app for navigation, but this is about the normal period of time for most of my dongles to crash on my Alpine system. At the time of its crashing, the dongle was running quite hot, and the heat did feel more on the opposite side of the grilled top casing, which must mean the small holes at the top of its case is doing something to help reduce any heat from building up inside the dongle casing.
It rebooted for a second time, after another hour into the journey, and I had the same issue with my system where it needed a restart of the car in order to get CarPlay working again, even with a lightning cable attached.
As I mentioned earlier, this dongle only has one output USB-C port. So software updates are only accessible over the air, via its IP-based update webpage on the connected iPhone. But to access this area you first need to be able to connect the dongle to your CarPlay system, and if that’s not possible, due to compatibility with your car’s CarPlay stereo system, then there’s no way to manually update it to a future firmware that might make it compatible. So knowing whether this dongle is compatible with your car system is even more important before buying one. But as this dongle is available from Amazon, you get easy returns with them, should it not work with your CarPlay system.
The CarlinKit Mini 3.0 Wireless CarPlay Adapter retails for $126 from Amazon US or £115 from Amazon UK directly, with next-day Amazon Prime shipping, and currently, there is a coupon code on Amazon UK to get a further £20-off to make it just £95.
As the name suggests, this dongle is basically a repackaged 3.0 dongle that I reviewed before, but it comes in a smaller, sleeker casing and it also has the limited option to update only over-the-air. Performance and quality were just the same as their earlier 3.0 dongle. Monitoring the dongle on my WiFi test software showed the same Wifi5 standard and 866.7megabits per second speeds.
I can see other makers adopting this dongle’s smaller form-factor soon. So I would expect other brands to release smaller dongles soon too. It is good to see CarLinKit has chosen to continue with using the newer AUTOKIT software, with its faster boot-up speeds, so if you already have a 3.0 dongle or a dongle with this same software, then I don’t see the need to update to this new one.
But if you are on the lookout for your first wireless dongle, then this CarlinKit Mini 3.0 dongle is certainly up there with the best of them. It still comes with the same niggles as other dongles do, but it all gets served in a nice shiny mini package instead. But I would say, be cautious about whether you’re able to run this dongle in your CarPlay enabled vehicle, otherwise, you could just simply take a punt, order through my links on Amazon, and have easy returns should it not work on your CarPlay system.
0:00 – Intro
0:18 – Brief overview
0:47 – Unboxing
1:01 – Features & comparisons
2:17 – In the car
5:13 – My Impressions