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It seems every week there is a new Android AI Box launching and today we are looking at another adapter from Ottocast that joins the two other similar dongles I looked at recently – the ApplePie Mini and the CarlinKit TBox. All three of these adapters simply plug into your existing Apple CarPlay USB port and it will take over your display to give you a full Android operating system.
From here you can download and display a vast library of Android apps from the Google Play store and run them on your CarPlay display. Right now, these boxes are the only way to get content from apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video running on your CarPlay display. You can also run apps like weather, car system data apps, browsers and email on these so-called AI boxes too.
Unboxing & Features
In the box, you get the U2-Apollo adapter itself. On the back it’s marked Apollo-E for UK and Europe SIM compatibility. It connects to your CarPlay USB port via its detachable USB-C to USB-A cable, and there is a USB-C to USB-C cable for more modern CarPlay USB-C ports. And finally, there is a paper manual that lightly covers how to install, use and update the adapter, along with a brief introduction to its slightly different menu interface.
Looking over the adapter itself. Just like the previous two second generation Android AI Adapters, there are the same SIM and TF card slots that span both sides of the USB-C port. There’s no additional USB-A media ports – so you’ll have to use the TF card slot for adding any local media files. Like the ApplePie Mini, there are two status indicator lights on the same side as the SIM and TF card slots, which will indicate power and update status.
Whichever cable you chose, both offer a generous length of around 30cms. Which is more than enough to locate the dongle in the center compartment or glove box of your car’s interior.
Install & Performance
In the car, I plugged the U2-Apollo adapter into my CarPlay USB port. Once booted up, the Android 9 main menu mirrored the similar interface to the CarlinKit, although this Ottocast appears much sharper with its squared off icons and a few alterations to its home screen. The first noticeable difference is the Now Playing media playback panel. This panel persists on the home screen and it unfortunately cannot be removed, but it can be dragged around to other areas of the page or moved to sub pages to remove it from the home screen completely.
On the side of the menu screen you have the persistent side dock. This displays the time, SIM network strength, Wi-Fi and bluetooth connections, the last three accessed apps, and at the very bottom there is a quick button to invoke the Google or Siri assistant, and there is also a button to switch between the default page view of apps, or view your entire library of apps in a smaller tile format, for easy access to more apps.
Up at the top of the menu is a wide gap that currently houses the floating navigation menu. Compared to other adapters, this version is more minimal, with just two function buttons to go back and another to go home from within an app. Both of these buttons have additional functionality. Holding the back button also toggles split view, and holding down on the home button will toggle the active app view to close them down.
This floating menu persists and cannot be removed. It will fade away after around 5 seconds, but as soon as you tap anywhere on screen, or interact within an app, this floating menu will return again, and generally get in the way, and sometimes require constant relocating around the screen.
There are many default apps already loaded onto the U2-Apollo. From Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome Browser, YouTube Music, Netflix, Waze and VLC. All of these apps worked fine once a stable data connection was given to the dongle. You can give this adapter an internet connection in a number of ways. The best is by inserting a data SIM inside the adapter. This method supports up to 4G LTE and it allows you to use both CarPlay and Android Apps simultaneously.
The second method is to use a personal hotspot from your iPhone or Android device. However, when using an iPhone, you will be limited to choosing either using the Adapter for wireless CarPlay or for use with Android Apps. It will not allow you to do both, because the Wi-Fi connection used for the hotspot will be fought over between the Android platform and wireless CarPlay.
There are a few additional alternatives, these require either connecting to another phone’s personal hotspot, using a Mi-Fi device, or if your car has Wi-Fi built in, you can connect the dongle to its network instead too.
Once connecting the adapter to a mobile data or Wi-Fi connection, the platform as a whole starts to open up. From here you can download any compatible app from the Google Play Store app. I tried Sky Go, iPlayer, ESPN, and Amazon Prime Video. Disney+ wasn’t compatible and could not be downloaded from the Google Play Store, but I was able to sideload the APK and that worked just fine. All the apps I was able to download ran just fine on the 8-core 1.8Ghz Snapdragon 450 CPU, with 4GB RAM, and its 64GB of storage is plenty enough for all the installed apps I wanted to use and any media. Should you wish for more storage, you can increase the capacity by inserting a high capacity TF card, for up to an additional 128GB.
Wireless CarPlay & Android Auto
The SpeedPlay android app supports both wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto connection to your iPhone or Android device, and you can also install the Android Auto app directly onto this dongle too should you wish. Wireless CarPlay took a little time to get paired, and for my iPhone to display CarPlay. Just like the CarlinKit TBox, it didn’t want to auto-connect to the Wi-Fi profile after pairing over Bluetooth, and I had to manually enable it before CarPlay showed up wirelessly within around 5-7 seconds, which is a pretty good time.
In CarPlay, the display over wireless was sharp and clear. Everything else from navigation, music streaming and calling all behaved as normal. At the time of recording, I couldn’t test how this dongle performs over long term use, and I wasn’t able to test Android Auto wireless either.
Inserting a TF card with test samples I was able to play back all my audio, video and image files either in its own player or the bundled VLC player. There were no artifacts in video playback and everything played smoothly.
Between all three second generation Android 9 dongles this flavour from Ottocast feels a little more refined in its menu and appreience. Its minimal floating menu does make it feel much less annoying, yet it still requires constant altering between various Android apps and whilst using CarPlay. Personally I would have preferred a consistent side, or bottom, menu during Android Apps, and go full screen for CarPlay and Android Auto, because each has their own return home button that could take you back to the Android interface.
Performance-wise, it is exactly the same spec as the other two dongles, so there’s no improvements here, other than it is capable of performing well in the majority of apps you’ll want to use in the car. Like most Android AI Boxes though, unless you have a decent internet connection, this can heavily limit the general speed of the apps that need it. Such as fetching location data and directions in navigation apps, login into accounts, and fetching media content from video streaming apps. Although its 4GB of RAM may be enough, you still might struggle with page loading and general clunky Android performance, unless you download content, such as maps and video files.
These second generation AI boxes are pretty much mirror images of themselves, so when it comes down to choosing which one is for you, you have to look at the menu UI, its casing and cooling, bundled apps, support, and most of all, price. The menu is certainly the more refined of the three, however switching between Android and CarPlay can always be a painstaking experience sometimes with all of these dongles. So if you’re looking for a second generation Android 9 AI Box, then if you can get it at a competitive price (like you can right now), this Ottocast is probably the best out of the bunch.
0:00 – Intro
0:17 – Brief overview
1:10 – Unboxing
1:30 – Hardware features
2:15 – Installation
3:55 – Android apps on CarPlay
4:13 – Internet connection
5:13 – Side-loading APK
5:38 – Expanded storage
5:47 – Wireless CarPlay
6:50 – Local media playback
7:05 – My Impressions