In this video, I will be looking at this new Z3 Box. It is another Apple CarPlay to Android OS dongle that you 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.
What’s in the box?
In the box, you get the Z3 Box itself. It features USB C output and there is a USB A input for media, apps, and to install software updates. There is a paper manual that lightly covers how to install and update the Z3 Box and a brief introduction to its menu interface. There is a short USB-C to USB-A cable to connect and power the dongle, and a female USB-A to USB-C adapter for modern CarPlay ports in the car. And finally, this dongle doesn’t have GPS built into the dongle, instead, they supply an OBD Bluetooth transmitter that wirelessly connects to the Z3 Box, and there is a GPS antenna that clips into the OBD transmitter, and the antenna itself is then located in a suitable location in your car interior for it to receive a stable GPS signal.
Now, most of these boxes are very similar, so there may not be much difference in this one. It does run Android 10, instead of Android 9 on most of the other dongles I have reviewed so I’ll be seeing what differences that makes, if any.
So in the car, I plugged the Z3 box into my CarPlay USB port. Boot up time took a little longer than expected, but soon I was in the main menu interface. From here everything is pretty much the same as any other Android OS box that I have covered already. The main difference is that there is a separate menu option to access all the dongle’s own functions – away from the main Android settings menu. And the left side dock features quick options to access the Google Assistant, enter Wi-Fi settings, check GPS connection, as well as a dedicated home and back button. And at the bottom side of the dock, there are two status indicators for USB connection and Bluetooth.
There are many default apps loaded onto the Z3 Box. From Google Maps, Chrome Browser, and Gmail, to YouTube, VLC, and Netflix. All these apps worked fine once a stable data connection was given to the dongle. Without a SIM card slot though on this dongle, you are forced to use a personal hotspot from your iPhone or Android smartphone, or connect it to a local Wi-Fi source, such as a Mi-Fi dongle, or connect it to your own in-car Wi-Fi if you have one.
The rest of the apps can be downloaded from the Google Play Store app. I tried Sky Go, iPlayer, ESPN, Amazon Prime Video, and Waze. All were available for download and ran just fine.
Wireless CarPlay & Android Auto
This dongle supports wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, and you can also install the Android Auto app directly onto this dongle too. Wireless CarPlay took a little time to get paired, and for my iPhone to display CarPlay. It didn’t want to auto-connect to the Wi-Fi profile after pairing over Bluetooth, so I had to manually enable it before CarPlay showed up wirelessly within around 5 seconds, which is a pretty good time.
The display over wireless was a little blurry and pixelated in places. There is an HD option in the settings menu, but enabling that didn’t change anything for me, and returning back to the setting, I could still see that it wasn’t enabled, so there seemed to be a bug with this option. If fixed I am sure this will improve the visual quality of wireless CarPlay on this dongle, as I have seen on other systems with this feature.
The overall display quality of this dongle felt a little low though, compared to other dongles. Maybe it wasn’t detecting my screen resolution correctly, but menus and even videos felt lower quality than other dongles, and even USB media in the built-in player and also in the VLC app showed some low-quality artifacts in the videos I tried.
Overall, this is a fairly average AI Box dongle for your CarPlay display. It does the job, but it can take some work to get it doing what you want it to do. Both with CarPlay and also with some installed Android Apps.
Performance-wise, I felt that this dongle was a little underwhelming. Like most Android AI Boxes, unless you have a decent internet connection, this can heavily limit the 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. But its 2Gb of RAM really affected the overall performance of apps running on it, over other dongles I have used with 4GB of RAM. You also get half the storage than some other AI Boxes out there, with 32GB of storage, so there is less room for storing apps and media on this box too.
I thought the upgrade to Android 10 would bring with it some new features or some stability, but honestly, I didn’t see much difference between the Android 9 dongles, other than different elements in the menu interface, which I am sure could be added to the Android 9 platforms too with software updates.
At its asking price in the UK, you can do much better. Personally, I would look for an AI Box with SIM card support. Because this makes the overall experience between CarPlay and Android OS much less divided, however, they all feel a little clunky in places, and that is a trait I can’t ever see overcome on these types of dongles.
0:00 – Intro
0:17 – Brief overview
1:02 – Unboxing
2:10 – In the car test
3:36 – Wireless CarPlay
4:50 – My Impressions