No technology has revolutionalized in-car infotainment as much as Apple CarPlay.
It allows us to use different iPhone apps from the car stereo screen. Since you’re not directly using the phone, the CarPlay helps you stay focused and reduces the chances of road accidents.
The CarPlay comes in two versions: wired and wireless.
A major advantage of the wireless CarPlay is that you don’t need to plug the lighting cable into your iPhone all time – meaning less wear and tear on its USB port. Also, Bluetooth connectivity is a lot more convenient and looks aesthetically pleasing.
However, the main downside is that, compared to wired CarPlay, fewer cars support the wireless version.
Best Wireless CarPlay Adapters 2023 Guide
- CarlinKit 3.0 Mini (Best Compact Wireless CarPlay Adapter 2023)
- OTTOCAST U2-X
- CarlinKit 4.0 (Best Wireless CarPlay + Android Auto Adapter 2023)
To solve this issue, you have two options. You can replace your head unit with the one that supports wireless CarPlay. But then, you’ll have to worry about compatibility issues since factory head units are not easy to replace these days.
The second option is using a wireless CarPlay adapter. It’s a much better solution since you don’t need to remove anything from your vehicle. And it also costs way less than any head unit with built-in Wireless CarPlay.
You’ll need to pair with those adapters only once. After that, you can leave them in your dashboard, and they’ll auto-connect with your phone.
In this post, we’ll talk about the best wireless CarPlay adapters for 2023. The things I’ll look for in these adapters will be their size, booting time, and responsiveness.
CarlinKit 3.0 Mini – Best Compact Wireless CarPlay Adapter 2023
Our first adapter is the CarlinKit 3.0 Mini.
It’s a smaller version of the CarlinKit 3.0. With 45x46x16mm dimensions, it is quite compact. So much so that it looks more like the Apple AirPods case, thanks to its all-white color scheme.
The overall design is minimalist, with a single USB-C port at the bottom and some ventilation holes (in a vertical pattern) to cool down the chipset inside.
On the backside, there’s a single LED light to indicate whether the adapter is working (blue) or not (red).
Among accessories, you only get a single USB-C to USB-A cable. It means if you’re car has only a USB-C port, you’ll need an extra USB-C to USB-C cable to make it compatible with this adapter.
I liked the fact that the USB cable is detachable. The fixed-cable adapters make sense initially (you don’t worry about losing the cable), but you will have to replace the whole adapter if the USB cable gets faulty.
During testing, I managed to boot it in less than 18 seconds. It takes 13-15 more seconds to pair up with your iPhone and load the CarPlay.
Like other CarPlay dongles, there’s input and audio lag – but it’s acceptable.
Due to smaller size, it can get hot pretty quickly – especially on the side with no venting holes. It crashed after I used it for an hour. But it happened when I opened multiple apps at once.
Once it crashes, you’ll need to restart the car and boot it again to make it work. You can only do OTA updates. But to do the update, it must be connected beforehand.
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Many of us share our cars with our partners.
What if they use an Android phone?
Luckily, most vehicles that support Apple CarPlay also support Android Auto. And, like CarPlay adapters, many dongles turn the wired Android Auto into wireless.
But switching between the multiple adapters continuously would not be ideal.
That is where OTTOCAST U2-X comes into play. If you have an iPhone, it will give you wireless Apple Carplay. But if you use an Android phone, it will run wireless Android Auto.
With almost 85cm in length, it’s slightly larger than the OTTOCAST U2-NOW but pretty normal compared to most other adapters. It has one USB port on the top and bottom side. The left and right sides have air vents.
One of the main reasons why CarPlay adapters disconnect randomly is because of the shocks/vibrations they receive. Therefore, the U2-X’s internal circuit is not entirely attached to the casing. So that it can withstand minor bumps and vibrations.
The time from Booting to CarPlay loading takes between 25-30 seconds. Like other adapters, there will be a 1-2 seconds delay in things like audio streaming, voice assistance, navigation commands, etc. But it’s acceptable for the most part.
The switch between Carplay and Android Auto is not seamless and takes approx. 10-15 seconds. To connect it with a new phone, you’ll have to turn off your phone’s Bluetooth and WiFi first. And then pair it with the new phone.
During testing, I had to try multiple times as my Android phone was not able to pair with this adapter.
You get two USB cables out of the box. One is the traditional USB-A to USB-C cable for old vehicles, while the other is USB-C to USB-C cable for newer models.
My only gripe with this adapter is the higher price.
To update its firmware, you’ll open your phone browser and type 192.168.1.101. A page will open, and you’ll be asked to submit your vehicle details. Once you’ve entered those details, you’ll get the updated firmware, if there is any.
But OTTOCAST doesn’t recommend updating the firmware if everything is working fine. That’s because if the new firmware is buggy, and if you lose power in the middle of the process, the adapter will get bricked.
You can check out the video below find out about the other potential issues:
CarlinKit 4.0 – Best Wireless CarPlay + Android Auto Adapter 2023
The last adapter of this roundup is the Carlinkit 4.0.
Carlinkit is one of the first companies that started this whole CarPlay dongle thingy, and the CarlinKit 4.0 is the 4th iteration of their flagship product.
It is also the first 2-in-1 adapter by the CarlinKit and supports both CarPlay and Android Auto.
It looks similar to the U2-X except for the color scheme. Both have roughly the same lengths and the same number of USB ports.
The USB ports have a pass-through feature that allows you to connect/charge your phone with the dongle.
Like the U2-X, it has a web-based config menu. You can use this menu to give your car info/feedback, check for updates, change media delay and framerate, etc.
The time it takes to boot into the main menu is 13 seconds (hot boot), while loading the CarPlay takes 7 seconds more.
The switching between CarPlay and Android Auto is also less clunky as you don’t need to toggle between the two platforms.
While I managed to use it with a couple of aftermarket stereos, CarlinKit has mentioned that the 4.0 dongle should be used with factory head units only.
The only thing I didn’t like is that the USB pass-through feature doesn’t allow data transfer.
Otherwise, it performs as well as the U2-X – which is surprising considering the $50 difference.
That’s why it’s the best wireless CarPlay adapter – with one catch. And the catch is that it has a lot more compatibility issues compared to the U2-X.
I would recommend you buy this dongle and test it to see if it’s compatible with your vehicle. If yes, then fine – nothing else.
But if it’s not compatible and constantly drops the connection, you can return it and go for the U2-X.
Are Wireless CarPlay Adapters Worth It?
Like any other device, wireless CarPlay adapters are not flawless. Here we’ll discuss different arguments for and against them.
The first pro of these adapters is their wireless nature. Although a wired connection is considered solid and reliable, it can also become an added point of failure – especially if the wire has worn out.
Also, having a USB cable 24×7 attached to your iPhone puts stress on its port and can shorten its lifespan.
Then, there’s the ease of use. You only need to connect these adapters to your car stereo once. After that, you’ll only have to pair your phone to the car stereo via Bluetooth – whenever you want to use CarPlay.
Lastly, it’s the cost and simplicity. Apart from these wireless adapters, the only other way to upgrade your vehicle’s carplay from wired to wireless is by replacing the whole head unit with a 3rd-party option with wireless CarPlay.
Not only do these high-end double din head units cost 500-600 bucks (at the minimum), the factory head units are becoming increasingly difficult to replace. It means you’ll need to spend even more money to hire a mechanic for this replacement job.
On the other hand, the wireless adapters come in the $90-$100 price range and provide a good bang for their buck.
If we talk about the downsides, the most obvious ones are booting time delay, latency issues, short range, and compatibility.
The average wireless adapter takes about 30-40 seconds to load CarPlay.
While this may not seem like a long duration, it can prove to be annoying if you have to wait idly for such periods 20-25 times per day. Every time you get out of the car (to pick up groceries, for example), the signal will drop, and you’ll need to connect it again.
And since this is a wireless connection, there will be some audio delay when you’re making/receiving phone calls or watching a video.
Lastly, as Apple is not licensing any of these dongles, there’s no guarantee whether they will work with a particular car model or not.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Wireless CarPlay Adapters Work with Aftermarket Head Units?
Some of them do. But the majority only work with the factory head units.
Can I use CarPlay without USB?
Yes, wireless CarPlay doesn’t require USB connectivity, except for the initial setup. But you can also complete this part wirelessly through your vehicle’s voice-command system.
Does Wireless CarPlay use Bluetooth or WiFi?
The wireless CarPlay needs Bluetooth to connect your phone to the car. After that, a WiFi/mobile data connection is used for the data transfer.
Does My Car Support Wireless CarPlay?
As of now, there are very few vehicles that support wireless CarPlay. You can check this page for more information. If your vehicle has wireless CarPlay, it will be mentioned on that page.
Can I use Wireless CarPlay Without WIFI?
Yes, you can. But then you’ll need your iPhone’s mobile data connection for the CarPlay to work.
Why does my Apple CarPlay keep disconnecting?
The CarPlay can disconnect for many reasons, such as loose/worn-out USB cables, low phone battery, Bluetooth/WiFi interference, unstable mobile data connection, etc.
Lastly, I want to add that these dongles are not a long-term solution.
Although very few vehicles feature built-in wireless CarPlay as of now, the overall count is growing at a steady pace.
And within a few years, most new vehicles will support this feature. Until then, the wireless CarPlay adapters are the cheapest solution to upgrade your vehicle’s CarPlay from wired to wireless.