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Much more than an Android Auto adapter

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While automakers are constantly trying to improve their in-car navigation and infotainment systems, they have difficulty matching what the smartphone that’s in your pocket can do for you. That’s where Android Auto comes in, allowing you to bring all the power of your Android phone to your dashboard — from Google Maps to YouTube Music.


Unfortunately, Android Auto adoption by carmakers has lagged behind other systems like Apple CarPlay for the iPhone, and wireless Android Auto is even further behind the curve. Unless you have a late-model car with a higher-end trim, chances are you’ll be limited to wired Android Auto — or maybe even just Apple CarPlay. The good news is that Carlinkit’s AI Box Max is one of the best wireless Android Auto adapters to help you bridge both gaps.

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‎Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max

Carlinkit’s AI Box CarPlay Max is a powerful and versatile in-car adapter that runs Android 13 and is powered by an 8-core Qualcomm chip with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. Bridging Android Auto is just one of several things it can do since it comes preinstalled with everything from Google Maps to Netflix.

Power Source
USB

Connectivity
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Dimensions
‎3.14 x 0.57 x 3.14 inches

Type
Android Auto adapter

Pros

  • Full Android 13 powered entertainment system
  • 128GB of storage lets you load apps from the Play Store
  • Converts Android Auto to CarPlay for wider compatibility
Cons

  • Expensive
  • Slow to start up
  • Full Android OS makes it less plug-and-play than other solutions

What’s good about the Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max?

Tons of storage, total Android 13 power

Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max sitting on a light brown leather car seat.

Carlinkit has been in the business of providing in-car wireless smartphone projection interfaces for a while now. The company began by offering solutions for iPhone users to get wireless CarPlay in vehicles that weren’t equipped with it and then branched into Android solutions as Android Auto became more popular. Whether it’s Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, wireless smartphone projection requires your vehicle to be equipped with Wi-Fi, as Bluetooth doesn’t have enough bandwidth to handle the volume of data that must be exchanged between your phone and your car. Since Wi-Fi is usually limited to more premium trims, quite a few vehicles, even on today’s market, will require you to plug in your smartphone if you want to take advantage of Android Auto.

Hence, there’s a need for solutions like what Carlinkit offers. It’s hard to understate how much more magical and convenient Android Auto is when it’s working wirelessly, especially if you’re a person who spends all day hopping in and out of your car. With wireless connectivity, Android Auto is ready to go as soon as you start your vehicle, so you can hit the road without even taking your phone out of your pocket.

However, the Carlinkit AI Box Max is a particularly fascinating device, as it goes far beyond simply bridging Android Auto from a wired to a wireless connection. It’s a full Android device in its own right, packing in an eight-core Qualcomm QCM6125 chip with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, plus a built-in GPS and even 4G/LTE connectivity if you’re willing to add your own SIM card. It also uses Apple’s CarPlay interface to connect to your vehicle, which means much broader compatibility, as it’s very rare to find a car that doesn’t at least have wired CarPlay.

Carlinkit’s AI Box Max comes with Android 13 preinstalled along with a collection of apps that include Google Maps, Spotify, YouTube Music, Waze, and even Netflix and YouTube. The Play Store is also here, so you can install additional apps.

This allows you to do things on your dashboard that aren’t typically permitted by Android Auto, such as watching YouTube videos or Netflix. You can even install games on it from the Play Store. We recommend against doing these things while driving — it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law in most (all?) places — but it’s not a bad feature to have if you regularly find yourself sitting in a parking lot while waiting to pick up friends or family members, or when you’re relaxing at a campground.

Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max being held up behind a grey Nissan Rogue.

Add a SIM card and data plan, and the Carlinkit AI Box Max works so well that you may not even want to use Android Auto. You can pair your phone over Bluetooth for phone calls — the AI Box Max shows up as a Bluetooth audio device — and you can also use the mobile hotspot on your phone to provide internet access to the AI Box Max. Doing that is a bit more cumbersome than using a SIM card with the built-in cellular modem, but it gets the job done much more affordably. The AI Box Max can also share that cellular data plan as a personal hotspot. A second slot on the back provides room for a micro SD card.

Hotspot tethering from the AI Box Max to my phone worked well. I didn’t test it with a SIM card, but considering the excellent 5G performance and coverage I get in Toronto, I can’t imagine the built-in 4G/LTE modem doing any better. The AI Box Max can also connect to any nearby Wi-Fi network. Like any Android device, it can be configured to hop onto preferred and trusted networks automatically, such as your home Wi-Fi, when you pull into your driveway.

If you’d prefer to go with Android Auto, the AI Box Max handles that quite well. Just make sure your phone is already paired over Bluetooth, fire up the preinstalled AutoKit app, and the Android Auto pairing process should kick in. In my case, it had my Pixel 6 paired up in under 30 seconds without a hitch.

What’s bad about the Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max?

Not exactly plug-and-play

Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max with USB-A and USB-C cables.

Perhaps the biggest knock against the Carlinkit AI Box Max is that it’s a bit too much. While it does a more than competent job of bridging Android Auto, it’s overkill for those who just want straightforward Android Auto connectivity.

About 80% of what you need to do in your car — and probably 99.9% of what you should do in your vehicle — is handled quite well by Android Auto, which also has the advantage of being more meticulously designed by Google’s software engineers to provide an optimized dashboard interface. The user interface for Carlinkit AI Box Max isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but Android Auto feels far more polished, and that’s pretty important for something you’ll be using on the road.

Home screen of Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max on a car dashboard.

Since it runs a full Android 13 operating system, the AI Box Max is extremely versatile, but that also comes with an extra layer of complexity. It’s a tinkerer’s dream, but you’ll have to play with the settings to get it working the way you want it. For example, automatic Wi-Fi connections are turned off by default, so if you’re tethering through your smartphone, you’ll need to enable that setting or reconnect manually each time.

To get Android Auto to come up automatically, you’ll also need to take a trip into the settings app, add the AutoKit app as the “boot up” app, and enable automatic connections in the AutoKit app. I had to figure out this for myself, as it’s not documented anywhere. Lastly, not only does it take more than 30 seconds for the AI Box Max to boot up when you start your car, but you can expect Android Auto to take another 20–30 seconds, which means it will be around a minute before you’re ready to drive with it. That time might be shortened slightly if your vehicle has an always-on USB port, as the AI Box Max will presumably remain powered up even when the car is off.

Should you buy it?

The Carlinkit AI Box Max is a bit of an odd duck among Android Auto adapters. It gets the job done for Android Auto fans, but it feels like that’s not its primary function. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s essential to understand what you’re getting into with this device. The AI Box Max can give you the best of two worlds — Android Auto compatibility and a standalone Android-based infotainment system that does things you arguably shouldn’t be doing on your dashboard — at least not while you’re driving. However, that flexibility comes with an extra layer of complexity.

Nevertheless, it’s a powerful little device for those who want to do more than what Android Auto offers or replace their car’s built-in infotainment system with something far more open and customizable. The AI Box Max feels like a device for power users — with a price tag to match. Those just looking for straightforward Android Auto connectivity will be better served looking elsewhere.

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Carlinkit AI Box Max wireless Android Auto adapter

‎Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max

The Carlinkit AI Box CarPlay Max is an Android Auto adapter and a full Android 13-powered entertainment system for your car. It’s sophisticated and versatile, but it may be overkill for those who want to get Android Auto working wirelessly.

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