Wireless Android Auto has been around for a while now, but for ages it felt like something only a brand new car would solve. That all changed with the advent of Android Android Auto dongles, and the Motorola MA1 dongle was presented as the “easy” version with a deathly simple experience and direct backing from Google. After a few months of use, though, I’m not so convinced that MA1 is best possibility.
The physical appearance of the Motorola MA1 is quite simple. It’s a small puck with a fixed cable, a single button and a Motorola logo plastered on top. Of course, it’s important to remember that this is not the Motorola you are thinking of, but rather a sub-brand known as “Motorola Sound.” In particular, this product is actually produced by SGW Global, which licenses the branding.
As for how that hardware works, it gets the job done. The wired cable is plugged into a USB-A port to “trick” your car into thinking it is connected to your phone, where the product itself is actually connected to your phone over a local Wi-Fi network. The individual button on the page is used to pair with your phone or to start the pairing process for a new device.
The hardware itself has never given me any problems in the last three months, but I do have some concerns. In my Subaru Crosstrek, the Android Auto port is located in the center console instead of under the infotainment center itself. The good news there? I did not need to see the dongle, which is good news considering that its shiny black design is a dust and scratch magnet. The bad news? The super stiff cable made the storage part of my center console a little less useful as the dongle could not get completely out of the way. A minor inconvenience, certainly, but one that could easily have been avoided by using a detachable cable.
The best part of the Motorola MA1 is its setup process. It is fast and hassle free. Plug it into the USB port, turn on your car, and pair your phone via Bluetooth. From there, you need to configure Android Auto a single time and then you are well on your way from that point on. Subsequent sessions have a 20-40 second connection and boot process depending on your vehicle and your phone.
How about when there are two devices used with the same car? Well, it works, but it’s not very intuitive. The button on the side of the dongle does not really have much to do with connecting another device beyond the initial pairing process. In tests with my Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Pixel 6 Pro, I found that both devices had to be paired with both the dongle itself and my car. To go from one to the other I had to place the device I did not do will use Android Auto in airplane mode as that was the only way I found to kill an established connection. After about one minute, the other device automatically takes over. This is far from a reliable or intuitive solution – Redditors reported mixed results using similar tactics – but it’s better than nothing. At least you able to use this device with two different phones.
Performance and battery drain
When the Motorola MA1 was launched, it left a good first impression on me when it came to performance. The connection felt indistinguishable from a wired connection, both in terms of overall UI performance and streaming audio. Battery drainage was also negligible, with a 30-minute drive that generally only sipped a few percentage points from my Pixel 6 Pro.
But over time, the biggest problem I’ve had with the Motorola MA1 has been degraded performance. Lately, every session using MA1 with my Pixel 6 Pro is laggy to a useless degree. When using Google Maps, I’ve seen turn-by-turn directions lagging behind by up to a full minute, which often means the display still shows the street I’ve already turned off. It’s fine when I’m just driving around my local town, but that would be one Nightmares in an unknown area with complex intersections. The layer problems also mean that the music is often severely delayed, where the steering wheel controls often do not result in a new song for over 30 seconds.
On my Pixel 6 Pro, these issues started popping up around the time of the February 2022 security patch, periodically at the time, but they have only become more common in the time since. I am currently running the beta version of June Feature Drop. As a reference point to make sure it was not just my phone, I switched back to a wired connection without any problems, and then went back to AAWireless and also experienced no delay at all. Somehow the root cause here is MA1, and it’s extremely frustrating, to say the least. And if this is a software issue on MA1, there is no way the manufacturer can fix it on existing devices as there is no way to install firmware updates. It’s also a big negative if the MA1 just does not seem to like your phone, as some Samsung Galaxy owners have found out – I only used the MA1 briefly with my Galaxy Z Fold 3, but it worked without any issues.
Fortunately, the problem I’ve experienced with delays that get worse over time does not seem to be very prevalent. If you have downloaded an MA1 and have seen delays develop over time, let us know.
At this point, we are still early out with wireless dongles for Android Auto. The Motorola MA1 is the “easy” option, but in my experience it has not been best one. When it works, it works great, but the first gloss is worn off. AAWireless, the crowdfunded dongle that debuted with this form factor, has remained stable for a long time and has a brighter future in my book, as the developers behind it actually have the ability to update the software over time.
And it’s not even to mention the biggest problem with the Motorola MA1 – actually buying it. The product has been listed with Amazon and Target for several months, but high demand has constantly left it out of stock since its launch, with only an occasional five-minute period to buy a device at its retail price of $ 90. Otherwise, you are left with scalpers asking up to double the price.
That said, MA1 is doing the job it intends to do. It makes a wired Android Auto connection wireless and I hope it is only the beginning of products like this that come on the market.
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