Once you go wireless with Android Auto, it’s hard to go back, and Motorola thinks it has the tool to make it happen, no matter what vehicle you have. Sure, you need to be able to run the platform to begin with, but if you always have to hook up via USB to make it happen, this one might let you unlink it.
With this simple premise, you would expect the results to be crystal clear. For the most part, they will be, although you’ll have to deal with some challenges along the way.
Motorola MA1: Price and Availability
Motorola announced and launched the MA1 in January 2022 and has held steady since its original $90 price tag. That may change in time, though, especially if Motorola adds to its in-car kit with similar products.
Motorola MA1: what’s good
It is always good for a small device to have one function because it is easier to set expectations and meet expectations. This is exactly what I looked at in the Motorola MA1 when I got my hands on it. I knew what it was supposed to do, so I was even more curious about how strong and stable it was.
But first, I had to figure out where to put it. It’s not about the size because the MA1 isn’t that big; It has more to do with the location of the USB port in the car. In my case, I have an aftermarket Pioneer head unit installed in mine which has its own USB port via a separate cable that exits near the glove compartment. I can leave the device dangling and put it under the passenger seat or use the included sticky pad to place it somewhere on the dashboard.
I settled it down next to the head unit screen because the pillow seems to stick better to the glossy surface. I don’t know why, but it did. The rest of the setup was pretty straightforward in that I had to pair with the MA1 via bluetooth and turn on the Android Auto setup to play the sequence. Once that’s done, I can unplug my phone, plug in the MA1, and then get a wireless cord to power the platform.
It was so smooth and liberating to see myself powering it on a 2014 model car. Every time I start the car later, it would take about 20 seconds or so to start everything up. Obviously not as instant as using a cable, but hey, I’ll do that if it means I can leave my phone free or use a wireless charging base instead.
This is one of the pain points that the MA1 can solve, and that is making a wireless charger really useful, especially if you drive a car that includes it. There are plenty of them – but it also forces you to plug in to use Android Auto, which charges the phone at the same time anyway. Using the MA1 dramatically changes this reality, including whether your vehicle does not have a wireless charging pad. Get a third-party dock, and you’ll get a great setup inside the cabin.
Even better, despite the slower startup, the remaining Android Auto experience doesn’t feel any different. The interface was quite responsive, the steering wheel controls worked the same, and so did the voice commands. It’s not a perfect transition, keep in mind, I’ll get to that, but the general usability leaves a lot to like.
Even better, the wireless connection didn’t kill my phone’s battery. I mostly tested it with a Pixel 6 Pro, and at worst, the MA1 took very little power over the course of the drive. It was minimal, and even at low battery levels, I was fine. I can always plug a charger into a 12v socket if I want to charge the phone faster.
MA1 does not have its own dedicated implementation or any programmatic way to interact with it directly. Only the main button stands on the side and the LED’s as manual inputs or visual cues, so I don’t know if Motorola is able to push firmware updates to this thing. If not, I’m also not clear on whether Android Auto itself, or the software on a paired phone, helps fill in any performance gaps.
The thing is that it connects to the phone via bluetooth and needs a 5GHz connection. One thing I haven’t had a chance to try is how the device works in conjunction with an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot. Lots of vehicles offer hotspots, but they also don’t run Android Auto wireless. They can work together, that would be great, but I don’t know for sure.
Motorola MA1: what’s not good
One of my concerns about the MA1 is what happens when it’s time to switch phones or vehicles. Bluetooth pairings do not transfer, even if you are migrating from one phone to another directly, which means you have to pair the MA1 all over again. To do this you have to bring it back to factory settings by a series of button presses as the LED changes color to indicate its status.
I brought this up because the original MA1 from Motorola they sent me failed to do a proper factory reset, so they sent a replacement as the original might be defective. I haven’t tried a second factory reset, but it was working without any connection issues.
It’s one potential pitfall of a device that, although it focuses individually, doesn’t have an easy way to interact with it when something doesn’t seem right. You may never have any issues and resetting it may not be a problem at all but as a tip I will try the reset first before unpairing it with your phone, in case you do troubleshoot anything. Losing this connection means that MA1 is working blindly.
I also bring in software and troubleshoot because it’s hard to know what to do to fix anything that might come up, or even if MA1 is responsible. The LED is the only indication that something might be wrong, but even then, it’s not a sure thing. For example, blinking green means the device is trying to connect, and a steady light means the device is trying to connect. If the light is steady, but you don’t get a connection, it’s hard to understand what to do.
Motorola troubleshooting steps are limited, and a factory reset is likely the best solution in case things really get stuck. My second review unit worked without a problem, so I can’t complain. I’m not sure about more info, and for someone who isn’t a tech savvy, troubleshooting would be poor.
And Motorola’s adhesive bandage isn’t the best. I like that it doesn’t leave a residue, it also struggles to stick to textured surfaces, which are so common on dashboards and vehicle interiors. This is even more important due to the location of the USB ports in the car. It can be in the front or in the center console. You may even be in front of a wireless charging pad. Placement is a tricky business if you face such circumstantial challenges.
Not a big deal, in the larger scheme, but something to keep in mind if you feel the device might get in the way in some way.
Motorola MA1: Competition
Wireless Android Auto dongles aren’t in abundance, but Motorola certainly doesn’t have a monopoly either. AAW wireless is a very similar product that can perform quite well, albeit with lower retail availability. If you are more technically inclined, you may want to try CarlinketIt is an infotainment alternative as much as it makes Android Auto wireless.
Alternatively, you can always connect wired if MA1 doesn’t work, or you prefer to connect this way. It’s still bulletproof and charges your phone in one go.
Motorola MA1: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if…
- You want Android Auto wireless
- You are driving a car with no other choice but wired Android Auto
- Want to charge your phone wirelessly for free
- You know exactly where to put it
You should not buy this if…
- You’re okay with wired Android Auto
- You don’t have a wireless charger
- Would you rather use something with the app
- Not sure where to put it
It might come with the potential for a headache at some point, but that’s also my guess, and given what MA1 can do, it’s worth giving it a shot. Android Auto Wireless is pretty cool, and the flexibility it offers to wirelessly charge your phone, or just dock it without a cable coming out of it, you should feel liberated.
It’s unclear how Android OS updates can improve the performance of the MA1, so it remains to be seen. All in all, it’s a utility product that has one job, and when all goes well, it does the job fairly well.
The Motorola MA1 is designed to free you from the wired Android Auto experience, and once connected, you’re meant to keep it that way.