Once you go wireless with Android Auto, it’s hard to go back, and Motorola thinks it has the gadget to make it happen, whatever car you have. Granted, you need to be able to run the rig to get started, but if you’ve always had to connect via USB to get there, this device can let you detach it.
With such a simple premise, you would expect the results to be just as simple. For the most part they will be, although you will face some challenges along the way.
Motorola MA1: price and availability
Motorola announced and launched the MA1 in January 2022 and has since held steady at its original price of $90. That could change in due course, though, especially if Motorola adds similar products to its line of in-car gadgets.
Motorola MA1: what’s good
It’s always nice when a small device only has one job to do, because it’s easier to adjust and meet expectations. That’s exactly how I looked at the Motorola MA1 when I first got my hands on it. I knew what it was supposed to do, so my curiosity was more how sturdy and consistent it would be.
But first, I had to figure out where I was going to put it. It’s not so much a question of size because the MA1 is not big; rather, it is the location of the car’s USB port. In my case, I have an aftermarket Pioneer head unit installed in mine that has its own USB port via a separate cable that exits near the glove box. I could let the device hang down and lay it under the passenger seat or use the included adhesive pad to position it somewhere on the dash.
I settled next to the screen of the main unit because the pad seemed to stick best to the glossier surface. I don’t know why, but it happened. The rest of the setup was fairly straightforward in that I had to pair the MA1 via Bluetooth and browse the Android-Auto configuration for the sequence to work. Once done, I could unplug my phone, plug in the MA1, and then have a wireless tether to run the rig.
It was quite smooth and liberating to see me using it on a 2014 model vehicle. Every time I turned the car on it took about 20 seconds or so for everything to happen. Obviously not as instantaneous as using a cable, but hey, I’ll take it if it means I can leave my phone free or use a wireless charging station Instead.
That’s one of the problems the MA1 can solve, which is to make a wireless charger actually useful, especially if you’re driving a vehicle that includes it. There are plenty that do – but also require you to sign in to use Android Auto, which charges the phone at the same time anyway. Using the MA1 drastically changes this reality, even if your car doesn’t have a wireless charger. Get a third-party dock and you’ve got a pretty sleek setup inside the cabin.
What’s even better is that, despite the slower start, the rest of the Android Auto experience doesn’t feel any different. The interface was equally responsive, steering wheel controls work the same way as do voice commands. It’s not a perfect transition, mind you, and I’ll get to that, but the overall usability left a lot to like.
Best of all, the wireless connection didn’t kill my phone’s battery. I mainly tested it with the Pixel 6 Pro, and at worst the MA1 just drank some power during a ride. It was pretty negligible, and even at lower battery levels it was fine. I could always plug in via a 12V outlet charger if I wanted to charge the phone faster.
The MA1 does not have its own dedicated application or any software method to interface directly with it. Only the main button on the side and the LED light are manual inputs or visible markers, so I’m not sure if Motorola is able to push firmware updates on this thing. If not, I’m also not sure if Android Auto itself or software on a paired phone helps fill in the performance gaps.
The fact is that it connects to the phone via Bluetooth and requires a 5 GHz connection. One thing I haven’t had a chance to try is to see how the device works in tandem with a Wi-Fi hotspot in the car. Many vehicles offer hotspots, but also do not offer wireless Android Auto. If they can work together that would be great, but I’m not sure.
Motorola MA1: what’s not good
One of my concerns with the MA1 is what happens when it’s time to change phones or vehicles. Bluetooth pairings don’t transition, even if you migrate from one phone directly to another, which means you have to pair the MA1 again. To do this, you need to reset it to factory settings through a series of button presses where the LED changes color to indicate its status.
I bring this up because the original MA1 that Motorola sent me couldn’t be reset properly, so they sent a replacement as the original might have been faulty. I haven’t tried factory resetting the second one, but it otherwise worked without any connectivity issues.
It’s one of the potential pitfalls of a device that, while singularly focused, doesn’t have an easy way to interface with it when something doesn’t look right. You may never have any issues and resetting may never be an issue, but as a tip, I would try the reset process first before unpairing it from your phone, in case you troubleshoot Something. Losing this connection means the MA1 is running blind.
I also cover software and troubleshooting because it’s hard to know what to do to fix anything that might come up, or even if the MA1 is responsible. The LED is the only indication that something is wrong, but even then it’s not a telltale. For example, a flashing green means the device is trying to connect, and a solid light means it has. If the light is solid, but you’re not getting a connection, it’s hard to figure out what to do.
Motorola’s troubleshooting steps are limited, and factory reset will likely be your solution in case things go really wrong. My second review unit ran smoothly, so I can’t complain. I’m just not sure what to do next, and for someone who isn’t as tech-savvy, troubleshooting this thing would seem tenuous.
Also, the adhesive pad supplied by Motorola isn’t the best. I like that it doesn’t leave a residue, but it also has trouble sticking to textured surfaces, which is quite common in dashboards and vehicle interiors. This matters more due to where the USB ports are located in the car. They can be in the front or in the center console. They might even be in front of a wireless charger. Placement is a tricky business if you’re faced with situational challenges like this.
It’s not a big deal, in the grand scheme, but something to consider if you think the device might be getting in your way in some way.
Motorola MA1: Competition
Dongles for wireless Android Auto aren’t plentiful, but Motorola certainly doesn’t hold a monopoly either. the AAwireless is a very similar product that can work well, but with less retail availability. If you’re more technically inclined, you might want to try the Carlinkitwhich replaces infotainment as much as something that simply makes Android Auto wireless.
Alternatively, you can always go wired if the MA1 doesn’t work, or if you prefer to connect that way. It’s still pretty bulletproof and charges your phone in one go.
Motorola MA1: Should you buy it?
You should buy it if…
- You want wireless Android Auto
- You are driving a vehicle with no other option than wired Android Auto
- You want to charge your wireless phone for free
- You know exactly where you would place it
You shouldn’t buy this if…
- You agree with Wired Android Auto
- You don’t have a wireless charger
- You prefer to use something with an app
- You don’t know where you would place it
It might cause some headaches at some point, but it’s also speculative, and considering what the MA1 can do, it’s worth a try. Wireless Android Auto is just awesome, and the flexibility it offers to charge your phone wirelessly, or just plug it in without a cable sticking out, should be liberating.
It’s unclear how Android OS updates might improve the MA1’s performance, so that remains to be seen. All in all, it’s a utility product that has a job to do, and when things are going well, it does that job well enough.
The Motorola MA1 is designed to free you from a wired Android Auto experience, and once you plug it in, it’s meant to stay that way.