Motorola MA1 wireless adapter review

Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter: A Powerful Yet Useful Android Auto Enabler (Review)

Setting up Android Auto in an older car—running through USB and phone cables and fiddling with menus below menus in the car’s infotainment system—can be a hassle. However, once it’s on, it offers a massive improvement over all but the fanciest factory-equipped AV interfaces, something the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter enables.

For lucky new car owners, wireless Android Auto is becoming more and more popular, and if nothing else, this highlights just how much of a pain a wired system already is. Fortunately, Motorola’s pause solution is easy to use.

What does the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter do?

The adapter is a disguised, if essential, upgrade to your ride. It’s in the spirit of old tape converters: think of a plastic cassette attached to an aux cable that goes into your player, and connects to your CD Walkman for instant digital music in your early ’80s station wagon!

Review of the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter product

Fortunately, the MA1 is much better than that, with no noticeable drop in sound quality, or interface responsiveness, but the awkward cable and oddity remain.

First impressions of the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter

Plug the dongle into a USB port and go through a somewhat obscure first-time setup ritual and Android Auto connects to your phone wirelessly and automatically, every time you fire up the beast. By which I mean the car.

Of course, this assumes you have wireless support enabled on the phone, 5GHz Wi-Fi, Android 11 or later, and…well, what I’m saying is that the ease of use of this thing depends on more than a few factors.

Design and ergonomics

The Motorola MA1 Wireless Adapter takes the shape of a matchbox-sized lozenge with a fixed USB cable. Also included in the box is a double-sided adhesive pad that allows you to attach the emulsion to a surface slightly further from the road – passability will depend on your vehicle.

I tested with a 2018 Ford Ranger and Pixel 7 Pro. The Ranger has two USB ports below the AC controls on the front console, and space is somewhat tight for today’s larger smartphones. The MA1’s hard USB cable is pretty solid, which bodes well in terms of durability (a wonky USB cable makes a mess with wired Android Auto), but it’s too short to fit the dongle outside of the tiny cubicle where the USB ports are located, and it’s also Too long to fit neatly from the inside. This is Ford’s life – other cars will have an easier time.

Aside from that laugh, MA1 pretty much disappears once it’s stored well. The LED on the front glows green when the phone is connected, but apart from that, you’ll never need to look at the thing again after setting it up.

Preparation (a test of logic and patience)

Since I’ve been using Android Auto on this car for a year or so (and recently connected my new Pixel 7 pro), my phone has already been “paired” to the car, in Android Auto’s somewhat vague notion of the term.

This allows me to skip the first step in the instructions contained in the hidden compartment of the MA1 box. First you need to run Android Auto in your car via USB cable and phone alone, and then, while the car ignition is on and Android Auto appears on the screen, quickly pull the USB cable out and plug the MA1 into the same USB port.

Nothing will happen, because then you will need to pair the MA1 with your phone, not via Wi-Fi (although 5 GHz Wi-Fi is needed and the MA1 is needed to create a Wi-Fi network that will appear in your phone’s Wi-Fi menu) but via Bluetooth.

After 15-30 seconds, Android Auto will appear on your car screen and you can use it as normal.

Motorola MA1 displays Android apps in the car
The Motorola MA1 connects to your Android phone wirelessly to display apps on your car’s screen.

If you get this right the first time, congratulations, then you’re kind of a tool whisperer. There are a lot of things that could go wrong. In my case, I failed to verify that the wireless Android Auto option was enabled on the Pixel 7 Pro (easily fixed) and stopped Ford Sync 3 from “stealing” the Bluetooth connection from the MA1 and connecting to the phone in normal calls/audio mode (fixed by unpairing the phone with the car) .

Your mileage will almost certainly vary because Android Auto wireless is an elaborate dance with discreet handshakes and other tricks of protocol, which work absolutely perfectly as long as the car-phone combination isn’t one where… uh… no.

Performance of the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter

The good news is that once the MA1 is set up properly, using Android Auto suddenly becomes a lot easier. Some users have reported that the phone takes longer to automatically connect to the car each time you turn on the ignition, but in the case of the 2018 Ford Range/Pixel 7 Pro, I found the opposite — Android Auto comes in just a few seconds.

Audio quality isn’t noticeably different from wired mode, and everything moves and responds with the buttery smoothness typical of Android Auto, especially the maps.

The “Hey Google” function works well, although as with wired mode you need to wait a moment for the interface to show that the phone is listening before you start speaking – generally somewhat slower than using the phone directly.

Tricks and Tricks (Imitating Android Auto)

Android Auto remains a dancing bear — it’s not surprising that the system works so well, it’s surprising that it works at all. After all, you can pair almost any Android phone with any compatible car AV system and get Android right there, on the car screen! Amazing!

Maybe, but it’s also frustrating and often frustrating. Wireless adds a whole extra layer of potential hair-pulling aggravation, especially—at least in the case of the Ford Sync 3—if you have multiple phones paired to the car, and the Android Auto you’re trying to use is the second or third phone in the list of pairs.

The main drawback we still run into is that the car will prioritize my wife’s regular Pixel 5 connection via Bluetooth over my Pixel 7 Pro, and it takes a lot of swipes and taps to disconnect her phone and reconnect me via Android Auto.

The car also occasionally insists on using its audio source (AM radio by default, shudders) even while Android Auto is on the screen while YouTube music or a podcast is playing. This is fixed by going back to the Ford Sync 3 interface and selecting Android Auto as the audio source.

Motorola Wireless USB Car Adapter MA1 for Android Auto

And the final pain is when the Pixel 7 Pro is within range of a car, but isn’t actually going all the way. The phone would connect, and when the car turned off, it would disconnect and the phone would say “Search for Android Auto” in the notification panel until I turned Bluetooth on and off. USB charging a phone on a long trip also depends on your car – if all of your USB ports are compatible with Android Auto (some cars have an incompatible port), the phone may ignore the MA1 and only connect via USB. Not that this is a problem, although it does get annoying to think of the MA1 with the USB port to do nothing… you can always just pull out the cable for it of course, but will it then work smoothly when you plug it in next time? Adventure awaits!

GadgetGuy takes

All of these annoyances are par for the course when it comes to living with these complex wireless systems that Google is trying to simplify by combining multiple protocols (Bluetooth, invisible 5GHz Wi-Fi) and automating everything.

Wireless Android Auto is, in general, much more convenient and easy to live with than the USB wired mode. Not least because it’s a rare USB cable that won’t degrade over time and eventually becomes very sensitive to jolting and dinging – this disconnects Android Auto briefly, and worst of all, it interrupts your tunes, you have to scribble until the phone vibrates the cable, you get distracted, it crashes and you die .

Wireless certainly solves this problem, but living with it will require at least some zen, especially if you have more than one phone paired to the car via Bluetooth.

Finally, the price. The official retail price of $159 is a tough sell considering it’s high enough to keep the MA1 from being a “why not” buy. Especially since once you get that new car with built-in wireless Android Auto, the MA1 goes in the bottom of the bottom drawers, along with the old FM transmitter and old-fashioned tape converter from the ’90s.

Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter for Android Auto

Once it’s up and running, the Motorola MA1 Wireless Car Adapter is a good way to enable Android Auto with older cars.

Positives

Android Auto brings wireless to cars that only support wired mode

The small size and included adhesive pad let you secure it out of the way

Quick start…with the right phone and car combination

No annoying dropouts if you crowd the phone

The phone can be charged on a separate USB cable… again depending on the vehicle

Negatives

The price is a bit high to make it a no-brainer purchase

The setup can be overwhelming for those who struggle with technology

It takes up a USB port, which may or may not be a big deal depending on your car

Smooth operation depends on the phone and the car you’re pairing

Instantly pause the day you upgrade to a car with wireless Android Auto