Motorola’s MA1 Wireless Android Auto Adaptor Gives Your Car a Big Tech Upgrade

Motorola’s MA1 Wireless Android Auto Adaptor Gives Your Car a Big Tech Upgrade
Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

There must be a magnet attached to the compass in my brain, because I have absolutely zero sense of direction. It doesn’t matter where I am — driving on familiar streets or walking around the neighbourhood — without Google Maps giving me step-by-step instructions, there is a better chance of me getting lost than finding my destination.

And so Android Auto was a must-have feature when I purchased a car late last year. After reading countless reviews, watching YouTube videos, and chatting with my brother David (a former Jalopnik writer), I landed on the Mazda CX-5. Well, OK, there was the whole finding one in stock and bargaining to pay MSRP thing, but eventually, I drove away with a great SUV complete with Android Auto support.

For all the technology that comes standard in my 2021 model, it’s missing one key feature: wireless Android Auto. Without it, I need to plug my phone into a USB-C cable connected to the car’s USB-A input. As if responding to my anguish, Motorola revealed in January a USB adaptor that lets you project Android Auto wirelessly. It’s called the Motorola MA1, and all you need to do is plug the dongle into the USB-A port in your vehicle and connect your phone to the device via Bluetooth.

Motorola MA1 Wireless Adaptor for Android Auto

WHAT IS IT?

A USB adaptor that turns Android Auto wireless

PRICE

$US99 (converted to AUD is around $137)

PROS

Super easy setup, Automatically connects to your phone, Good audio quality, Reliable connection, Compact size

CONS

Can take a while to initiate Android Auto, Fixed cable is short, Will drain your phone battery faster, A tad pricey, Frequently out of stock

I’ve fallen for the MA1 over these past few months, and can happily report that this isn’t the case of a device being too good to be true. It is exactly as advertised: a simple, reliable solution for going wireless. And at $US99 (around $137), the dongle, though not exactly “cheap,” is less expensive than any “tech package” or add-on car manufacturers sucker you into buying. The thing just works, making it an easy gadget to recommend to anyone who drives one of the many cars that supports only wired Android Auto.

The MA1 worked when connected to this USB located in a Chevy Impala's hidden storage compartment.  (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)The MA1 worked when connected to this USB located in a Chevy Impala’s hidden storage compartment. (Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo)

Small but inflexible

The Motorola MA1 is a small, squircle-shaped dongle with a short 3-inch cable affixed to the top edge. It reminds me of Google’s Chromecast devices in both shape and size. That makes it small enough to place in the little cubby beneath your infotainment system or, in my case, the centre console. I found a comfy bed for the disc in both cars I used for testing — a Mazda CX-5 and a Chevy Impala — but I suggest scoping out your interior for a good spot; the wire is rather short, so things can get tricky if your USB port isn’t conveniently located and the cable is fixed to the dongle so you can’t swap it with your own. Included in the box is a sticky pad to fix the adaptor to any surface. It was useful until the Texas heat rolled around and, erm, un-stickied it. Command strips or sticky tack are a good backup.

I feel it’s my duty to warn auto enthusiasts: the Motorola MA1 is — I hope you’re sitting down for this — entirely glossy black, and just like the interior of supposedly “luxury” vehicles, it picks up every fingerprint, dust speck, and scratch. I’m happy to join the choir on this one: automakers and gadget manufacturers, no more glossy black.

Easier but slower than plugging in

What might seem daunting to some — adding wireless audio and video playback via a dongle — requires minimal effort with the MA1. Just unplug your phone from the car, connect the puck to a USB-A port, and wait for a tiny LED light on the dongle to flash blue. The last step is to pair your phone to the dongle (look for AndroidAuto-XXXX).

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

The initial connection can take a few minutes, but once it’s finished, you won’t have to fiddle around again. The dongle connects automatically from then on. You’ll know for sure the adaptor is connected when the LED indicator light turns solid green. If you’re having trouble, you can either press and hold a small button on the side of the MA1 to manually initiate Bluetooth pairing or hold it for even longer (until it turns red) to reset the device.

I didn’t encounter any problems connecting my Google Pixel 6 to the Motorola MA1 in a 2021 Mazda CX-5 or a 2016 Chevy Impala. However, there are a few prerequisites for using the dongle. First and foremost, your car needs to support Android Auto and have at least one USB port. Since the MA1 uses Bluetooth and a 5GHz wifi connection, your phone needs to support a 5GHz band (all modern phones do) and be running Android 11 or later.

Does wireless Android Auto running through the MA1 work as well as a wired connection? Yes and no. My biggest annoyance is the initiation delay, or the extra seconds it takes to connect my phone. It took exactly 20 seconds for the MA1 to activate Android Auto whereas a wired connection in my CX-5 opened the app in only 3 seconds. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll zip from my apartment to the main road before wireless Android Auto tells me which way to turn. Trust me, if it’s a coin toss, I’m going to guess the wrong direction every time.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Reliable connection, strong sound quality

Connection dropouts were rare in my few months of testing. They did occur more often than with a wired connection, but not enough for me to rage pull the thing out of its USB port. The MA1 worked just fine the vast majority of the time, saving me from having to slide my phone out of my pocket and find a place for it in my car.

Not having to fiddle with cables isn’t the only benefit. Going wireless could free you up to faster charging speeds, because many vehicles limit you to slower charging when connected to a USB port that supports Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. I was worried having a wired and wireless connection could cause some interference, but it didn’t — my Pixel 6 charged while using the dongle to broadcast wirelessly.

Best of all, I didn’t notice any audio degradation when switching from wired to wireless. My favourite songs sounded the same as I swapped between Android Auto setups, and I didn’t need to crank the volume beyond 20% to listen over gusty winds and loud road noise caused by Austin’s uneven streets. My car’s infotainment didn’t seem any less responsive, either.

One downside to going wireless is power drain. When using the MA1, not only is your phone plugged in and charging (unless your car has a wireless charging pad), but it’s also drawing power to stream through Bluetooth. My Pixel 6’s battery life took a hit even during shorter drives, dropping about 5% on a half-hour trip.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

In any case, the MA1 seems most ideal for shorter trips when you don’t want to bother plugging in your phone but still need the quickest route to get to your destination. When it’s time to go wired again, say, during a road trip, then you need to unplug the MA1. That sounds simple enough, except that those pesky car USB ports can be tricky to access, particularly the ones stashed in the centre console like in my CX-5. Alas, if only there was a simple way to switch between wired and wireless without physically disconnecting anything and turning off Bluetooth is a no-go for Android Auto no matter how you use it.

You don’t need to worry about the MA1 holding up under extreme temperatures. The dongle survived a rare Texas freeze before enduring temps nearing 100 degrees as the winter turned to spring. Lastly, I can’t talk about a Bluetooth device linked to your car without mentioning security. While I can’t assure you that this Bluetooth dongle is impervious to cyber threats, it’s reassuring to know that the MA1 uses Android Auto receiver technology under licence by Google, making this as close to OEM as you’ll find.

Should I buy the Motorola MA1?

Yes, so long as you can find one for sale. Motorola’s wireless Android Auto adaptor has been in and out of stock for the past several months, conditions both tech and car enthusiasts know all too well. If your car is limited to wired Android Auto and you’re fed up with connecting your phone to a USB cable, the Motorola MA1 is an excellent solution. It is a genuine plug-and-play device that reliably connects to your phone so you can go from a wired connection to wireless Android Auto without sacrificing audio quality.