REVIEW: CPLAY2air Wireless CarPlay Adapter

REVIEW: CPLAY2air Wireless CarPlay Adapter

Wireless CarPlay (Without the New Car)

DISCLAIMER: The folks at CPLAY2air kindly provided the product for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

CarPlay is easily among the favorite features of my new (to me) truck. After driving a beat up SUV for 15 years, I upgraded to a 2016 F-150* a year ago where I enjoy this feature every day. As great as CarPlay is, there’s a minor annoyance in how it’s set up in my car that gets frustrating over time: You have to take your phone out of your pocket and plug it in for CarPlay to work. While this isn’t a huge deal, the routine of plugging in unplugging it with every errand or stop becomes kind of a chore. For that reason, I’ve always been super jealous of the modern cars that feature wireless CarPlay.

That’s where CPLAY2air comes in; simply put, the CPLAY2air adapter claims to serve as a wireless bridge between your car’s USB port and your iPhone, giving you all of the wireless CarPlay magic (IF you already have wired CarPlay – check out the best double din head units with Apple CarPlay) without the price of the new car to go with it. The folks at CPLAY2air were kind enough to send us one to check out, and I’ve spent the last few weeks putting it through the paces. Is it the wireless CarPlay solution you’ve been looking for? Read on to find out!

Set Up and Initial Connections

Getting the CPLAY2air adapter up and running is at least partially straight-forward. Pop the dongle out of the box, locate the USB port in your car where you would typically plug in your iPhone for CarPlay, and plug the dongle in there. As far as modifying your car, that’s all you have to do.

Connecting it to your phone is where things get dicey, mostly because of some poorly written instructions (that feel like they were filtered from Chinese to English via Google Translate). Long story short, after you turn on your car for the first time with the dongle plugged in, you let it load for a few seconds, and then connect to it via the iPhone’s Bluetooth menu. I’m connecting to the unit with the Sync 3.0 system in my 2016 F-150*, and the dongle initially loads a strange looking grey screen with broken English, minimal progress info, and a few buttons that do absolutely nothing if you tap them. Although my iPhone 11 Pro connected via Bluetooth, there was no indication of success anywhere else, and no CarPlay screen shown… UNTIL I turned the car off and back on. After that, once the car was on for about 15 seconds, CarPlay miraculously popped onto my screen (after the same dance of bizarre loading screens).

Per their instructions, I also loaded a bonkers IP-address-based website on my iPhone that serves as some sort of update system. If you’re not a nerd like me, this sort of interface is pretty scary looking, but the update completed in seconds, and seems to have completed successfully.

Honestly, based off of this process, I didn’t have high hopes for how well this little dongle would work; however, daily use of the CPLAY2air unit has surprised me.

Performance and User Experience

I’ve used the CPLAY2air connection dozens of times in my truck over the last few weeks, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how it works in daily life.

First, the good parts… CPLAY2air seems to boot up, connect to my iPhone 11 Pro, and enable wireless CarPlay to work as expected about 95% of the time. When this happens, it’s actually pretty fantastic. I hop in my car, turn it on, and after about 15-20 seconds (and those gross loading screens, which you can learn to tune out), AirPlay pops right up and I’m off to the races. The interface is generally as smooth as when I’m using wired CarPlay, and outside of a few half-second button delays here and there, everything works great. Siri still works through my steering wheel. Calls sound fine. In fact, the only thing different from a wired connection seems to be the battery life indicator on the screen, and a few interface buttons randomly highlighted sometimes (which I can’t figure out). It’s the true leave-your-phone-in-your-pocket experience you’ve always dreamed of.

However, it doesn’t work reliably all of the time. About 5% of the time so far, it’s like the dongle doesn’t boot or connect to my phone at all; it’s fixed by unplugging it and plugging it back in, but that’s annoying. Once in a blue moon my audio or an animation will stutter (no big deal), and once in a blue moon CarPlay will just disappear entirely. That last one has only happened once so far, but it’s a pretty giant flaw that makes it tempting to try to fix the issue while you’re driving (a safety no-no that’s not a good thing).

95% of the time, it works every time. Whether or not that something you can live with is definitely up to the user. For me, the convenience outweighs the annoyances so far; I’m hoping a lot of that can be ironed out with software.

Build Quality and Reliability

The dongle itself looks and feels fine; it’s a nondescript skinny black brick of plastic that essentially looks like any USB hub you’ve ever used. It also doesn’t seem to get hot to the touch, so I don’t expect it to physically wear out over time.

What concerns me is the connectivity issues and whatever black magic this little box is using to work. As it appears to be a hacked-together software solution that is in no way endorsed by Apple, there’s always the worry that whatever backdoor this thing is using to connect will be shut down by Apple in a future phone hardware change or software update. That combined with the typical 5% of the time glitches I’ve experienced so far give me pause.

Affordability

Price-wise, I think the CPLAY2air’s $159 price tag is fair. Wireless CarPlay is a major upgrade that’s even now only featured on the newest vehicles, so being able to add it to your current car (and without any kind of serious modification) is a huge win.

Conclusion

I’m enjoying the CPLAY2air and its wireless CarPlay magic, but until it’s a more stable solution, I can’t recommend it to every kind of customer. If you’re the kind of user that doesn’t mind jumping through a few hoops and occasional glitches for a cool feature, though, you’ll love it.

*I’ve mentioned by 2016 F-150 a few times in this review, which you may be quick to point out doesn’t actually support CarPlay. It actually includes the computer and SYNC 3 system to support it, but comes from the factory with an old model USB hub that doesn’t work with it. If you simply replace that part with a $50 newer USB hub from Ford, it natively supports (wired) CarPlay just like the 2017-2020 model year trucks 🙂

Author

Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).

27 comments

    • Device is rubbish – not worked for me. Impossible to get refund. Have you noticed Sales and Production of “device” are from China? It has access to phone data when you connect and you do not have control what device captures from your phone and sends back to China. Do not be stupid – do not pay for china on spy device.

      Reply
    • Yes – Anyone reading this just stay away from CPlay2Air. This thing is buggy and unstable. Tried multiple times to fix with various firmware versions their “customer service” team sends you …it never gets better. I have a fairly mainstream 2020 Mazda CX-5 and an iPhone X. This is not an exotic combination …yet the damn thing never works right. Save your money! You will never be able to return it to mainland China, the lowest return shipping cost from the US is $62. Just stay away.

      Reply
  • It does not work for EU VW models 2014 up with Discovery Pro multimedia. Device works fine only for cases where only audio used – like Spotify. For applications with motion graphic like Google Maps it fails after 10 minutes of use – screen becomes blurry and touchscreen actions gone. Only reboot for Discovery Pro and re-pairing recovers usability. Seller/producer was unable to provide any resolution sadly – attempt return item will cost you 25USD – it will be deducted by reason “It was not seller fault”. Crazy. Poor quality, poor service and nasty method profiting from returns,

    Reply
  • Hey Eric, you wrote “… and those gross loading screens, which you can learn to tune out.” Do you know how to do that? Device works really good in my Volvo, but I don’t want to see that ugly screens…

    Reply
  • Which I could get it. I paid for one 2 months ago and they have yet to get it out to me. All I get is excuses. I would advise not spending your money You may never see a result

    Reply
  • Not worth it even if it’s $30. It’s very buggy, works intermittently, doesn’t work every time you get into your car and you have to unplug and plug back on again. The sound gets really bad every 6 minted on the dot and I have to pause and unpause the music playback to fix the sound issues. Updates to fix bugs are very rare and far in between, and at $180 including shipping is a ripoff. Almost unusable for voice calls because of the delay. Neet idea, but it needs to go back to the drawing board. This device being sold now for $180 is a prototype AT BEST.

    Reply
  • I drive a 2018 Porsche Panamera which doesn’t have wireless Apple Car Play. I purchased this device, followed connection instructions, and have a fairly reliable connection. The reviewer in this article is correct that it connects properly about 95% of the time and the other 5% requires some fiddling to get a connection. My problems with the device and company are as follows:
    1. Eats my IPhone’s battery life
    2. Works fine playing music from my IPhone but actual phone calls go through a delay that makes person on the other end not sure if I’m hearing them. Also makes conversation awkward due the time delay. Another phone call problem is that after the call has been going on for a few minutes there is distortion making the conversation impossible. Usually requires a recall.
    3. I contacted this company via their “Contact Us” web site option. So far, I’m being ignored.

    Bottom line is that I’d like to return the device for a full refund. Its pretty good but not ready for prime time and the company doesn’t seem to care about its customers.

    Reply
    • The audio delays have been pretty minor in my truck. I wonder if it just depends which car you’re using it in.

      Reply
  • TOTAL SCAM. Absolutely horrible product and horrible customer service. I received the unit and followed the nearly non-existent “installation” instructions. The unit never worked in my 2020 Cadillac CT5, and after “troubleshooting” it for a week they basically told me I must return it and they would charge me $25 restocking PLUS I have to pay for shipping back to CHINA. They acted like it was my fault that this didn’t work with my car after stating on their website that it works with 2020’s Cadillacs. What a joke. DO NOT BUY FROM THIS COMPANY.

    Reply
  • This company is a scam. Try leaving a review on their site and it doesn’t even update. I purchased a unit in May of 2002. Now it is end of July and no product. Emailed them and they just keep lying. Stay away from them.

    Reply
  • Sounds like lots of folks are having a bad experience with the company. For what it’s worth, they were quick to communicate with me, and at least their PR person was US-based and friendly. BUT, I’m a product reviewer, so maybe they only turn on the charm that way :-/

    Reply
    • Oh, they were quick to reply to me too.. and polite. But for all that PR effort, they never solved my problem. I paid $159 for something that has never worked stably since day 1. I’ve spent literally months trying to upload different firmware packages their “customer service” person, April, sends via Google Drive… but after all that, the damn thing does not work any better. Of course, they tell me they will exchange it if I want… I just have to pay the $62 (that is the lowest cost available with tracking!) to mail it back to them in mainland China (from here in the US). Seriously?

      Reply
  • I specifically emailed them to make sure my vehicle would work with this unit.
    They confirmed it would do so.
    After I received the unit, it did not work. Then they said it doesn’t work with my vehicle.
    Now they want ME to pay for shipping back to China.

    DON’T BUY THIS UNIT. If you need to try one of these types of units, only buy on Amazon or other that pay for returns.

    Reply
    • Be careful buying on Amazon. Many “sellers” ship their unit from China… and you’ll be on the hook to pay for return shipping if that’s the case. I’ve been burned on Amazon by this too. Buyer beware. If, when you’re checking out, the Amazon cart doesn’t SPECIFICALLY state the unit is shipping from a US location or Amazon warehouse, then you’ll be stuck with no choice if something goes wrong.

      Reply
  • I purchased one for my Alpine iLX-007E unit. It says on there website that Cplay2air works with after market Alpine units. When I plugged it into usb it says Connected USB device is not supported.
    I contacted them and they replied I’m sorry, it looks like it does not work in your Alpine.
    There is a $25 re stocking fee and you have to pay for postage.
    This is an expensive unit, I paid $180.00 with no satisfaction.

    DON’T BUY THIS UNIT.

    Reply
  • The sound gets really bad every 6 minted on the dot and I have to pause and unpause the music playback to fix the sound issues. It has access to phone data when you connect and you do not have control over what device captures from your phone and sends back to China. after I received the unit, it did not work. then they said it doesn’t work with my vehicle.

    Reply
  • Thanks for your detailed and frank review. I was hoping this unit would give me some relief from the ongoing frustration of trying to get Carplay working via cable to my Hyundai Ioniq as it won’t connect about 30% of the time using the cable. Based on the comments here I think I’ll just stick with the cable as I don’t need even more frustrations in my life.

    Reply
  • Well – Though I hate to see everyone else that gotten scammed by this piece of crap, it actually made me feel better to know that I wasn’t the only one to run into major problems. To look at CPlay2Air’s website, you’d think this device works perfectly… that’s because they appear to filter their reviews. I have an iPhone X and a 2020 Mazda CX-5… and this freaking CPlay2Air has NEVER worked properly from day 1. The representative at CPlay2Air (she calls herself “April”) has at least been responsive. Using Google Drive, she has sent me numerous firmware versions to install on the dongle via thumb drive – none of them work. The result is that every time I climb into this band new car, it’s a 50/50 crap shoot whether the CPlay2Air will even connect. When it does, it never stays connected for more than 15 seconds before entering an endless cycle of booting and rebooting. I gave up. Mailing anything back to China is a minimum of $62… so I’m basically screwed.

    This whole ordeal has taught me one thing: Don’t mail-order anything from China. They have you by the balls because there’s just no cost-effective way to get anything returned when their cheap crap doesn’t work.

    Reply
  • I am a bit surprised about all of the fails I read in the comments. I have had this wireless Carplay adapter in my Volvo for more than three months and it has started over 300 times now, according to the car’s log. It only failed me twice which makes it over 99% accurate.

    Reply
  • @ Eric Murrell

    Are you sure you are not one of their sales people? Maybe you get paid to push this product. Every reply to leave seems to somehow downplay the issue or continue to push the product. I can not say anything about the product, but the company is criminal. I made a purchase and decided 1 hour later to cancel. There was no cancel option which left me having to email/message the company. After three hours they finally communicated back to tell me they couldn’t process a cancel. I have to wait to receive the item and then return it. The product had not shipped yet they refused to cancel. After further research online I discovered this company is based in China. After reading reviews about returns it is obvious that they want to play odds people will not pay to return the product.

    I wish reviewers like yourself would truly review the company and not just the product. I do not know you and I’m sure your reviews mean well, but do your readers justice and know who you support.

    Reply
  • Just received my order after waiting 3 weeks on Jan 7 2021 – excited to plug it in and start the “easy to use” devise in my 2020 Chevy Truck. It would not pair to my phone so I went back into the house to attempt to read the crappy instruction book which had me check for a firmware update. My devise showed latest software so I went back to the website for Cplay2air and noticed the 24/7 technical help advertisement. Although there is no place to actually call so I had to send in an email which stated “we usually reply within a few hours”. I will let you know how this turns out but I already feel ripped off after reading your reviews compared to their website with thousands of 5 star reviews.

    Reply
  • didnt work from get go. big hassle to retrurn. they have NO customer service. you cant even review it on their site. want to charge 4o bucks to mail back to china!
    a refund it pretty much impossible. i disputed it w my credit card.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *