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Is the CarlinKit 3.0 the best wireless Apple CarPlay adapter? I tried it — here's the verdict

The CarlinKit dongle is much smaller than it appears here -- about the size of a pager.
Plug the CarlinKit dongle (which is much smaller than it appears here) into your car stereo for wireless CarPlay goodness. (Photo: CarlinKit)

Want to solve the world's most trivial problem? Read on.

I'm referring, of course, to the scourge of iPhone-using car owners everywhere: the need to plug in a cable in order to use Apple CarPlay. The horror, friends, the horror!

Make no mistake, CarPlay is great. Available in most car stereos from about 2015 onward, it replaces the stock infotainment interface with various iPhone apps, all of them displayed with large, driver-friendly icons. But unless you have a super fancy, relatively new vehicle, this is strictly a wired affair: You have to plug in your phone.

The CarlinKit 3.0 cuts the cord, after a fashion, allowing just about any car to take advantage of wireless CarPlay. That means it starts automatically when you crank the engine — no need to take your phone out of your pocket or purse and plug it in. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes — in practice, it's less great.

Plug in this little dongle for wire-free CarPlay goodness. When it works, that is, which, unfortunately, is only about nine times out of 10. Save $33 when you clip the on-page coupon.
$87 at Amazon

My primary complaint is with the price: The CarlinKit 3.0 sells for about $120. I say "about" because there's usually a coupon available, like at the time of this writing; it's currently for $33 off when you apply the on-page coupon, bringing your price down to $87.

Still too high.

Meanwhile, searching Amazon for "CarlinKit" often produces confusing results, like slight variations in the product version, pricing and so on.

All I can tell you is that I tested the CPC200-U2W Plus. What's "plus" about it? No idea. There's no explanation of that anywhere I can find. But even $87 seems quite expensive for what is basically a Bluetooth dongle that plugs into your car's USB port. This thing should be $50, tops.

Here's what I learned after many months using it in my 2019 Kia Sportage:

  • It takes about 30–40 seconds for the phone to connect to the CarlinKit and make CarPlay available on the stereo. That's pretty slow, but honestly it takes about the same time for my car to establish a straight-up Bluetooth connection with my phone.

  • Certain apps can be glitchy. At one point while using Google Maps, I found I couldn't adjust the navigation volume; even the stereo volume knob had no effect on it. My podcast app sometimes fails to display any actual podcasts, a problem I never had with the wired connection. And occasionally my infotainment screen goes completely black.

  • There can be a lag of 2–3 seconds when you press play/pause or track-skip while listening to audio — just long enough to be annoying.

  • There's a large green LED on the device that flashes constantly. Not a big deal during the day; super-irritating at night.

  • If I want to charge my phone while driving, I can use the dongle's pass-through USB port — but then I'm just plugging in a cable anyway!

  • Like many Amazon reviewers, I encountered issues with reliability: Sometimes the dongle simply wouldn't connect to my phone, despite having worked fine on the previous trip. The only recourse was to unplug it, wait a minute, then plug it back in. This happened fairly often, I'd say at least 10% of the time.

I will say I enjoyed wireless CarPlay quite a bit. It's just one less hassle to deal with when you get in the car. Do I wish my Kia had this feature built in? Absolutely.

Would I ever pay $87 (let alone $120) just to get it? Absolutely not. Although the CarlinKit 3.0 works more or less as advertised, it doesn't work reliably enough for my liking. It doesn't charge my phone, either, and honestly, isn't that one of the extra benefits of using wired CarPlay in the first place?

Plug in this little dongle for wire-free CarPlay goodness. When it works, that is, which, unfortunately, is only about nine times out of 10. Save $33 when you clip the on-page coupon.
$87 at Amazon

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