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CarlinKit Tbox Max (Ambient) CarPlay AI Box Review

by Mike
16 minutes read
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In this article, we will be discussing the T-Box Max or T-Box Ambient from Carlinkit. This is the latest update to the T-Box, featuring an Android 13 base OS with over-the-air upgradeability. It comes with a Qualcomm 6125 chipset, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage.

We will be looking at the product overview, installation and performance, multimedia capabilities, connectivity options, user interface limitations, hardware performance evaluation, and conclusion. After a thorough evaluation, we have compiled a list of key takeaways to help you determine if the T-Box Max is the right AI box for you.

Product Overview

T-Box Max Features

We are excited to introduce the T-Box Max, the latest addition to CarlinKit’s T-Box lineup. This AI box features an Android 13 base OS that is upgradable over the air, making it a versatile and future-proof option for car enthusiasts. With its Qualcomm 6125 chipset, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage, the T-Box Max is a powerhouse that can handle a wide range of applications and games.

Chipset and Storage

The T-Box Max is equipped with a powerful Qualcomm 6125 chipset and boasts 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. It also has a mini SD card slot that can accommodate up to 256 GB of storage, allowing you to store your favorite apps, media, and games.

Package Contents

When you purchase the T-Box Max, you will receive a small paper manual, the T-Box Max AI adapter, a USBA to USBC cable to power the adapter from your CarPlay port, and a USBC to USBC power cable for more modern CarPlay ports.

Physical Design

The T-Box Max has a sleek and modern design that is sure to impress. It features a USBC port to power it on one side, alongside a mini SD card slot for storage up to 256 GB. On the other side, a SIM card slot is available to provide internet to the AI adapter. The T-Box Max is about the same size as the Carlinkit AI boxes, but a little bit chunkier. It also has an ambient light exterior that adds a touch of elegance to your car’s interior.

Installation and Performance

Boot Time and Interface

Upon installation, the T-Box Max from Carlinkit takes around 30 to 31 seconds to boot up with a short animation clip before resting on its main menu interface. The interface features a persistent side dock with the last four running apps displayed in the middle of the side dock, time status indicators, and a shortcut to go home or launch the app overview menu.

Home Screen Customization

The home screen features a large panel for accessing your favorite map application. You can also customize this main side panel to any app that you have pre-installed, so you don’t necessarily have to run it for maps. You can have it for YouTube, calling, and any other apps that you desire. On the top right, there’s a now-playing widget panel, and on the bottom right, there are four shortcuts that can be customized to quickly access your favorite four apps.

User Interface and Settings

The T-Box Max features the same user interface and settings as the previous models. It has its own bespoke setting screen as well as the ability to dive down into the Android OS setting screens too. From here, you can access its new unique option to change the ambient LED that features on the top of the casing. However, unlike some other adapters that have an RGB lighting option, here, the options are quite few. From here, there’s also the ability to change the main menu interface between two different styles. However, both do look quite dated now, and we would prefer that Carlinkit invest some time to modernize their main menu interface going forward.

Ambient LED Customization

The T-Box Max allows users to change the ambient LED that features on the top of the casing. However, the options are quite limited compared to other adapters that have an RGB lighting option.

Over-the-Air Updates

This box now also does over-the-air updates, so you can keep this box up to date with the latest revisions and, with fingers crossed, possibly Android OS updates too.

Multimedia Capabilities

App Compatibility

The Carlinkit T-Box Max boasts an Android 13 base OS, which allows for a wide range of app compatibility. Users can expect all the usual apps, such as Bluetooth, messaging, maps, and APK installers, as well as popular apps like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify. However, it’s worth noting that YouTube runs in its mobile format, which can be a bit clunky to navigate, but audio is in sync. Meanwhile, the Netflix app runs smoothly, with audio in sync, and the onboard CPU and RAM help with navigating content more rapidly than other adapters.

Gaming Experience

With its powerful CPU and fast RAM, the T-Box Max offers a decent gaming experience on your CarPlay display. Our tests revealed that popular games like Crossy Road, Subway Surfer, and others run very well, with the RAM allowing for good launch times. Additionally, the T-Box Max features dual Bluetooth support, allowing users to add a Bluetooth remote or controller for a more enjoyable gaming experience.

Expandable Storage

The T-Box Max comes with 128 GB of storage, which is already quite generous. However, users can expand their storage capacity even further by plugging in an SD card of up to 256 GB. This expanded storage capacity can be used for various purposes, from apps to media playback. Our tests revealed that video playback using this method seems good, with no degradation during high bit-rate video files, and audio is also in sync.

Connectivity Options

Wireless CarPlay Integration

The T-Box Max from Carlinkit features wireless CarPlay integration that allows you to connect your iPhone to the adapter without the need for any cables. The adapter uses the pre-installed AutoKit app to connect to your iPhone and it takes around 10 seconds to establish a connection. Once connected, CarPlay works as expected and touch input is fairly responsive. The adapter’s CPU and RAM allow for fast app launches and you can customize the main side panel to access your favorite map application or any other app that you have pre-installed. Additionally, the now playing widget panel displays the content being played on CarPlay, which is also mirrored in the home screen’s now playing panel.

Android Auto Compatibility

The T-Box Max also supports Android Auto, but the initial connection may take up to 8 seconds. Once connected, the resolution on Android Auto is better than some Android AI boxes, keeping ratios and resolution that mirror the same as if you were using a wired connection. However, touch input is a little bit more laggy than CarPlay, but not too drastic to make it unusable. The AutoKit app has quite limited settings compared to other dedicated wireless adapters, but it does offer a wireless auto-connect option for multiple devices and the ability to increase your microphone volume during calling. The adapter’s persistent side dock lacks a back button, which makes navigation between apps a little bit frustrating, but you can turn on the floating button to get around this. The T-Box Max also features a mini SD card slot for storage up to 256 GB, which can expand your storage for various uses from apps to media.

User Interface Limitations

Navigation Frustrations

The T-Box Max has a persistent side dock on its main menu interface, which displays the last four running apps. However, this side dock lacks a back button, making navigation between apps a little bit frustrating. Users have to go back to the home screen to switch to another app. Although the floating button can be turned on to address this issue, it results in a frustrating floating button over the UI interface. Incorporating some sort of swiping back gesture or removing one of the four icons in the side dock and reinstating a back button would solve this issue.

Lack of Casting Ability

One downside of the T-Box Max is that it does not have casting ability. This feature would have been a nice addition to the adapter, but it was not included.

RGB LED Display Critique

The T-Box Max features an ambient LED on the top of the casing with limited RGB lighting options. The addition of this feature feels like a token addition to sell another skew model. The user interface is a little bit dated now and could do with modernizing. There are only two different styles available for the main menu interface, both of which look quite dated. Carlinkit should invest some time in modernizing their main menu interface going forward.

Hardware Performance Evaluation

CPU Comparison

In our evaluation of the Carlinkit T-Box Max, we found that it features a Qualcomm 6125 chipset, which provides a powerful CPU and fast RAM. This allows for fast boot up times and launches for apps and games. In comparison to other AI box adapters, the T-Box Max performs well and scores highly in its app launch tests. It is also one of the quickest to boot into both CarPlay and Android Auto.

AI Box Benchmarks

We tested the T-Box Max with various apps, including YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify. We found that it runs these apps just as well as other AI box adapters. YouTube runs great with audio in sync. Meanwhile, Netflix runs smoothly with audio in sync. The onboard CPU and RAM also help with navigating its content.

The T-Box Max also allows for some decent ability to play games on your CarPlay display. Crossy Road, Subway Surfer, and other games run very well. With dual Bluetooth support, you can add a Bluetooth remote or controller to make playing games more fun and easier.

Moreover, the T-Box Max features a mini SD card slot for storage up to 256 GB. This expands your storage for various uses from apps to media. Video playback using this method seems good with no degradation during high-bit-rate video files. Audio is also in sync.

Personal Insights

Five Liked Features

We have thoroughly tested the Carlinkit T-Box Max and have identified five features that we particularly liked. Firstly, we appreciate the relatively low price of the T-Box Max compared to its performance. It offers a lot of value for its price point. Secondly, we like that the T-Box Max has a persistent dock instead of relying on a floating button interface. This makes navigation between apps much more intuitive and less frustrating.

Thirdly, the powerful CPU and fast RAM of the T-Box Max result in fast boot-up times and launches for apps and games. Fourthly, we appreciate that audio is relatively in sync in apps such as YouTube and Netflix. Finally, we like that the T-Box Max can accommodate an SD card of up to 256 GB, expanding storage for various uses from apps to media.

Price Versus Performance

One of the standout features of the Carlinkit T-Box Max is its relatively low price compared to its performance. Despite its not-so-visually-impressive UI, the T-Box Max is robust and does its job well. It has a powerful CPU and fast RAM, resulting in fast boot-up times and launches for apps and games.

The T-Box Max also scores well in app launch tests and is one of the quickest to boot into both CarPlay and Android Auto. Overall, the T-Box Max offers a lot of value for its price point.

Potential Improvements

While we appreciate the T-Box Max for its performance and value, there are a few areas where it could be improved. Firstly, we feel that the UI could be more visually impressive and modernized. Secondly, the persistent dock could benefit from a back button, as it can be frustrating to navigate between apps without one.

Thirdly, we think that casting ability would be a nice addition to this adapter. Fourthly, we wish that the T-Box Max had a faster CPU, as many other Android AI boxes are now coming out with the Qualcomm 665 or 662 chipsets. Finally, we feel that the focus on the RGB LED display feels like a token addition to sell another skew model, and we would prefer that the manufacturer invests more time in improving the adapter’s settings and options.

Conclusion

Market Comparison

After thoroughly testing the Carlinkit T-Box Max, we have found that it is a decent addition to the CarPlay AI box lineup. However, it is very similar to the maxed-out T-Box Plus that is already available, with the addition of the RGB lights being the only notable difference. The T-Box Max carries the same CPU as the T-Box Plus, so there is not much change there.

In terms of performance, the T-Box Max is one of the quickest to boot into CarPlay as well as Android auto. It also has a powerful CPU and fast RAM, resulting in fast boot-up times and app launches for games and other applications. Audio in apps such as YouTube and Netflix is relatively in sync, making it a great option for media consumption.

Compared to other AI box adapters, the T-Box Max has a relatively low price point versus performance. While its UI isn’t the most visually impressive, it is the most robust and gets the job done well. It also offers the option to have a persistent dock instead of relying on its floating button interface.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we believe that the Carlinkit T-Box Max is a solid option for those in the market for a fast AI box. Its ability to update over the air and expand storage with an SD card are also noteworthy features.

However, there are some areas where it could improve, such as modernizing its UI and incorporating more settings and options. Despite these minor drawbacks, we would recommend the T-Box Max to those looking for a reliable and affordable CarPlay AI box.

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