Parrot's Asteroid Smart: Enthusiasts-Only
Parrot is offering a double-DIN infotainment upgrade for those of us with older cars, or even newer cars lacking factory navigation. It does suffer at the hand of some hard-to-overlook annoyances. The inability to resume music playback where you left off when you get back in your car makes it fail at one of the simplest tasks a car radio should perform. Even the latest v2.1.1 software update that automatically starts the tuner is just a Band-Aid. There’s an app on the Asteroid Market that lets you manually specify the apps to launch on start-up, but it only launches each app you choose. It won't start playback for you. So, again, there's no way to jump in your car and continue listening to the same song.
The iGo Primo navigation app is very clunky and not particularly user-friendly. We’d much rather see Parrot ship the Asteroid Smart without it and offer navigation applications for sale on the Asteroid Market. Of course, we understand why the company has to include navigation at this price point.
As a car radio, Parrot's Asteroid Smart comes up lacking. But if you look at the head unit as a Android-based tablet in your dash, it's a lot easier to like. Sure, the $600 price tag is a lot gnarlier than the $200 you'd spend on a faster Nexus 7. But there's more to this solution than its SoC. If you were to try integrating a Nexus 7, you'd need to either rely on your car's radio for amplification or install a separate amp. There's also the issue of custom mounting, charging the tablet, and so on. Suddenly, the costs start adding up. You also lose steering wheel control, back-up camera support...you get the idea.
In contrast, Parrot's solution fits in a standard form factor, includes an audio amp, 5 V pre-outs, back-up camera input, video input, optional steering wheel control compatibility, and it really does look good installed. There’s also Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) running the show, which makes the Asteroid Smart a treat for tinkerers, without sacrificing the clean look of a stock vehicle interior.
Overall, we really like the Asteroid Smart. It introduces one important capability to the dash that no factory or competing aftermarket system currently matches: Android. There are some associated quirks, but they're more easily forgiven in light of the freedom to tinker with Google's operating system and side-load apps without rooting. Parrot is clearly paying attention to its user forums, addressing outstanding issues in a fairly timely manner. We hope this means the company is dedicated to this one platform, rather than releasing new models each year with minor updates that leave previous customers out in the cold.
Of course, the things we like about Parrot's Asteroid Smart also mean we wouldn't recommend it for your grandmother's ride. It also presents a challenge in cars already equipped with rear entertainment systems that might be more functional than the controls Parrot currently enables. It's purely a head unit for enthusiasts who want to tinker with Android and are willing to overlook its idiosyncrasies. The pricing is reasonably competitive with other double-DIN head units that aren’t remotely as customizable or even functional without a phone always connected. We would like to see Parrot polish up its documentation for the UNIKA steering wheel adapter. As it stands, you can expect to do a bit of digging if you tackle a do-it-yourself Asteroid Smart installation.