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Parrot Asteroid Smart Review: Android In Your Car's Dash?

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.

  • Tanquen
    I’ve been looking for some time now to get a phone friendly head unit but they all come up lacking. You need to root them to get any real functionality and they are slow. Slow to boot and run apps with old operating systems and not all that stable. Pioneer now has AppRadio 3 but it still has issues also. Seems like such a simple thing. I just want to mirror my phone on the head units display.
    Reply
  • blackmagnum
    What a name!
    Reply
  • woodshop
    Throw in at least a dual core, 1 gb ram, Android jelly bean (for Google now) and a 720p screen. Only then will people buy these head units. Or, just tape your nexus 7 to the to the glovebox and it can serve as a secondary airbag.
    Reply
  • flong777
    It is interesting to see this third party hardware to update vehicles without computer touch screens but after reading the article, it doesn't seem worth the trouble. Even if you do a great job of installation your left with a buggy system and a mediocre GPS. It appears that third party updates like this one need to grow up some.

    What is the real deal killer is the mediocre audio - you would have thought that they could have gotten this right as the technology for quality audio has been around for at least 15 years.
    Reply
  • Bloodire
    $100 tablet and $70 software. Bang! touchscreen on your car. Oh and whatever is costs you to mount the tablet.
    Reply
  • daekar
    Why would I want to put something like this in my car when I and everyone I know has a smartphone? I just place my phone on the dash when I want nav, and I usually don't even bother taking calls while driving. If I did, I'd use a Bluetooth headset. Besides, lots of people keep cars far longer than they keep phones. 7 years from now, do you really think that this device will be able to keep up? The whole touchscreen control nav console infotainment thing is completely impractical. Take away controls with tactile feedback. Replace with a screen with almost no feedback at best. Add proprietary software and a dash of obsolescence. I just don't see it.
    Reply
  • the_crippler
    Now I find myself wondering what software Bloodire is talking about...
    Reply
  • tuanies
    11128834 said:
    Throw in at least a dual core, 1 gb ram, Android jelly bean (for Google now) and a 720p screen. Only then will people buy these head units. Or, just tape your nexus 7 to the to the glovebox and it can serve as a secondary airbag.

    You can do that but it won't look as nice nor would your steering wheel controls work.

    11129463 said:
    It is interesting to see this third party hardware to update vehicles without computer touch screens but after reading the article, it doesn't seem worth the trouble. Even if you do a great job of installation your left with a buggy system and a mediocre GPS. It appears that third party updates like this one need to grow up some.

    What is the real deal killer is the mediocre audio - you would have thought that they could have gotten this right as the technology for quality audio has been around for at least 15 years.

    The audio quality is fine, just the function is lacking. I believe they have TomTom on the Asteroid Market now too for those that dislike iGo.

    11129722 said:
    $100 tablet and $70 software. Bang! touchscreen on your car. Oh and whatever is costs you to mount the tablet.

    Will not look as nice though.

    11130207 said:
    Why would I want to put something like this in my car when I and everyone I know has a smartphone? I just place my phone on the dash when I want nav, and I usually don't even bother taking calls while driving. If I did, I'd use a Bluetooth headset. Besides, lots of people keep cars far longer than they keep phones. 7 years from now, do you really think that this device will be able to keep up? The whole touchscreen control nav console infotainment thing is completely impractical. Take away controls with tactile feedback. Replace with a screen with almost no feedback at best. Add proprietary software and a dash of obsolescence. I just don't see it.

    Some people want a clean look that doesn't require slapping their phone on the dash or just want an upgrade from the plane factory setup, maybe an old factory navigation setup. The removal of tactile feedback and controls are typically with cheaper cars, the luxury vehicles still have buttons. But 7-years down the road, you could probably replace this Parrot with a 4th or 5th generation unit :).
    Reply
  • tuanies
    11130452 said:
    Now I find myself wondering what software Bloodire is talking about...

    He's probably talking about GPS software, ie TomTom or Garmin
    Reply
  • brazuka331
    Add a place for me to put a SIM card for its on data and full Google Play store support and i'll buy it! Why is it so hard for these companies to make what seems so simple! We want an in-dash and works like a tablet with full android and not your sh**ty bloatware!
    Reply