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

New Vehicle Installation (2011 VW Routan)

We wanted to test the Asteroid Smart's flexibility a couple of different ways: first in a modern vehicle, and then in something a little older.

Beginning with the newer ride allows us to test the unit's on-board technology, including video input, video output, and back-up camera support. VW's 2011 Routan served as our guinea pig. You've seen the Routan before; it's the baseline comparison point for our automotive reviews. It sports Chrysler's 430N navigation system with Uconnect for Bluetooth hands-free, dual rear LCD displays, a separate DVD player, a back-up camera, and steering wheel controls.

Parrot actually offered to send over a certified installer to get the head unit mounted as cleanly as possible. This is Tom's Hardware, though. I instead chose to go the do-it-yourself route. The company knowingly agreed and sent over all of the installation hardware we'd need, including a Chrysler CAN bus interface harness, a harness to tie into the factory rear video system, Parrot's own UNIKA steering wheel control interface, and the double-DIN mounting kit.

The hardest part of the installation was putting together the harnesses for a plug-and-play installation with the car. We had to combine the wires from the CAN bus adapter, Parrot Asteroid Smart harness, and UNIKA interface into one harness. It was relatively complicated, and we had to do a lot of double-checking because some of the wire colors would change. Moreover, Parrot's instructions are fairly sparse. We chose to solder and use heat-shrink tuning on each connection for an extra-clean finish, too.

After about three hours, we had a functioning harness that'd plug into the factory wiring. Again, we ran into some difficult with the UNIKA steering wheel control adapter's instructions. And while we understand that this task is best handled by a professional, it would be great if Parrot would expound on its documentation a bit. Nevertheless, armed with Google and a better-than-elementary knowledge of car stereo installation, we figured everything out.

Difficulty is going to vary by vehicle. In our Routan, though, it was easy to access the stereo installation location. We simply pulled off the bezel, which was held on by clips. Very long RCA cables coming from the rear entertainment system presented the biggest challenge at this stage of the process. They were about six feet long, requiring us to shove them into nooks and crannies to clear enough room for the extra interface boxes for the CAN bus and UNIKA steering wheel controls.

When all was said and done, we retained access to the two back LCD screens, we maintained the steering wheel controls, the factory speakers worked marvelously, and the back-up camera did its thing as well. There were a couple of caveats, though. It's no longer possible to have separate sources playing on the rear displays, the Asteroid Smart's video output is only compatible with certain video files using the built-in Gallery application, and the back-up camera is now finicky.

Our problem with the back-up camera is a software issue that might get fixed in a future update. When the Routan is put in reverse, the corresponding application automatically launches. But when you put the van into park, the system thinks there is no camera present and asks if you want to turn the feature off. If you remember to click Cancel, all is well. But if you turn the van off and don't press the Cancel button, the Asteroid Smart assumes you want to ignore the back-up camera and turns off the automatic switching, disabling your camera in the process.

We also experienced aggravations with the head unit's video input. Parrot includes a Video In application for displaying a source you connect to the Asteroid. However, if we launched the app when the external DVD player was already on, no video would show up. It only worked if we launched the application and turned the DVD player on afterwards.

The UNIKA steering wheel control adapter functioned properly, for the most part. We were able to retain all of our stereo controls, but the factory voice command button did not work. 

  • 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