Look in the comments below any portable GPS navigation device review or news story on CNET and chances are that you'll find a large number of readers saying something akin to, "Why would I buy this when I've got an app that's better?" You people can't seem to get enough of your smartphones and your apps!
But while a suction cup mount and an aux-audio cable may be enough for some people, many could benefit from a phone-app integration system that makes accessing a smartphone's navigation and audio-streaming apps a bit more solid and a lot less distracting. With that in mind, I've rounded up some of my favorite car stereos that help you to (safely) get your app fix on the go.
Pioneer's AppRadio and AppRadio 2 are the first receivers that spring to mind when I think about aftermarket app integration done right. The flagship AppRadio 2 boasts a massive color touch screen and compatibility with dozens of apps for iPhone and Android devices. It's not a perfect solution -- getting the unit to work with a supported Android phone requires the installation of a hardware module and about two or three helper apps -- but until we start seeing MirrorLink building significant steam, AppRadio is king.
Parrot skips around the hurdle of getting the apps on your phone to play nice by simply building its own app store into this Android-powered receiver. From the Asteroid Market, users can download free and paid apps for navigation, location services, and audio streaming. I'm not a fan of managing multiple app stores, but users looking for a simple way to get apps like Spotify, Glympse, TuneIn Radio, and Waze into their dashboard, the Asteroid Smart is about as foolproof as it comes.
The Parrot Asteroid Classic is essentially a smaller, simpler version of the Asteroid Smart mentioned above. It retains access to the Asteroid Market and most of the apps therein, but this single-DIN receiver uses a much smaller 3.5-inch display and a physical controller instead of a touch screen. On one hand, this is a step down in accessibility. On the other, the smaller screen and limited functions are sure to make it less of a distraction than its larger sibling.
This single-DIN receiver from Sony doesn't even have a color display, but it manages to play nicely with a Bluetooth- or USB-connected Android or iPhone via its App Remote function. After installing a helper app on their smartphones, users can set up shortcuts to their favorite navigation, location, or audio-streaming apps and switch between them with the control knob on the receiver's faceplate. Additionally, users of the Pandora app can simply take control of the app to browse their custom stations.
MirrorLink-enabled Alpine ICS-X7HD and Sony XAV-701HD
You may have noticed that I mentioned MirrorLink earlier. Alpine and Sony are among the first aftermarket manufacturers bringing this technology to a dashboard near you. More than just a simple screen-mirroring system, MirrorLink uses two-way communication to enable touch-screen control of the apps that are already on your smartphone and has a certification process for app developers to ensure that the apps supported by the technology and approved to use the connection are car-appropriate and use interfaces that have been optimized for use on the road. However, MirrorLink's list of compatible smartphones is still pretty short and -- while including some of the most popular handsets from Sony, Nokia, and Samsung -- doesn't yet include the Apple iPhone.
The Alpine ICS-X7HD and Sony XAV-701HD are shipping now and should be passing through the Car Tech garage very soon. Check out our video of the Alpine receiver in action below.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these car stereos head-to-head.