It's been over a year since we took a look at of Parrot's first Android-powered car stereo, now called the. The original showed much promise, but was also rather flawed. Now, Parrot takes another, more ambitious stab at bringing Android power to the dashboard with three new Asteroid receivers and and the Asteroid Market of apps to power them.
I've gotten my hands all over the top-tier Parrot Asteroid Smart double-DIN touch-screen receiver to see if the competition needs to worry about this Asteroid being a hit.
From its place in the car's dashboard, the Parrot Asteroid Smart looks a lot like any and every other double-DIN-size touch-screen receiver that I've tested.
Users interact with the Asteroid Smart via its 6.2-inch capacitive touch screen, a multitouch-capable display on which you can pinch to zoom in apps designed for that. The colors are crisp and easy to view in direct sunlight. Touch sensitivity and interface responsiveness are also good.
The interface itself is a lightly skinned version of Android 2.3 in a landscape orientation. The left edge of the screen, closest to the driver, is where you'll find the operating system's virtual buttons for Home, Back, Menu, and Task Switching contrasted against a black background.
Tap the Home button from anywhere in the Asteroid interface to bring up the home screen with icons for the Asteroid Market, Apps, Settings, Phone, Voice Commands, and Music. A quick swipe of the home screen reveals more icons, for iGo, Coyote Series, Rear Camera, and Video In. We'll get back to the Apps and the Asteroid Market in a bit.
The sole physical controls on the unit's face are a small illuminated power button in the lower left corner of the glossy black bezel and an eject button that triggers Parrot's oddball take on the detachable faceplate security gimmick. Rather than the entire screen and faceplate being removable, only a thin sliver of the bezel pops off, taking the power button with it and disabling the unit. However, I think a would-be thief would probably still see that glossy 6.2-inch screen in your dashboard and smash your window anyway, so you're probably best just not parking your car down dark alleys in shady neighborhoods.
With the "faceplate" removed, the Asteroid's full-size SD card slot is revealed, the unit's sole front input. There is no CD/DVD player on this mechless receiver. The Smart ships with an 8GB SD card installed in this slot -- it's a PITA to remove without needle-nosed pliers -- which largely behaves as the microSD card slot on any Android phone would, storing data, music, and photos for playback on the device. The rest of the inputs and outputs are either located on the back of the Asteroid Smart or connected wirelessly.
Preinstalled apps and audio sources
Without a CD receiver, users will have to make do with their portable digital media. The Asteroid Smart will play back MP3 and AAC audio files stored on a connected USB storage device or saved to a folder on the SD card. Connect an iPod to one of the Asteroid's USB ports and you'll also be able to play back audio stored locally and browse your playlists, artist, albums, and genres.
Bluetooth connectivity is standard, as is the A2DP audio streaming profile.
An AM/FM radio tuner, a 3.5mm analog audio input, and an analog audio/video input round out the onboard audio sources. However, the Asteroid's selling point is that it can run apps.
The unit comes preloaded with iGo Primo Navigation, a fully featured turn-by-turn navigation app that includes locally stored map data to allow offline navigation. The app works best, however, when connected to the Internet, where it can access the most accurate database of points of interest; still, address input worked flawlessly out of the box and offline.
Coyote Series is a driver aid app that notifies of upcoming speed cameras, accidents, and road incidents. Due to the nature of its alerts, you'll want to connect to the Web before launching it.
Pop into the Applications menu on the home screen to be greeted by the full list of apps installed on the Asteroid Smart. This includes the apps mentioned above, any apps installed from the Asteroid Market, and a few oddball leftover apps included as part of the underlying Android operating system. I can't see why you'd want to access the browser, calculator, calendar, clock, e-mail, or photo gallery apps from your dashboard, but they're there for your use. Better to have and not need than need and not have, I suppose.
Apps and the Asteroid market
Users aren't limited to the apps preinstalled on the Asteroid Smart. The unit can also connect to the Asteroid Market, Parrot's own app store of Asteroid-compatible Android applications, to further flesh out the receiver's feature set.
The registration process starts on the Web in the Asteroid Market Web site. Once a username and password have been chosen, the owner will connect their Asteroid Smart to the Web (we'll discuss how that works below), enter the username and password, and start downloading apps. Most of the nine apps available in the U.S. version of the Asteroid Market at the time of publication are free, with only one $1.99 app to be found.