Parrot Asteroid review: This app-powered car stereo just needs more apps

Wikango HD is an app that provides speed camera and red-light camera alerts, road work and incident notifications, and traffic alerts. The service is free for six months, after which a $24.99 annual subscription is required.

Glympse is a very cool location-sharing app that lets you notify your friends or family of where you are via Facebook, Twitter, SMS, or e-mail with just a few quick taps. Check out CNET's review of Glympse over on Download.com

The Android-powered Asteroid Smart supports multitasking and monitoring of apps through its status bar. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Spotify and TuneIn Radio are Internet radio streaming applications that stream audio from the Web. Both are free to download, but Spotify requires a paid subscription to access.

Best Parking is a location-aware parking app that helps find nearby parking, reserve spaces, and view pricing. Parkopedia, the only paid app, offers similar functionality for $1.99.

Users can also download a simplified version of Google Maps that doesn't include the turn-by-turn directions. Because the Asteroid runs on Android, it's a good tool to have for searching for destinations before quickly punting an address over to, for example, iGo for navigation. Likewise, the Roadtrip app is good for quickly finding nearby attractions, complete with photos, Wikipedia links, and the option to send the address to a more capable navigation app.

Parrot Weather offers location-aware, Web-connected weather forecasts and current conditions.

Physical inputs
The rear panel of the Asteroid Smart is where you'll find the unit's array of physical inputs, outputs, and connections for power.

The Parrot Asteroid Smart features four USB ports on its rear panel. Antuan Goodwin

Most users will likely be interested in the Smart's four USB ports. One of those ports is dedicated to full-speed iPod connectivity and will be filled with the included USB extension cable that terminates in a USB-to-dock-connector adapter for use with iPod devices that feature Apple's 30-pin connection. Simply yank off the adapter to reveal the USB terminal to use the Asteroid with your iPhone 5's Lightning-to-USB adapter. Another port will be filled with the included USB GPS receiver to enable location awareness. The remaining two USB ports are for your digital media on portable mass-storage devices. Parrot includes a second USB extension cable to allow you to hang a USB pigtail through your glove compartment or center console.

Near the USB ports is a 2.5mm microphone input for connecting the included noise-canceling microphone, which is useful for hands-free calling and inputting voice commands.

If you want to hook the Smart up to an external amplifier you can use any of the three stereo preamp outputs -- two full-range and one dedicated subwoofer output. You'll also find an analog RCA audio/video input for connecting an external source such as a DVD player or game console, an RCA output for passing audio and video to a rear-seat entertainment system, and a dedicated analog video input for connecting a rearview camera.

There's also a standard car stereo wire harness that includes the usual array of ignition, ground, and accessory power connections, as well as speaker-level outputs, power antenna leads, and a parking brake sensor that locks out video playback when the vehicle is in motion. There are also connections for your car's AM/FM antenna and steering-wheel controls (with the aid of an adapter that is sold separately).

A Micro-USB connection rounds out the physical ports and is used for connecting the Asteroid to a PC for developer and debugging purposes -- most users won't be doing this.

Wireless connectivity
The Asteroid Market and many of the Asteroid Smart's apps and features require an Internet connection, so the device provides a number of options for wirelessly connecting to the Web.

Between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB 3G/4G dongles, the Smart presents many options for Web connectivity. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

For many people, the most obvious choice will be wireless tethering via Bluetooth on supported phones. The Asteroid will likely already be connected to your phone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling with address book sync and voice-command dialing of synced contacts. A2DP audio streaming gives smartphone users another option for playing back music stored on their phones or streamed through their apps via the Asteroid Smart.

Wi-Fi connectivity is also supported for those who want to Wi-Fi tether with a supported smartphone or connect to their home network when parked in their garage.

There's also the option of connecting a 3G/4G USB dongle or USB-tethered smartphone to one of the Asteroid Smart's USB ports (or USB pigtails) to connect the receiver to wireless mobile network.

In sum
The Parrot Asteroid Smart is a tough sell at $549 to $599 depending on retailer and promotions, especially with such a limited batch of launch apps and Pioneer's AppRadio and AppRadio 2 offering a much larger selection of apps.

Where the Pioneer AppRadio and the upcoming batch of MirrorLink-enabled receivers make use of and mirror the apps that are already on your phone, Parrot's paradigm of installing apps on the receiver itself is an interesting break from this still-new convention. On the one hand, I like the simplicity of just installing an app on the receiver and it working with little more than a Bluetooth connection to my phone and the Internet. There is none of the rigamarole of connecting the phone via HDMI and multiple adapters, which I found to be fiddly when I tested the Pioneer AppRadio 2 late last year. On the other hand, I'm not excited about the prospect of having to maintain a relationship and an account with yet another app store.

The Parrot Asteroid Smart earns a reasonably high design score thanks to the interesting simplicity of the way that the receiver goes about bringing apps to the dashboard, but only a middling feature score due to the limited number of apps available at launch. As the Asteroid Market begins to fill up with more choices of audio-streaming, navigation, and driver aid apps, my opinion of the device and the ecosystem will improve and I'll consider revising the score to reflect that change in opinion. Until then, only early adopters need apply; everyone else should stay tuned.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Max Output Power / Channel Qty 55 Watts x 4
  • Form Factor in-dash
  • Additional Features Bluetooth hands-free for cellular phone
  • Type LCD monitor
  • Functions amplifier
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