Parrot's Asteroid was one of the first car stereo systems to be based and powered by the Android operating system, but it won't be the last after the Asteroid Smart, the Asteroid Tablet, and the Asteroid Mini join the original later this month.
The Asteroid Smart will sit at the top of the new lineup, packing a 6.2-inch capacitive, multitouch screen. The unit fits into a standard double-DIN car stereo and, like the rest of the Asteroid lineup, is powered by a heavily customized version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). The unit features four standard USB ports (one of which is dedicated to a full-speed iPod/iPhone input), a SiRFstar IV GPS antenna, Parrot's fantastic dual microphone, Bluetooth connectivity, and Wi-Fi -- which is a new addition to the Asteroid family feature set. The car stereo also features a four-channel Mosfet amplifier to power your car's speakers. The unit's functionality is similar to that of the first-generation Asteroid, albeit controlled by taps and swipes of the capacitive touch screen, rather than twists and pokes of a control knob.
Out of the box, the Asteroid Smart supports Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, MP3 and video playback over USB or the included SD card, and GPS navigation with turn-by-turn directions.
After plugging a 3G/4G dongle into one of the USB ports or tethering a smartphone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, users are able to access the Asteroid Market, which is a curated repository for apps that have been approved as safe for in-car use by Parrot and made available for download. By separating itself from the rest of the Google Play market, Parrot hopes to keep drivers from playing Temple Run on their next pizza run.
Parrot tells us that there are about 20 app providers on deck to provide Parrot users with a variety of free and paid apps for driving assistance (Best Parking, Wikango), music (Spotify, TuneIn, and others), Navigation (iGO Primo and Waze), productivity, destination search, communication, and news. All of these apps are organized in the Asteroid Market and can be downloaded directly to the unit itself.
A voice search function ties not only into the hands-free calling system and the locally stored media, but also with supported apps. Parrot's representative demonstrated voice searching for Johnny Cash and the TuneIn Radio results that were returned along with the MP3s stored on a USB drive.
Users who are interested in the Asteroid, but don't want to replace their OEM car stereo can opt for the Parrot Asteroid Tablet, which essentially takes the guts of the Asteroid Smart and puts them into a dashboard mounted display. The screen shrinks to 5 inches and the unit loses its analog video inputs and outputs, internal amplifier, and preamp connections, because your OEM car stereo will be handling all of that anyway. The Asteroid Tablet features a mounting arm that is permanently affixed to the dashboard and a steering wheel-mounted remote controller, however the visible part of of the unit -- the display itself -- can be removed when you leave the vehicle for theft deterrence, while the brains of the unit remain permanently hidden behind the dashboard somewhere. Consequently, this separation of processor and display makes it appear that the Asteroid Tablet cannot be used outside of the car.
Finally, there's the Parrot Asteroid Mini, which is essentially a dashboard-mounted revision of the original Asteroid -- now called the Parrot Asteroid Classic. It's got a small 3.2-inch non-touch screen that's identical to that of the Classic and a rotary controller that also looks like it's been pulled from the same parts bin. Because this is based on the older Classic hardware, it does not feature Wi-Fi connectivity for tethering, but retains the standard Bluetooth and USB dongle connection methods. Like the Asteroid Tablet, the Mini also lacks an internal amplifier, relying on your OEM stereo to handle that bit of the workload. Like the Asteroid Tablet, the Mini hides its electronic brain in a separate box that must be professionally installed behind the dashboard.
The Parrot Asteroid Smart launches in late October at an MSRP of $599 -- significantly more expensive than the Pioneer AppRadio 2, which boasts similar functionality, but with apps that live on your phone, rather than in the receiver's memory. We're looking forward to putting those units head to head.
The Asteroid Tablet and Asteroid Mini will be launching alongside the Smart, priced at $399 and $299, respectively.