At my first CES, one of the devices that caught my attention immediately was a slick looking single-DIN head unit running Android called the Parrot Asteroid. One of the things about Android is just how versatile the platform is and all the different places that forked versions of the OS have made their way into. It doesn't take much imagination to see how Android could be potentially disruptive in a car either as an infotainment or navigation system - media compatibility, maps, and a huge application ecosystem pretty much sell the thing. 

Though it's already been announced, one of the products I was most excited to play with at CES 2013 was the original Parrot Asteroid's successor and bigger brother, the double DIN Parrot Asteroid Smart. This is a head unit with 6.2-inch capacitive touch screen running a heavily-skinned and car-tailored version of Android 2.3.7 atop an unnamed TI OMAP(3, maybe 4?) SoC. For connectivity there's 802.11n (no word on 2.4 or 5 GHz) WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0 onboard, likely from some TI Wilink series combo. On the back are three USB 2.0 ports and a fourth for iPods, iPhones, and iPads with 2A charging support. The head unit has audio outs for left, right, and sub, with 4 55 watt outputs. Of course there's compatibility with GPS and steering wheel controls. The rest of the specs are on Parrot's site for the Asteroid Smart. 

I spent a lot of time playing around with the Asteroid Smart since this the kind of convergence device for the car that I've been wanting for some time to replace my own aging head unit. The aftermarket head unit space seems full of strange one-off OSes and platforms and could benefit strongly from a coherent platform message. 

The Asteroid Smart hasn't yet passed Google CTS (Compatibility Test Suite) and thus doesn't yet have GMS (Google Mobile Services) approval to use Google Apps or the Play Store, although I'm told that Parrot is working to make this happen if at all possible. In the meantime, they've created an application marketplace of their own called the Asteroid Market to showcase and sell applications designed to be used with the Asteroid lineup and the decidedly different UI requirements for a car versus a phone. The news out of Parrot about Asteroid for this CES is the unveiling of a developer portal and SDK for building apps and getting them on the Asteroid Market. 

I played with the Asteroid Smart a lot and came away pretty impressed with the device, though there are some caveats. All controls are exposed through the UI on the Asteroid Smart, there are no physical volume buttons or toggles, other than a power on button and faceplate eject button. There's no CD input, though I've lived without a CD player in my car with my current head unit for long enough to know that isn't impossible — instead media will come from an attached USB storage device, on an SD card, or from attached smartphone. I suppose the lack of physical buttons is mitigated by the compatibility with steering wheel buttons, but I could imagine the two-tap volume change UX to be a possible problem. Although it runs 2.3.7, the UI felt smooth and performant basically everywhere, swiping through menus, changing media, and in the custom launcher. Oddly enough Parrot has crafted a UI that looks suspiciously like 4.x atop it — I just wish it was Android 4.x to begin with instead of 2.3.7, but thankfully there's still enough application compatibility that this shouldn't be a huge problem. There's also the normal Android launcher buried inside if you look for it, along with browser and a maps application that uses Google's map tiles.

Again, Parrot can't bundle the Google Maps application until they've obtained a GMS license, but for now they're getting around that by bundling a stripped down version that just uses the APIs in Android. There's also a microUSB port on the back for sideloading applications, which I'd imagine is something users would do who actually want Google Apps regardless of GMS approval. Parrot is targeting a price around 599USD for the Asteroid Smart with availability early 2013. 

If nothing else, this is the kind of convergence device that really interests me and seems to be a major theme of CES. We have connected cameras now, why not connected cars and head units?



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  • sauron@mordor - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link

    I agree with the previous poster. This doesn't do anything for me that I can't already get with a big screen smartphone (Galaxy Note II) or smaller ICS/JB tablet (nexus 7) + any run of the mill audio head unit with bluetooth support. This way, I can leave the lowest-tech (audio amplifier) mounted in the car and periodically refresh/upgrade the device with all the brains and increasingly more useful displays? Reply
  • shadowmyst8 - Thursday, March 13, 2014 - link

    And your still running into the same problem that the Parrot Asteroid has. No volume control knob.

    How do you plan on controlling the volume when the stereo is in the glove box? Kind of defeats the purpose of buying a radio...
  • sigmatau - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link

    So this is basicaly an Android device that acts like a cheap MP3 player to replace a dedicated audio system? WOW!

    I went onto their website and they mention nothing about the audio processor/filer used. I guess I'll wait until something that actualy puts audio first over having an Android UI in my car. I'm so tired of these Android car radios that have lots of potential, but always fail on the top thing they are supposed to do: Music.

    I bet a $150 Alpine (ugly single DINN) can outdo this in audio quality. This speaks volumes!
  • spiderknight - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Heh, if it is anything like the Classic, it would be some sort of Wolfson codec. I've read that it has a 7 band equalizer (like the Classic) with a crossover on the sub. That's it. Most $150 head units will have some sort treble and bass adjustment. I had a cheap JVC that allowed a 3 band parametric equalizer.

    I would say this unit would beat all other Android units in the same category as far as sound quality and telephony integration. However, for $600, you could have had a pioneer, or a kenwood DD with crossovers and a little less internets and stuffs. Heck, forget DD, get a pioneer deh 80prs, which has some phone integration, to get a top notch audio system with some change left over for an amp for your sub. You gotta pick your battles
  • shadowmyst8 - Thursday, March 13, 2014 - link

    Get a amplifier. Problem solved. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link

    Not sure why so many car makers (realizing that this company isn't a car manufacturer) keep trying to move outside their core competencies.

    SYNC is just awful ( used it in a brand new Focus the other day).
  • OmniWrench - Monday, January 14, 2013 - link

    So how hard would it be to adjust the volume or mute while wearing gloves? Reply
  • PCP69 - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    As opposed to many commenters stating that sound quality 'will be mediocre' (I paraphrase), I have actually installed the unit in my car, together with a Unika steering wheel interface.

    Globally, this is the best unit I have had in a car up to this day. Sound quality is more than adequate, I have not yet have had to resort to an external amplifier - which could be easily done as the outputs are there (probably not high voltage but present anyway). As is a subwoofer output, which I happily use. I still miss a high-pass filter, though, but Android and software updates mean this could and hopefully will be added later on.

    Sure there are some caveats - current lack of hardware acceleration for playing videos being one. Also, I'd most certainly hate having to change volume on the touch screen - using steering wheel buttons is obviously more satisfying.

    I have great respect for Nexus 7 (and similar tablets) installations, but obviously the integration will not be comparable to a unit that includes every necessary input and output well hidden on the backside, even if that actually means you'll have to include some sort of USB ports on your dash (which I successfully did). I'm thinking 4 channel LS, Subwoofer, Video In (not used by me) and Out (used for rear seats), and of course rear view camera with automatic switching (works).

    The GUI is actually well adapted to a car, tethering (any sort) works perfectly with my phone (Android, of course!), and iGO, while certainly not the best sat nav solution I've experienced, does the job nicely.

    I've installed head units in the past (mostly Pioneer, Blaupunkt and JVC), and while they were all adequate at the time of installation, you could not expect any bugs to be sorted out through software updates. Also, on a side note - you could not ROOT them!

    So is it perfect? Certainly not. Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely - even if only with a working steering wheel interface.
  • shadowmyst8 - Thursday, March 13, 2014 - link

    I agree. I've seen several comments here where several have said you get more just by mounting a Android Tablet in your car...

    Good luck finding RCA outputs, steering wheels controls, review camera output, video output on a tablet. More over have fun hooking it up to an audio system without having to go through alot of modifications and extra hardware.

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