Parrot Asteroid Smart Review, Part 1: The Install

I love my car. My car is old. Eleven years old this week, actually. When I bought it, in-dash cassette players were on their way out, and CD players were all but standard. Mine even had the upgraded "Audiophile" system, which had an in-dash 6-disc changer.

The stupidity of a in-dash CD changer aside, the one thing my car didn't have was any ability to add an external source. None. So imagine my annoyance, my near-decade-long annoyance at not being able to play my iPod in my car.

Well with one fell swoop, not only can I play my iPod, I can voice dial, hands free talk, stream music from my phone, navigate via GPS, and do all the other fancy things people who buy new cars can do. I got (Asteroid) Smart.

OK, so technically I could play my iPod though my old system using an RF adapter. But guess what, they're all terrible. Worse than terrible, because where I live, practically every frequency in the FM spectrum is being used. Useless, then.

True, there are plenty of aftermarket car audio systems that play music from your iPod. A quick glance at Amazon reveals that every single car audio system does this. What makes the Asteroid Smart different? Well, for one, it runs on Android. Google's operating system has gotten a lot of traction in the phone world, and has become a polished alternative to Apple.

The idea is to open up the Asteroid to 3-party app developers, and there's some of that already. You can check out what's available here. Right now it's mostly just core stuff, like maps, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, and so on. Hopefully we'll see more in the future, but for right now, there's enough to judge the Smart as is.

Installation

There are a few things to keep in mind before you consider any aftermarket audio system. The most important being: what do you lose. The integration of stock in-car entertainment and the rest of the car has become incredibly complex. Steering wheel controls, subwoofers, and so on may or may not work with an aftermarket head unit. Parrot sells the Unika, which should allow the Smart to understand your steering wheel controls. Sadly, my car is not one of them (more on this later).

The other consideration is if it will, you know, fit. The Smart is a double-DIN design, though a single DIN, Asteroid Classic, is also available (along with two similar Asteroid "sources" that offer similar functionality and connect via an aux in). Ford, in their infinite wisdom, makes double-DIN looking head units that are actually marginally smaller. This was less of an issue than I imagined.

For install, I headed to Mobile Fantasy in Northridge. My installer, Mike, knew all about the Asteroid products, but this was the first Smart he'd seen. During the small talk that accompanied the Smart's unboxing we realized we both worked at the same Circuit City, at the same time, 13 years previous. A small world, indeed. Then he showed me how quick and easy it was to steal remove most car audio systems. No joke, 5 seconds.

The Asteroid hooks up just like a normal head unit, with a wire harness and RF connections being typical. The microphone is analog, but the GPS receiver connects via USB, taking up one of the four USB inputs. Mike ran the two included USB extension cables down through the dash, having them emerge close to the passenger-side cup holder, where I can put my phone and iPod.

Then the scary part (to me). The outside opening of the stock audio system is double-DIN, but there's internal bracing, mostly plastic, that's smaller. Out came the grinder and a saw. Mike seemed unperturbed as the plastic flew.

Let me remind you, I love my car. As I watch (and take photographs!), not only is there's a massive hole in my dashboard, but some guy is hacking away at it with an angle grinder. An interesting day, that.

I wasn't worried, given only to worry when professionals say things like "woops," "umm..." or "you didn't need that finger, right?" and so far, Mike was the Wiki page on calm.

Sure enough, with a reassuring shove, the Smart snapped right in. Honestly, right now, I don't think anyone would realize it didn't come with the car. Fantastic work.

Check out Part 2 for how it works, sounds, performs and more.

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