Parrot Asteroid Smart Review, Part 2

Things we learned in Part 1: My car is old. It only played CDs. Angle grinder use on dashboards is best left to professionals. The Parrot Asteroid Smart seems to do a lot of cool stuff.

And that’s the thing, right? It seems to do a lot of cool stuff, but there was no way of knowing how cool, or not, until it was installed (quite expertly by Mobile Fantasy).

This is called “a gamble.”

Fully installed, there’s little that gives away the Asteroid Smart as an aftermarket product. It has none of the flashing lights and garish colors of many such systems. Instead, it’s a sleek nearly-all-screen design, with just a single strip on the left that has a power button and a tab so you can remove it. Doing so disables the Smart (a safety feature, fwiw), and reveals the SD card slot. For the maps to work, you need to keep the supplied SD card installed, which turns out not to be a big deal.

Performance

Perhaps the smartest design decision Parrot made with the Smart, was spending money on the screen and processor. They’re fantastic. The screen is bright and colorful, is easily readable in the sunlight (with and without sunglasses). It responds instantly to commands, and has all the qualities of the best smartphone screens. This is a huge deal, as if the screen was annoying to use, that’d be a dealbreaker.

Connecting to my phone via Bluetooth allows for voice dialing, but even cooler, you can choose bands, albums, and songs from your iPod just by speaking. I wish there was a way for the Android to be always listening, like “Hey car, play Cars,” but even though you have to select the voice recognition from the main menu, it works very well.

The other major feature is the GPS. The included iGO app isn’t quite as intuitive as some navigation software I’ve used, but it’s not bad. It has one “feature,” though, that nearly had me wanting to burn the Smart out of my dash with fire: “You are exceeding the speed limit.” Or something like that. Go above the speed limit, at all, and a patronizing voice derides you for it. Look, I don’t speed, but going 46 in a 45 just to keep up with traffic shouldn’t result in a distracting warning. I could go on and on about how annoying it is, but there’s no point. Buried deep in the menu you have the ability to shut it off. Thankfully (mercifully).

The sound quality of the phone audio itself (for you and your caller) is very good.

Music-wise, other than Bluetooth, you can connect an iPod or a USB thumb drive. It’s hard for me to say what the Smart will sound like in your car (and its different speakers and acoustics), but I can say what it sounds like compared to my previous system. The mids and treble are smoother, and there’s a better soundstage thanks to an adjustable spatializer. Bass response, sadly, isn’t quite as full or deep because I lost my subwoofer moving to the Smart from the stock system. It’s not a big difference, and honestly the old system had too much bass anyway (I think I had the EQ set at -5 for bass). I could easily get an inexpensive amp to power the sub if I wanted, but you know what, I don’t. It sounds good, and I’ll take a little less bass for being able to have iPod and Pandora and GPS and Bluetooth in a slick in-dash player. So as far as the Smart and it’s 55 watts per channel goes, I’d guess for most people it will be the equal to or better than their stock audio system.

While I thought losing my car’s steering wheel controls for volume and track changes was going to be an issue, the Parrot designers turned out to be far more clever than I. You don’t even need to look at the screen to do both these things. Want to change the volume while a track is playing? Just swipe the screen up or down. Want to change the track? Swipe right (or left to go back). This is, interestingly enough, exactly how their headphones work.

There are a few minor annoyances. If the car is parked for a while, like overnight (probably less, I didn’t time it), whatever you were listening to doesn’t automatically resume (it does for short stops). So you have to go to music, then source, to get it started again. It locked up on me once, requiring me to shut off the car for a few minutes before it would reboot. This is, amusingly, the same experience I’ve had with every modern car audio system (and smartphone, come to think of it). There’s a reset button, but you need a paperclip. The GPS antenna has a blinking white LED on it. Be careful where you place it (as in, not in your eyeline). Getting the SD card out is pretty much impossible. I tried with tweezers (no joke) and was unsuccessful.

Bottom Line

For me, all that I’ve gained moving to the Smart (iPod, phone interaction, Bluetooth audio/Pandora, GPS) vastly outweigh the negatives (loss of subwoofer, which I can fix). Even losing my steering wheel controls turned out not to be an issue, given how easy it is to change volume and track on the big screen.

The Asteroid Smart is easy to use, works fast and well, sounds good, and is the equal to many high-end stock car systems. It’s a pretty awesome upgrade for any tech-lover stuck in a non-tech-loving car. It’s easily the best upgrade I’ve done to my car, and makes it feel like a brand new car again. Minus that new car smell, of course.

It’s worth noting the Smart will do some other cool stuff if it can use the Internet from your phone (or from a 3G/4G USB dongle), including reading your email to you. My current phone doesn’t do these fancy things. When get a replacement (HTC One incoming!) I’ll update if there’s anything worth reporting.

 

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