Unlike other head units, the Parrot Asteroid doesn’t take CDs, with the company’s Product Manager Frederic Albinet believing “most people want access to digital music.” Sacrificing the conventional CD means goodbye mp3 compilations, but does allow the company to produce a much smaller head unit, by almost half the size.
On the outside, the Parrot Asteroid looks simple and focussed. Concealed in a premium black finish are few buttons, and a 3.2 inch TFT screen. At a glance it doesn’t look complex, but this product’s success comes from concealing its sophistication.
For starters, it’s the first head unit that offers 3G connectivity. Through a USB port, you can plug in a 3G/HSDPA modem, offering access to a variety of location and information services. Although the first of its kind, it would’ve been a welcomed treat seeing the 3G modem in built, with the only requisite being a sim card.
Preinstalled, it comes with Google Maps, an itinerary service that offers commentary on your location (Roadtrip), an app that notifies you on speed cameras (Wikango), a weather app, a digital radio app and a Speech to text app.
The Asteroid offers Bluetooth connectivity for hands free driving, with an external dual microphone positioned above your car’s rear view mirror. While one microphone detects your voice, the other is busy erasing sounds that are greater than voice frequencies, such as police sirens. It’s the combination of eliminating background interference and zoning in on your voice that results in truly crisp audio quality.
The unit is also receptive to voice prompts, allowing users to cleverly search for music or make phone calls through spoken cues. Typical gadgets that respond to voice cues barely work, always defying your commands like an insubordinate teen.
But, Parrot was founded in ’94 with a focus on voice technology. They’ve refined their gear, and most importantly tailored it to suit different countries and regions, so that accents and varying pronunciations don’t cause the system to falter. The results are impressive, and the demonstrations (conducted by an Englishman, an Australian and a Frenchman) seem to argue their technology is accurate.
Connectivity is well accommodated with several USB ports, Apples proprietary cable, an auxiliary input, two RCA outputs and power. There’s even a connection that hooks the Parrot unit to your steering wheel controls, helping the aftermarket installation feel like it always belonged.
It’s an interesting product really, joining the Google made OS only to be largely compatible with Apple’s iPhone, and ditching the conventional CD format for hard disk technology, which is the direction multimedia is taking.
“It offers more than you’ve ever seen on any generation of head unit” claims the company’s Managing Director (ANZ) Chris Roberts.
If that’s the case the $399 price tag is a good deal, and should be in stores by Mid-October.