So you’ve purchased your shiny new Parrot Asteroid Smart head unit and are wondering what you can do with it, aside from what’s available from the official Parrot sources? Perhaps there are some minor annoyances that you wish to fix? Then read on. I’ve spent the last few weeks with this head unit and I’m happy to say that I’ve discovered some pretty interesting off-the-shelf apps that’ll make your experience much more pleasant.

Sideloading Apps

So how do you side load apps to the head unit? There are several methods. The one I use is the developer way, where you side load applications using the tools that come with Android SDK downloaded for development purposes. The other method is to load applications from a USB key. Both are really simple and do not require you to root the device. Which is good news, because at the time of typing this nobody has been able to root the Asteroid Smart yet. YET..

Android SDK

Before being able to use the Android dev tools to side load apps, you need to enable a few things on the head unit itself. I’m away from it at the moment, but it goes something like this:

  1. Go to Settings > Applications
  2. Enable installation of applications from unknown sources
  3. Scroll further down to Settings > Applications > Development
  4. Enable USB debugging

You’re now ready. On the back of the unit there’s a USB port with a laptop icon next to it. This is the port you will be using to connect to your computer.
Once you’re hooked up, you need to cd into the platform-tools directory inside the SDK folder. There you will find the ADB utility. The following command will allow you to upload the .APK file to the head unit:

Aaaand that’s pretty much it. Might look a bit different on Windows, you will probably not need the ./ in front of the adb command.

Via USB

This method might be simpler for some users, especially if you have already installed your head unit and have a spare USB port, but didn’t run a cord to the dev USB port. The option is again under the Settings > Applications > Development. Somewhere in there (I’m away from the unit right now) is an option to install from SD card or USB dongle. You’ll find it, it’s pretty easy.

Getting the APK Files

So your next question is, where to get the APK files? A rather good question, since the unit doesn’t come with Google Play store installed. There are several options that I’ve found. If you have other suggestions, feel free to post them.

Third Party App Stores

I’ve found that you can install some third part app stores. One of such stores is called Aptoide. I recommend this one, because from here you can download other app stores, like the Amazon store and Blackmart. Obviously, some of these stores will contain pirated content. Being a developer I’m not a huge fan on that, but it’s handy because not every app you’ll buy on the Google Play store will work, so sometimes you may want to use Blackmart to test if an app will work before purchasing it. And if you want a completely legal way to buy and download apps from the Play store, read on..

Google Play Store

Yes, you can download and install apps from the Google Play store on your Parrot Asteroid Smart. But it’s not a trivial process. And you will need either an Android device of your own, or borrow a friend’s for this to work. The benefit of this method, however, is that you get access to all the available apps and you can legally purchase paid applications. This is the method I use to get APKs.
For this to work, you need a tool called Real APK Leecher. It’s a Java tool, so it should work on all operating systems. When you download and fire this thing up, you’ll need to enter your device’s serial number. You can download the Device ID app on your Android phone or tablet linked to your Google Play account and enter this ID into the APK Leecher, along with your Google Play credentials. Now it’s just a simple matter of downloading the app you need!Β 
Be aware that the apps presented to you with this tool will be the versions of applications that work on your Android device (the ID that you entered) and not on the Asteroid itself. So some apps may not work all that great, but that’s where the third party app stores come in handy.

Custom Launcher

Ok so we’re getting to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post now. Picking the custom launcher for your Asteroid. You can use the one Parrot bundled with it, and it works pretty great, but for a bit of extra flexibility you might want to go with something else. Personally, I prefer the ADW Launcher EX. It’s highly customizable, and it allows you to add an “Activity” shortcut, which has some really cool benefits. Adding activity shortcuts will let you go directly to the currently playing audio source, or a specific setting (like bluetooth) or open the equalizer window. Play around with the different types of shortcuts and you’ll find that there are a lot of cool things you can do!

For the record, the theme I use is the ADW Elegant theme.

Widgets

To each his own, but I like to have a nice clock and some weather info on the main screen of my head unit. The particular widgets I use are SiMi Clock (for clock and weather) and the Volume Control Widget. I’ve tried to find some media control widgets, but none of them really want to control the Asteroid’s media player consistently. This has to do with Asteroid’s low-level software features and in the future this may be possible, but not right now. I’ve tried the Phantom Music Control and that one seems to work the best, as long as you stick to using the default Asteroid media player for everything.Β 
Notice in the screenshot I have two “music” shortcuts. One opens the default Asteroid media player’s source selection activity, the other opens the “now playing” activity (so you can skip the source selection). Quite handy. Also I recommend disabling the launcher’s “double tap to edit” feature, because if you’re mashing on the volume widget to adjust the volume, you don’t want the edit menu to pop up. If anyone has other ideas for widgets, please post them up. So far I’ve found these two to be the most handy.

Applications

There are many applications that I have installed on the device that are REALLY handy. I’ll start with the absolute musts:
Google Maps, if you have internet connectivity in your car via a tethered cell phone or some other means.
Utter! This is an awesome connected voice control application for dialing phone numbers, launching apps and navigation
Jango Radio, because I couldn’t get Pandora to work (but I’ve seen a YouTube video of it working, so there’s a version out there..)
PullOpenSettings for switching between apps, adjusting brightness and volume. This is the only app I’ve found so far that lets you fiddle brightness on the head unit without it instantly reverting to whatever setting you had it before.
Tasker, for automating away certain bugs that I find annoying (see further down)
Dolphin web browser. Obviously.
Facebook, this one is mostly for logging into other apps (like Jango) with my Facebook account.
Ok, I think that sums up the important ones. Now.. on to removing some of the annoyances of this head unit

Buuuuugs And Annoyances

There have been quite a few bugs and just minor annoyances that I’ve found with this head unit. Equalizer not activated when the thing starts up is probably the most annoying one. Other times I want some of my apps to start with the device (like the PullOpenSettings app). Maybe you want the default audio source selected for you on startup, or have a default volume set so you don’t go deaf when you hit play. Read on..

Equalizer

So, if you’ve used this thing to listen to music, which is arguably one of its primary functions, then you may have noticed that when the device wakes up from “deep sleep” it will NOT activate the equalizer right away. So to activate those awesome sound settings that you’ve spent 4 hours tweaking you must go into Menu > Audio FX and enable the damn thing EVERY TIME you get in your car. Annoying right?

Worry not, my friends! For that is why you installed the awesome Tasker application I mentioned earlier. Tasker lets you bind actions to certain events. For example, it can start an application when your head unit boots up. AHA! So you can automatically fire up the equalizer and then go back to the main screen every time the head unit starts up. Here’s how you do it: you need to create a profile that runs when your device boots up. In that profile, specify the applications (or activities) you wish to fire up, and then have the Tasker bring you back to the home screen.
First, you need to set up some tasks:

Now create the profile which will run the above tasks when the device starts:

Here’s what it looks like when the device boots:

Brightness And Volume

Personally, I find it difficult to hit the little volume button to bring up the slider while driving, and it’s nearly impossible to adjust the display brightness unless you have it switching automatically (which is also buggy). So I use the nifty little app called PullOpenSettings which lets you bring up a menu with settings and shortcuts by swiping from the right (or bottom, or left..). You can do the swipe while in any application, which makes it very very handy. Here’s a video of it in action:

Notice that this app doesn’t run on startup, which is where the Tasker/Equalizer trick described above comes in real handy.

And that’s all I’ve got to share for today. If you find a really cool and handy app, please do share!