Review: Pioneer’s new head unit is a tablet you can take with you

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Pioneer’s clever new Smart Unit Receiver features a removable 8.0-inch Android tablet as its centrepiece 

In-car entertainment these days is much more than just listening to music. With the advent of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, drivers can also access features such as third-party navigation apps, as well as making hands-free phone calls while driving.

Pioneer has now launched a new aftermarket system that offers many of those functionalities, but with the added bonus of being able to use it as a fully-functioning tablet. It is detachable from the car, allowing you to watch videos and play games in any seat as well as away from the car.

The Pioneer Smart Unit Receiver is basically an Android-powered tablet that can also serve as your car’s stereo system. The system consists of the SPH-T20BT audio receiver, as well as the SDA-835TAB, which is an 8.0-inch removable display that also doubles as a portable smart device.

Pioneer touts the Smart Unit Receiver as the first of its kind on the market, with full Google-certified access to the Google Play Store. While there are other products from China that offer similar functions, the Pioneer Smart Unit Receiver is the only one that has received official Google endorsement. This means that it also has access to system security updates for greater peace of mind.

Like most modern infotainment systems, the Pioneer Smart Unit Receiver offers audio connectivity and Bluetooth pairing with your phone for hands-free calls. But as a smart device on its own, you’ll also be able to stream music through apps such as Spotify.

In addition, you can also download video streaming apps such as Netflix and YouTube from the Google App Store, or even choose to watch your own home videos using the SD card slot, which allows you to expand the device’s storage space from the system’s own 16GB capacity.

Pioneer does warn against drivers watching videos while on the move however. Instead, it encourages users of the Smart Unit Receiver to make use of its functions as an entertainment option for other passengers in the car.

For example, families with kids will find the Smart Unit Receiver especially useful. On long journeys, you could simply detach and hand the tablet to your children in the back seat to keep them entertained with games or videos. And once the journey’s over, they can continue to use the tablet outside of the car if they want to.

To have full access to the Smart Unit Receiver’s suite of functions however, you’ll need a working Internet connection, and Pioneer recommends tethering the device to your smartphone, or hooking it up to a mobile wi-fi hotspot if you have one in your car.

The Smart Unit Receiver’s flexibility also means that you can have access to a plethora of navigation apps, be it Google Maps or Waze or anything else you prefer. You can also download useful apps to help you find parking lots in town, or check out the traffic jam situation at the Causeway. Essentially, your options are only limited to whatever is available on the Google App Store.

Pioneer supplied us with a test unit for this review, and unfortunately there were some slight issues with lag and software performance with this particular unit, with the system having stalled three times while in use and requiring a reset each time.

In addition, in the car, with the unit protruding out from the fascia and fitted at an angle, the screen does reflect glare significantly in bright sunlight, making it a tad difficult to read the screen. The system actually works best as a standalone tablet when outside of the car, while its functionality as an in-car entertainment solution does present some flaws when compared to a dedicated system with full Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility.

If you’re seeking a head unit that offers seamless connectivity, perhaps one that incorporates Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality might be a better option. However, Pioneer says that the Smart Unit Receiver has been selling “extremely well”, so perhaps there are a significant number of consumers who find the portable nature of an Android-powered detachable tablet for their car appealing after all.

The Pioneer Smart Unit Receiver currently retails for S$898 inclusive of GST. To find out more:

(Special thanks to Singtrade Marketing & Services Pte Ltd for the installation of the Pioneer Smart Unit Receiver)

Text: Ben Chia    Photos: Lionel Kong, Ben Chia


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