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A hands-on review of the Pioneer SPH-10BT car stereo

The Pioneer Smart Sync app turns your phone into a touchscreen

In this article, we review the Pioneer SPH-10BT smartphone receiver and the Pioneer Smart Sync app. Some of the points we looked at are:

  • Setup and phone connection
  • Customizing the stereo's features
  • Using your phone as the stereo's display
  • Potential drawbacks

Read on for the full hands-on review.

The Pioneer SPH-10BT digital media receiver shatters boundaries by turning your smartphone into a touchscreen display for the stereo, giving you easy access to music, maps, and messaging — without the need for a large dash opening.

In this review, we get hands-on with the SPH-10BT receiver and Pioneer's Smart Sync app to see how well they work together in a controlled environment.

Along similar lines, we recently reviewed a pair of groundbreaking modular touchscreen receivers from Pioneer for difficult-to-fit dash openings.

Move the slider left to right to see the difference

SPH10BT in dash

SPH10BT in dash with phone

Pioneer's SPH-10BT digital media receiver turns into a touchscreen receiver with voice control when combined with a smartphone. (Use the slider to see the stereo with and without a phone.)

A stereo designed for smartphone integration

The first thing I noticed about the SPH-10BT is its fairly minimal design. The head unit itself sports six large hard keys across its face, with very little room for a display. Most of the screen load is carried by the driver's smartphone, which fits into a cradle that folds out of the receiver.

Without the smartphone in the cradle, the receiver offers fairly limited utility. It's fair to assume that most folks will be using the stereo in conjunction with their phone, and that the phone will be mounted in the receiver's cradle. If you already have another spot on your dash where you prefer to mount your phone, that's fine.

Mounting your phone

To get the cradle out, I had to detach the stereo's faceplate, then pull the cradle out and fold it up to form a base for the phone. The faceplate then reattaches pretty easily, but you cannot put the cradle back without removing the faceplate.

The cradle's sliding backplate adjusts upward a couple of inches to accommodate the width of various phones — it clamps down on the phone rather forcefully to ensure the phone doesn't fall out. The cradle's "legs" also adjust horizontally to let them touch the phone's sides without impacting any phone buttons. 

Behind the scenes: To conduct this review, we used a simulation dashboard you might've seen in some of our many Crutchfield videos. 

SPH10BT with phone

The Pioneer SPH-10BT's cradle offers a safe home for most smartphones.

Big buttons make it easy to control

The buttons along the SPH-10BT's faceplate mimic the functions of the Smart Sync app:

  • Musical source selection
  • Voice assistants (including Siri®, Google Voice™, and Amazon Alexa)
  • Navigation (including Waze and Google Maps, plus Apple Maps for iOS users)
  • Messaging (including Telegram and WhatsApp Messenger)
  • Phone
  • Smart Sync application launch

They're easy to find without even looking down while driving. There's also a USB port (with a somewhat annoying port cover) above the left-hand buttons, and a small display screen in the middle of the stereo's face. You can see a little bit of text on the display, but most of the action will be on the phone's screen. 

SPH10BT

Setting up the stereo and your phone

When I got everything hooked up and turned on, I went through the setup. The first thing I did was to check Pioneer's website to see if a firmware update was available for the SPH-10BT. Sure enough, there was, so I downloaded it to a thumb drive and updated the stereo to make sure it was current.

Then I went through the initial setup with my Apple iPhone® SE 3rd generation. This included pairing it with the SPH-10BT through Bluetooth® and choosing a language, clock setting, and whether the app control function would be done through Bluetooth or a wired connection. On this initial setup run, there were no issues pairing the device with Bluetooth.

Color options

Once I paired my phone with the stereo and placed it in the cradle so that there were no issues with the buttons, I started going through wallpapers and illumination settings. There were about a dozen wallpapers to choose from, a few of which feature "live" moving images (nothing too distracting, though). There were also dozens of colors for the faceplate, including the ability to create a custom hue.

Wallpapers screen

Navigation and messaging settings

There are more settings to play with that go beyond cosmetics. I was able to choose the default navigation app (Google Maps please, although Waze is available for both kinds of phones and Apple Maps for iPhones), as well as my messaging app of choice (between iMessage, WhatsApp Messenger, or Telegram).

Advanced- settings

Sonic setups galore

A 31-band EQ could easily provide hours of fun tweaks if I was using it in a car with a decent stereo system. It even includes several presets and a pair of customizable options that I can save. I don't really know much about "Super Todoroki Sound" but there are three settings for it, or I can just turn it off.

"Simulated Sound Fields" add the ambience of different types of listening rooms to my tunes, like concert hall and stadium. And there's "Easy Sound Fit" for making no-hassle time correction tweaks depending on what kind of car I'm in. More advanced settings include manual adjustments to time correction and fader/balance controls.

All in all, this SPH-10BT offers a lot of audio adjustments to ensure it'll sound good in your vehicle.

More advanced settings group

Another cool feature is "source level adjuster," which lets me set the volume levels for different types of sources — I find that Bluetooth audio is usually much quieter than FM signals and USB media, so it's nice to be able to boost that volume level without getting blasted when I switch sources.

Choosing a display layout

The Smart Sync app offers users four different choices for how they want their display to look as they drive: Music mode, Dash mode, Driver Pilot mode, and Personal photo mode.

Dash mode is most similar to the default of previous iterations of the app, with a musical source, clock date, and speedometer with altitude reading. I question the utility of including the speedometer (or at least not making it optional), but perhaps Pioneer imagined people mounting their phones over their vehicle display panels and covering up the speedometer.

Dash 1

You can also choose to have the shortcuts for source, voice commands, navigation, text, and phone dialing along the bottom of the screen or not. With the display split into thirds, I can only see part of the song info as it scrolls along, but it does show album artwork when using a wired connection (more on that in a minute).

music 1

The Music mode screen (above) shows album artwork, artist/title/album/genre info, what EQ setting is in play, and whether or not any effects are being used. I can also see the time elapsed and remaining on the track. And from this screen I can quickly access all my albums and playlists or filter songs by genre if I want.

pilot 1

The Driver Pilot mode screen (above) offers a large speedometer in the center of the display, along with the music info on the left and a compass on the right. I couldn't judge the accuracy of the speedometer or the compass without being in a vehicle, but I assume with a decent GPS connection via the phone these would be reasonably on target.

photo 1
 

Personal Photo mode (above) allows users to turn their own photos into a large backdrop, reducing the music info and time/date display to minimal size. I went to Rome recently so I chose to use this shot of the Coliseum. Pioneer also offers a few stock images, including their famous dolphins.  

Navigation, voice control, and other functions

Nav screen

The navigation screen looks pretty much like the navigation screen on my phone. I can type in a destination or use my voice to speak it, and I can choose between different kinds of maps depending on how I plan to get around. 

The voice button lets me compose a text and it also lets me choose to have an incoming message read aloud to me. This is definitely one of the most handy features of Smart Sync, and I found the incoming text being read aloud quite easy to understand.

The phone button pulls up my phone's contact list and lets me dial with a fingertip touch or by speaking the name aloud.

Launching the Smart Sync application from the receiver just brings up a couple of more options, including showing the button shortcuts on the phone screen or not, and card/list display options for albums, artists, and titles.

Switching music sources

One aspect of the SPH-10BT I was concerned about was how seamlessly it would move between different sources. When I was connected to the radio via Bluetooth, there was only a slight lag when moving between streaming music apps, stored music files, and the FM tuner.

In some cases with the streaming music apps and stored music files, I would not see the album artwork, although the song titles and artists would always show up. Moving between the phone sources and music on a thumb drive took a little bit longer, but that's to be expected.

The Smart Sync app plays well with a number of streaming sources, integrating with apps for the following services:

Pandora Spotify
SoundCloud Mixcloud
TuneIn Radio iHeartRadio
Tidal SiriusXM
Amazon Music Apple Music
Apple Podcasts

iPhone compatibility

When I had my iPhone plugged into the SPH-10BT's front USB port, the artwork was always present for whatever was playing off my phone, whether streaming or stored files. And switching between those sources was quite seamless.

One thing that took a while to figure out was the "App Control" setting at setup — if I hadn't launched the Smart Sync app on my iPhone, the stereo would use the iPhone as the audio source whether I had chosen "Wired" or "Bluetooth" as my App Control default.

It was a pain to play music from my thumb drive without engaging the Smart Sync app first. When I launched the app and connected to the stereo, then the app became the command center for sources whether the iPhone was connected via Bluetooth or a cable.

Android compatibility

I didn’t play much with an Android device, but according to the manual, as long as you're using the Smart Sync app, everything will work the way it should, whether you use USB or Bluetooth to connect to your phone. After all, that's how the stereo is designed to be used — in conjunction with the app.

If you want to listen to music without using the Smart Sync app, then connecting the phone via USB is probably the best way to go. The stereo uses the AOA 2.0 protocol to talk to your phone. As long as you have a newer phone, you should be able to have control and see album artwork. If your phone doesn’t seem to be up to speed, you might have better luck going the Bluetooth streaming route if you don’t want to turn on the Smart Sync app.

The connection issue

Before the testing, I noticed a few complaints on our site and elsewhere online about both the SPH-10BT and the Smart Sync app itself. One of the main issues seemed to be that the app would work fine at first but then eventually have issues connecting with the stereo. I experienced a bit of that on my third and fourth rounds of testing with my iPhone SE 3rd generation.

It took me roughly 15 minutes each time just to get Smart Sync on my phone to pair with the stereo after the first couple of times doing the test under similar conditions. For round five I tried connecting with an iPhone XS Max and had no issues, but I didn't do much testing beyond the connection because I really wanted to see how the cradle would work with a larger phone.

Another potential issue I read about was the tendency of the Smart Sync app to lose all its programmed settings (radio station presets and EQ curves in particular) every so often and for no apparent reason. I didn't run into this specific hurdle, but it was in the back of my mind as I encountered connection problems with the app on the third and fourth rounds of testing.

The phone fit issue

The fit of the phone on the cradle was another major complaint I saw about the SPH-10BT, the main thrust being that it doesn't accommodate thicker phone cases. That may be the case for some folks, but I have a Laut case of medium thickness on my iPhone SE 3rd generation and experienced no issues. I didn't have any problem putting the iPhone XS Max on the cradle (without a case), either.

My impressions might be different if I were driving and needed to adjust the angle of the phone for a better view or hit a nasty pothole, but in the simulated dash it accommodated a couple of different sized phones easily.

Pioneer SPH-10BT with thumb drive

The SPH-10BT's USB port is conveniently located but the cover's not friendly to big fingers.

That darn USB port cover

This is a small thing, but the cover on the faceplate's USB port feels extraneous, bordering on annoying. I understand the need to keep that area free of dust, but the cover can get in the way of large fingers like mine when trying to insert a thumb drive or USB cable.  

Dominic with Pioneer SPH-10BT receiver at his desk

Final thoughts about the SPH-10BT

The Pioneer SPH-10BT presents an exciting way to combine your phone and your stereo into a seamless experience. It's also a great way for single-DIN dash owners to get the convenience of a touchscreen stereo without paying big bucks for a fold-out receiver or something requiring major modifications.

In general, it works pretty well for basic music, mapping, messaging, and calling functions, and the voice command aspect of it is very attractive from a safety perspective. Sonic enthusiasts will definitely dig all the tweaks available through the app.

On the first few passes with the iPhone SE 3rd generation, the Smart Sync app and receiver performed admirably together. However, the stereo/app combo is asking a lot of the Bluetooth connection, which is not always as robust as I'd like it to be. As Bluetooth chips for both the stereo and phones improve, perhaps Smart Sync will prove to be a reliable alternative for those who love their phones but can't invest in a touchscreen receiver.


Interested in the Pioneer SPH-10BT?

If you want to know more about the Pioneer SPH-10BT or other touchscreen digital media stereos, contact us by chat or phone. Our friendly and knowledgeable advisors will be glad to help. You should also check out our Car Stereo Buying Guide for shopping tips and advice. And you get free lifetime tech support with every Crutchfield purchase.

  • Danny from Lubbock

    Posted on 10/4/2023

    Cannot see why this radio is being promoted in Fall of 2023. Bought and installed in Summer of 2022 and had no technical issues with the install or usage. My setbacks were having to use an outdated app with technical issues that had not had major updates or redesigns in years. This was a cool concept in 2018, but in 2022 and 2023, there are much better options. After 6 months I gave in and purchased a Boss Apple CarPlay/Android Auto head unit and have been much happier. The price difference between the two was rather negligible and I was even able to add a backup camera, and have a second charging port available.

    Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 10/5/2023

    Thanks for your feedback, Danny. We're glad you were able to find a new radio which better suited your needs.
  • Ryan from Kansas City

    Posted on 6/17/2023

    Wanted to ask how with using a Amp or sub with it. I have a Honda CR-Z and wanting to use the factory Amp and sub.

  • Jonas from Sweden

    Posted on 5/2/2023

    Don't buy this piece of junk. It is useless.

    Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 5/3/2023

    Hi Jonas - thanks for your trenchant observation. Our customers have given this radio a 4-star rating over 181 reviews, which indicates their experience has differed slightly from yours.
  • JB

    Posted on 9/21/2021

    I installed the SPH-10BT and it went well. However, I cannot get any audio out from any speakers - not even a hum or buzz. Based on wire colors, all speakers are wired correctly, nothing shorted, etc. I tested an RCA output and was able to get some sound through a speaker (without amp). I found settings for changing the speakers (Rear/Sub), but this doesn't seem to apply? Is there a setting I am missing, a software update, or defective unit?

    Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 9/21/2021

    Hi JB - Sorry to hear your stereo's not performing like it should. If you got your Pioneer from Crutchfield, go ahead and give a call to our outstanding Tech Support team; it's free with your purchase, and you can find the phone number on your order invoice. If you didn't get your stereo from Crutchfield, I can only say it might be any number of issues, from a loose connection somewhere to a fully defective unit (which isn't likely but within the realm of possibility). In that case, I would contact the store where you got the Pioneer for troubleshooting help and/or to ask for a refund or exchange.
  • Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/6/2021

    Hi Brad - thanks for checking in. The Source Level Adjuster (SLA) function is found under the SPH-10BT's AUDIO settings and operates on a scale from (+4) to (-4). The manual tells us: Each of the below combinations are set to the same setting automatically.

    • When making a USB connection, set USB, iPhone and APP.
    • When making a Bluetooth connection, set BT AUDIO, iPhone and APP.

  • Brad J

    Posted on 9/4/2021

    How does the source level adjuster actually set individual levels?

  • John Cunanan from Hollis

    Posted on 6/26/2021

    I got the Pioneer SPH-10BT and the Alt/Avg MPH never worked. I tried upgrading the firmware and still didn't work. Anyone else have this problem? I am using an iPhone 11

    Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 6/26/2021

    Hi John - thanks for your question. Looking through the comments and reviews of the Smart Sync app online might help you determine what could be the cause of your app's issues. With most any app that requires updates, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way. If you need further assistance with your SPH-10BT, please call the Crutchfield Tech Support team at the number listed on your invoice, or try contacting Pioneer directly.
  • Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/19/2021

    Hi Rachel Thanks for reading. If you purchased your receiver from Crutchfield, our Tech Support folks will be happy to help you out for free — just call the number listed on your invoice and they can make sure you're up to date. If you didn't I'm afraid I can't be of much help beyond pointing you to this page:
    https://www.pioneerelectronics.com/PUSA/Car/Digital+Media+Receivers/SPH-10BT

    And directing you to the tab that says "Downloads" — as of right now the most recent firmware update is from May 30, 2019. I don't know if there's a more current one which Pioneer has listed elsewhere.

  • Rachel from Metropolis

    Posted on 6/17/2021

    I'm wanting to update the firmware and on Pioneer's US site I can't find the firmware update for the SPH-10bt. I'm wondering if I actually have the model from Europe and need to download the firmware from a different Pioneer site. My model number is SPH-10bt. I've noticed some have a "c" in that model number and that is possibly the US and Canada model. Mine, however, is just SPH-10bt. Just want to know where to download the firmware and make sure I'm downloading the right one.

  • Peter from Älmhult

    Posted on 5/30/2021

    I bought this piece for crap 2 months ago and that was a big mistake. The radio volume is normal but using Spotify over Bluetooth is completely useless. The volume is so low that you almost need to turn it up fully and then there is too much noise in the speakers. This stereo is only useful if you want to listen to the radio. It's definitely not worth the money

    Commenter image

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 5/30/2021

    Hi Peter - thanks for weighing in, and sorry to hear that your SPH-10BT experience is less than ideal. Hope all is well in Sweden!

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