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

The Smart Sync app turns your phone into a touchscreen

In a nutshell: We review the Pioneer SPH-10BT smartphone receiver. 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 one of our many head unit demo videos shot by fellow Crutchfield writer Ken Nail. 

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® and Google Voice™)
  • Navigation (including Waze and Google Maps, plus Apple Maps for iOS users)
  • Messaging (including Facebook and Whatsapp)
  • 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® 6s. 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 are also a dozen illumination colors for the faceplate, or I could choose a constant cycling through of all of them.

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, or Facebook).

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.

Main screen

The main screen

Upon pairing the phone with the SPH-10BT and launching the Smart Sync app, I took in the main display screen, which is divided into three parts: 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.

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).

In-depth screens

By pressing the musical source button either on the radio or my phone, I can explore the different options available, whether it's songs stored on my phone, songs on a thumb drive (if connected), streaming apps like Pandora or TuneIn, or even podcasts.

In-depth screen

The main music screen 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.

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.

Voice button screen

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 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.

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 try to get music off 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 6s.

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 thin Laut case on my iPhone 6s 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.

SPH10BT 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 attach a thumb drive or USB cable. If you're inclined to use the USB port often, it seems likely that the cover might break off eventually.  

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 6s, 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, phone, or email. Our friendly and knowledgeable advisors will be glad to help. And you get free lifetime tech support with every Crutchfield purchase.

Please share your thoughts below.

  • Kim C Callis from ALEXANDER

    Posted on 8/7/2020

    That is cool, but is there a head unit like this that can also do Sirius/XM radio?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 8/7/2020

    Hi Kim - not that I'm aware of, unfortunately. One of our Advisors may have some better ideas that are in the neighborhood of what you're looking for, so give us a call or chat online and see what y'all can come up with.
  • Jon from Southend

    Posted on 7/25/2020

    I read many places where it says there is a port for an optional wireless reversing camera but for the life of me can I find out any other information or what camera would even be compatible with this?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 7/26/2020

    Hi Jon - As far as I'm aware, there's no input on the SPH-10BT for a camera. But there's a port for their optional ND-PS1 rear parking sensors which install in your vehicle's rear bumper and let you see how far away you are from obstacles behind your vehicle while backing up. I did not cover this in my review of the receiver because it would have required installing it in a vehicle and modifying the vehicle's bumper.
  • Jessie Kehoe from canyon country

    Posted on 5/18/2020

    I read some comments about the app always running in the background and draining your phone battery. I would install this in a truck I only use once in a while. How do you stop the app when I am not in the truck for days at a time? Also, when the vehicle turns on, does the app automatically open itself or do I have to open the app manually? Just curious and thank you for your help.

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 5/18/2020

    Hi Jessie - thanks for your questions. This review was done about a year ago, in June of 2019. Sine then, I'm sure there have been many updates to the Pioneer Smart Sync app, and it's entirely possible that one of those updates is responsible for any background use/phone drain issues that people are describing. And it's also possible that those issues have been resolved since people were complaining about them, but I couldn't say for sure.
    I had the app on my phone for about a week and interacted with the SPH-10BT radio over the course of a few days in a controlled environment (not a car), but I don't recall battery drain being an issue at the time.
    According to the SPH-10BT's user manual, the Smart Sync app should start automatically on your phone when the phone is paired via Bluetooth with the SPH-10BT, but there is a setting within the app that needs to be engaged first to make this happen, so I guess if you don't want it starting automatically you can avoid it by not changing the setting in the app. Hope this helps!
  • Tony Hook from Sydney

    Posted on 5/5/2020

    HI Dominic, A couple of questions: 1) Both my wife and I drive the car. Does the app/unit recognise different users? 2) I would like to add a wireless reversing camera which would display on the iphone. This obviously would be totally independent of the Pioneer. When engaging reverse gear would the reverse function take over from the Smart Sync. i.e. display the camera footage? Or would it involve activating on the iphone screen? Thanks in advance. Tony

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 5/6/2020

    Hi Tony - Thanks for your questions. I have to begin with a disclaimer that I can't speak to the functionality of any devices made for Australia versus their American counterparts. That said, the app and radio are different things. The radio can be paired with two different phones at the same time, so it can recognize different users. I assume that if you and your wife both have the Smart Sync app on your phones, the radio shouldn't have any issues differentiating between users. For the second question, any rear-view camera that would work with an iPhone would require an app to be on the phone, so perhaps the camera app could supersede the Smart Sync app when the vehicle is in reverse, but I can't say for sure that it would happen without needing to activate by touching the iPhone's screen. I've never used one of those cameras/apps with a phone so I can't speak definitively on the topic.
  • Jim from Palm Springs

    Posted on 4/26/2020

    1. Does unit turn on/off when car is turned on/off? 2. Will unit activate a power antenna when turned on/off? 3. To charge cell phone does it require a cord hanging out of USB port that goes to the mini port on phone..(Cumbersome?)

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 4/27/2020

    Hi Jim - thanks for your questions. 1. Yes 2. According to the product manual (which can be found on the radio's page on our site): When this unit's blue/white lead is connected to the vehicle's auto-antenna relay control terminal, the vehicle's antenna extends when this unit's source is turned on. To retract the antenna, turn the source off. 3. Yes, if you want to charge your phone while it is in the stereo's cradle, you will have to run a cable to the charging port on your phone from somewhere. The cradle does not currently support wireless charging. Is it cumbersome? I suppose that depends on where your phone's charging port is located and where your car's 12-volt port is. You can also use the USB port that is built into the stereo's face as a charging port.
  • Graham from London

    Posted on 3/14/2020

    Hi I can program the clock via the app and via system but when you turn the unit off it goes back to 1200 each time ,am I doing something wrong

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 3/16/2020

    Hi Graham - Sorry to hear about your issue. Unfortunately, the problem could be a number of different things. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help with your radio. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Visit our tech support page for more info.
  • Jim McGuan from Grand Island

    Posted on 2/9/2020

    Can you use the radio without having phone linked?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 2/10/2020

    Hi Jim - You CAN use the radio without having the phone linked, but the utility will be fairly limited. You will be able to listen to AM or FM stations and change stations and adjust the volume, but that's about it. For pretty much any other function, you will need your phone linked to the radio and Pioneer's Smart Sync app. I would recommend talking to one of our Advisors about how you plan to use this radio before purchasing to see if it's right for you, as it really is designed to be used in conjunction with a smartphone for nearly every application.
  • Norm from ABERYSTWYTH

    Posted on 2/5/2020

    There are virtually no written set up instructions included. I have the 3 section panel on the phone (Android) Huawei. Music appears to be playing on the phone but no sound. What am I missing. Also where actually are the sound settings?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 2/5/2020

    Hi Norm - Sorry to hear about your issues. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help with your radio. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Visit our tech support page for more info.
  • Andy from London

    Posted on 10/22/2019

    Hi when playing music using Spotify, neither songs or artwork appear on the main smart sync screen. The only songs or artwork that appear on the screen are ones from Apple Music library, even when Spotify is playing. How can I rectify this?. I'm using an iPhone 8. Cheers Andy

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 10/25/2019

    Hi Andy - Thanks for your question. It's hard to say for sure what the issue might be. The SPH-10BT had a firmware update release a couple of months ago, so I'd start with making sure that is current by visiting Pioneer's web site. Beyond that, your best bet would be reaching out to our Tech Support. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.
  • Nick Roess from Bruxelles

    Posted on 10/18/2019

    Hi, Can I use y own iphone (windshield) cradle and still get all functionalities of the smartsync app ? ie with the pionneer cradle in its un-ejected position ?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 10/23/2019

    Hi Nick - thanks for your question. Yes, you can leave your phone in a cradle and get the same functionality of the SmartSync app with the SPH-10BT in your dash.
  • brian thomas from london

    Posted on 10/11/2019

    is the radio an independent function? will it work without using the mobile data?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 10/14/2019

    Hi Brian - thanks for your question. Yes, the AM/FM radio operates independent of the smartphone aspect of the SPH-10BT, and does not require any mobile data.
  • Scott Parkin from haledon

    Posted on 8/11/2019

    I cannot figure out how to adjust the fader can you please offer some assistance

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 8/12/2019

    Hi Scott - If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.
  • Robert from San Francisco

    Posted on 8/9/2019

    Hi, Does one have to use the sync app? Or can one go straight thru native iPhone apps? In other words, can I: play directly from Spotify, iTunes library etc? And can I make calls directly from the phone without using the Pioneer app? Thanks, Robert

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 8/9/2019

    Hi Robert - Thanks for your questions. You don't have to use the Smart Sync app, but it really limits the utility of the SPH-10BT if you don't. You can play audio apps through your phone through the radio via a Bluetooth connection, but you'll be limited in terms of changing songs and other functionality and won't be able to take advantage of the radio's buttons. Per the SPH-10BT's owner manual (page 15), you won't be able to make calls without the Smart Sync app. If you have any further questions, one of our Advisors will be happy to help via chat, email, or phone call.
  • Mike from Loveland

    Posted on 7/25/2019

    I suppose the phone would have to be charged by a separate car charger while in BlueTooth mode. Does the USB connection charge the phone?

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 7/26/2019

    Mike - thanks for your question. Yes, devices that can be charged via USB connection will charge when plugged into a SPH-10BT that is turned on.
  • Steve Pullen from Roswell, GA

    Posted on 7/25/2019

    The advertised voice-activated functions for Telephone Calls and Navigation through the Pioneer microphone and Smart Sync App for iPhone do not work (i.e., not using Siri and the iPhone microphone, which are 2.5 feet from the user when iPhone is cradled). Senior technical support at both Crutchfield and Pioneer are unable to resolve these issues. I am a long term Crutchfield customer. This is the worst performing electronic product I have ever purchased.

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 7/26/2019

    Hi Steve - Sorry to hear that the SPH-10BT is not performing as it should, and especially sorry that our Tech Support staff was unable to remedy the issue for you. We do want you to be satisfied, so we offer a 60-day no-hassle return policy; you can reach Crutchfield Customer Support by dialing 1-888-955-6000, or use the "Contact Us" link at the top right of this page for live chat or email.
  • KC Connor from Mesa, AZ

    Posted on 7/17/2019

    You neglected to cover the biggest glaring deficiency of this radio: There is no way to program user-settable radio presets for AM and FM bands.

    Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    on 7/17/2019

    Hi KC - Thanks for the feedback. It is true I did not explore every aspect of the SPH-10BT/Smart Sync experience, including the radio presets. While the SPH-10BT cannot itself store user-settable radio presets, it can store up to 18 FM and 6 AM non-settable bands in the "Best Stations Memory" setting, which stores the strongest signals. This is a function of the stereo itself, independent of the Smart Sync app. However, it is possible to add up to 6 selectable FM presets through the Smart Sync app - follow these steps within the app to see how: 1> Notes (bottom left icon); 2> AV Source Operation; 3> Radio operation; 4> Receiving preset stations. Our tech support folks are happy to help if you have any further questions!