Earlier this year, I had the fortune of taking a look at the Livio Radio Carmen, a unit that was able to serve as an MP3 player or as an to intermediary to your phone for playing music through your radio via an FM transmitter. It garnered high marks for its simple and clean design, number of features, and the affordable cost. With Livio Radio’s app for the iPhone and Android smartphones, it was only a matter of time before they took their hardware game up a notch, in order to leverage their app that harnesses the power of internet radio and brings it to your car. The Kit is such a device.
The Kit comes with a few more buttons than the Carmen did, which can make it look a little intimidating at first. However, a quick read through of the manual gets you acclimated to the device within minutes. After you connect the head unit into the gooseneck attachment and get the assembly plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter, you simply press the call and hang up buttons to initiate the pairing process with your iPhone. Once this has been completed, you can press the Livio Radio button to bring up the installed app and control it from the head unit, which can be moved to a convenient location by adjusting the flexible neck. Simply dial your radio into a signal-free channel and use the knob on the Kit to adjust it to match. Once dialed in, you can immediately begin streaming music from some of your favorite internet radio stations.
When the music began streaming in from my friend Erik’s iPhone (I, alas, am a Windows Phone 7 guy), I was immediately impressed with the quality of audio that was being broadcasted over the FM transmitter from the device. It’s been my experience with FM transmitter adapters that there’s typically a significant amount of quality degradation that occurs. I couldn’t say that what I was listening to was equivalent to 320Kb/s audio (MP3), but I would definitely put it on par with 192Kb/s audio (equivalent to CD quality). While I currently drive a Chevrolet Cruze (which presumably has a higher quality FM receiver), I did test the audio quality in my older 2005 Impala, and the result was equally impressive compared to the Carmen.
Another excellent feature of note is that the Kit can transmit the station, artist, and song information to the radio display, if your radio supports that function. While most people may not necessarily care, it’s the attention given to the small details such as this that gives Livio Radio’s efforts high marks in my book.
In today’s age of restrictions on the road with regards to what can and cannot be done with a smart phone while driving, the Kit also gives you a couple of distinguishable advantages over other solutions. First and foremost is the adjustable display that minimizes, or even potentially eliminates, the need to take your eyes off of the road to adjust the station on the iPhone. By putting the forward and back buttons in a convenient, mounted location, it saves you from having to hunt for your phone in the seat next to you, pick it up, unlock it, read the display, and find the spot to touch and select your new station. The tactile feel of real buttons also gives you a reference point, so you know where your fingers are and don’t necessarily have to look to select the next station, whereas with a touch screen, you have no physical reference.
Also available through the Kit is the ability to make and receive phone calls with audio through your stereo system. This eliminates the need for a headset or picking up the handset to talk into it while you’re on the road. Simply press the call button to make a call via voice dial, or answer an incoming call and press the hang up button when you’re finished. When you disconnect the call, the music resumes playing and you’re back on your merry way!
You can also use the tag function in the Livio Radio app by pressing the tag button on the Kit. If you hear a song on the radio that you like, you simply push the button to tag it for later purchase from the iTunes Store. It’s a nice feature to have for the absent-minded person, like yours truly, who’ll be listening to a song in the Tim Horton’s drive thru and then forget what it was by the time I got to work.
The Livio Radio Kit offers a good, simple way to get some much needed connectivity into a car, without the cost of tearing out the old radio and having a new one installed. It easily takes the place of the subscription hell of Satellite Radio by giving you the fee free music source of Internet Radio, combines it with the safety and convenience of hands-free calling with high quality audio over the airwaves. If you need a solution for any of the features mentioned above, for $100 or less, this is the product to get.