The Livio Radio's main functionality is playing back Pandora radio stations. Pandora is a streaming music service that creates a personalized radio station based on your musical tastes, letting you fine-tune your music taste by giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to the songs playing and the station adjusts accordingly. We find that the service actually works really well, especially as a way of finding new music. Since Pandora is a free service and you can listen to it on your PC or portable device (it's also accessible on BlackBerry, iPhone/iPod Touch, and Windows Mobile devices), you can try it out to see if it appeals to you. Because the Livio is so tightly integrated with Pandora, we would have liked to see some unique features--like the capability to switch between Pandora accounts--but we're not aware of any other radios that offers that feature either.
In addition to Pandora, the Livio Radio also functions like a standard Wi-Fi radio, meaning it can tune in to the thousands of free Internet radio stations rather than standard AM/FM fare. If you can't stand what's available on AM/FM (neither can we) and don't want to pay for satellite radio (neither do we), there's plenty of great stations available online for just about everybody. The Livio uses cnet:link ext="http://www.reciva.com">Reciva's database of stations, so it's easy to check out the available stations online to see if there's enough content that appeals to you.
Because there are so many Internet radio stations, a major difficulty is sifting through it all. The main way to do this is using the LCD screen, which breaks it down by location and genre. While the interface is perfectly fine, we recommend ditching it favor of the Reciva online portal. This is actually the service that powers the Livio and--after you associate your radio with your free account--it's a much easier interface to find and tag your favorite stations for listening. When you go back to your Livio Radio, your favorite stations will show up after you hit the "Fav" button. (You may need to cycle the power on the radio before new stations show up.)
Unlike the competing Grace GDI-IR2000, the Livio Radio can't access podcasts or stream music off a connected PC. Livio explains on its FAQ that the lack of podcast access is to "keep the device simple." However, we don't think adding a "Podcasts" menu option--that streams podcasts you save on Reciva--would make the device much more complicated. We have yet to find a Reciva-powered radio that offers reliable music streaming off a PC, so the lack of this function isn't a huge loss.
The Livio's connectivity package is generous. There's a headphone jack on the front panel, and around back there's also an auxiliary input (so you can connect an iPod in a pinch) and an analog stereo line out. The stereo line out is actually a minijack connector, but Livio includes a minijack-to-RCA adapter, making it easier to connect to a home theater receiver. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet jack, if you prefer a more stable wired connection.
Before we talk about how the Livio sounds, it's important to get the caveats out of the way. It's a tabletop radio with only a single speaker (mono sound) and many Internet radio stations offer up low bit rate streams. (Pandora streams at 128Kpbs.) Wi-Fi radios are really for casual listening, not the audiophile experience.
That being said, the Livio Radio's sound quality is passable. Our Pandora stations played us a variety of music from rock and jazz to classical, and while the Livio never sounds bad, it never sounds great either. There's minimal bass and the sound isn't particularly detailed, but it doesn't easily distort or sound harsh. If you compare it with higher-priced alternatives such as the Logitech Squeezebox Boom or the Philips NP2900, sure, the Livio doesn't compare. However, it's "good enough" for most people, especially for a $150 radio. We really would have liked some EQ controls to dial in the sound quality to our tastes, but most users won't miss them anyway.
Like virtually all Wi-Fi radios we test these days, the Livio Radio's Wi-Fi performance was excellent, as we had no dropouts over our hours of listening. Of course, it's largely dependent on your Wi-Fi strength, as well as the speed and reliability of your Internet connection. Luckily, if you don't get acceptable performance in your home, Livio's FAQ states that consumers can get a full refund if they're unhappy with the purchase.