The Livio Radio Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit--or Livio Kit for short--primarily acts as a bridge between your media player or smartphone and your car's stereo. After the unit is connected to your vehicle's 12-volt power, it can receive audio via Bluetooth A2DP streaming or its analog input and then output that audio through your car's speakers via its internal FM transmitter or analog audio output. However, the Livio Kit also has a variety of functions and custom controls that enable it to take control of the Livio Car Internet Radio application with which it shares a name on a paired smartphone. Roll in hands-free calling functionality and the Livio Kit is looking like a full-featured little device.
The Kit is packaged in two parts. The first is a flexible gooseneck that terminates on one end in a 12-volt power adapter with a toggling power button and at the other end in a locking connector that snaps into the back of the second part of the Kit, the transmitter. The transmitter itself has about the same footprint as a business card and is what the user primarily interacts with.
The left third of the unit's face is home to a control knob surrounded by a bank of universal buttons for controlling the AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) functions of play, pause, and stop. Pressing the control knob like a button toggles between volume mode, in which you can adjust the unit's audio output volume, and tuning mode, in which you can manually tune to an FM frequency for it to broadcast on. Pressing and holding the control knob for 3 seconds triggers an autoscan that automatically finds and tunes to an empty FM frequency. To the right is a three-digit LCD that is surrounded by a second bank of buttons for skipping forward and back and answering and ending calls, plus three buttons unique to the Livio Car Internet Radio app for Launch, Tag, and Scan. We'll discuss those functions shortly.
The edges of the Livio Kit haven't been neglected, as one edge is home to a full-size 5-volt, 1-amp USB port for charging your connected device while on the other you'll find a pair of 3.5mm analog connections, one for input and one for output.
Livio Car Internet Radio app
Tapping the Launch button on the Livio Kit automatically launches the Livio app on a paired smartphone.
The Livio Car Internet Radio app is available for both the Android and iPhone platforms. Functionality is nearly identical for the two versions of the app, with which you can stream hundreds of Internet-only radio stations using little more than your smartphone's data connection. You can search for stations based on genre of music, but there are also talk and radio-drama stations. The app has a tiered pricing structure. The free version of the app can only access a selection of a few hundred Internet radio stations, but using the app while paired with the Livio Kit unlocks what is normally a paid premium tier with access to over 45,000 local and global AM, FM, and Internet-only stations.
With the app playing back music from your chosen station, you can tap the Tag button to save the currently playing song's artist and album metadata for later retrieval and possible purchase. Tapping the Scan button activates a station-discovery function that automatically seeks another streaming channel that typically plays music similar to the song currently being played. The forward and back buttons jump between the five user-set stations saved in the app.
Of course, being a universal Bluetooth A2DP device, the Livio Kit can also route audio from any app running on the paired handset through your vehicle's speakers. So, you will be able to listen to Pandora, Stitcher, or locally stored media via the Kit with AVRCP controls for play, pause, and skip intact. This universality also makes the Kit useful for amplifying the turn-by-turn directions of navigation apps, which can easily be misheard in the din of road and wind noise.
The Livio Kit also handles hands-free calls when paired with a compatible phone. Incoming calls can be answered or rejected with the green and red phone buttons, respectively. Tapping the green phone button at any time brings up you phone's voice dialer, if available.
Call audio, like music audio, is output through the FM transmitter or the host car's stereo system. The tiny pinhole microphone for voice input is hidden between the red and green phone buttons. Call quality will ultimately depend on your vehicle's acoustics and the placement of the Kit in the cabin. Because of the location of our vehicle's 12-volt power output, the Kit was seated at the base of the dashboard's center stack, down by our knees, so we ended up repeating ourselves quite a bit to make ourselves understood during calls.
As a hands-free calling package, the Livio Kit is merely passable. Its design will likely place the calling microphone too far away from the driver's face to make chatting while driving enjoyable.
However, as a music bridge between your smartphone and your car's stereo, the Livio Kit is quite flexible and functional. With analog inputs and outputs, Bluetooth A2DP connectivity and AVRCP controls, and an FM transmitter, there aren't many phones and cars that the Kit can't get working together. The Kit's access to the 45,000 global streaming-radio stations of the Livio Car Internet Radio app is a huge bonus.
Interestingly, Livio's materials list two separate model numbers for the Android and iOS versions of the Kit. Our tester was labeled as the iOS-compatible version but worked just as well with an Android phone (the HTC ThunderBolt) as it did with an Apple iPhone 4. Pricing is also identical at $119.99 each, so we're assuming the difference is merely for branding.