Livio, which used to be known for its tabletop Internet radios, is going to be taking a bigger plunge into the Internet car radio market this summer with its upcoming $99 Kit, a Bluetooth wireless "head unit" that plugs into your cigarette lighter adapter and includes a mic and speakerphone, as well as a built-in USB port for charging your phone.
Basically, it works like this: Upon entering your car, you pair your iPhone or Android smartphone with the Kit (via Bluetooth), and the Livio Car Internet Radio app automatically launches. You then stream the Internet radio station over your cellular data connection to your car's built-in radio over an FM signal. If you get a call, you press a button on the Kit to take it over the speakerphone (using your cars speakers), and when you hang up, your Internet audio streaming will resume.
In preparation for the debut of the Kit in July, Livio recently launched the Android version of its Car Internet Radio app, and the iOS version has been available for a while. A limited version (300 stations) is available for free, but the premium app gives you access to 45,000 stations for a one-time fee of $4.99.
The premium version of the app also allows you to swipe your phone's screen to go to your next preset station. (If you're comparing this with the TuneIn Internet radio app, which costs only 99 cents and is also powered by RadioTime, Livio says its interface is designed better for in-car use, it has some additional features, and it offers more than 5,000 stations more than TuneIn. That said, Livio probably needs to drop its app's price to gain more traction.)
Livio's apps work today with other Bluetooth car accessories, but Livio's Kit has been designed to work more seamlessly with the company's apps. For instance, it has integrated preset buttons for changing stations easily without picking up your phone.
Obviously, the one glaring limitation of Internet radio in your car is that cellular data connection. You don't need much bandwidth to stream audio but there are still plenty of dead zones and areas where there's simply no coverage. But for those who live in areas where the coverage is good, you do have a tremendous amount Internet radio stations to choose from, and in many ways a solution like this could serve as a free alternative to satellite radio. (See complete directory of RadioTime stations here.)
According to Livio, here are the Kit's key specs (for better or worse, the name of the product was apparently inspired by K.I.T.T. of "Knight Rider" fame):
Internet radio: Bring 45,000 AM, FM, and Internet-only stations to your car's FM stereo without monthly fees. When your phone is connected (paired), the Livio Radio Car Internet Radio application launches and plays (assuming your phone is not locked).
Bluetooth speakerphone allows you to make phone calls while driving. On phone calls, you talk into the Kit's integrated microphone and listen through your car speakers. It includes one-touch voice dialing through your smartphone. It also includes redial as well as start and end call commands through the standard Bluetooth hands-free profile.
USB charger: There's a port for charging your smartphone (USB cable not included).
A Premium version of the Livio Car Internet Radio app is included for free.
We'll have a full review of the Kit when it launches in July, but from the early demos we've seen, it looks like a potentially intriguing addition to the car audio market.