iO PLAY full review

Ever since the iPod replaced the walkman and CD player as our means of playing music, the issue of how to play music in the car has never really been solved.

The result has been a form of time-stasis – our cars have more archaic music setups than our grandparents’ houses. Tapes from the late 1990s, the odd CD from a few years ago – we usually resort to listening to the radio.

Virtually all of our music is stored on the iPod or iPhone, and up until now accessing it in a car has been something of a chore. None of the in-car solutions have worked with enough success for us to whole-heartedly recommended them. Tape converters work but sound terrible, while FM transmitters can sound quite good, but rarely work in built-up cities like London. iPod integration is something that the car industry has dabbled with, but hardly got to grips with. Many new stereo systems feature 3.5mm minijack inputs enabling you to plug your iPod directly to your stereo via the headphone socket. This works but is hardly an elegant solution.

So iO PLAY’s attempt at integrating an iPod or iPhone to your car comes as something of a revelation. This system enables you to stream music from your iPod or iPhone to your car stereo via Bluetooth. A Bluetooth dongle that plugs into the bottom of the iPod or iPhone is provided, click it into the bottom of your device and any music you play is streamed through your car speakers.

This setup sounds better than your car stereo usually would – because the iPod is digital and the iO PLAY system bypasses your regular stereo completely, you end up with digital quality sound through your speakers.

Inside the box you get an Amplifier, a Bluetooth dongle, a control console, a microphone, and connection leads. The whole thing needs to be installed behind your car stereo and the only visible part should be the control console.

The Control Console provides a volume dial, plus buttons to shuffle songs and answer calls

The installation is a job for an expert, and will require you to place the amplifier and leads behind the dashboard. To that end the iO PLAY comes with a voucher that covers the cost of installation. The idea is that you purchase the iO PLAY, use the supplied phone number to book an installer who will come and put the system into your car, or you can take it along to a local Halfords who will install it for you.

Once the system is installed, using it couldn’t be easier. Plug the dongle into the iPod, or iPhone and press play. The radio cuts out and the music is streamed through your speakers.

The control console has a dial to control the volume and two buttons, which act as back and forward.

If you are using an iPhone you will be given the usual warning about the device not being designed for iPhone and asking you if you’d like to turn Flight Mode On. Say no, because the iO PLAY also acts as a superb hands-free system. Set up with the iPhone is straight-forward – simply switch on the Bluetooth setting, locate the iO PLAY and enter a standard password ‘0000’ to pair the device. When you get a phone call you press the green phone button on the control console to answer. The music fades out and the voice comes through your speakers. You talk into the microphone, which is usually attached near your rear-view mirror. Audio in both directions is clear and precise, and much preferable to wearing a Bluetooth headset.

Our criticisms of the iO PLAY are very few and far between. The volume dial on the Control Panel can be a bit slow to react, making it hard to get a precise volume. And we managed to crash it once (the device, not the car) by streaming audio directly from the Bluetooth in the iPhone rather than using the supplied dongle. On the whole, though, we found the system to be solid, reliable and a fantastic addition to any car.

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