iO Play2 Bluetooth Music Streaming and Handsfree Car Kit Review

The iO Play2 is an advanced in-car hands free kit with A2DP music streaming and handsfree for your mobile, smartphone, PDA and iPhone, all combined in a small device with a neat, removable OLED display. Doug harman put’s the iO Play through its full best4Reviews test.

According to iO, the iO PLAY2 is an “innovative in-car music streaming device specifically designed for the music lover”. Sounds good. iO also says of the Play 2: “the advanced Bluetooth handsfree music streaming device uses CSR technology to provide a high level of sound quality and performance”. This is also rather encouraging.

 
And  having had the iO Play 2 in my vehicle (a Kia Sedona people carrier equipped with a six-speaker VDO audio system) now for around two months, I have come know it rather well. For the geeky lot among you, the Play 2 has multipoint ProTM technology which means, simply, it can connect up to 2 Bluetooth devices simultaneously. Add to this quick integration of all iPhones and iPods (at least those that use the Apple 30 pin dock connector) and connectivity for MP3 players and satnav devices using the 3.5mm stereo jack, the iO Play 2 allows you to play music you carry on your MP3 player of choice and if using a bluetooth phone, make hands free telephone calls using an unobtrusive microphone that is part of the system.
 
The iO PLAY2 is  part of the new generation of iO products utilising its CSR technology, which “introduces significant improvements in functionality to enhance sound quality, driver safety and ease of use” it says here. 
 
But it works and throw in the cute high-contrast OLED display, which is “designed to look great when fitted to any dashboard” according to iO, means you can keep tabs on the device and any settings easily all via a single control pod that combines a knob to change settings or adjust volume and that can be pushed to activate various features and modes selected by rotating the knob. But I’m jumping the gun slightly here.
 
Installation of the iO Play 2 takes about an hour connecting to your  vehicle’s existing audio unit and once completed, aside from the display, controller and microphone, there’s no evidence of any work having been done.
 
The installation is very clean with no wires or mess and even less fuss. The only evidence that something has changed, is when you flip open the glove compartment in the car whereupon you discover the system’s wired iPod/iPhone cable that provides a very handy additional connection for charging and to access your music on another device on one not held within a cradle, for example.
 
I use my iPhone, which also houses my satnav system. The controller was positioned centrally on the dashboard below the existing car audio system, the OLED displayer slightly higher, below the control console air vents and this has proven to be perfect.
 
Handling and Use
Using the iO Play2 is very easy, despite the relative complexity of the things it can do. To pair a device takes a few moments and once paired, the OLED display shows signal strength, battery levee, your phone’s name and carrier. Depressing the rotary controller  activates the menu system, starting at Phonebook (each selection is also announced through the vehicle audio system too) and you can then select your phonebook, music streaming, device settings, your car’s car audio system and on. Submenus for each main menu item can be reached by depressing the controller once more. 
 
The rotary controller makes scrolling fast but has an odd foible when adjusting the volume where the first “touch” or turn activates the controller and so another turn is required to make an adjustment. In truth, this is a relatively minor gripe, but it does mean extra time is spent moving the controller’s knob, but it is just about the only thing I can find I don;’t like about the system.
 
If browsing your phonebook, you can choose a letter you want and then scroll through all the names starting with that letter done with simple swipes of a finger on the controller. Dial and answering calls is achieved by simply pressing the green phone button or the red button to hang up. 
 
When a call comes through, the iO Play 2 automatically reduces the volume of any streaming music or car audio sound, ditto when the satnav “speaks” directions. Incidentally, you can also pre-assign volume and sound settings for each of the audio streams you use such as the phone, satnav and music.
 
The iO Play 2 has its own in-built “Class D” 180W amplifier and I was very impressed with the audio and call quality, in fact the music streaming sound has re-invented my car audio system providing louder, improved sound, with better mid-range and clarity than the VDO system that came with in the Sedona, with (overall) impressive volume performance and reduced sound distortion on baser tracks, even with the bass booster switched on. 
 
I found the microphone’s sensitivity to be spot on; rarely did I need to raise my voice, and it successfully filters out background sounds for clear calling if you’re at the other end of the line and it was discreetly mounted to the right side of my sun visor.
 
One odd and frustrating behaviour I had, where an incoming call would not automatically connect via the system’s microphone, was quickly cured with a system reset. I had to re-pair my devices after the reset but otherwise that was it.
 
If not making calls and you want to stream music, you activate the streaming from the menu pressing the controller, selecting music streaming, the phone/MP3 player  you want to listen to and the first track on your phone starts playing; nothing else is required to get music playing. In case you want to tinker further, there are ten equaliser presets you can apply to the system and your music too, which is nice and allows you to tweak the sound to suit your vehicle or preferences. I had no hiss or crackle or any other distortion from the system, even with the system’s application, so it really is impressive.
 
And depending on your handset, the Play 2 can also display text messages, there’s text to speech control so you can speak commands to control the system as well and you can also take advantage of auto phonebook synchronisation for connected devices, even for both phones if two are connected at the same time. A 3.5mm jack and multi-vehicle body presets (such as convertible), are there too the latter for optimum call quality and there’s an optional steering wheel control that can be added to the set up to help control the Play 2 with even less impact on your driving.
 
The iO Play 2 is a superb little system and I really do struggle to find anything that I displace about it. I even set it up to play the audio while watching movies through my phone (not while driving I hasten to add) and the “surround” effect it created was great. I even managed to connect my iPad 2 via the iPod connector in the glove compartment and played music from that too, though it does not charge the iPad as it would an iPhone.
 
The odd foible on volume control is one of the small issues I had, if I really push it, and the re-set I had to carry out to get the microphone to connect properly when receiving hands free calls was another, minor issue. But otherwise I feel the iO Play 2 is brilliant, after all it has reinvented my car audio system and it allows you to take advantage of hand free phone calling in the process.
Verdict: 
The iO Play 2 is (almost) the perfect package, offering brilliant sound performance, great value for money and a stack of clever features and connectivity that can both make driving safer and allows you to enjoy your enhanced in-vehicle entertainment as you drive. ‘Nuff said…