iO Play2 handsfree Bluetooth
Price: £159.99 RRP
Contact: iO

Geek: Discreet; quick installation; ease of use; excellent call quality; huge range of functions; choice of connectivity
Weak: Hiss from amplified systems while streaming music; controller illumination very bright
Score: 4.5/5

We first came across iO whilst at a technology press event in London recently and were immediately impressed by the company’s products. Two handsfree kits are available – the iO Talk2 and the iO Play2 which we’re testing here in my BMW E46 3 Series. The big difference between the two is that whereas the Talk2 only offers Bluetooth handsfree, the Play2 also offers audio streaming. Nice. In fact, in terms of features, if you’re not interested in the audio streaming side of things then you won’t be missing out by opting for the Talk2 as virtually all if the Play2’s additional features are based solely around its audio streaming capabilities.
The iO Talk2 and Play2 both use a small, removable unit with a yellow OLED display along with a separate unit with a rotary controller, previous and next buttons and red and green phone buttons for answering, rejecting, dialling and ending calls. Having the two units as separate entities means that you can have the display within your peripheral vision, and the controller mounted elsewhere, close to hand for easy operation. Installation takes about an hour and the unit connects up to the back of your head unit – aside from the display, controller and microphone, there’s no evidence of any work, no wires, no mess and no fuss. Actually, tell a lie, because the Play2 adds wired iPod/iPhone connectivity with a cable that sits in the glovebox, giving you a handy additional charging point without your having to use your cigarette lighter, as well as obviously allowing you to access your music that way.

On the installation front, we decided to the right of the steering wheel just under the instrument pod for the display and on the strip of plastic the separates the ashtray from the cubby hole above it for the controller, within easy reach of my left hand. I was concerned that the display’s positioning would make it hard to read – there’s weren’t really any other options that would keep it discreet but I needn’t have worried as once installed I found that my driving position means I can see the entire display without having to move my head from its natural position, so it’s perfect.

Using the iO Play2 couldn’t be simpler – you simply pair it with your phone, which takes a matter of moments, and that’s basically it. In normal use, the display shows your signal strength, battery level, phone name and carrier and you depress the rotary controller to get things underway. This then enters the menu and from here you can choose your phonebook, streaming, settings and so on, each submenu accessed by depressing the controller once more. The rotary controller makes scrolling through your phonebook nice and quick – you choose the letter you want and then scroll through the names, which can be done with a deft flick of the fingers. To dial or answer a call, you simply press the green phone button and the red one to hang up. You have to have your radio on for the iO Play2 to work, though you can just have the volume turned all the way down, and when a call comes through it automatically switches out the radio, using its own in-built amp to provide the audio and it works brilliantly and seamlessly. Call quality is really excellent, the volume is easily adjustable on the fly, and the microphone sensitivity is superb meaning you barely have to raise your voice to be heard clearly on the other end of the line; the microphone mounting is exceptionally discreet too, in fact I had to ask where mine had been fitted as I didn’t spot it (above the rear view mirror, was the reply).

So, the handsfree side of things works like a charm but the audio streaming is the real party trick. All you have to do is activate streaming from the menu and the first track on your phone starts playing instantly – you need do nothing more to get your music going. The iO Play2 features a 180W amplifier, 100W more than the Talk2, along with 10 equaliser presets, and I have to say that the quality and clarity of the music are exceptional and it really does sound fantastic. There is some background hiss when streaming music, but it would seem this is unavoidable with an amplified system such as mine and at the volume levels required to enjoy the music whilst on the move you can’t hear the hiss anyway. And if you’ve a lot of music in your collection, don’t despair, because the iO ZooM advanced music search function for iPod and iPhone makes finding the tracks you want a breeze.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of what the iO Play2 can do, but depending on your handset the display can show your your text messages, there’s text to speech, Multipoint Pro that allows two devices to be connected with full functionality and auto phonebook sync for both phones, steering wheel controls with an optional attachment, a 3.5mm jack, multi-vehicle bodytype presets for optimum call quality and much more. And I really have no complaints – if I’m being pedantic, the lighting on the control unit is a bit bright at night time but aside from that I’ve really got nothing to moan about, especially when you can get your hands on the iO Play2 for as little as £142 online plus installation, making it exceptional value for money especially when you consider just how much it can do. If you’re looking for a handsfree kit that won’t break the bank and offers you more than you could possibly ask for, I don’t think you need to look any further.

Verdict: Just about the perfect package – fantastic performance, great value for money with a wealth of features and connectivity options that leave you wanting for nothing.