Livio and Verbatim Make Car Tunes More Flexible
By Jim Bray
People who want to take their own tunes into their cars have a couple of new opportunities, including one that'll let you play digital files in vehicles that don't normally have the capability.
Taking along your own tunes is nothing new, of course. People have been cooking their own programming since the days of tape cassettes and even 8 Tracks to a certain extent. But with the advent of MP3 files, which can pack lots of music into a tiny amount of storage space (at the cost of "dumbed down" sound quality if you compress them too much), there has never been more flexibility, especially when you add to the mix such things as hard drive-based car audio systems.
The biggest hassle is actually getting your tunes to your wheels. You can do it via your standalone music player or smart phone, plugging it into your car's auxiliary jack, if it has one. Or you could stream the tunes from your device wireless via Bluetooth, if your device and your car has that particular capability. You can also bring them on one of those USB "thumb drives" that have pretty well replaced the floppy disk – as long as the vehicle has a USB slot to receive it.
Reading your files Verbatim…
The number of tunes you can transport via USB is limited not only by the size of the files themselves, of course, but by the size of the USB storage device as well. Obviously, the more storage you have the more tunes you can take.
Hence Verbatim's "Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB Drive," a tiny $29.95 USB 2.0 unit that holds a healthy eight gigabytes worth of your stuff. Naturally, there's no law saying you have to put music on it – it is, after all, just a storage device – but it'll happily hold your Who (or whomever is your musical cup of tea) and not only take it between your home and your car, it'll work with a USB-interfaced car audio system to play the tunes right from the drive.
How small is this little gem? Well, Verbatim says it's "dime-sized" and it's also virtually identical in size to the little USB dongle that acts as a receiver for my wireless Motormouse. So rather than being a "thumb drive," it's more like a "thumbnail drive."
That's actually its downfall, or at least its weakest point. The darn thing is so small you can lose it easily! Not only that, but the part you hold between your fingers when inserting and removing it is so small and, as Verbatim says "Snag free," that it can be a real effort to work it out of the USB slot, especially if the carmaker has mounted the slot in some weird, out of the way place.
Perhaps Verbatim could have given just a bit more real estate for your fingers, though of course that would also detract from the extremely diminutive size that's one of its selling points.
On the other, other hand, its small footprint (thumbprint?) means you can just leave it docked and not worry about putting it in and taking it out all the time – a good thing, considering what a chore getting it out is.
When I unpacked my sample, I plugged it directly into a USB port on my PC and drag/dropped as many of my favorite tunes across as it would hold (which was plenty of them), then rushed out to try it in my review car – which of course didn't have a USB slot. The next one did, however, and the Verbatim worked just as it should.
Since it's really just a garden variety – albeit tiny – USB drive, you can use it to transport any type of digital file you want, including work files; I plan to use it to replace some of the larger, but with less capacity, USB flash drives I use for just such purposes. It's ideal, as long as you keep your wits about you and don't lose it.
And since it's really just a digital storage device, it'll work with digital photo frames as well, which is very nice since the "full sized" USB flash drives can look silly sticking out of the side of a frame.
Verbatim says the Store 'n' Go will hold up to 2000 songs, which of course depends on the file sizes, and which also indicates you can program yourself a nice musical accompaniment to a decent road trip.
A pretty nifty and flexible solution for $30!
Carmen – Gear!
Livio's Carmen, on the other hand, helped transform my 1991 Infiniti Q45 into a rolling MP3 player, even though the ancient car has no auxiliary jack, Bluetooth or USB interface.
It does this by coming with a built in FM transmitter, so all you have to do is find an open frequency in your area, tune Carmen and the car's FM radio to the same frequency and voila! MP3 files (or podcasts, or whatever you want).
That doesn't mean you need an ancient car to make the Carmen worthwhile, however. It also has an auxiliary jack on the side, so you can plug it into your car port directly, if your vehicle has one. I tried it both ways, in different vehicles, and it worked well. The auxiliary method actually works better, since there's less chance of interference and FM radio is just radio quality, but the FM capability is a great ace in the hole for people with older cars.
Carmen powers itself, too, by plugging directly into your vehicle's 12 volt outlet, with its business end sticking out (and tiltable) to let you access its small LCD screen and control buttons. It's a pretty neat solution, though I found the screen to be too small for me to use without my reading glasses (which I don't wear when I drive).
Fortunately, Carmen also comes with a little remote control you can use.
The Carmen comes with built in software the company says helps you store MP3's or record content from more than 45,000 AM/FM and Internet-only radio stations from around the world and the unit's designed "To make Internet audio programming customizable and available to everyone – everywhere." It's kind of like a PVR for radio, letting you record stations and/or shows from around the world on your computer, which then can sync the stuff to the Carmen.
The device comes with everything you need, including AUX and USB cables.
Its only real downfall is storage space – a measly couple of gig, which I filled up rather quickly because of my penchant for preferring larger file sizes for maximum sound quality. On the other hand, it could be plenty of room depending on what you've recorded.
At $60, Carmen is a neat and cheap way to turn an old car like my Q into a modern mobile music player without having to upgrade the car stereo at all. But it's more than that, since it'll also record Internet radio stations, podcasts, and the like.
Regular readers of my stuff may remember Livio for its excellent Car Internet Radio app for the iPhone. I love this app and use it all the time on my iPad though, perhaps strangely considering its name, rarely in my car. Generally, I just stream far off radio stations from my iPad to a Bluetooth devices such as the Bose SoundDock 10 (with its optional Bluetooth receiver) or Supertooth Disco portable speaker. It works beautifully, too.
And now, thanks to the new Android version Livio has released, I can do all that from my Samsung smart phone.
Naturally, the app doesn't care if you're streaming, plugged in via AUX, or just listening to the device's speakers. I can die a happy man.
You can search out content by station, program, genre, and the like, and save your favorites into presets just like your car radio uses.
The app works pretty much like a regular radio tuner, and lets you tune into more than 45,000 (Not that I've actually counted them!) AM/FM and Internet-only radio streams from around the world via Wi-Fi or 3G/Edge connection. A free, "lite" version limits your choices severely, but the full version, which sells for a measly five bucks, ups the ante by adding thousands of regular terrestrial stations' Internet streams.
I've only used the Android version a couple of times so far, but it appears to work exactly as the iPod/iPad version does, which means it works very well indeed and lets you keep in touch with your favored radio stations no matter where you are – as long as there's Wi-Fi or 3G/Edge service.
It's one of the few apps I use nearly every day.
Copyright 2011 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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