One of the most popular audio features in new cars these days is Bluetooth, which allows a device to wirelessly stream music to another compatible device, such as a car stereo. And one of the most popular consumer electronic trends is smartphone apps.
The TuneLink Auto has both of these covered. While you can also get Bluetooth audio by buying a new car stereo head unit — or a new car — with the feature, TuneLink Auto lets iPhone owners add it to any existing car radio with an FM tuner. The device connects to an iPhone via Bluetooth and uses a built-in FM transmitter to send music to an empty frequency on your car’s FM tuner. Adding a high-tech touch, all features are controlled by a free iPhone app.
The TuneLink Auto plugs into a car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter for power and includes a USB charging port to provide juice to an iPhone. While it makes for a much cheaper upgrade than buying a new head unit for those with cars lacking iPod and smartphone-friendly options, sound quality is severely limited by the FM transmitter. We compared it with both a USB and Bluetooth audio connection in a Toyota Yaris (admittedly not known for its sound-quality prowess) using an iPhone 4. The TuneLink’s sound was way worse than with either of those, characterized by the lo-fi quality and distortion that’s typical of this method.
The Tunelink Auto tries to make up for its sound-quality shortcomings with some neat features. Its interface mimics that of an iPod’s so that you can easily find content, and the station selector has a cool, touch-sensitive tuning “knob.” While Tunelink Auto won’t automatically find stations, it lets you save favorites and also has a Speed Tune feature so that you can quickly jump to presets. A Share feature allows multiple passengers in a vehicle to use the same TuneLink connection, which means anyone in the car with a Bluetooth device can stream their tunes.
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