EBook readers are on the up, and while the jury’s still out on whether they’ll truly break into the mainstream, there is now no shortage of choice for those who like to carry a book collection around on the move.
The latest to enter the market is iRiver with its Kindle-inspired Story. The sleek white body is around the size of a paperback and just 6mm thick, offering a responsive full QWERTY keyboard along with dedicated function keys.
Primarily intended for the popular ePub format, you’ll also find support here for a range of more common standards such as PDF, DOC and TXT and, more intriguingly, Powerpoint and Excel files. Despite this apparent flexibility, it’s clear that this is a bit of an afterthought as the readability of some formats, particularly PDF, PPT and XLS, is entirely dependant on the original document resolution and layout, so should not be relied upon.
A large 6-inch (800 x 600-pixel) e-ink display offers a few advantages over some of the competition, including most notably an improved battery life. iRiver claims over 100 hours of use from a full charge (or around 9,000 page turns) and although we couldn’t confirm this conclusively, we certainly got the impression that this estimate would prove fairly accurate.
Images are displayed in eight-shade monochrome and for the most part we were impressed by the sharpness and clarity of the text, and found it quite easy on the eye after extended periods. Unfortunately it suffers from similar page refresh issues to many other eBook readers, and although this doesn’t ruin the experience, the fact that the screen flashes black for half a second every time a page is turned is slightly distracting.
A range of shortcut controls offers quick access to a book collection, three-step zoom and orientation, and there are dedicated controls either side of the main keypad to flip back and forth through pages at a touch. These are responsive enough, but we’d question their placement as being so low on the device (and therefore requiring your hands to be in this position as well) that they do make it feel a little unbalanced. Switching to landscape mode is far more comfortable, however, and we’d imagine most users would opt for this for a more natural feel.
The iRiver unit offers 2GB of internal memory but also sports an SD-card slot to expand the storage up to an additional 32GB. This may seem a little excessive considering a gigabyte would hold around 750 books, but the presence of a 3.5mm jack and support for MP3 and WMA audio formats means that audio books or music can be enjoyed through the device as well. While the MP3 player functionality is basic to say the least, quality is pretty good and there’s even a small mono speaker at the back that offers surprisingly good sound.
Additional features include a voice recorder, basic image/comic viewer, text memo feature and a rudimentary organiser, and overall we think the Story can sit quite proudly among the competition in this market.
Unfortunately there’s a price to pay, quite literally, for these benefits, and £230 for iRiver’s model is still a lot for a device that, while certainly competitive, doesn’t really bring anything new to the market.
Its designers have done a good job with the Story, and despite some minor niggles it remains a flexible, comfortable reader that's easy to operate and offers a range of genuinely useful advantages. However, considering many people speculate that the rise of eBooks is being hampered somewhat by the price of these devices, iRiver hasn't really done enough in this area to offer an unequivocal recommendation.