If you live in the UK and want an E-Ink-based ebook reader (yes, we know this excludes the Apple iPad) that can connect wirelessly to the internet to buy and download ebooks, until recently your only choice was a US-sourced Amazon Kindle. But with the launch of Amazon’s new range of low-priced Wi-Fi and 3G Kindles in the UK, changes are afoot, and Iriver’s new Wi-Fi Story is no doubt hoping to piggyback on any upsurge in popularity that Amazon’s move brings.
We reviewed the original Story some time ago, and this new model is identical apart from the addition of an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi chip and an improved 16-grayscale 6-inch screen. The office file viewer now also supports Office 2007/2010 formats. Our comments about the original version are still valid, although we would add that since you now actually have to use the keyboard if you want to buy ebooks on the device, its limitations become much more apparent.
Like the Kindle, the Wi-Fi Story’s built-in purchasing capability is tied to one online outlet, but in this case it’s WH Smith. Forget about browsing the web wirelessly, though: there is no built-in browser, just a dedicated link on the menu for the WH Smith ebook store.
Setting up the reader for the first time is a little more involved than before, as the online connectivity means that the Adobe DRM on the reader itself has to be activated (you need to obtain an Adobe ID for this) in order to read protected downloads. To do this you need to set up the Wi-Fi connection, which is straightforward but, like many operations on this device, made unnecessarily fiddly by the small boxes and fonts used for data input.
This problem occurs all over the interface, whether it’s entering a security key for the Wi-Fi, searching or typing in your credit card details, and no zoom is available in menu pages. Given that many of the older generation are interested in these devices – often because of the ability to zoom text – a magnifying glass might be a good addition to Iriver’s accessory range. The PDF reflow capability is welcome for viewing multi-column documents, but office file viewing is a pretty unimpressive experience beyond basic text documents and simple presentations.
To download DRM-protected ebooks bought elsewhere via your PC, you also need to install Adobe Digital Editions and activate the Wi-Fi Story via your PC using a USB connection; again a very simple process. Our review model came pre-loaded with 200 free ‘classic’ books, as will those models sold via Amazon (yes, Amazon). WH Smith models won’t have these, but the price is identical. It’s not a big deal, as you can legally download most of these out-of-copyright titles from many places on the web.
The WH Smith ebook store isn’t too impressive. Navigation is a real pain using just the arrow keys to move between links and tabs: these devices are screaming out for touch-screen capability. The lack of any zoom view capability in the store is also a nuisance at times.
We found a couple of glitches in the checkout section, with 4-digit American Express security codes not being recognised. However, once you’ve created an account and completed the purchase, ebooks download in just a few seconds. Exiting the store doesn’t turn off Wi-Fi, though: the only way to do this is to turn the Story off. A dedicated Wi-Fi button would be a better idea to help save the 1,800mAh battery. This latter offers the same claimed 9,000 page turns as the original, but heavy Wi-Fi (or audio) use will undoubtedly doubt reduce this siginificantly.
One surprise is that the WH Smith ebook store is run as an entirely separate entity from WH Smith’s normal website, so even if you have a WH Smith account you need to create another for the ebook store. It’s also fairly sparsely populated in some areas: looking at comics and graphic novels (something the Story has a special viewer for) revealed a single solitary title.
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It's a well-made and stylish wireless ebook reader that offers welcome competition to the Kindle, but unfortunately its high price weighs heavily against it. It offers little that the Kindle doesn't (the SD Card slot being the main exception), and it doesn't have text-to-speech capability. The interface niggles remain from the original, and the online ebook buying experience isn't particularly slick.