While not exactly a household name, iRiver can usually be relied upon to cook up a quality product that’s a little different from the norm. Entering the e-book reader market with the Story, this all-white device looks a lot like Amazon’s Kindle. On more careful inspection its obvious the similarities are simply down to the colour and the presence of a full Qwerty keyboard below the 6in electronic paper screen, rather than any shared heritage.
At 127 x 203.5 x 9.4mm and weighing 284g the Story is par for the e-book reader course. Even if the white plastic case lacks the cool, machined finesse of Sony’s aluminium Readers, it still has a solid and substantial feel to it and will only flex or groan when subjected to some pretty severe torque.
The Story is heavily tapered on three sides with only the bottom having a flat surface. This is home to a 3.5mm headphones jack, the on/off switch, mini USB and SD card slots – the latter two being concealed by a plastic flap in typical iRiver style. The SD card slot requires just a little too much in the way of push to get the card to sit. Fine if you have long fingernails, a bit of a pain if you don’t.
Like Amazon, iRiver has done a service to both the left and right handed users by duplicating the page turn keys that sit next to the keypad and form part of the fascia on both sides of the unit. For one-handed use though, the page turn keys could have done with being placed a few centimetres nearer the top.
The keyboard itself is well designed and built. The keys are well spaced and have a firm and pleasant action making it look and feel a bit like the best keypads from HTC. The majority of the Story’s controls sit together in a row above the letter keys, while four arrow keys for navigation along with the Back and Enter keys are grouped together at the bottom right hand corner of the keyboard.
All the keys are labelled with admirable clarity, rather than with cryptic symbols. In typical Korean style, the Story comes with a fair amount of extra functionality including a voice recorder, memo facility and diary. Of course, all these features can also be found on any half decent mobile phone, so we wouldn’t hold them up as reasons to buy a Story in the first place.
iRiver supplies the Story with an impressive 2GB of built-in storage, but the SD card slot is good for another 32GB. Applying Register Hardware’s patented e-book reader storage formula, we find that the Reader will hold 1037 copies of War and Peace or 2554 of Moby Dick in ePub format, after the system has swallowed its 300-odd megabyte morsel.
Being iRiver the storage system has its idiosyncrasies, so if you load your SD card with music files and then try to access the card from the Home screen menu, they vanish. What you have to do is hit the Menu key, select Music and then SD Card, then your music reappears. The same is true for image files, which have to be accessed from the Comic menu key.
Data on the storage card and in the on-board memory are kept separate, rather than presented as a whole but, thankfully, the main menu also contains a Folder view, which gives you an unfiltered picture of what exactly is where.
Aside from MP3 files, unlike Sony’s Reader Touch, the Story’s music player can also handle Ogg and WMA files. It presents your music library in a sensible artist/album folder layout too, and puts album tracks in the correct running order rather than alphabetically. While short on offering fully-fledged ID3 tag support, it does at least make the Story a genuinely usable device capable of handling a large music library.
Music files can be loaded onto the Story using an MTP media player. It sounds pretty good, helped by the eight different available EQ settings. Given the MTP support, it’s a slight shame iRiver didn’t fit the Story will a playlist facility. Even the 0.6W mono speaker round the back does a pretty decent job of audio playback and never makes listening to music too painful even at higher volumes.
iRiver divides the Story’s file support into three categories – the E-Book Viewer handles ePub and PDF files while the Office Viewer can cope with PowerPoint, PDF, Word, plain text and Excel spreadsheet files. The Comic Viewer deals with JPEG, GIF and BMP files contained in zip archives or loaded individually.
The Story’s screen is the now common 800 x 600 E Ink affair. With its eight levels of grey scale it is crisp, clear and easy to read. While the Story doesn’t ‘turn’ pages any faster than other e-book readers we have tested, the basic menu system does move a lot faster. Flicking up and down through the library was a noticeably more brisk affair than it was on the Sony Readers.
Navigating about the Story’s menu system is helped by the home screen’s double menu layout. If you are scrolling through your books or tunes, just hit the left arrow button and the cursor moves to the small subsidiary menu without having to refresh the entire page. Similarly, if you hit the Menu key a pop-up menu appears allowing direct access to all the Story’s functions, again without a time consuming page refresh.