The iRiver Story as an e-book reader is an impressive alternative to more established brands in this market, offering decent performance and support for a range of formats. Sadly, the extra features that suggest capabilities in a more business-oriented environment aren't really comfortable enough to offer any practical benefits, leaving the high price rather difficult to justify.
Slim; attractive build; range of additional features and format support; good battery life; good quality audio.
Control layout may take a bit of getting used to; poor refresh rate; awkward to view some 'supported' formats; quite expensive.
£ 181.50 + VAT
6in 8-grey-level 800x600 display; 2GB internal memory (expandable to 18GB); Samsung ARM9 533MHz CPU; 100-hour (9,000 page turn) battery life; 203 x 127 x 9.4mm; 284g
Amazon's e-book readers are stirring interest in the electronic document format, and iRiver has obviously decided to play it safe with its first crack at this market by aping the layout and dimensions of the Kindle 2.
The iRiver Story sports a 6in electronic ink display showing eight grey levels at 800 x 600 resolution, and a full Qwerty keyboard with dedicated menu and media keys between two page-turning shortcut buttons.
For the most part the controls are very responsive and easy to use, but the shortcut keys are a little too low to access comfortably with your hands in their natural position.
The base sports a mini-USB connection, power/hold switch, a 3.5mm jack for attaching headphones and an SD-card reader. The 2GB of internal memory would seem like more than enough for a good collection of documents (enough for around 1,500 books) , but the fact that the SD-card slot can expand this by an additional 16GB shows that iRiver has catered well for those who enjoy audio books or listening to music while reading.
The Story supports the popular ePub format, PDF, DOC and TXT along with PowerPoint and Excel documents. The last two may be of particular interest to business users but, although viewing a series of PowerPoint slides is quite effective, particularly in landscape mode, we were not so pleased with its handling of Excel files.
Most users would find all but the most basic of spreadsheets far too complex to view comfortably on the Story's screen and it's not possible to zoom in the traditional sense. Instead, the display simply focuses on a specific group of cells at a time, shifting the focus as you turn pages.
In fact, it loses points in almost any situation where you're not simply reading for enjoyment and this is generally down to the poor refresh rate. Browsing through Excel spreadsheets, collections of photos and large Word documents and PDFs that aren't formatted for use with e-book readers can be a pain, since there's a three or four second delay when browsing menus, zooming, loading files or turning pages. During this time the screen flashes black before the new image is displayed, which can be quite distracting.
When it comes to the core functionality of displaying e-books and basic Word documents where page turns would occur every 30 seconds or so, the Story is generally very comfortable and easy to read in good lighting. Text is clear and easy on the eye, but the lack of a backlight can make it a strain in dimly lit environments.
Audio support includes MP3 and WMA formats playable via a rather simplistic audio menu that simply lists tracks by filename. Sound quality via the headphones is very good and even the mono speaker at the back does a surprisingly good job if there are others around to benefit. Thrown into the mix are a voice recorder, text memos, comic book viewer and personal organiser, although none of these offers anything past basic functionality.
It is notable that the Story offers an impressive 100-hour battery life, or 9,000 page-turns, which puts it up there with the best on the market in terms of longevity.
IRiver has done a nice job with the core benefits here, but there are inherent drawbacks with many of the additional features, and the level of versatility on offer doesn't come cheap. At £220 it's among the most expensive of its size on the market, and we're not sure that the Story does quite enough to usurp the Kindle in its current guise.