Ebook readers are a controversial sort of gadget and, while the iriver Story might not be the device that converts the unbelievers, it does offer a clear, sharp screen, plenty of internal storage and good file-format compatibility, not to mention a selection of less obvious benefits, such as music-playback, voice-recording and text-editing capability. And, at around £200, it's competitively priced.
If you're the sort of person who scoffs at the merest mention of ebook readers, then you may as well stop reading now. There's nothing about the Story that's likely to change your opinion. Indeed, if durability and cost are among the main reasons you prefer to stick with real books, as opposed to a delicate, costly electronic device, then the fact that the Story doesn't even come with as much as a dust jacket to protect it -- the official iriver case costs about £25 extra -- will probably just reinforce your point of view.
Nevertheless, for those looking to condense their library of paperbacks down to one slim volume, the Story certainly has a few points in its favour. For a start, it's appealingly designed, sleeve or no sleeve. In fact, it looks virtually identical to Amazon's Kindle, with a large, 152mm (6-inch) screen, white curved casing and full Qwerty keypad underneath the display. The page-turn buttons are incorporated invisibly into the lower part of both sides of the unit, making it suitable for left- and right-handed use.
The display itself is extremely sharp and clear. It uses e-ink, which means that it's not only easy on the eye but easy on battery power too. The claimed battery life is up to 9,000 page turns, which translates into roughly one and a half copies of Herman Melville's Moby Dick to every full charge.
There's no power adaptor in the box. Plugging the Story into a USB port is the only way to charge the device. Once connected, ebooks and other files can simply be dragged and dropped from your computer to the Story. It's a simple-enough process, although the Story lacks the Kindle's useful, shop-anywhere, Wi-Fi download capability.
A generous 2GB of storage space is provided. You'd have to be a pretty voracious reader to fill this up with ebooks, but the space can also be used to store audio files -- either music to listen to as you read, or audio books in digital file formats. A headphone socket can be found on the underside of the device, but you'll have to supply the headphones yourself.
On top of that, there's a separate SD card slot, offering the possibility of up to 32GB more room for books and tunes. In truth, the Story isn't exactly the best MP3 player in the world, and it's quite likely that you may already have a much more capable and portable music device built into your mobile phone. It's an interesting feature nonetheless, as are the voice-recording and text-editing functions.
Perhaps more important is the Story's ability to handle a multitude of different ebook and text-file formats. It's compatible with all the main retail and freely available formats, such as PDF, ePUB and TXT, as well as a number of office-document files.
If size is an issue, then you may have already taken one look at the Story and decided against it. Compared to the more compact offerings from, say, Sony, the Story seems unnecessarily large, even without any extra padding in the form of a sleeve or case. The main reason it seems more slab-like than most competitors is the presence of the keypad beneath the screen. Depending on how you plan to use the device, it's quite possible that you'll never want or even need to exploit the diary or text-editing features, which would make the keypad a waste of space.
Likewise, the built-in and external storage capacity may be useful for some, but others may never use more than a fraction of the 2GB internal memory, especially if they don't plan to exploit the Story's ability to play tunes on the move.
That brings us to the main problem we have with the Story. Its technical specifications allow for some interesting capabilities, but they're not necessarily things that everyone will need when reading an ebook. Whereas a touch-sensitive screen or Internet access might conceivably have come in handy, Ogg Vorbis music-file compatibility just isn't at the top of anyone's wish list.
The iriver Story costs roughly the same as other devices of its type and includes a number of useful extras. But, while its excellent format compatibility, lengthy battery life and large, clear screen are definite points in its favour, we're less enthusiastic about the half-hearted audio-playback and text-entry features.
Edited by Charles Kloet