iRiver Story ebook reader review

Ebook readers are for travellers, right? Wrong. Take frequent flyers: can anything that has to be switched off during take-off and landing really be considered "great for travellers"? Not really, but if you don't confuse the genre with that bastion of travel-friendly media, the book, ebook readers are becoming genuinely interesting. And we'd include the iRiver Story in that camp.

Sleek, lightweight, attractive, and with a speaker and keyboard built-in, the Story is a bit different from most ebook readers. It is also a bit more expensive, but isn't that always the way?

This matte-white gadget doesn't mess around with file formats or capacity; its 6-inch, 8-shade greyscale, 800 x 600 resolution, E Ink screen can cope with PDF, TXT and RTF and the dedicated EPUB ebook format, while also displaying JPEG, BMP and GIF image. Pictures can be slow to load, and high-res JPEGs from digital cameras don't load at all, so don't consider the Story if you're after a photo viewer.

PDFs that are designed and formatted as ebooks to be read on a device such as this, i.e., those that use a big font, are ideal for the Story. Random PDF files with a more usual, smaller typeface are not; it is possible to zoom in on a file, but this is a slow process and it is not possible to scan up or down, so you miss a paragraph top and bottom. Basically, they're unreadable. As a bonus, the Story can also play with Microsoft files, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which it handles in a rudimentary though pretty effective way if you just need a quick look.

The built-in 2GB hard drive is pretty generous if you're just going to read books: it's able to fit around 1,500 ebooks. That should be enough for, what, a lifetime? Even better, the Story's SD card slot, hidden at the device's base, can take SD cards of up to 32GB. Think about that for a second. If our maths is correct, that equates to … wait for it … 25,500 ebooks. Even Stephen Fry couldn't get through that many. Obviously it is not there for books, but for music.

Using either the headphone socket or built-in (albeit tiny) mono speaker on the Story's rear, you can listen to songs stored as MP3, WMA and even the lossless OGG audio format while you read, in an iPod shuffle kind of way.

But let's get down to business - what's the story with stories on the Story? There's no built-in DRM nonsense, so the Story will basically play anything that you've found online very easily (such as sample chapters, etc), or bought online with DRM attached that's been through the Adobe Digital Editions software. It's a simple drag 'n' drop affair, and works with PC or Mac.

Battery life is excellent. On a single charge the Story lasted well over a week for us; the screen itself is inert, with power needed only to refresh the ink on a new page, as we've seen in other E Ink devices. iRiver claims its lasts 7,000 page turns and we don't doubt it. Playing music, however, will obviously drain the battery in significantly less time. Turning pages using the device's almost invisible buttons is comfortable, as is staring at the screen for hours, though we did occasionally notice a modicum of ink retention.

Extras include a note-taking option (that's separate to any reading you might be doing), a diary (that you'll probably not use), and voice memos saved as MP3s.

Verdict

Compared to other devices on the market aside from the Kindle (which physically and technically it is almost identical to, aside from the obvious lack of a 3G Wi-Fi book buying experience), the Story comes out near the top. File compatibility, battery life and music playback are all excellent - our only criticisms are that it can be a little slow at times (loading, changing pages on some documents) and that it doesn't come with any kind of protective casing.

If you're just not into the Kindle idea and want to buy books and content with a bit more freedom, get your hands on this almost identikit product.