We looked at the iRiver Story back in December 2009 and we liked it. Good construction, wide file support and a QWERTY keyboard round out a spec sheet that challenges most of its rivals. But does adding Wi-Fi bring anything to the mixture?
It certainly does, especially as this edition is sold in the UK in cahoots with WHSmith. The high street retailer might not be your first port of call when you are after the most recent bargains, but its online ebook store does pack in a few offers and we've used the store to buy ebooks in the past when reviewing ebook readers.
We'll look at the hook-up with WHSmith first and the addition of Wi-Fi, so if you've already read our review of the iRiver Story, you'll get straight to the juicy bits.
The Wi-Fi controls hide in the settings menu of the Story and offer you the chance to connect to your network. As the Story features a QWERTY keyboard across the bottom this is a straightforward procedure, but the nature of the E-Ink display means that typing is generally a slow process. Once we had plugged in our password, we were off to the WHSmith website in very little time.
There was some confusion because we already have a WHSmith account, but it wasn't the same website, so we had to register again. WHSmith have missed a trick here, as it would have been nice to log straight into an existing account and be able to download those books we'd already purchased: that would provide a great rivalling service to that offered by the Amazon Kindle with its multi-device support and we'd urge WHSmith to make this an option.
When purchasing ebooks in the EPUB format you have to deal with DRM. We accept it as a necessary step in the process, protecting publisher and author rights. Fortunately you can plug in your Adobe Digital Editions account details and authorise your Story all on the device itself. This lets you not only access DRM content that you download on the device, but also lets you access existing DRM content you have accessed using your Digital Editions account in the past.
If ebook consumption is new to you, or if you've only looked at DRM-free content, then you will have to skip through a few extra steps to get your Adobe account. It's a worthwhile step to take, as Adobe Digital Editions is essentially the key to protected content online and is simple enough once you jump through the necessary hoops. You also get the added benefit of then being able to read the content you purchase on the iRiver Story on your PC if you copy the files across. What you don't get, in comparison to Amazon's system, is bookmark syncing if you are planning to read on separate devices at the same time.
But the iRiver Story comes with an advantage that the Amazon Kindle doesn't want to offer you: it doesn't care where you get your content from. You can buy your ebooks from any store online in EPUB format and move them over (or use the SD card slot in the bottom), so to a certain extent, the Story gives you access to a wider selection of content.
What you don't get is a browser, so you can't use the device to access other online bookstores to download titles directly - WHSmith is protecting its interests to a certain extent, but browsing websites not formatted for this type of device can leave you a little lost, so it isn't a huge negative.
Format support is good (EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, FB2, DJVU, CBZ, XLS, PPT, DOC, MP3, WMA, OGG), although we're strictly in the "reading" camp when it comes to ebook readers. We like reading books on ebook readers, and although you get support for a wide range of other functions, like music playback, picture viewing and support for MS Office files, we think that the primary purpose of this type of device is to read text.
In that, it excels. The screen is a fairly typical 6-inch 800 x 600 resolution, but it supports 16 shades of grey, not that it makes much difference to straight text reading. We're impressed with how dynamic the screen is too, offering fast refresh rates for faster page turns and of course you get the great contrast and the ability to read in bright conditions without issue. Those faster refreshes enable typing too, but as we said, it isn't ever going to compete with text entry on a phone or tablet.
The screen is an E-Ink display meaning it has a very low consumption of power, so you'll get 9000 page turns from the battery. The Wi-Fi will consume battery much faster, but it only connects when you need it too, so isn't a constant drain. We've used ebook readers of this type for trips of 3 weeks on a single charge, and when you do want to charge it, you can plug into the Mini-USB on the bottom.
Ebook readers face a new enemy in the amassing tablet market, with Apple's iPad finding itself as a reader device for some, and others using their mobile phone. That's fine, but this reviewer thinks that phones are too small for comfortable reading, and the iPad, whilst a wonderful multimedia device, isn't as good for straight text reading. Yes, your E-Ink reader won't play video or give you a dynamic internet experience, but it is a better display for ploughing through the latest thriller.
Ebook readers have been expensive in the past, but WHSmith has the iRiver Story listed for £199 (the non-Wi-Fi version is £149, but it is a slightly low spec too). At that price, it makes the Wi-Fi equipped BeBook Neo look hugely over-priced and even looks good value against some lesser-equipped rivals, like the Sony Readers. But with Amazon's new Kindle gunning for £109 with Wi-Fi (with Amazon getting the benefit of the books you have to buy through them) the extra £90 for the Story might leave many scratching their heads.
But with all these things simplicity is key. Buying books on the Kindle is easy, just as buying books through the WHSmith link on the Story is easy enough, once you have an account, however navigation of the store isn't the most intuitive. Searching for "Simon Scarrow" returned 208 results, of which the author didn't appear on the first page, for example. Navigating lists can be frustrating too, cycling through the various selectable elements on each page, with the page turn keys and arrows both offering to move you on. Unfortunately it isn't always as straightforward as it should be, so some refinement is needed here.
In terms of the reading experience, we like the fact that the display gives very little glare, unlike its glossy LCD rivals, or those E-Ink devices with a touch layer incorporated. You can also change the aspect of the display and easily change the text size if you want, to make things more comfortable to read.
Some of the Story's default fonts are very small, but we never found this to actually hamper the reading experience. As we said during this review, we're fans of reading first and foremost and the iRiver Story is a comfortable book to read from and a pleasure to hold in the hand.
The solid construction brings the Kindle to mind, with the iRiver Story being very close in its design. Internally you'll find an adequate 2GB of storage (unless you really want to fill it with music or images), but an SD card slot does allow for expansion or the easy addition of files. The version we reviewed came with 100 classics pre-installed which is a nice ploy, but seeing as these books are out of copyright and freely available online, you might find you want to remove the majority - they do make it more difficult to find your own titles.
The experience of the Story is a little fiddly when it comes to that actual interface offered by the WHSmith ebook store, but we did find the books we were looking for. If you are serious about buying an ebook reader (with WHSmith pushing the Story to access its store, Waterstones plugging the Sony Readers and Amazon with its Kindle) the question you have to ask is whether the store the device is connected to offers the books you want.
Remember that not all book editions are available as ebooks, and this is neither the fault of the retailer or device manufacturer, this is the decision of the publisher. The shortcoming of the Kindle is that you don't get the freedom to shop around, but you do get simplicity. The iRiver Story offers you freedom, the link with a mainstream retailer but more of a fiddle.
Both offer an experience that gives you one advantage over the disconnected rivals in that you won't have to use your PC to download and transfer the content.
Overall the iRiver Story isn't a big step forward for ebook readers, but it is a nice complete package and comes out as one of our favourites. If you have existing DRM EPUB content, but want to sever the necessity of always using your PC to purchase, the Story with Wi-Fi does give you that option, without resigning your existing titles to the archive.
We like the iRiver Story, we like the WHSmith link (if not the interface), but we don't like the price any more. With this device linked to WHSmith, it is likely to be in its hands to drop the price to make it more competitive, but we can't help feeling that Amazon's cheaper Kindle will draw more attention, closed system or not.