iRiver Story HD – the eReader that missed its chance

When I saw the iRiver Story HD at last year’s London Book Fair, it looked like a pretty nice bit of kit; lightweight, with one of the latest eInk screens, sporting good contrast, and a very fast processor. It was, at the time, one of the fastest readers around, and it still appears to be. Like most ‘unshackled’ readers, it supports ePub and Adobe Digital Editions.

There’s 2GB of on board memory, a qwerty keyboard, plus SD card expansion, and there’s also a version with WiFi available.

The unit that I received is the standard one, aka the EB07; and boy, did it take a long time. That’s because, while it was launched in the US with Google Books on board, and everyone expected last year that the same would happen here, in the end Google launched their UK store without a dedicated reader, at the start of October.

By then, Amazon had launched the latest version of their Kindle in the UK, and WH Smith was days away from announcing their tie-up with Kobo and a matching WiFi reader. So, the Story HD that I received was a very different proposition to what I’d anticipated six months previously.

With no built in network, and no linked book store to help subsidise the cost, the Story HD will set you back around £130; that’s the same price as the Sony PRS-T1, and some forty pounds more than you’ll pay for either a Kobo or Kindle with WiFi and a matching book store.

What’s the story?

Had it launched six months earlier, it would undoubtedly have been quite an attractive product – though I have to say that the initial version of firmware was pretty ropey.

The latest version on the website, 1.28, improves things considerably and apparently aligns the look and feel more with the US Google Books version; the home screen shows a list of titles, with a thumbnail of the cover of your current reading above, and a list that can show by recent, favourite, title, author or image – but unlike, say, the Sony Reader, there are no ‘collections’ so you can’t organise your books by tags; with 23 pages of titles on there, it’s a bit annoying having to scroll through. You can view by ‘folder’ but that just shows all the files in the memory.

Even in the normal view though, things are still not entirely glitch-free; until an ePub has actually been opened, what’s actually shown in the list is the name of the file, less the extension. So, the supplied “Aesop – Aseops Fables” by “Unknown” turns into “Aesop’s Fables” by “Aesop” once it’s been opened. That’s going to be annoying for people with a big list of books.

I’d also advise setting the auto power off setting to quite a long period, though you’ll lose some battery life. In sleep mode – from 15 minutes to 3 hours of inactivity – there’s a screensaver image which changes periodically. Power off will happen after 3, six, 12, 24 hours, 3 days or 1 week. That’s a great battery saver, but starting up from power off takes around 45 seconds; I got into the habit of turning the reader on when I started cleaning my teeth so that it would be ready to read in bed.

Another annoyance I found was that when you try to jump to a page – press Option, then Enter, then a page number, then Enter – it’s hard to enter a number correctly. The top row of the keypad is used for numbers, Q= 1, W = 2 and so on. But often, a key will enter two numbers – pressing 2 produces 28, for example. You can delete the second number, but it makes some pages impossible to reach; press 7 and 17 appears, so you won’t be able to get to page 27 this way. It’s an astonishing bug, frankly.

It’s not all niggles; the eInk display is nice and crisp, contrast is much better than the older PRS-505 that I’m used to, and page turns are very swift too, using the large navigation key. You can press it down or right to move on a page, and up or left to move back. It falls nicely under the thumb and is pretty responsive, as too are the other keys.

There are things that I miss from my Sony; the page number appears only briefly as you turn pages, and there’s no on-screen clock either, though those are hardly likely to be deal breakers for most people.

I’m aware that this is sounding fairly negative; I really wanted to like this reader a lot more. I am quite fond of it, and I’ve been using it a lot – I don’t tend to jump round by page number that often, so I can live with that bug. And I like the screen, and the light weight.

But there are those niggles, and above all there’s the price. I can’t help thinking that this is a product that could have done fairly well, if it had come out six months earlier, and had a bit more work done on the firmware. It might have shifted enough units to have had its price cut, too, and remain competitive.

But as St Joan said, if ifs and ans were pots and pans, there’d be no need of tinkers. Ultimately the Story HD hitched up to the wrong wagon, and ended up late to the party.

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