"Once upon a time, books were printed on paper, thin sheets of material made from trees. Then the world went digital and everything had to be in bits and bytes. So the printed book went the way of the dodo and e-books or digital books became the norm..." Would such a history of the printed book be read on a thin, flexible, digital screen in the future? We can only speculate but with the e-book device market heating up with numerous new entrants, this looks more and more likely. Today, we take a look at one such recently launched device, the iRiver Story.
Like all current e-book readers in the market, the iRiver Story relies on a form of electronic paper known as E Ink. You can read about the technology here, but basically, an electrical charge applied to the E Ink layer will change the grayscale display. While this technology uses relatively little energy and importantly, looks very similar to printed paper compared to conventional displays, the display is effectively static and it takes slightly over a second to change or refresh it. This takes some getting used to for consumers bred on LCDs and touchscreens (we had a number of colleagues trying to touch the screen to select an entry).
Comparing the Story's E Ink display with some of its more high profile competitors, like the Amazon Kindle 2 and Barnes & Noble's nook, the Story's eight level of grayscale is slightly unfavorable since the others have 16 levels of grayscale for better contrast.
Physically, the Story is one of the lighter e-book readers and it can be easily mistaken for a Kindle from afar with its white exterior. Like the Kindle 2, the Story comes with a QWERTY physical keyboard and one can use it to access the Memo and Diary features on it. Admittedly, these are rather basic and we didn't find them too useful. Despite the physical keyboard, Story misses the mark by not having an e-book annotation feature, which is more relevant to such a device.
The interface is functional with the keyboard including important shortcuts like volume control and text zoom. Two sets of forward and back buttons at the left and right edges are helpful for flipping through the e-book while a search function can help you locate your e-books through the title names. Media can be sorted in alphabetical order, reverse alphabetical or according to latest or oldest.
Unlike some of its competitors with proprietary e-book formats, the Story uses an open standard, EPUB and also supports PDF. Microsoft Office documents are also supported, though the Excel worksheets we tested, looked rather tiny on the screen. Good news for comic readers - the Story accepts images in JPEG and supports ZIP, so one can throw in an archive of scanned comics or manga and it will work. Of course, given the 8 level grayscale display, we recommend black and white manga rather than a full-color graphic novel.
Given iRiver's expertise in portable media players, it's no surprise that this e-book reader can play your MP3s, even OGG files conveniently. You can attach headphones via the 3.5mm jack or rely on the mono speaker located at the back of the device. Recording is also possible, with the output in MP3.
There's no wireless connectivity on the Story. Transferring of e-books and other media is done via a mini-USB cable connected to your Windows PC like any removable drive. Drag and drop your files to the appropriate folder according to the media type and the Story will update its database when restarted. 2GB of internal storage is provided and a microSD slot allows a further expansion of 16GB with a microSD card.
Similarly, charging is done via the USB cable, but that's not something you'll do too often. iRiver estimates that the Story can last more than a week, but if you're listening to music, 10 hours is the maximum rated.
What the Story has over its main competitors, at least locally, is that it can be bought here. Local distro, McCoy is importing this e-book reader and it will cost readers S$499, which is rather pricey given that importing the Kindle 2 yourself costs less.
More importantly, what Apple has shown with its iPod and iTunes store is that it's not just about the hardware
but the entire ecology and user experience. That's something the Story lacks compared to the Kindle 2 and nook. As such, we predict that the Story will disappear under the upcoming flood of e-book devices.