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Iriver WiFi Story e-book reader

Review Unlike Kindle, this one's not 'out of stock'
Fri Aug 13 2010, 14:36

Product Iriver WiFi Story e-book reader
Specifications 6-inch screen, 800x600 resolution, 16-greyscales, 2GB Flash, 802.11b/g WiFi, SD card slot, 291.5g

AMAZON MIGHT have finally opened its UK Kindle store, but the fact you still can't buy one of the blighters over here it puts something of a spanner in the works. Keen to take advantage of Amazon's slackness, Iriver has launched its WiFi Story.

iriver-wifi-story-frontThe WiFi Story is actually a joint venture between the South Korean manufacturer and WHSmith, and just like the elusive Kindle it uses its built-in WiFi to purchase e-books. Unlike the Kindle, Iriver's version doesn't have 3G.

The new device is physically identical to its predecessor, the Story, which appeared towards the end of 2009. An 802.11b/g WiFi radio supporting WPA security has been added, and the eight-level greyscale 600x800 e-ink screen has been upgraded to support 16 levels of grey. Available only in a matt-white finish, the reader's 6in display sits above a small Qwerty keyboard that also has a collection of dedicated function keys. The keyboard action is positive, but the pale grey letters and purple shift/symbol characters aren't particularly clear.

Overall build quality is excellent, and the unit feels reassuringly sturdy without being too heavy or bulky. A basic carrying sleeve is included. At the left and right edges of the frame are dedicated page-turn buttons; a rather awkward location that almost guarantees they get pressed when the unit is picked up. A more central location might have been better. At the bottom edge is a sliding power button, headphone socket, microphone, covered SD Card slot and mini-USB connector for USB charging and PC connectivity (a cable is included). SDHC cards up to 32GB are supported to expand the 2GB onboard Flash memory.

The device uses Adobe's digital rights management (DRM) software, and supports most e-book formats, including Epub and PDF. The unit needs to be activated using an Adobe ID and a WiFi internet connection before DRM-protected books can be viewed. The WiFi Story must also be activated within the free Adobe Digital Editions viewer software to download commercial e-books from a PC (or Mac).

iriver-wifi-story-sideHooking up to a wireless network is fairly simple, and the device scans available networks and prompts for a WPA key. Entering complex keys is a nuisance, however, owing to the tiny input box and fiddly keyboard. Once connected, the WiFi radio is not terminated unless the unit goes into standby or is powered off, which could catch users unaware and cause unnecessary drain on the 1,800mAh battery.

A dedicated link to the WHSmith e-book store appears on the main menu. Clicking this initiates a wireless connection and launches the store application. This is functional rather than flashy, but the main problem is the lack of a navigation paddle or cursor. Instead, you have to jump between poorly highlighted tabs and links using the four arrow keys. You also need to create an account, which is again a fiddly process using small input boxes and tiny fonts. A zoom function in these areas would improve matters, but a complete redesign to suit a screen of this size would be more appropriate. The store is run separately from WHSmith's main web site, and accounts are not linked between the two. You can't buy physical books from the WiFi Story, which seems like a missed opportunity.

iriver-wifi-story-rearDespite these annoyances, buying and downloading is fairly painless once an account is created (although we discovered that only three-digit credit card security codes are accepted, meaning that American Express doesn't work). Downloads only take a few seconds, and the e-book can be downloaded again at any time. E-books can also be transferred to a PC or another Adobe-activated reader. The reading experience is excellent thanks to the superb e-ink screen. Response times for page turns and refreshes aren't too slow, and the three zoom levels should suit most needs.

A dedicated key swaps between portrait and landscape mode. Dithering can be enabled if colours don't render correctly, and reflow can be turned on when reading PDFs to make multi-column layouts more readable. Images are rendered surprisingly well. Although there is an Office file viewer included that supports Excel, Word and PowerPoint files (including 2007/2010 versions), the results depend very much on the original document. Viewing large spreadsheets or complex presentations isn't recommended. We found the best results with Word documents, although even here the zoom levels weren't really adequate in most cases.

Several extras are bundled with the WiFi Story, including a basic diary, memo pad, audio player and voice recorder. None of these integrates with the reading application, however, so you can't make linked annotations or voice comments. It would make more sense to be able to attach these to bookmarks. Unlike the Kindle, there is no text-to-speech capability, but there is a tiny built-in speaker at the rear. Unsurprisingly the sound quality isn't great. As a music player using headphones (not supplied) it works fairly well, with dedicated transport and volume buttons on the keyboard.

In Short
Although the WiFi Story looks and feels the part, its price is too high and there are some annoying deficiencies in the interface design that spoil the e-book purchasing experience.

The Good
Excellent screen, stylish and well-made, Qwerty keyboard, good battery life, direct online purchasing and download, audio capabilities.

The Bad
No zoom in menus or store, keyboard symbols difficult to read.

The Ugly
E-book store poorly designed, expensive.

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