Like most readers on the market, the iRiver Story is a clean, sleek white. In fact, it looks quite a lot like a more compact Kindle 2. What's good about this is that the white frame surrounding the white screen can be less distracting than a darker chassis. What's bad about it is that it attracts scuff marks — if you're the kind of person who likes their gadgets looking clean and neat, you'll have to invest in a case.
Below the six-inch E Ink screen sits a full QWERTY keyboard, with a row of function buttons, and on either side are discreet directional buttons. If there seem to be a lot of left and right keys, it's because there are — three sets, in fact. While in a book, all three sets turn pages; however, the side sets allow you to navigate menus more easily. We like that this gives you options for how to hold the device. What we didn't like is that there's not a lot of space for gripping the Story; several times while juggling it and a cup of coffee, some accidental button presses occurred; nothing that couldn't be navigated back to, but less than ideal all the same.
The Kindle homage isn't complete; the back of the Story is the same matte plastic as the front, which does feel a bit flimsy at the seams, but is more pleasant to the touch since it's not prey to the stickiness of the Kindle's aluminium back. The wholly plastic chassis also means the Story is marginally lighter — 284g to the Kindle's 290g — but this is a negligible difference, considering a paperback book can weigh quite significantly more than both put together.
The integrated keyboard is comfortable to use, with keys large enough to avoid accidental button-mashing.
However, the iRiver Story is somewhat light on features. In spite of its broad file support, it lacks what e-reader aficionados are coming to see as important features, such as an integrated dictionary function, W-Fi support and in-text note-taking.
What it does have is a built-in voice recorder, built-in MP3 player, diary and support for image file formats for comics, as well as ePub, PDF, TXT and Office formats XLS, PPT and DOC. This means you can load and view pretty much any file of your own to the device — handy if you need to review files for work or school.
As far as e-readers go, the Story responds pretty smartly. The page turns — even for heavy image files — are quick, and books only take a few seconds to load. This is a good thing, because navigating the menus can be a little difficult to get used to; they're not always the most intuitive. This is alleviated somewhat by the ability to search, but this is a clunky experience, particularly within texts.
Within an ePub file, text resizing is smooth, but PDFs are a different proposition and can take a bit of fiddling and scrolling to view properly.
One thing we didn't like was the battery life. iRiver claims the Story has a battery life of 9000 page turns, 24 hours of music playback or five hours of voice recording. Whether our review model was faulty, we're not sure, but a single full charge didn't last 500 pages before the battery conked out and the device demanded a recharge. If you're going home every day and charging your smartphone, this probably won't be a problem, but if you're not going to have the opportunity to charge the device — for example, on a long flight — this is going to become more problematic.
The MP3 player was serviceable, but if you're carrying around an MP3 player anyway (for example, on a phone), it's unnecessary. Of more use is the voice recorder for taking personal notes on the fly, but again, this is something quite a lot of phones are also able to do now; it may be extraneous to your needs.
Overall, the user experience, battery peccadilloes aside, is a pleasant one, but the Story suffers from something a few e-readers are going to fall prey to now that sub-AU$200 units are becoming more common: a comparatively high price point. However, if the voice recorder, search function and diary, as well as the ability to view a multitude of file types, are something you want, then the Story is a very decent proposition.