iRiver Story HD: Google's first e-reader

When Google announced the first e-book reader integrated with the Google eBooks platform, expectations were high. The iRiver Story HD, which has a direct price of $140, is an interesting e-reader with some nice features, but it also has several design flaws.

What does it do? The Story HD is 7.5 x 5.0 x 0.4 in. and weighs 7.3 oz., a comfortable size for traveling around with. It comes with 2.0GB of storage, 1.4GB of which is available for books; there is also a slot for an SD card. In other words, you don't have to worry about running out of space.

iRiver Story HD

The iRiver Story HD resembles Amazon's Kindle insofar as it has a hardware WYSIWYG keyboard below the display -- unlike many of its competitors, which either have touch screens or use cursors to go through an onscreen keyboard. Unfortunately, this isn't the most comfortable keyboard to type on -- the keys are small, thin pieces of plastic that resemble rice grains. Of course, it's not like you're not going to do a lot of typing on it -- they are fine for simply picking out the name of a book you want to read.

The other controls on the iRiver are also a bit different -- and a bit awkward. Above the keypad, on the left side, is a slightly larger (but still long and thin) combination Home and Back key. On the right side is a similar key that acts as the Enter key if pressed to the left and the Option (menu) key if pressed to the right.

The main control is located between those two. It is slightly longer and silver (as opposed to all the other keys which are yellow). This is the cursor key; you push it up or down, or press the left or right side to move the screen cursor. The silver key is also used as a page forward/back key, which took a bit of getting used to, since my first instinct was to use whatever keys were as far right and left as possible.

Interestingly, the power/wake key is on the lower back of the unit -- not a bad idea, since it keeps it out of the way, but it means that any cover you use will have to give access to the back of the unit.

What's cool about it? One of the best aspects of the Story HD is its 6-in. XGA E-Ink display, which offers 768 x 1024 resolution. The result is a very crisp, comfortable reading surface, almost surprisingly so. I had no problem with it; even the smaller print, which sometimes is problematic on e-readers, was very sharp and easy to read.

The device accepts a wide variety of formats, including PDF, ePub, various Microsoft Office file formats (such as PPT and Doc), and several image types, including JPG, BMP, PNG and GIF.

According to the iRiver website, the battery will last a respectable 14,000 pages .

What needs to be improved? Unfortunately, because the hardware isn't optimal, the process of finding and purchasing a book starts with a strike against it. For example, when I cursor to the name of the book I'm currently reading, I feel as if I should simply press down the main bar -- but no, I have to move my finger over and hit the Enter key to its right. And I never quite got used to the that main control; it isn't, in my opinion, the most comfortable way to manipulate the cursor.

The act of purchasing a book was not too difficult, but a little disappointing. When you go to the Google eBookstore page (using the device's 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi), there is a search box on top, and a list of the top sellers on the bottom; you can also browse by category. A search brings up about six titles per page; click on a title, and you get surprising little information -- for example, I clicked on George R. R. Martin's novel A Game of Thrones and got a star rating, a price, the ability to download a sample and a description. I saw no information about the publisher, the year it was published -- and no access to user reviews.

The e-reading features are also a little sparse. By pressing the Option button, you can go to a specific page, add a bookmark, access the dictionary, adjust the text size or go to the table of contents. If you're reading a sample, you can buy the book. And that's it -- there's no ability to take notes, highlight, or any of the other features that other e-readers offer.

Bottom line: The iRiver Story HD e-book reader is lightweight and has an excellent display, but its user interface could use some work.

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