With hordes of e-readers filling up the showroom floor at CES 2010, it seems the digital book is ready to execute its plan for world domination.

The favourite to break the mainstream is Amazon’s Kindle – whose wireless DX version is now shipping to the UK – but iRiver has just staked its claim with the aptly named Story.

No built-in 3G

While the Story shares many of its Amazon rivals’ aesthetic qualities – wonderful build quality and QWERTY keyboard for starters – this ain’t no Kindle, ebook fans. Unlike its look-alike cousin, the Story does not have 3G built in.

This means to get books you’ll have to buy them online on your PC, then drag and drop them to the Story. All a bit of a faff. But, on the up side, you’re not locked in to buying from Amazon like you are with the Kindle’s ‘Whispernet’ service.

Both WH Smith and Waterstones are selling the Story, and have burgeoning online catalogues – although it’s worth looking further afield for ebook bargains, like www.booksonboard.com.

Delightful design

The Story is a slippery customer but is delightfully designed and made. Its off-white finish is marginally classier than the Kindle’s, the twin sets of page turn buttons are clickable sections of the casing and the keyboard keys have a positive action.

On the bottom are a sliding power/lock key, headphone jack and hidden USB and SD card ports. The screen is good, with decent refresh speed and quick, pretty menus.

So with no web or online store access, why does the Story need a keyboard? Exclusively for the diary and memo functions, it seems, although there are many other useful buttons hidden in the panel: music controls, orientation change, and pop-up options menu. These things would be a couple of clicks away on a Sony Reader.

The Story supports EPUB and PDF, including DRM’d documents so long as you have Adobe Digital Editions installed on your PC.

Interestingly, it also supports JPG, BMP or PNG comics saved as ZIP files, though we’re not sure where you’d get these. Plus, it displays text and Office files, as well as playing MP3, WMA and Ogg audio, and voice recording in MP3.

Squaring up to the competition

Chances are if you’re looking for an e-reader you’ll probably be comparing the Story to Sony’s Reader Touch – which, while quite different to look at, has much in common.

Like the Story, there’s no 3G, and the Touch is also solidly made, with a useful non-slip rear. A touchscreen tries hard to make keys redundant, but it’s far too reflective for an ebook reader – not to mention pricier.

It’s going to be a fast-moving year for e-readers, with Apple’s rumoured tablet likely to be gunning for the ebook market as well. The Barnes & Noble Nook, with its colour sub-screen, is currently US-only, while the upcoming Notion Ink Adam Android-based ‘smartpad’ device will have avid readers drooling at the 400-hours battery life promised courtesy of the Pixel Qi display.

And all that’s before the numerous clamshell, dual-screen design concepts announced come to fruition. But for now, at least, the iRiver Story is certainly one of the best we've seen.


Stuff says... 

iRiver Story review

Easy on the eye and reasonably easy on the pocket, the Story is well worth a look