The iRiver Cover Story is one elegantly designed e-reader from start to finish. Its case is constructed of a heavy-duty, creamy plastic that, contrary to one's expectations of the material, feels smooth and luxurious in the hands. A rounded bezel frames the device, into which are set the power, volume and menu buttons almost flush with the surface.
Feeling further around the edge, a flap conceals the mini-USB port and SD card slot. You'll also find a tiny microphone, audio jack and, on the top of the right edge, a stylus discreetly slots in.
Each Cover Story also comes equipped with a plastic cover. It's slightly magnetised, so it will stick to the front of the device, but come off easily — and, when you're reading, you just slip it over to the back, where the cut-out hole for the button sits neatly over the speaker. You can purchase different coloured covers, but we quite like the uniformity presented by the default cream-coloured one.
The Cover Story is loaded with features. As you might have guessed from the mention of the stylus, it has a resistive touchscreen, and other clues point to audio capabilities. In fact, the Cover Story can both play audio files (great for audio books or music), as well as record audio notes.
The touchscreen opens up a range of capabilities: you can make scribbled notes directly in the text, place bookmarks easily, press and hold on a word to open its dictionary definition, and even open a separate application to make either text or drawn memos.
It also supports a wide range of file types. One we liked is the ZIP support: you can put a zipped file of image files in the comics viewer, and read it like a book, using the page turn button to scroll through the files.
However (and we had this problem with the Cybook Orizon, too), the resistive touch layer, which is laid over the E Ink display, is highly reflective — much more than other e-readers, removing one of the attractions of the display. It is bearable, but can be distracting when reading near a light source.
Reading on the Cover Story is almost as pleasurable as holding it. Thanks to the touchscreen, navigation is simple and intuitive, and the library even has a handy search function so you can quickly and easily find a title rather than scrolling through the entire thing. You can also sort by books you are currently reading and books you have added to your list of favourites.
We did find that it took quite a while to boot up from shut down, but you can tweak the power settings so that the Cover Story will only power down if you haven't used it for three, six, 12, 15 or 24 hours; if you read everyday, the 24-hour setting means it will only put itself to sleep if you leave it idle, and it only takes a couple of seconds to wake up.
It also struggles a bit with large files. George R. R. Martin's monstrous tome, A Song of Ice and Fire, takes a minute or two. If you're somewhere you can toddle off and fix yourself a cup of tea, that's maybe not such a big deal, but it can get annoying on the bus. It also means that leaving the book and using the Cover Story for something else is less attractive; luckily, though, it handles smaller books with much better efficiency, and page turns are prompt no matter how big the book is.
The combination of E Ink and touchscreen is still a fiddly one, and it still doesn't work as well with resistive as it does with infrared. You have to move fairly slowly; text input will skip letters if you work too fast, and drawing will end up an unrecognisable mess if you scrawl too fast. You'll also need to calibrate it so that your line doesn't end up a centimetre away from the actual contact point on the screen. It's a simple process, but unless you take a good prowl around the device or read the manual cover to cover, you might not find it in the Settings menu.
The audio options are probably its weakest point. Audio playback is fine enough if you have headphones, but the speaker is very weak and the highest volume not much greater than a sotto voce mumble. Recording is even worse; it barely picked up voices right next to it, yet still manages to capture a lot of background hiss. Played back on the speaker, we could hardly hear anything at all, and the headphones weren't much better.
Unusually, the Cover Story did manage to almost last the advertised battery life, coming in at just under two weeks. Impressive, and probably the best we've seen yet. It's just a shame that the Wi-Fi version (retailing in the US for US$399) isn't available here; although for the regular Cover Story's price, we would have hoped that would have been an inclusion, and were surprised not to find it.
While we find the Cover Story quite pleasant to read on, it lets itself down on a few additional points — mainly the sluggishness of the touchscreen and the poor audio features, upon which it seems to be basing its high price tag. It feels luxe to read upon and if that's what you're after, you may consider it worth the price. But there are other e-readers on the market that offer similar function sets for lower cost. As lovely as the Cover Story is, though, we're afraid we find the price tag just a little too high.