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Old 09-29-2010, 05:17 PM   #1
silv
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iRiver Cover Story Review

Hi guys, after doing lots of research and reading tons of reviews I decided that it is finally time to buy an ebook reader - I decided for the iRiver Cover Story. It arrived 2 weeks ago and since then I have tested all important file formats: doc, docx, ppt, pptx, pdf, chm, even CBZ (I'm an avid comic reader). So if you have any pre-buy questions or want to share your experience, post it here!

First of all the file format support is awesome! I'm a bit of a tech nerd myself and I like to have a flexible non-propietary software. I've been following the ebook reader development ever since the first announcement of the PlasticLogic reader and know pretty much all devices and to my surprise iRiver and HanLin are the only companies on this planet that ships ebook readers with NATIVE POWERPOINT (ppt, pptx) support! This was a major purchasing factor for me because of my academic background. I need to carry tens if not hundreds of ppt files and some courses have 20-30 files each! It would consume too much time to convert every powerpoint file into pdf before reading, not mentioning that campus computers often don't allow the installation of 3rd party software and complex graphics get often lost during conversion. In other words, I wanted a hassle-free e-ink reader for academics!

The Cover Story feels solid and heavy in your hands. It weighs around 270g which is significant heavier than my previous Cybook Gen 3 reader with only 180g. It comes with a built-in 360° accelerator and an automatic screen rotation. A handy feature because you can now easily switch hands while reading. The border around the screen is a little bit too slim to hold comfortably. I'm often tempted to hold the reader with my thumb on the touchscreen and accidentally triggering the page turn. But like everything the real drawbacks are often discovered during daily usage. That's why I want to mention a few things that could significantly influence your buying decision.

The first thing is pdf support. Cover Story comes with two modes: pdf reflow and auto margin cutting. Pdf reflow mode that reformats difficult pdf files and let you increase the text size yourself. Margin cutting lets you set a fixed common margin for all pdf pages so that a page turn automatically cuts the margin, displaying only the content that you want to see. This is very useful if your pdf files have a fixed margin on the right, left, top and bottom. This feature allows you to zoom into a fixed part of the page, but it's not possible to move the area freely on that zoom level. Means if you want to zoom in and manually move around, you have to go back to full page and set new margins. What a hassle!
Pdf reflow on the other hand works similar to sony and pocketbook reader. The text is reformatted and text size can be changed into 6 or 7 levels. The problem comes with the content itself. Scientific symbols and mathematical formulas are totally broken and unusable in reflow mode. Even the most basic mathematical formula like f(x)=ax+b gets broken down into

"f
x
ax
b"

symbols like = or + are totally ignored. One explanation is that the reader is unable to render symbols from Latex programmed pdf files. In other words there is no way to read an even remotely scientific ebook as pdf file, but there is a neat work around. Cover Story comes with an excellent PNG, JPG and ZIP aka CBZ image viewer. I tested it by converting the math ebook into PNG, then zipped the folder and renamed the file ending to .cbz and it worked! The text is very readable as png file and all graphics are kept intact as well. The image viewer of Cover Story works very well in zip archives and even remembers the last page you were reading, which is very convenient for comic & manga readers. I was really surprised how well this worked as I could set the reader to display the full page or only part of it in landscape mode. The Cover Story software is really optimized for manga reading, as it even allows you to change the reading direction from left to right (comic, manwha style) or right to left (manga style). And since you don't need to convert the manga into LFT like compared to the sony reader it has become a daily routine to drag and drop new manga chapters directly on the reader before driving to campus. A powerful feature! Complex formatted ebooks can easily be converted into images and read as cbz. A powerful feature which makes the Cover Story THE MOST FLEXIBLE READER out there! Well done iRiver! I just wished they'd added a better zoom feature with zoom lock like Sony's Prs 600+. As already mentioned the strong point of Cover Story are the huge variety of file formats it natively supports. Especially the support of my powerpoint files outweigh many hassle with the software and if that's not enough for you, you can always write your own app! The best thing is that the Cover Story software is OPEN SOURCE! You can run your own linux apps. With this the ereader is surely one of the contenders for the best e-reader on the market, even compared to Pocketbook 60x and Sony Prs 650+ and especially against Kindle 3 which has a lousy file support.

However, the flaw of Cover Story comes with the touchscreen! Yes, the touchscreen is neat and it's fun to press on the page directly to turn pages or draw sketches on the book. But it is not accurate! First of all the screen is just 6 inches and pretty small. A screen of that size naturally offers little writing space for notetaking, so one expects the screen to be as accurate as possible to write small text, but the low accuracy and unresponsiveness of the touchlayer makes it comparable with the resistive touchscreen of an iPad. The strokes are too thick and the curves to wide for any serious notetaking. It is barely responsive enough for doodling and drawing simple street maps so I guess it is not completely useless. One could use it for very rough sketches to show street descriptions to passengers or use it as magic board for elementary school kids. Besides that there isn't much usage. To be fair I didn't expect a Wacom accuracy nor use it for advanced drawing. But I expected the features to be somewhat useful, but the low accuracy really makes my good handwriting look like abstract drawing. It's no wonder that they included an ugly self portrait on the Cover Story homepage. It's simply not possible to draw anything better!

To make it worse they put the touchlayer, like the Sony Prs 600, on top of the eink screen Everybody who owns a Sony Prs 600 or read about it knows what this means:

- annoying reflection at day by the sun and at night by your lamps
- considerably decreased contrast
- requires almost direct light in order to see through the eink screen, which again is reflected and thus devilish circle of reflection and low contrasts repeats

Here is an image of the screen, since I have no digicam I don't have hi-res photos. But I found some photos in the internet which shows the problem quite accurately. Maybe someone else can add more photos in higher resolution.




Because it has only 8 greylevels the majority of the image and text look like the text "Now books become digital". This contrast is way too low for comfortable reading. Thus it becomes almost impossible to read the reader outdoors afternoon, even if it's still bright.

It also seems like all touchscreen based ereaders have considerably decreased battery life! My Cover Story for example gave up 1 of 3 bars after just 2 hours of usage. And after just 3 days of standby the battery is completely dead. The same thing happens to Sony 6x, Pocketbook and all other touchscreen readers. All touchscreen technologies constantly drain the energy from the batteries. This is simply the price you pay for a touchscreen. But the charging time of the Cover Story takes up min. 5 hours! During that time you can continue to read your ebook, but it takes up 8 or even 10h before you've fully recharged your ebook! All in all I wished iRiver had removed the touchscreen from the Cover Story! The wide file format support alone would've made it the perfect ereader! Maybe the next generation comes with a Pearl screen and Wacom touch. All in all the Cover Story is a very good ereader with a superb software, but old battery generation and a reflective touchlayer that spoils it all. My final rating is:

Pros:
+ native support for MS office file formats: doc, docx, xls, even Powerpoint!
+ PDF reflow, margin cropping
+ superb Zip support, reads and recognizes CBZ files and even let you change reading direction (right -> left or left -> right)
+ dictionary Oxford English
+ 360° accelerator
+ mp3 player plays even during ebook reading, standard headphone jacket
+ flash support card up tp 32 GB
+ very and clean design, built quality very sturdy and good
+ opensource reader software
(+) comes with many interesting free ebooks preinstalled

Cons:
- reflective touchlayer on top of eink
- low contrast and blurry screen
- battery life nowhere near 7000 page turns, more like 2000-3000, stand-by time max. 72 hours (without wifi and without reading)
- no manual zoom of images

7 out of 10 STARS

Last edited by silv; 10-01-2010 at 09:27 AM.
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Old 09-30-2010, 01:36 AM   #2
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The background color looks really dark, compared to kindle 3. And the screen looks very reflective as well. By the look of the screenshots, the contrast is not as good as kindle.

I have a lot of reservation about this new reader. Iriver hasn't even fixed the problems with the original reader.
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Old 09-30-2010, 08:08 AM   #3
silv
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Actually I'm now thinking about buying the older model as it has no touchscreen and supports a similar variety of file formats ^^. The firmware of the iRiver Story is also more stable than the recent Cover Story's. What is really haunting this reader from becoming sucessful is the touchlayer which decreases contrast and sucks up battery life. I was actually thinking about removing the touchlayer myself but I'd have to rewrite the application but the original firmware does not allow touch button navigation yet. Fortunately iRiver's firmware is opensource!

Last edited by silv; 09-30-2010 at 08:10 AM.
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Old 09-30-2010, 11:17 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by greenapple View Post
The background color looks really dark, compared to kindle 3. And the screen looks very reflective as well. By the look of the screenshots, the contrast is not as good as kindle.

I have a lot of reservation about this new reader. Iriver hasn't even fixed the problems with the original reader.
I would have said similar things, Greenapple, on both counts.


Silv, many thanks for the review. Very interesting to hear so much detail. I'm not interested in getting a Cover Story myself; the size and shape of the EB01 were some of the things that specifically attracted me to it. (If I were to buy a new Story, it would be the EB03, but only for the higher-spec screen.)

I'm not surprised to hear about the inaccuracy of the touchscreen on the Cover Story. I have an iRiver MP3 player as well (the B30) - its features and supported formats are great, the quality of its sound output is awesome, but its controls are in its touchscreen, and on that device too the touchscreen is unreliable and imprecise. It often misinterprets commands, even when I'm really careful about the placement of my fingers on the screen.

Is this a recurring iRiver thing, I wonder? Do they not buy a high-enough grade of touchscreens?

Oh and Greenapple, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the firmware on the B30 is incomplete too, with shortcomings in the menu design and some outright bugs. (And the same line-break issues in TXT files and the menus that the EB01 has.) And now I read that the B30 has been discontinued, so I guess it will never be fixed.

We've been spoiled by some big multinationals into assuming products will keep being developed even after they're launched on the market, but a lot of companies seem to stay lean and competitive by not operating that way. So much for competition always benefitting the consumer, eh?
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Old 09-30-2010, 08:14 PM   #5
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They use resistive touchscreens which are the cheapest solution. It basically costs just 1-2$.
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Old 10-01-2010, 12:57 AM   #6
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Hi silv, you've mentioned a couple of times that it is an advantage that the firmware is opensource. I would totally agree with it, but only if the product is as popular as, say, Kindle. When the user-population is huge, the chance of someone developing a homebrew update is very high. Just take a look at Kindle section of this forum.

The original firmware for Story has gone opensource for many months and I haven't seen any community-built firmware!
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Old 10-01-2010, 01:30 AM   #7
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The original firmware for Story has gone opensource for many months and I haven't seen any community-built firmware!
If you look at http://openinkpot.org/ you will see that some work is being done but it is generic rather than specific to the iriver story.

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Old 10-01-2010, 08:26 AM   #8
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You are right apple, one reason might be because iriver readers has a low market penetration in USA. They strategically avoid over competitive dominated Kindle markets, that's why they shipped the readers to Europe first and later to USA. Another factor might be that every reader is different and the cycle for new generations is high, which is why it usually takes a 3rd generation where most user demands are met before the coder community takes up the step to hack it. I'm merely advertising this point as I think there is a simple lack of coverage about iRiver products and the fact that the firmware is 100% opensource is not well known to most coders. So until a messiah appears we have to spread the world that this is the only real open source reader out there!

1st gen was too slow and heavy and now wifi connectivity

2nd gen has a touchlayer on top

3rd gen will probably have wifi, wacom and high contrast pearl or vizplex screens

Last edited by silv; 10-01-2010 at 08:29 AM.
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:37 AM   #9
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When the Cover Story was first announced it was announced that it would have a Wacom screen -- which is why I was curious about your comments, silv, of the final product having a screen that was so imprecise. I gather they changed their mind somewhere along the way.

But can we really describe the Story as real or fully open-source? Samac has commented in another thread on some of the source files being locked, with the password undisclosed. And it's my understanding that the open-source declaration was really a bit of bum-covering made necessary because iRiver got sprung using open-source code under the GNU licence but treating it like it was proprietary code.
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Old 10-01-2010, 09:06 AM   #10
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I see how it could work out that way. The question is which files are protected and cannot be modified. It would be good enough for me if people would finally get a native support for office documents. Seeing how the iRiver product is opensource, my hope is that those file supports could be implemented in other reader software too.
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Old 10-01-2010, 12:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Samac has commented in another thread on some of the source files being locked
Not exactly, the entire EBOOK.ZIP firmware update is password protected. They have a load of proprietary applications which are not covered by the GPL but the linux core is released as source as required by the GPL.

It is a bit like how Apple build OS X on top of Darwin. Darwin is open source and it can be installed but unless you are very good it can do almost nothing, it is only there to run the proprietary apps.

The iriver story works in the same way. Their apps on top of a linux interface layer that accesses the hardware.

Anyway that is my guess as I haven't opened up the EBOOK.ZIP to have a look. However the source code is available here if you would like to look at it. Unfortunately the interesting bits e.g. /rc.elisa, /zImage, /rootfs.cramfs and /flow_copy can legitamately be withheld, though it does sort of deny the spirit of the GPLv2 that they are using.

samac

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Old 10-01-2010, 12:44 PM   #12
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Zip uses a weak encryption algorithm. With a newer machine it should be possible to brute force it. Too bad my pc is too old, but could you upload the encrypted zip file?
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Old 10-01-2010, 12:57 PM   #13
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could you upload the encrypted zip file
It is just the firmware update which is on this page , and the instructions are here

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Old 10-14-2010, 12:25 PM   #14
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Now you know what Sony did with all the extra touch layers. They sold them to iriver.
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Old 10-19-2010, 02:54 PM   #15
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The device is very interesting.
The glare, however, pretty much makes it useless for me.

Can the accelerometer be switched off and the screen orientation be set manually?

You say that they are completely open source and then you say they withhold significant portions of source code. Even Sony released source for their readers, without the really interesting proprietary bits. Everybody does that. They are required by GPL & copyright law.

How many third-party applications are there available for iriver?
Does the manufacturer release Software Development Kit - SDK -, like, for example, iRex did, or as PocketBook does?
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