If an ereader is used for its primary function, reading books, then even the clunkiest of front-end interfaces needn't be a deal-breaker. All the ereaders we've tested let you resume reading easily, so you only need to skip back to the main menu between novels. The same is true here, but iRiver re-designed its interface for this second-gen ereader.
The iRiver Cover Story offers two main menu looks to choose from, and they're both designed to be operated using the touchscreen. They're single screens that offer shortcuts to all the ereader's main functions, including your books library, comics, the Waterstones bookstore, E-mail, your media library and the settings menu. It would all seem rather slick if navigation wasn't held back so much by the slow processor.
Your initial impression may be that the sluggish feel of the Cover Story is caused by the resistive touchscreen, but it's actually surprisingly sensitive. There's a slight wait before a press is sensed, and another before the interface gears clunk into place to take you where you want to go, but only a very light press is required.
The touchscreen layer has an unfortunate side-effect - it's much more reflective than the E-Ink screen itself, so reflections appear on the screen almost as clearly as on an LCD. This is a significant drawback when use in direct sunlight is one of the key bonuses of an E-Ink device. The touch layer also seems to rob text of some its clarity. Contrast is reasonable - slightly below that of the third-generation Kindle or Sony's latest Reader devices - but you can tell you're viewing the screen through an additional layer of plastic, especially if a light source is causing some reflection issues.
The 6in screen uses an 800x600 pixel display, the same specs seen all of today's top-end ereaders, but isn't as sharp as the latest Sony Reader models, especially the higher pixel density pocket-sized PRS-350. Dithering is available to smooth-out text a little, improving performance over early devices like the Sony Reader PRS-505, but not by a great deal. Text is still extremely easy-to-read though, our main sticking point being the disappointingly reflective screen.
When mid-read, the rocker also doubles as the main navigational tool - over and above simply changing pages. The two ends of the controller work as home and back buttons, letting you skip back to the main menu easily. The touchscreen also comes into play. Holding a finger down on a word brings up the dictionary entry for the word at the bottom of the screen, a single tap in the middle of the screen summons the menu and a tap towards each side of the screen flicks over a page.
Within the menu, you can change font size, make notes using the touchscreen, take a snapshot, set a bookmark or browse manually through the dictionary - the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary in this case. It's an impressive set of features, but one that's tarnished by the Cover Story's sluggish performance. It's thoroughly outshone by the toucshcreen Sony PRS-350, which offers similar features but is snappier and also offers additional translation dictionaries. The smaller PRS-350 is more expensive though.