Teardown: Wonder Bible

Even the most secular among us can understand why somebody would want to have a digital version of the Bible. If you’re the sort of person who takes solace in reading from the “Good Book”, you’d probably like the ability to do so wherever and whenever possible. But as it so happens, a large number of people who would be interested in a more conveniently transportable version of the Bible may not have the technological wherewithal to operate a Kindle and download a copy.

Which is precisely the idea behind the Wonder Bible, a pocket-sized electronic device that allows the user to listen to the Bible read aloud at the press of a button. Its conservative design, high-contrast LED display, and large buttons makes it easy to operate even by users with limited eyesight or dexterity.

The commercial for the Wonder Bible shows people all of all ages using the device, but it’s not very difficult to read between the lines and see who the gadget is really aimed for. We catch a glimpse of a young businessman tucking a Wonder Bible into the center console of his expensive sports car, but in reality, the scenes of a retiree sitting pensively in her living room are far closer to the mark.

In truth, the functionality of the Wonder Bible could easily be replicated with a smartphone application. It would arguably even be an improvement by most standards. But not everyone is willing or able to go that route, which creates a market for an affordable stand-alone device. Is that market large enough to put a lot of expense and engineering time into the product? Let’s crack open one of these holy rolling personal companions and find out.

Off-the-Shelf Salvation

Let’s be very clear from the start: the Wonder Bible is just an MP3 player. Literally. There’s a micro SD card stuck right in the side with roughly 4 GB of MP3s in a hierarchical directory structure that separates the different books of the Old and New Testaments. The tracks even have proper ID3 tags, so you could easily import the lot into your media player of choice instead of using the Wonder Bible itself.

With that out of the way, it’s not hard to see how quickly and cheaply you could spin-up a device like the Wonder Bible. A microcontroller powerful enough to decode MP3s is hardly a tall order these days, and you’d only need a few spare GPIO pins to run such a simplistic user interface. Toss a battery and speaker into an injection molded enclosure, and all you’re missing to make the product complete is the sprayed on crucifix.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with the build quality on the Wonder Bible. If anything, it’s built like a tank. Glued together and with a screw insidiously hidden under the display bezel, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that for the first time in this teardown series I had to physically break the device open to get in.

You’ll note there’s no trace of the dreaded black epoxy blobs in the Wonder Bible, but unfortunately that doesn’t help us much in this case. The device is powered by a single SQFP-48 chip labeled CCK2F9L, but I haven’t been able to find any datasheet for it.

The chip does have a very distinctive manufacturer logo on it though, so perhaps one of our Constant Readers will recognize the manufacturer at least.

Beyond the main chip and the 8002 amplifier up by the speaker, there’s not much else on the board. A five pin device by the battery connection is likely the charge controller, though it has no discernible markings to give us a positive ID.

Spared No Expense

Considering how little the Wonder Bible is sold for (most retailers have them for $15 – $20 USD), the quality and attention to detail is fairly impressive. For example, the speaker is a hefty unit that is loud and sounds pretty good for its size, and the micro SD slot actually has a spring-loaded action. The battery is also a nice removable 18650 cell instead of a silver pouch hot glued into the case.

The display also appears to be custom manufactured, which surely didn’t come cheap. Readability was likely a top concern when designing the Wonder Bible, and the bright LEDs combined with an almost mirror-finished plastic diffuser makes it easily visible from any angle. Even in bright light, the numbers and icons are vibrant and sharp.

Uncovered, we can see an interesting textured black finish on the module as well as the various icons that will light up as the Wonder Bible operates. But we also see something of a mystery: the USB icon. The manual makes no mention of using the USB port on the device for anything but charging, so what could it be for?

Diving Deeper

After flipping the PCB back over, a close examination confirmed that the USB port’s data lines were indeed connected. Naturally, I plugged it into my computer to see what it would do. The screen instantly lit up and said “PC”, which seemed like a good sign. Even if it was a bit ironic that the dedicated USB icon apparently isn’t used.

A few seconds later, the micro SD card in the device was mounted on my system and I could see all of the MP3 files. This seemed like a handy enough feature, if somewhat unnecessary given the device’s function. After all, it’s not like the content of the Bible is likely to change in the near future and require an update.

Thinking that an examination of the information the Wonder Bible was reporting to the computer might provide some useful clues, I ran lsusb to see what the kernel had to say about the hardware:

Well, that’s strange. According to this, the hardware was not only being picked up by the kernel’s USB Mass Storage driver, but it’s also coming up as an audio and an input device. A quick check of my system’s audio settings showed that I could indeed select the Wonder Bible as an audio output, and it did a respectable enough job playing the ambient electronic music that serves as the de facto soundtrack of Hackaday.

But what about that Human Interface Device? Looking through /proc/bus/input/devices I was able to see the file it was mapped to by the kernel, and the evtest program let me examine it and listen for events. This showed that while the device reports that it’s able to provide a standard set of media playback controls, it only chimes in when you press the Back and Forward buttons:

Now why it can do all of this is anyone’s guess. A quick search online shows that GEMBIRD makes a number of MP3 playing gadgets, and these functions could simply be hold-overs from whatever device originally carried this chip. It’s also possible, albeit less likely, that there was some PC side software planned that would allow the user to connect their Wonder Bible to the computer to listen to additional content using the device’s familiar controls.

A Bygone Era

Ultimately, the Wonder Bible was a pretty interesting device to take a look at. While the hardware is obviously quite simplistic, it’s much better built than I assumed at first glance. You could probably even argue that it’s overbuilt; there are many obvious cost-cutting measures that could have been taken to reduce the production cost of the Wonder Bible, but the manufacturers have decided to take the high road. The teardown also proved to be a good exercise in working with unknown USB devices and identifying what they’re capable of.

So can you buy a second hand Wonder Bible and load it up with back episodes of the Hackaday Podcast? Sure. I’ve done it, and it works fine. You can even navigate through them by typing in the episode numbers on the keypad. But it would be a lot easier to just use your phone. Which in the end is the problem with this piece of hardware: a couple decades ago a surprisingly well made device that could handle hundreds of meticulously organized MP3 files would have been a huge deal, but in 2020 it’s little more than a superfluous gadget.

84 thoughts on “Teardown: Wonder Bible

    1. A Raspberry Pi has provided similar inspiration to me and my family for years. It started with a simple crontab script to speak the time on the hour using a few mp3 files and mpg321. It worked so well that I decided to use it to show my devotion to GNU/Linux.

      Every hour on the hour my Pi now announces the time, and then delivers a verse from the work of Richard Stallman. Over the years, RMS has provided us with vast trove of aphorisms that can be used to spread the word.

      Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

      1. Personally I have been trying to build a portable mp3 player big enough to hold all my music at once. But as every year passes it gets bigger and bigger. Currently need 6tb. But even just my primary ones but would need 2 tb and tft that size is still too expensive. On this device the need for a removeable card is awesome. I could add genesis AND the verse by verse commentary I study from.

    1. Repackaging and purposing existing technology is more profitable than designing new. If the manufacturer made MP3 players, I’m sure there’s a lot of holdover code and parts included.

  1. “This seemed like a handy enough feature, if somewhat unnecessary given the device’s function. After all, it’s not like the content of the Bible is likely to change in the near future and require an update.”

    What about when they want to add on the ‘Newest’ Testament?
    They’ve got to have had it in beta for long enough for it to be safe to release.

    ..although I was disappointed that the gold cross wasn’t a four-way jog selector, which I thought it was when I saw the thumbnail.

      1. It also makes it easy for them to produce versions for other markets. Imagine you’re a missionary in a country where the Bible hasn’t been translated into the written language. You can record audio files of yourself reading it in the spoken language, put it on the device, and hand it out to people.

        1. @Sam And this may be one reason it’s “overbuilt.” If it’s designed for international markets where it may be exposed to rough-and-tumble conditions, it makes sense to make it a bit like a tank. And, as an added bonus, its sturdiness is good for senior citizens as well, and will evoke to them memories of well-built appliances from when they were younger.

      2. I appreciate you covering this fairly. Christians have often deserved critique, and your skepticism and surprise makes the review more credible.

        Is it nice to be able to say you cracked open a Bible?

        The biggest reason for making it easy to update is translation. The Bible was written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. It has been translated in part or in whole into 3384 languages. There are plans underway to translate the whole bible into all viable languages (Summer institute of Linguistics inventory)

        The other piece of translation is that language changes over time, so a translation gets updated at least every decade. There are also many English translations with different goals. There are many English translations from very literal word for word, to broad stroke conceptual translations.

        It is possible that while advertised and sold in a are full of cell phones, it may not have us as their target audience. Although as a software analyst with a sports car, I think I may buy one for the console.

        Did the build seem to have extra room for a hand crank, solar panel, wind turbine? Perhaps we are carrying the cost so some others will have reasonable access to a learning tool.

    1. It looks like the AX107x “Supports segment LCD, LED display” and uses SPI. Though if it is the AX3153A it can “Support segment LCD/LED screen, TFT color screen”. Both are capable of driving a better screen. Perhaps the choice was driven by cost/ruggedness review?

  2. >After all, it’s not like the content of the Bible is likely to change in the near future and require an update.

    Translations to different languages come to mind.

    And it’s still got a niche, because you can read any audiobook that is conveniently split up into chapters, with physical buttons you can press which is nice. This is especially nice in a car because phone touch screens stop responding properly when you don’t have your other hand touching the back of the phone. Every time I try to change songs, the screen buttons just don’t do anything – which makes it doubly dangerous because I have to keep looking at the screen to mash the buttons again and again. I want to make a bluetooth keyboard with only the media keys and glue it to the dashboard, so I can press play/pause/next/back with actual buttons instead.

    Another case is in the night, when you don’t want to blind yourself with the backlight while you’re trying to fall asleep.

    Plus, the battery’s going to last a whole lot longer and not consume the charge from your phone.

    1. But will the structure of the Bible change?
      It appears that this is a simple mp3 player with a numerical input.
      Entering 0103002 would the file 01/03/002.mp3.

      Come to think of it, you could even use this for a Wonder Torah or Wonder Quran.

      1. Every denomination has a slightly different bible anyways, and over time they update the wording to match contemporary language. For example,

        Old: “”Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…”
        New: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us…”
        Newer: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us…”

        Etc. so you could, if you wanted to, have Morgan Freeman read you the entire King James Bible in its original form and understand absolutely nothing about it, because they really liked their prose back then.

        1. Different denominations do not have “different Bibles” exactly. They may however favour different translations, and may well prefer a different voice reading them! The Catholic Church usually includes the apocrypha with the Bible – though they also don’t believe it to be part of the Bible per se.
          However, in some languages, the books are reordered or split slightly differently.

          However, sometimes the Bible does contain a different number of books – when it’s only been partially translated into a language.

  3. I’ve wrecked a number of labels looking for hidden screws that didn’t exist. As well as peeled off “rubber feet” to find they were not hiding screws or latches. I guess the one that fooled me the most was a TV substitution tuner that had plastic washers shoved into the screw sockets. Eventually, my handy crotchet hook (a tool box necessity) pulled them out to expose the screws.

    1. I use the HPBH method to detect screw holes under labels, High Pressure Booger Hook… rub hard with my finger. If it’s gonna be right in the damn middle of the damn power rating or other important info on the label, I carefully slit it with an xacto or similar before I stab through it, to create neat flaps that can be teased back into place legibly.

  4. I suspect the ability to change contents is to allow for different languages, or possibly different versions.

    The application that appeals to me would be to drop a different book into the player – imagine it contained not the Bible but audio book version of the Harry Potter books, or the Hardy Boy Mysteries? Old-time radio shows?

    About 20 years ago Franklin had a Johnny Cash bible appliance, where The Man in Black read the KJV to you on a dedicated device – I remember seeing the ads for quite a while, it must have had some level of success.

  5. >After all, it’s not like the content of the Bible is likely to change in the near future and require an update.

    Well, I was just rooting around in the yard, and you’ll NEVER guess what I found! Tablets! with writing! As soon as I finish translating them, I’ll publish, but so far, I have been able to read something about “These fifteen Commandments”

    (Ducking and hiding)

    1. Oh, you found the tablet Moses (Mel Brooks) dropped in “History of the World, Part I”!

      I do believe one of the Commandments that was still readable was “Caveat Emptor”! B^)

        1. “37.Thou shalt not slaughter with evil intent any sacred animals.”

          So, snapping the necks 100,000s of cats, so they can be made into mummy offerings,
          was not an evil intent.

          1. >an evil intent
            not from their point of view, i guess it was more about not letting an animal suffer or be used in black magic. There are records of pharoahs dying and their entire entourage of extended family and slaves being put into the pyramid with them. There wasn’t much about social welfare back then i suppose.

  6. So, I could pick one of these up at a flea market, replace the audio tracks with [something else] and then drop it off at the local Salvation Army thrift store?

    Somebodies Grandma might be in for a surprise… (No Grandmothers were injured in this posting)

  7. >The display also appears to be custom manufactured, which surely didn’t come cheap.
    On the contrary, they’re dirt cheap. Look for “MP3 bluetooth module” on Aliexpress, many of these $3 boards use that very same display or variations of it.

    This is very clever reuse of existing tech, but I feel a bit wary. It’s like those “As Seen On TV!” multi-dollar gadgets that you can also find on chinese stores for a few bucks: slap a catchy logo on top and bam, “new product”… As matter of fact I bought this radio for my mother like 3y ago for huh, 15 dollars? https://imgur.com/a/I1o1niu

  8. “According to So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, God‘s Final Message To His Creation is written in fire in letters thirty feet high on the far side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet of Preliumtarn, which orbits the star Zarss, which is located in the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine. The long path to the message is lined with souvenir stands at spaced-out intervals.

    When Marvin reads the message, it says, “We apologise for the inconvenience.” However, Fenchurch‘s reaction suggests that the message she saw was the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (and that presumably, therefore, the Message is personalized to each viewer).”

    –Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  9. “replicated with a smartphone application” – but then you’d have a damned smartphone there, and your notifications sounds would interrupt the reading, and you’d flip over to the web browser, and, and, and…

    My wife refers to smartphones as ‘devices of mass distraction’. And she’s not wrong. Single-purpose devices are a serious win for doing one thing and doing it well.

    That’s why Amazon’s Kindle devices sell so well.

    1. “That’s why Amazon’s Kindle devices sell so well.”

      Same reason Steam sells so well. It’s not the device, it’s the convenience, not to mention being a majority seller of print and digital.

  10. Since it’s USB driven, I’m curious to know if the software also supports DAISY-formatted Digital Talking Books for the blind (specs here: https://daisy.org/activities/standards/daisy/daisy-3/). The cartridges are standard USB flash drives in a special plastic frame that orients the plug in the proper direction, making them easy to insert by feel alone; a book is nothing more than a series of .MP3 files and an XML control file bundled into a ZIP file in the root folder of the flash drive.

    Not that there’s much consumer demand for a low cost talking book player, as here in the USA they’re available for free to the blind and visually impaired. But a single board player might serve well in the commercial market, or in other parts of the world.

  11. Strongly recommend you check capacity of this battery in bombproof environment, it’s possible that only small part of 18650 is real battery, rest is just tight packed C-4.;P

  12. I bought a couple of these and gave them to some people who couldn’t read or could barely read. so simple. I actually have listened through all the files personally. This is used daily.

    The tone from the plastic box is impressive. good speaker quality. a single charge seems to last forever. as i said it is used daily for a few chapters a day and seems to last for weeks on a single charge.

    There are a couple of misreads you can catch if you are paying attention. an “and” left out or a word missed but over all a good solid read.

    at one point in the old testament you can clearly hear someone opening the door in the studio. surprising back ground. i hope i can remember to post the chapter and verse next time i hear it.

    i purchased a few “go bibles” which have a better menu driven selection and looks like an old ipod. the wonder bible has the advantage of having a good amp and speaker already built in.

    i’m a fan

  13. I bought one for my son and he loves it. I do have a problem though, the SD card somehow came out and when my son tried to put it back in it ended up not in the SD slot, but in the device. You can actually hear it rattling around. Does anyone know actually how to open it up without breaking it?

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