Back in Feburary 2022, an interesting campaign popped up on Kickstarter when Lukas Remis showed a prototype of a new Tank Mouse, an updated version of the Commodore classic that almost every Amiga user would have held in their hand at some point. It instantly grabbed the attention of enthusiasts worldwide, making nearly 50% of its target after only 3 days of a month long campaign and ending up almost 200% funded.
But what is a Tank Mouse? The design dates back to the model 1350 and 1351 mice for the Commodore 64 – the former digital and just a joystick replacement, and the latter the more recognised variable, progressive scrolling cursor type. Whilst these won’t work on an Amiga, it is the first example of this iconic hardware design which became known as the Tank Mouse. Why? It’s not really clear – there’s no turrets or tracks, and it won’t fire projectiles across your desk. The best guess is the phrase “built like a tank” and indeed it does look like it was hewn from a solid lump of rock, the angles and flat surfaces being much more striking than anything since.
When the Amiga 1000 launched, it used this same design for the mouse, and then the shape carried through to the Amiga 500 and 2000 hence they’re probably the most ubiquitous Amiga accessory, with the A500 especially selling in gigantic numbers. The design only changed for A3000 models with the “pregnant” mouse, and then later A600 models and all A1200 and A4000 gained a more rounded design (although there are at least three different types – typical of later Commodore cost saving and supplier switching) and the tank mouse was laid to rest after 5 or 6 years of glory.
Back to the present day, and it’s clear there’s a lot of fondness for the design – so much so that the recent A500 Mini came packaged with a wired, miniature version. But the operation of that original ball-based device is pretty terrible if we’re being fair – it needs an older style fabric mouse pad for the ball to find enough friction to move, and also needs a perfectly flat surface; plus you’ll spend a not insignificant amount of time cleaning finger gravy off the rollers with a toothpick. Even worse, early models had “metal dome” buttons that were mushy and failed quickly. This is where Lukas stepped in and designed a mouse that looks just like the Tank Mouse, but contains bang up to date internal components. The features are:
- Wireless or Bluetooth connection – no more cables!
- USB dongle for connection
- Laser tracking with 600dpi resolution
- Two microswitched buttons
- Capacitive vertical scrolling
In real terms this means you can use it on any surface, there’s no cables to get tangled, the buttons click properly and you can even scroll by sliding your finger on the invisible sensor between the two buttons.
Wait a second – USB? But this is an Amiga blog! And yes you’d be right to wonder about that, but the truth is that this isn’t the blocker it once was. The Amiga uses its own standard for mice with a DE9 connector (subtly different to Atari ST mice, and very different to PC serial mice) but there exist a range of devices to convert a suitable USB mouse to work on the Amiga – all it has to do is support the PS/2 mouse standard over USB, and Lukas designed the Tank Mouse to do just that. Even better, he offered a low price adaptor in the kit on Kickstarter; originally it was a stretch goal, but sadly spiralling production costs meant there was a small charge levied for it in the end, and if you already own a converter you could use that instead. If you’re wondering, the converter Lukas created also supports other machines such as the Commodore 64 and the Atari ST but defaults to Amiga compatibility.
Plugging the USB into the DE9 adaptor, and the adaptor into my A4000, slotting a pair of AAA batteries in and moving the switch to “wireless” it works instantly at a hardware level and boy does it feel smooth. I’ve been using a trackball for a while since my desk surface is a bit lumpy for a ball mouse, but this is a game changer. No longer am I accidentally dropping icons I’m trying to drag as a 30 year old microswitch feels the strain, and it responds accurately enough to easily partake in precision uses such as Deluxe Paint or 3D modelling. The resolution is such that there’s no need to lift-and-move like you often do with a ball mouse (exaggerated by the ball slipping and the cursor refusing to move) but it’s nice and precise at the same time; unlike when you turn up the speed to make up for an older mouse’s shortcomings and overshoot every icon. There is literally nothing stopping me from creating a whole new series of Babylon 5 now, apart from time and talent.
The buttons have just the right amount of click behind them, and you’re left in no doubt when one has been pressed. If I had one complaint, it’s that it’s a bit light compared to an original ball version – it simply doesn’t have a lump of heavy rubber in the middle to give it some heft. For me, that made it feel a bit weird but others have said it’s not a problem for them so your mileage may vary. But in terms of using it, your brain instantly switches off as there’s no allowances to make. If you’ve used a PC mouse in the last 10 years then you already know how pixel-perfect this is going to be and unlike the recent A500 Mini wired mouse, it’s a good size to fit your hand even if the ergonomics haven’t been updated.
There seems to be no noticeable lag from the DE9 adaptor, certainly nothing I could sense in Workbench, and likewise when connected to my PC it reacted exactly the same as my older Bluetooth mouse did so no complaints there either.
On to some of the more advanced features now. Firstly, the Bluetooth connection. Not much use to Amiga users admittedly but a nice touch and it means it will work with many laptops, Chromebooks and tablets right out the box. Move the three-position mode switch back from “wireless”, through “off” and into “Bluetooth” and all it takes is a simple press of a button to initiate pairing. The nice touch here is that it will stay paired to the wireless USB dongle it comes with, even after you pair Bluetooth, so you may find you only need one mouse on your desk; at the end of a long day at work, power up the Amiga and move the switch and before you know it you’re pointing and clicking your way around Melee Island. Tomorrow morning, slide the switch back and you’re using it on the PC again with no pairing needed. I’ve been using it like this for a few days now and it’s a great experience to not have to constantly swap between devices.
Secondly, the scroll function. This actually does work on an Amiga but not with stock software – you’ll need to download a couple of additions. First up is the Cocolino software (edit: see update below) from Elbox which is the driver that handles the “wheel” input, and then secondly Freewheel which adds scrolling features to Workbench. This works by looking for active windows with a vertical scrollbar, and then emulating clicks on the arrows so a Workbench window, Directory Opus lister, a text file in TextEdit and so on will all seamlessly scroll. It’s only once you’re using this in Workbench that you realise you’ve probably been subconsciously surpressing that motion, it’s become so natural on Windows and Mac devices you probably use every day.
Update: Whilst I was testing this device, Lukas used his Kickstarter updates to ask for help in writing a new driver as Cocolino was causing some problems with MUI. Szymon Bieganski stepped up and created a custom driver within days, and it’s available on Aminet here. It does the same job as Cocolino so you’ll still need Freewheel to handle the input events and turn them into Workbench actions.
It’s easy to say that this is better than a ball mouse, because of the accuracy. And it’s easy to see why it appeals to Amiga enthusiasts, because of the shape. But having used this on both my A4000 sporadically, and my business Windows laptop for 8 hour stints, it’s genuinely a good mouse to use – I’ve had no hand cramp situations, and it’s certainly not held me back in my day job. I am used to a slightly smaller “travel mouse” in fairness, and not an ergonomic gaming mouse, so I doubt it’s going to make you an elite gamer but you shouldn’t worry about using this for long periods if you want to. Or, just leave it paired with an Amiga and rejoice in the characterful looks.
So in conclusion, this is a wonderful piece of hardware that does something unusual – actually makes your Amiga more pleasant to use. The mouse is perhaps the piece of it that you interact with most often, so it’s important that it feels right and Lukas has really hit the nail on the head. It comes highly recommended from me, and my only regret is that I only bought one of them. Sure, the price isn’t amazingly cheap but it’s not much more than a generic USB mouse and adaptor, and there’s something a little janky about the way those look connected to your Amiga. This looks perfect, apart from the cable – and I don’t think anyone will really mourn the loss of that.
As I write this, Lukas reports that he’s fulfilled all Kickstarter orders and the Tank Mouse has gone on general sale on tank-mouse.com. They’re €46 in black or beige, and the DE9 adaptor is €25. A nice touch is you can also buy replacement buttons in a range of colours.
It’s worth pointing out that no “paid promotion” disclaimer is needed as I signed up for and bought the one you see in these photos from Kickstarter, just like thousands of other people. The thoughts you’ve just read are based on a paid product.
Addendum My only complaint was the light weight of it, but even that is fairly easy to rectify…. I simply added weight to emulate the ball inside the original! I used a pair of ceramic EPROMs, wrapped in insulating tape, which were perfect in shape and mass but literally anything non-conductive and heavy would do. One was stuck on top of the battery compartment, and one in the middle under the scroll cable. There’s not enough room for much weight at the front without interfering with the buttons. Obviously I don’t recommend opening up a piece of hardware to modify it, but if you do decide to there’s just two screws under the gliders at the back. Be very careful that the cable to the scroll sensor is super short and if you open it too enthusiastically you will rip it clean in two! You can get just enough room to slide something flat in there though, with a sticky pad to hold it down.