Hardware Review: SteelSeries Apex Gaming Keyboard

SteelSeries Apex

By on August 16, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Back in 2007, after I first began to experience horrific pains in my hands at the end of every work day, I moved to an ergonomic keyboard — this one, in fact. As you can imagine by the wacky shape of it, it took some getting used to, but once I had reconfigured my muscle memory I found that not only was I in much less pain, but my typing speed had vastly improved. Now, typing on anything else feels slow and wrong.

After spending a week with the Apex keyboard, I get the feeling it will offer the same payoff — if I can stick around to learn it.

I’m a fan of the SteelSeries range, and most of their products seem to be genuinely quite considered devices, not rushed out in order to meet a new deadline or release. This isn’t true across the board of course, but most of their higher-end gear is generally solid and reliable — and the Apex is definitely aimed at that high-end.

Unlike other gaming keyboards, particularly the mechanical ones, the Apex has done away with the cramped feel and instead spread itself out as much as possible. Two columns of five dedicated macro keys are on the left side, while media shortcut keys and brightness/volume adjusters are on the right. Meanwhile, the top left corner boast four layer keys to switch quickly between setups, and there’s another macro key above each of the function keys as well. All of this is wrapped around a full-sized keyboard, giving you a peripheral that requires a hefty chunk of your desk.

Also unlike other gaming keyboards, the Apex is not mechanical – it’s a regular membrane keyboard underneath. It’s this that allows the Apex to be so broadly designed; a mechanical keyboard would be much smaller and heavier. It would also, unfortunately, be more responsive — not that the Apex is unreliable, but there’s simply nothing like the responsiveness of a mechanical keyboard.

For me it’s the fact that the main keyboard is nestled within another set of keys that has caused so many muscle-memory problems: I naturally reach for the bottom left key as Control (and here it’s MX5) and reach for the bottom right key as Enter (here, it pauses and plays my music). Learning not to do this has been the hardest part of adjusting to the Apex, but having that macro flexibility has been stupendously useful in game.

One feature of the Apex I particularly enjoy is the grotesquely oversized space bar, which is beautifully easy to mash with an idle flick of the thumb. Other than that the keyboard layout is fairly standard, but the addition of a SteelSeries key to replace the right-hand side Windows key allows you to make quick, on-the-fly changes such as adjusting the illumination or disabling the regular Windows key (pressing the SteelSeries key + Windows key disables the regular Windows key until such a time as you press the combination again). The arrow keys also include two diagonal strafe keys, which simulate pressing both left (or right) and up at the same time, delightful for quick navigation.

At the top of the Apex are two USB ports (you’ll need two USB ports of your own to use this feature), connected by a braided nylon cord. The Apex is supported by rubber feet, which can be removed and replaced with larger feet (included) in order to raise or lower the keyboard. This results in a keyboard with a heap of grip but not so much flexibility: sometimes I like to slide my keyboard under my monitor riser to make room on my desk for a tablet, and that’s something I can’t do with this one without turning it over and fiddling with it to pop the rubber feet out. Still, a minor complaint at best.

The Apex also uses the SteelSeries Engine, which means you can store multiple profiles for it and switch between them, as well as turn any key into a macro (haven’t you always wanted the ‘q’ key to Print Screen and then save the image to your desktop?). You can also manually change the polling rate, which defaults to (and is capped at) 1000 Hz.

The illumination of the Apex is one of SteelSeries’ big selling points, and indeed the SteelSeries Engine allows you to indepently light up any of the major key areas with its own unique colour — you could have the number pad bright green, the arrow keys purple, and the left macro keys white, for example. Each of the four layers has its own illumination settings as well, so you can mash through the layers and watch your keyboard flash like a tiny disco. You can also adjust the lights on the side of the keyboard, which do an impressive job of illuminating the surrounds.

The Apex may not have the rock-solid reliability of a mechanical keyboard, but at the price — around $129 — and with the feature set on offer, it’s a compelling option and one that a lot of gamers may find right up their alley.

Good:

  • Huge keyboard with all the options
  • 22 dedicated macro keys
  • Dedicated media control keys
  • Granular control with the SteelSeries engine

Bad:

  • Large size
  • Feet not really convenient for quick changing
  • Lacks the reliability of a mechanical keyboard

SteelSeries sells a slightly less feature-rich version of the Apex called the Apex [RAW]. You can find that for around $70 at various stockists. Check out the differences between the two here.

The product reviewed here was the regular SteelSeries Apex, which only appears at a select few stockists (check towards the bottom of that StaticIce listing).

This product supplied by the manufacturer.

9 comments (Leave your own)

I don’t see how that differs size wise from something like a Corsair K95 or even the Gigabyte Osmium. Both mechanical with good wrist rests and definitely not hard on the hands.

Gaming wise mechanicals are just superior in feel and response. Maybe check out the Roccat Ryos MK series when it’s released in September…

 

People actually use those ergonomic keyboards?

You should have gone all the way and got one of these uhhh… things.

 

I made the swap to a Steelseries 6Gv2 mechanical keyboard a few months ago and I haven’t looked back. It feels fantastic for gaming and typing.

I’m disappointed that their high end keyboard isn’t mechanical, but if it already costs $130 I’d hate to see the price of a mechanical version.

 

I’ve got the raw version of this (less macro keys, less obnoxious colours, no USB ports), and I enjoy it quite a lot. It’s a pretty decent keyboard for eighty bucks, and honestly the lack of mechanical switches doesn’t bother me. I’ve used mechanical keyboards, and I really don’t see the appeal in dropping the extra cash on them, the jump in comfort isn’t THAT great. Plus they’re loud as all fuck.

 

My MX Cherry Blacks are less clicky that my old membrane keyboard, although they have a strong clunk. Honestly, I prefer the clunk.

Also, I get to feel pro when I’m coding.

 

Lacks the reliability of a mechanical keyboard

I hate mechanical keyboards so much

hobomaster: Plus they’re loud as all fuck.

Mostly because of that but also because I think the performance is a myth, it has never effected my ability to play or type other than making me frustrate ith every mechanical “clunk”

**edit** just ordered one should be here next week, lets hope it lives up to my expectations

 

If you do any serious amount of typing then a mechanical keyboard is infinitely better.

For gaming I would say they are better, but not significantly so.

I have a couple of das mechanical keyboards and I would never go back.

 

ooshp:
People actually use those ergonomic keyboards?

Yep. Being very broad across the shoulders, most standard keyboards result in my wrists being bent at about 30 degree angles to my arms which resulted in significant carpal damage, pain and numbness (I’ve been typing since 1981…). Good posture, exercises, taking breaks etc didn’t really help, but I didn’t actually type enough full time to justify one of the more exotic ergonomic solutions.

The MS Natural 4000 (and before that, the hard white plastic version) have gone a long way to arresting further damage, plus generally reducing pain etc during long periods of use. My arm/wrist/hand are almost in a straight line now due to the bend, and typing on it is as easy as a regular bar keyboard once you get your head around the positioning. Obviously helps if you are a touch typist to being with.

 

hobomaster:
I’ve got the raw version of this (less macro keys, less obnoxious colours, no USB ports), and I enjoy it quite a lot. It’s a pretty decent keyboard for eighty bucks, and honestly the lack of mechanical switches doesn’t bother me. I’ve used mechanical keyboards, and I really don’t see the appeal in dropping the extra cash on them, the jump in comfort isn’t THAT great. Plus they’re loud as all fuck.

spooler:
Lacks the reliability of a mechanical keyboard

I hate mechanical keyboards so much

Mostly because of that but also because I think the performance is a myth, it has never effected my ability to play or type other than making me frustrate ith every mechanical “clunk”

**edit** just ordered one should be here next week, lets hope it lives up to my expectations

Both of you basically forgotten that mechanical keyboards come in MANY different mechanical switches (check which switch they use before buying a mechanical keyboard).

each of which has not only different tactile feel but also SOUND.

for example, cherry black switches has NO tactile sound whatsoever…
NONE zero zip nadda…

other than when you literally bottom out the key.

it also unfortunately has no tactile click but for gaming purpose this is generally not a problem.

It basically means that if you are capable of touch typing without using full force and bottoming out your key, OR alternatively uses a cushion pad for the key…

they become virtually as silent as it gets.

Hence why quite a few mechanical gaming keyboard (including the Steelseries 7G model) uses cherry black switch.

for more on the switches type used by mechanical keyboards
http://www.overclock.net/t/491752/mechanical-keyboard-guide#post_6009482

 
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