This keyboard ain't mechanical, but it is... well, it's very large, and it has a lot of buttons.
By Tim Colwill 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.
- Huge keyboard with all the options
- 22 dedicated macro keys
- Dedicated media control keys
- Granular control with the SteelSeries engine
- Large size
- Feet not really convenient for quick changing
- Lacks the reliability of a mechanical keyboard
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.