SteelSeries accessories have become a staple to my desktop recently, with several of their headsets set up for each my consoles and more recently a new mouse for my PC. It’s only natural then to welcome the SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL Keyboard to my collection, a new ten-keyless keyboard from SteelSeries’ latest line of keyboards. The Apex 7 TKL I got to try out features full RGB lighting and blue mechanical switches, which provide a very tactile and clicky feeling – a perfect keyboard for gaming. But what makes the Apex 7 different from competitors’ keyboards, and is the $129.99 MSRP worth it for the savvy consumer? Let’s get into how this keyboard stacks up to find out.
- MSRP: $129.99
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 1.59in x 5.48in x 13.99in
- Aircraft Grade Aluminum Alloy Frame
- 84-Key Roll Over
- 100% Anti-Ghosting
- Dynamic Per Key RGB Illumination
- Weight 1.7lbs
- SteelSeries QX2 Mechanical RGB Switch
- Switch Actuation 2mm
- Total Travel 4mm
- Force 45cN
- Lifetime 50 Million Keypresses
- Compatibility / Box Content
- SteelSeries Engine 3.15+ for Windows 7 or newer and Mac OS X 10.11 or newer
- Magnetic Wrist Rest
First Impressions and General Overview
My first impressions of this keyboard were kind of mixed. I’m more familiar with having a number pad on the right side, so losing those 10 keys was challenging at first because I like to use those keys for signing in on my computer and as hotkeys. I quickly adjusted however, but I still found myself accidently reaching past the keyboard to use the number pad. The extra space on my desktop was a welcome change, though. I never realized how much real estate my previous keyboard was eating up, and it felt a lot more comfortable and natural having my keyboard and mouse closer together.
Actually using the keyboard was another experience. I switched from my old keyboard’s membrane keys to the Apex’s blue mechanical keys, so the click-clack sound when typing was an adjustment for me too. I have been using a lot of bad keyboards lately – at work, on my Surface, on my wife’s laptop – so the quality of this keyboard really stood out to me in contrast. The weight of the keys felt like nothing, and it barely required any force to press it down. You wouldn’t think from just looking at it, but typing on the keyboard was effortless. There’s a little give on each key before it registers a stroke, so accidental keystrokes were rare. To those who prefer a less-clacky sounding keyboard, the Apex 7 TKL does come in three different switch types: the tactile and clicky blue switch, the tactical but quiet brown switch, and the linear and quiet red switch.
The Apex 7 did require an update out of the box. Thankfully, I already had the SteelSeries Engine app installed because of my other accessories, but I can see how it might be annoying to those who have not had to deal with these kinds of apps before. The only functionality that appeared to be missing or locked out without this update was just the ability to customize the RGB lights and effects on the keyboard. So unless you are like me and want to go in to customize every single key as soon as possible, it’s not immediately necessary. For those not like me, there are 5 preset configurations for the RGB lighting available via the LED screen on the keyboard itself.
I had fun playing around with this little screen, as I have never had a keyboard with this kind of feature before. There’s a scroll wheel beside it that can be used for menu navigation, or for the PC’s volume control when not in the menu, and a small button underneath that can be pressed and held to bring up the menu itself. Through this, I messed around with the Illumination settings, set up custom macros, added profiles (up to five), and adjusted the general settings of the keyboard like the brightness of the RGB. You can use this menu to set up basic RGB configurations, but it won’t let you set individual key lighting or effects. So it’s nice for quick changes, or to switch profiles to already customized configurations. I do like the easily accessible scroll-wheel to control the volume, so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard to find my headset’s in-line controls to adjust the volume.
Really the only things I didn’t like were the magnetic wrist rest and the power cable for the keyboard itself. The wrist rest is sleek and minimalist, but it offered no actually padding for my wrist or palm. The material is a type of thin rubber-silicone which feels nice to the touch but I don’t particularly enjoy. I prefer thick padding in my wrist rests, like memory foam or gel. Regarding the power cable, it was surprisingly thick. I knew it would bigger because it requires two USB connections due to the USB pass-through that’s on the keyboard, but it surprised me just how beefy the cable was – it’s even thicker than my PC’s own power cable.
Design, Materials, and Build
The aircraft-grade aluminum alloy frame appears only on the top plate, whereas the bottom is a molded plastic. I’m not really sure what purpose the aluminum alloy plate does for protection or durability for the keyboard itself, but it does look and feel nice. The keyboard itself is pretty sleek and minimalist, with the charcoal color of the plate contrasting nicely against the black keys.
The design of the keyboard is very open, which I personally enjoy. My previous keyboard had its keys submerged into the frame and it was difficult to clean around it – or even clean it at all! With this open system, there’s no interference when cleaning out the dust in-between keys, nor any traps that will collect crumbs and the like. It’s also easier to be able to pop off individual keys, in case I needed to replace any.
The keys themselves are contoured and feel very natural to type on. The QWERTY line and below are angled at a slope away from me which felt like they helped diminish fatigue in my wrists from typing. The number and F1 lines are raised slightly higher and angled towards me, which again felt easier for me to use. I compared these keys to my last keyboard and was honestly surprised to find that all of those other keys were angled away from me on it and it felt like no consideration for hand placement was accounted for. Just this small difference really made me feel like SteelSeries took the time to consider user’s hand placement and optimized the ease of use.
Another nice feature that more keyboards should have is the USB pass-through that’s located on the back left of the keyboard. Although it requires the keyboard to take up two USB spots on my PC, it was nice to have a more accessible USB to more easily swap out items plugged in to my computer. For example, I often switch between Mouse/Keyboard configurations on games to wired controllers. I used to move my monitor out of the way to access the back of my computer to plug in the controller, but it became a lot easier just to run it through the keyboard itself. It seems like having USB ports on keyboards is becoming more of the norm, but it’s a feature that I have never gotten to enjoy until now.
Compared to other keyboards?
In comparison to my other RGB keyboard, the lighting is pretty comparable. All of the usual effects are present, including ripples, lines, fades, and breathing. Using the SteelSeries Engine app, you can go further with your customizations and specify key-specific colorings and effects. I typically like to color-code my WASD keys, and differentiate all of the surrounding keys for using hotbar commands in MMORPGs. I can even set the length of fade effects on them to try to simulate cooldown times for those skills, although not precisely.
The size difference is really where the Apex 7 TKL stands apart from more traditional keyboards. Versus my other keyboard, the SteelSeries is roughly half an inch shorter in depth, and a whole 4 inches shorter across. It’s a very low-profile keyboard, which juxtaposes the oftentimes ostentatious RGB effects I had set up on it.
The SteelSeries Engine App
I used this app previously in setting sound profiles for the Arctis 1 Wireless Headset, but it can also be used to set up RGB customizations and different profiles on the Apex 7 TKL. It’s a very straight-forward and simple app to use, with the software automatically recognizing whatever is plugged in. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic app, and is a lot more user-friendly than other apps I’ve had to use in the past.
Each key gives you the option to set base effects, reactive effects, and an AFK effect to kick in after a certain duration of sitting idle. To make selections easier, after you’ve specified certain keys you can go back and select all keys that share the same effect. This makes it easier to edit key groupings that are already set up. There’s also a live preview mode turned on by default, so you can see the effects you just set up in real time. There’s an unlimited amount of configurations to create and save, but only 5 different configurations can be saved to the keyboard itself for quick-access.
The SteelSeries Engine app even houses a library that you can add your installed games to. From here, you can pair SteelSeries devices to and select whichever configurations you want that device to use for that specific game. Whenever a game from that library gets booted up, the app will automatically switch the selected devices over to their specified settings – regardless if it’s a configuration saved on the keyboard’s quick-access menu or not. This let me set and customize my MMORPGs, like Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft, aside from my FPS games, like Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Destiny 2, without ever having to go back inside the app or mess with any buttons on my keyboard. That said, the keyboard has a default macro built in to quickly switch between different profiles.
Lastly, the app is where I was able to customize the OLED smart display that’s on the keyboard. This display, I found out, was not just for menu navigation but also has integration into several other applications including Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Discord, and Spotify. I never used this app integration, although for people who often utilize these apps I’m sure it would be beneficial to them. I did however spend way too much time drawing a 128px x 40px image of MMORG.com’s logo, of which I am pretty proud of. Images and gifs can be uploaded to automatically render, but I had a difficult time finding anything that small to use. The OLED screen only renders in black and white as well, which negated much of the pixel-art that I was able to find. You can always draw your own image though, like I wound up doing.
At first, I kind of missed having the number pad on the side of my keyboard, but honestly I had been more stressed about my desktop real estate space than I had realized. It’s been nice having so much extra room and being able to more easily fit things on to my desk – those 4 extra inches made a difference! I also appreciate the more ergonomic curvature to the keys. It’s not something I would have realized if I didn’t compare the Apex 7 TKL to my other keyboard side-by-side, and it made me realize that my other keyboard is not as good as I once thought. I did look around at other keyboards and noticed that this is not a unique characteristic to SteelSeries, and a lot of different keyboards offer this curvature – this is just the first time I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it.
Likewise, I was initially perturbed that the USB pass-through feature requires two separate USB ports on my computer. Why can’t it work like those USB hubs I’ve seen online that you only plug one port in and get four others? After some research I found that this too is nothing new – USB pass-through on keyboards seem to always require more than one port on the PC. This is just one of those features I am not familiar with and, as such, had no basis for comparison. I am really happy that I now have this capability though, as it really does make my life a lot easier for switching out peripherals.
All said, I think the SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL Keyboard is the new favorite in my computer accessories. Not every RGB keyboard is the same, nor should they be. I think the features included with the Apex 7 raise the bar in terms of my expectations for keyboards going forward, and I look forward to adding more SteelSeries items onto my desktop. I think even though the $129.99 retail price is a bit higher than other RGB keyboards, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with as many features and considerations built-in for less. And for those of whom that prefer a number pad, there is also the Apex 7 for $159.99 that offers all the same accoutrements as the TKL.
- USB Pass-through
- Open frame design
- Durable, responsive switches
- Solid build and gaming features (macros, NKRO, anti-ghosting)
- SteelSeries App w/ Customizable RGB
- Wrist rest not comfortable
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.