The keyboard is one of the most important investments a gamer can make. It is also one of the most overlooked and easily dismissed elements PC gamers consider. Who among us hasn’t at some point looked at the cheap HP keyboard that came with their computer and said, “meh, it’s good enough”? It’s time to wise up, and the Steelseries APEX Gaming Keyboard is here to help you with that.
The APEX comes in a number of varieties depending on your budget. This review focuses on the straight APEX Gaming Keyboard, not to be confused with the colorless APEX 300 or RAW, or the flashy mechanical variant, the M800. With its 22 macro keys and easy programmability, this APEX is an MMO players’ board, plain and simple. It’s an added bonus that it accomplishes the job with such style.
The standout feature of the APEX is its five regions of RGB backlighting, each capable of 16.8M colors. These regions break down to the left row of macro keys, the center keyset, the function and upper macro keys, the control and arrow region, the number pad and media controls (located on the far right), and the Steelseries logo. The sides of the keyboard are also accented with customizable LEDs to match the logo, which really give the APEX a unique, stylish look. There are eight levels of illumination, though even the highest seemed a little dim in normal daylight. With the lights off, the APEX’s lighting is gorgeous.
Backlighting is hardly this keyboard’s only notable feature, however. As an MMO player, I was immediately drawn to the nearly two dozen macro keys. Ten are in line with the central keyset, separated by a centimeter of open space to avoid accidental keystrokes (double the normal separation between sections of this keyboard). An additional 12 macro keys are located above F1-F12. Steelseries wisely chose to elevate these and give them a narrower design to help them stand out. If that weren’t enough, nearly every other key on the board can also rebound and all up to four times with the onboard layer system. Every layer, selected with four “L” keys in the upper left, can feature its own color scheme to keep your keysets distinctive.
With more than 500 programmable buttons, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but the Steelseries Engine makes programming easy. Recording and editing macros is as easy as pressing a button, inputting your commands, then clearing the delays for instantaneous triggering. Even if you don’t use macros, these buttons are great for launching commonly used programs or inputting snippets of text. Programming the lighting is even easier thanks to an intuitive graphical interface. It would have been nice to see some animations, however. With modes such as “breath” and “wave” becoming so common in the backlit scene, it’s odd that the APEX leaves them out.
All of this functionality comes in a large package, but one that does its best to look sleek while being awkwardly long. The APEX is easily the longest keyboard I have ever used and before I could get comfortable with it, I had to shift everything on my desk a good few inches to the left. This is the trade-off for dedicated macro keys, however, and that’s fair enough. I was also surprised that the board had a nice heft without being heavy like more expensive mechanical boards. With two replaceable elevated feet, I was able to get shift the board to a comfortable angle without any noticeable flex in long writing and gaming sessions. It felt durable.
The design of the board goes part in parcel with the typing experience due to the low profile key design. Compared to a normal keyboard, they’re about half the height, which means that the travel distance per press is also less, theoretically increasing your input speed. In the beginning, I found this to be complete farce. Such low profile keys felt off, and the macro keys on the left made it hard to comfortably anchor my find like I usually would, but I pressed on and those first few hours of typos and backspaces faded away. Within a day, my typing speed had matched and exceeded my best on my Corsair K70, something I didn’t think possible.
In comparison to other membrane keyboards, the APEX lacks the mushiness and creak of even some of its more expensive competition. The low profile setup allows the keys to feel more springy and responsive while still remaining blessedly quiet. For comparison, I used the APEX alongside the Logitech G110, a Microsoft Wireless Multimedia keyboard, and a generic HP, and there was simply no competition. Steelseries felt so much better that each of the other boards simply felt bad.
The APEX features a outer matte finish with a glossy inlay. These accents are, of course, fingerprint and dust magnets, but that goes with the territory for any glossy peripheral. The keyboard also features an extra tall, reduced width space bar that lends the setup a unique look. My concerns that this would be awkward were quickly assuaged. I was dismayed to see the natural oil from my fingers quickly tarnish the surface of the keys after just a few hours. As an unoily person, this is a direct result of the materials being used.
The keyboard also includes several other features worthy of note. The W key, for example, features dual bumps to quickly get you back to ready position. There are also two additional diagonal arrows for gamers that would prefer to control with their right hand and don’t want to miss their Q and E functionality. Dedicated media keys also line the right side of the number pad, though the positioning of play/pause flush with the enter key is unfortunate. Premium staples like a braided cable, USB pass through, 6-key rollover and 20 key anti-ghosting are all present and accounted for.
In a year rich with keyboard reviews and hands-ons, the APEX stands out from the pack. It looks and feels better than most, and managed to increase my typing speed more than any membrane keyboard has ever been able to do. The market is full of now full of keyboard options in all price ranges, but the APEX is a clear contender for best in membrane keyboard in its range.