The SteelSeries Apex Gaming Keyboard is a mid-range gaming keyboard retailing for around £89.99. It sports 22 macro keys, impressive anti-ghosting, and media keys. The most-marketed selling point of the keyboard is its backlight: the Apex Gaming Keyboard features 5 different colour zones, that can each be customised to display any colour you like (at least, any one of 16.8 million).
The keyboard feels very well-built, despite being made of plastic and not mechanical. Its solid construction means that it’s weighty enough to not move around on the desk when you’re using it, but it’s not so heavy as to be an annoyance if you want to take it with you to a gaming tournament. Four rubber feet assist in keeping the keyboard in place, and the rear two can be swapped out for slightly taller ones, to give the keyboard a higher angle should you want it.
As you’d expect, they keyboard connects to the computer via USB (2.0, not 3.0), and has two male connectors in case your USB slots aren’t powerful enough to light the keyboard. These are on a braided cable, which makes it less likely to tangle or become worn. If you’re worried about your USB slots being taken up, the Apex Gaming Keyboard provides two extra USB 2.0 slots on the back to replace the ones it’s already using.
For those of us who spend a large amount of time in a darkened room, backlighting can be an absolute necessity. Even in a relatively well-lit room, backlit keys can make it far easier to see what you’re pressing. SteelSeries advertise five different colour zones, illustrated in the image below. Seeing as the fifth ‘colour zone’ comprises of the SteelSeries logo and the lights on the side, it may be worth only counting four that will actually have practical use. These four do, however, make it easy to distinguish the different areas of your keyboard just by using your peripheral vision. Each of these zones can be customised to display any colour with, apparently, over a trillion possible combinations.
An issue I found – one that may be a deal-breaker for anyone with slight levels of OCD – is that the backlighting seems quite uneven. At first I thought this was intentional; the escape key is one of the brightest, which could be seen to make some level of sense. However, there are other places on the keyboard where this issue is quite prominent: the print screen, insert, and delete keys being prime examples. For most people this shouldn’t be an issue – you still get multiple colours and the keys are all well-lit enough to be visible in the pitch black – but as backlighting is the feature SteelSeries have been shouting about the most, you might hope for something a little better.
Another gripe I had with the Apex Gaming Keyboard is a large space on the front of it that I can only assume was supposed to be a wrist support. The plastic of the keyboard juts out around 1½ inches past the space bar and actually makes typing more uncomfortable. In order to rest your wrists full on the support you have to have your arms and wrists at quite an uncomfortable angle that makes typing more difficult. If you don’t adopt this position, however, the edge of the keyboard digs into the palm of your hand, making extended usage somewhat unpleasant. It would have been nice had SteelSeries either removed the extra plastic, made it longer, or – even better – made it user-adjustable.
Key presses are firm and responsive, with the spacebar appearing to respond to slightly lighter touches. This is probably going to be a matter of personal preference, but I found that the spacebar feeling slightly less heavy made typing seem slightly easier. Aforementioned space bar is also extra large, being double the height of the standard keys, making it nice and easy to find.
While the noise the Apex Gaming Keyboard produces can’t rival the likes of mechanical keyboards, it still isn’t particularly sociable; if you’re using it in a room with a few other people then they’re probably going to want to hit you after a few minutes (I’ve had to lock myself in another room to type this review).
In terms of extra keys, the Apex Gaming Keyboard adds two extra keys to the standard directional ones: diagonal up/right and up/left. How useful these will prove to be is for you to decide. There are also dedicated media keys to the far right of the keyboard, allowing you to control music and volume. By pressing the volume keys in conjunction with the SteelSeries key, you can also adjust keyboard brightness.
The SteelSeries key is located two keys to the right of the space bar and is used for performing a few different tasks in addition to modifying the function of the volume keys. Most notably, by pressing the SteelSeries key (in my first draft I decided to shorten this to the ‘SS key’) in conjunction with the Windows key, you can disable the latter. This removes the need to install any dedicated software to perform this function.
A final useful touch on the Apex Gaming Keyboard is raised bumps on the W key. Two small lumps in the bottom corners make it slightly easier for your fingers to find their way back to the WASD keys should you move them at any point. It’s a small feature, but one that could become invaluable to some.
Macros and Customisation
Taking a cue from Taylor Swift, SteelSeries have included 22 macro keys on the Apex Gaming Keyboard. Ten are situated to the far left of the keyboard (MX), with the remaining twelve placed above the function keys (M). Positioning of the MX keys will be familiar to just about anyone who has used a gaming keyboard, and are only a small hop from the main area of the keyboard. To prevent accidental pressing of the function keys when reaching the M keys, they have been raised quite far above the former.
In addition to there being 22 keys to which macros can be applied, the L keys on the top right of the Apex Gaming Keyboard allow you to switch between four different layers. This means that in just one profile, it is possible to have up to 88 different macros, and four different colour schemes.
To set these, you need to install the SteelSeries Engine from their website. The program will then allow you to assign any function to any key; if you really wanted, you could have the D key type out the lyrics of a One Direction song when pressed.
Configuring profiles is easy, as is changing the colour scheme. Profiles can be assigned to executable files, as you would expect, and the SteelSeries Engine even allows you to assign the profile to multiple programs, or even folders of programs. The one issue I found was speed; when it comes to switching profiles, it could take the keyboard a few seconds to change. Manually switching profiles within the SteelSeries Engine even caused the program to freeze up. Of course, if you’re launching a game, it’s unlikely that the keyboard will take longer than the loading time, it just seems odd that it should take such a long time for it to make the switch.
In addition to setting macro keys and colour for profiles, you can adjust the polling rate (between 125Hz and 1000Hz) and even the keyboard layout, which could be useful on the off-chance that you are bilingual and enjoy typing in different languages.
If you want to track your key presses, it’s possible to turn on statistics. Starting this within the SteelSeries Engine before you begin your game means that all of your key presses will be logged and displayed on a heat map when you are finished.
The only issue I had with the SteelSeries Engine is that it appeared to be using 17% of my CPU and over 300mb of RAM, even when the keyboard wasn’t plugged in.
The Apex Gaming Keyboard is a great keyboard in terms of its features and flexibility. The backlight is invaluable and the different ‘colour zones’ surprisingly helpful. It comes with software that, while not particularly stand-out in terms of its design, is quite well-made and easy to use, and its overall design is quite attractive, if bulky. There are only a few areas that let it down – the weird wrist support and uneven backlighting being the ones I take issue with the most – and slightly detract from its otherwise premium feel. In terms of price, however, it is actually fairly good value for money. If you have a medium budget want a keyboard with the capability for more macros than you can possibly remember, a backlight, and a very high degree of customisation, then this is probably the right keyboard for you.
Disclaimer: This is a review sample sent to us by a PR company to review. That doesn’t mean we have been biased in our review.