Reviewing The SteelSeries Apex Or How To Fail At Building A Keyboard
SteelSeries is a well-known brand among gamers worldwide. They offer a wide range of products, from keyboards to mice, mousepads and even headphones. We got our hands on one of their gaming keyboards, the SteelSeries Apex and tested it for a couple of days, in different scenarios. We were surprised how badly this keyboard works and we couldn't believe that it was created by a famous brand like SteelSeries. Here's what you will experience if you buy the SteelSeries Apex:
Unboxing The Steelseries Apex Gaming Keyboard
SteelSeries Apex comes packaged in a large black box with a big picture of the product on the front.
The back of the box shows a series of details about the keyboard, but it fails to offer useful technical specifications. It's mostly marketing about the macro keys and the illumination of the keyboard, instead of detailed hardware specifications. Once you open the big black box, you'll have to pull out another big black box. Quite typical for gaming keyboards nowadays!
Inside the second box you'll find the keyboard, a pair of rubber feet, a SteelSeries sticker, the quick start guide and the warranty.
First off, keep in mind that we're not talking about a mechanical keyboard. The SteelSeries Apex is only a rubber dome based keyboard. Also, it is quite massive, as it includes 20 macro keys with anti-ghosting technology and six multimedia keys. All its keys are fully programmable using the SteelSeries Engine software.
SteelSeries figures it is a good idea to have a USB hub integrated into the keyboard, so we got that too.
SteelSeries also included backlit keys on the Apex gaming keyboard. What's interesting is that there are five illumination zones on the keyboard and you can configure the lights to mix and display over 16 million colors. If, for whatever reason, you're into this kind of stuff, you will appreciate this feature. We think that having different illumination zones is useful when using the keyboard during the night but the multitude of colors available is just overkill. We did not feel the need to configure the illumination in so much detail.
This keyboard also comes with two swappable rubber feet that you can use if you want it positioned at a different angle than the default one. Try them out and decide for yourself if they are worth using or not.
The SteelSeries Apex weighs 1330 grams (2.93lbs) and it's quite large at 560 x 55 x 220mm (Width x Height x Depth). That's 22.05 x 2.05 x 8.66 inches (Width x Height x Depth). A 2 meters long (6.6 feet) braided USB cable connects the keyboard to the computer using two USB connectors.
You can find the full set of specifications of this keyboard here: SteelSeries Apex - Specifications. As you will see, the list of “real" hardware specifications is quite short. The SteelSeries Apex product page is mostly about marketing messages, how many keys this keyboard has and how they are illuminated.
Using The SteelSeries Apex
We quickly learned that, if you're used to mechanical keyboards, you should stay away from the SteelSeries Apex. It just can't hold a candle to any mechanical keyboard we used. And we've used many keyboards.
SteelSeries has built a bright (pun intended) and shiny keyboard for gamers while probably aiming it towards users who don't like mechanical keyboards and have only used rubber dome keyboards. Unfortunately, we consider this keyboard a huge failure for a big brand like SteelSeries. And here's why:
Most of you are probably familiar with anti-RSI ergonomic keyboards. That's right, the ones with the A-shaped layout designed to avoid wrist injuries. We're gonna try to put it elegantly now: if SteelSeries had made the Apex 20 years ago, this keyboard would have been the reason why ergonomic keyboards were invented. Apex is more crowded than a laptop keyboard with little to no spacing between keys, which makes it extremely uncomfortable to type on. Also, the keys are made out of slippery plastic and it feels weird to type on them.
Long typing sessions on the SteelSeries Apex are literally a pain. Your hands get tired very fast while you’re using it and they will hurt after an hour or two of typing on it. This is very worrying and we don't think that this product is good for your health. We are not health experts but our bad typing experience made us feel that, if you use this keyboard for long periods of time, you may expose yourself to possibile repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
Even if the Apex is not a noisy keyboard, the sound that the keys produce when you type give you the feeling that cheap plastic was used in the production process. While some people like heavily illuminated keyboards, we can't say we are fans of the over 1 trillion possible color combinations that SteelSeries so proudly promotes on the packaging of this device. We appreciate backlit keyboards, but having a full on rainbow in front of us while writing or playing a game isn't exactly what we’re looking for. As a result, we did not end up configuring the lighting in too much detailed and we stuck to the default lighting.
We've played different types of games while testing SteelSeries Apex, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, Batman: Arkham Origins or Crysis. The macro profiles are useful in online games such as MMORPGs, and the four layers that you can use allow for a very large number of key combinations. If you're a hardcore gamer who appreciates macros, you'll probably like this feature. However, the feeling of tiredness was also obvious during our gaming sessions, not only when typing. This keyboard just isn't comfortable to use for long periods of time.
SteelSeries also decided to include two additional directional arrow keys, pointing to Upper Left and Upper Right. We consider this another design issue of this keyboard. Gamers keep one hand on the mouse and one on the WASD keys. They don't use the arrow keys for movement, so these extra keys are of no use. These keys end up doing more harm than good as you are very likely to hit them instead of the Left and Right keys.
The layout of the multimedia keys, located at the far right side of the keyboard, is also unfortunate. Most users are used to having the Enter key on the bottom right corner of the keyboard and many users actually use that key. If you rely on this key, you'll have a bad time with the Apex, since that position is taken by the Play/Pause multimedia button. Enter is at its left, meaning that you will hit Play/Pause instead of Enter. We found this very frustrating.
Another thing that disappointed us about the Apex is the fact that it is a huge magnet for fingerprints, dust and everything else that can make a keyboard look dirty.
Our experience of using the SteelSeries Apex gaming keyboard was very poor. We were never frustrated by a keyboard until we used this one.
Drivers & Software
The keyboard worked without any issue after connecting it to our test computer, but to make use of its extras, you have to install the SteelSeries Engine software. This is SteelSeries' software for configuring all their products. It syncs your settings online, so that you can use the same settings across all of your devices and computers. For this to work though, you need to create a SteelSeries ID and log on.
Once you click the APEX area, the keyboard's control panel opens and you are shown the settings that you can configure.
The software allows you to change the backlight color of the keyboard. You can select from multiple levels of intensity, change the keyboard's region and also modify the polling rate up to a maximum of 1000 Hz.
The Apex has many macro keys and it also features four dedicated keys that you can use to switch between four customizable configuration sets, called layers. This is useful when you play many games that require different key combinations and you want to save them without having to reconfigure the keyboard every time you play a different game.
SteelSeries Engine also allows you to make application-specific configurations for the keyboard. If a certain game or application is launched, a certain layer of settings is then activated.
What's interesting about this software is the fact that you can re-configure every key on the keyboard. You can literally make any key on the keyboard do something else than originally programmed. Personally, we are not impressed by this feature because we don't see the value of reconfiguring the main keys on the keyboard, unless you want to have fun on April Fools' day.
Overall, the SteelSeries Engine software is quite solid and it offers many configuration options. You can literally change everything about the way your keyboard works. However, this doesn't mean that there's much value to be gained from reconfiguring everything. Yes, configuring the macro keys and your layers is recommended. Yes, you may want to change the lighting a bit but you won't really need to reconfigure everything. We couldn't help think that SteelSeries would have been better off focusing on providing a better keyboard than a fully customizable keyboard that doesn't do the basics right, like… typing comfortably.
Where To Buy
We love many products made by SteelSeries and we consider it one of the best brands when it comes to gaming peripherals. However, the SteelSeries Apex gaming keyboard is a truly disappointing product. This keyboard feels cheap, the build quality is not worthy of its price tag, its layout is bad and it offers an awful experience. We never typed on a keyboard that made our hands hurt until we typed on the Apex. Also, gaming on the Apex is not spectacular and it just doesn't compare to mechanical keyboards. We've used many keyboards which are better than SteelSeries Apex, including ones which are cheaper. We strongly advise you to stay away from SteelSeries Apex and spend your money on other keyboards. Just about any other keyboard is better than this.