SteelSeries Apex Pro Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Compact design; Per-key actuation; Good gaming performance; OLED display that adjusts settings

The Cons

Not all keys are OmniSwitch; Expensive

Verdict

The SteelSeries Apex Pro is a good gaming keyboard that offers unique features, like per-key actuation and a built-in OLED display.

Whether you're rocking a cheap laptop with a bare-bones GPU or a premium gaming laptop, the built-in keyboard can be hit-or-miss. But if you want a gaming keyboard that offers overall quality and one-of-a-kind features, your best bet is the SteelSeries Apex Pro.

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For $199, the sleek Apex Pro offers an excellent per-key actuation feature, as well as a neat OLED display that allows you to adjust the settings on the fly. But the Apex Pro is pricey, and that price doesn't even get you per-key actuation on every key. Despite that, the Apex Pro is an excellent gaming keyboard, which introduces impressive technology.

Design

The Apex Pro's frame is built from aircraft-grade aluminum alloy. Instead of having a typical black finish, it sports more of a black steel color, which contrasts well with the per-key RGB lighting. When I pulled the Apex Pro out of the box, I noticed right away that it was relatively light (2.1 pounds), but the chassis still felt sturdy.

For a keyboard with plenty of features, the Apex Pro discards the top row (above the function keys) that some gaming keyboards have. Instead, the Apex Pro fits its functions into a few F keys, and in the empty space that most gaming keyboards tend not to use. Some gamers may prefer to have discrete buttons, but severing the top row allows the Apex Pro to be more compact -- sleek, even.

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I'm in love with the font on the keyboard as well. It doesn't scream "edgy gamer," but instead has a cutesy sci-fi vibe, with a splash of the Dance Dance Revolution aesthetic (don't question it).

The most interesting feature of the Apex Pro's design is the mini-OLED display located on the top right, but I'll dive deeper into that later. To the right of the tiny screen is the volume wheel and the pause/play button for multimedia. You also use these controls to navigate the OLED display.

There are six macro keys, which are secondary functions of the Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End and Page Down keys. Meanwhile, keys F9 to F12 function as the keys for profile switching, on-the-fly macro recording, brightness down and brightness up, respectively. You can activate these features via the SteelSeries Function key.

To top it off, the Apex Pro has a USB pass-through port, which is located in the back of the keyboard, just between the Escape and F1 keys. Meanwhile, the underside of the peripheral features three-way cable routing, which is especially useful to prevent the cable from awkwardly wrapping around the keyboard. You'll also find to clips underneath that can elevate the Apex Pro.

The Apex Pro also comes with a magnetic wrist rest that's incredibly soft to the touch, which is a nice change from pure plastic wrist rests.

Keys

SteelSeries didn't put just any mechanical switches in the Apex Pro; the company made its own. Meet the OmniPoint Switch: A mechanical switch with adjustable actuation force.

Keys have to travel to a certain point before they actuate. In most keyboards there isn't a simple way to change that fixed point without tearing the peripheral open. With the Apex Pro, you can adjust the actuation force of the OmniPoint switches to anywhere between 0.4 mm and 3.6 mm, which translates to a 1 to 10 scale in the SteelSeries Engine app. If you set your keys to 1, you can activate your switch with barely a press, while setting them to 10 requires you to depress the key fully. The best part is that you can set 61 individual keys at different actuation forces.

However, the function keys, the arrow keys, the macro keys and the numpad keys don't have OmniPoint switches, which is a complete oversight. Several games make use of those keys.

The OmniPoint switches feature a 0.7 ms response time, which is significantly faster than Cherry MX Speed Switches (5.0 ms). SteelSeries also boasts that the OmniPoint switches can withstand 100 million keystrokes before they're no longer operational. Of course, we can't conventionally test the Apex Pro's life span, so I wouldn't preach it as gospel.

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Typing on the Apex Pro's OmniPoint switches was weird at first, given how soft and quiet they were, even after I adjusted the actuation force. However, I enjoyed how smooth they were, as opposed to the more resistant the Cherry MX Blue switches that I am used to.

When I took the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I scored 75 words per minute on both the SteelSeries Apex Pro and the HyperX Alloy Elite RGB keyboard that I use at home.

Features

The Apex Pro has two unique features: its per-key (mostly) actuation force, which I've already explained, and its OLED display.

The 128 x 40 OLED panel's purpose is to provide a quicker way to adjust your keyboard settings. There are settings to adjust the keyboard's lighting, macros, actuation and profiles. You can also adjust the settings for the OLED panel itself, including brightness and timeout.

There are a couple of apps that work with the OLED panel, including CS:GO (which tracks KDA and money) and Discord (which displays current speaker and messages). Down the line, you'll also be able to use Spotify with the display.

The home screen of the OLED display presents a static image of SteelSeries logo, but you can replace this image in the SteelSeries Engine app. (I tested it with the face of my dear colleague, Michael Andronico.) You can also put GIFs in there, which I tested with a classic Geralt clapping GIF. It actually didn't come out too badly. I could make out Geralt's head as well as his clapping motion. I'm sure no one could guess what the GIF was just by looking at it, however.

MORE: $1000 Keyboard Features A Screen on Every Key | Tom's Guide

SteelSeries Engine also lets you program macro keys and remap any key on the keyboard. You get five on-board profiles (they contain key mappings, lighting and actuation force), and you can even assign those profiles to specific applications.

Performance

Gaming on the Apex Pro felt surprisingly good, especially since I was convinced that Cherry MX Blue switches were the most comfortable way to game. However, the OmniPoint Switches are a fierce competitor.

When I put my skills to the test in Overwatch's Lucio Ball game mode, I sucked -- but my movements nevertheless felt fluid because of how responsive the keys were. I sucker-punched my way through Mr. Shifty without a sweat, and even lowered the actuation force on the spacebar so I could spam the teleport when I needed to. I had to do the opposite while playing No Man's Sky: I threw the actuation force of the spacebar all the way up, because I kept accidentally hitting it, which initiated my jetpack.

When I put my skills to the test in Overwatch's Lucio Ball game mode, I sucked -- but my movements nevertheless felt fluid because of how responsive the keys were.

And with games like Dark Souls III (yes, I tried Dark Souls on a keyboard; it hurt), actuation force played a big role, depending on what I was doing. I assigned a low actuation force to my healing items, but much a higher one to the emote button. (The emote is close to the button for gripping a weapon with two hands, and I didn't want to accidentally emote during combat.)

MORE: How to Buy a Gaming Keyboard | Tom's Guide

However, in each game I tested with the Apex Pro, I liked how soft the keys were, as it felt like I had more mobility to maneuver.

Bottom Line

The SteelSeries Apex Pro offers a unique gaming keyboard experience, as it features per-key actuation, a functional on-board UI and solid performance packed into a sleek, compact design. However, the steep $199 price might give some gamers pause, especially since SteelSeries didn't outfit all of the keys with OmniPoint Switches.

If you're willing to drop this much on a gaming keyboard, you might as well go with the Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2. For $130, you can get a gaming keyboard with a beautiful design, top-notch components and a robust key switch selection, as well as a few extra features.

But if you're looking for innovation, you won't find anything better than the Apex Pro.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Accessories Type Laptop Accessories
Battery Type/Life
Size 5.5 x 17.2 x 1.6 inches
Weight 4.23 pounds
Company Website https://steelseries.com/