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SteelSeries Apex 5 review

A great balance between features and design at an affordable price

SteelSeries Apex 5 review
(Image: © SteelSeries)

Our Verdict

The SteelSeries Apex 5 is a solid gaming keyboard that offers great gaming performance and a neat OLED display in a minimalist design.

For

  • Good gaming performance
  • Strategic pricing
  • OLED display with multimedia controls
  • Minimalist design

Against

  • Non-detachable cable
  • Keys are too quiet

For just $100, the SteelSeries Apex 5 offers everything you could possibly want from a good gaming keyboard and then some. It features a durable, minimalist design with customizable RGB lighting underneath clicky mechanical keys. However, the Apex 5 comes with a non-detachable cable, which is frustrating for gamers on the go, and the keys aren’t as tactile as Cherry MX Blue switches. But overall, the SteelSeries Apex 5 makes a very compelling case, especially with its sleek OLED display that offers a ton of unique cosmetic features.

SteelSeries Apex 5 design

SteelSeries maximized the real estate of the Apex 5’s keys, but kept the keyboard as compact as possible. The SteelSeries Apex 5 weighs only 2 pounds and comes in at 17.4 x 5.5 x 1.6 inches, so it’s incredibly lightweight and portable.

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

My daily driver is the Logitech G Pro X and the top portion of that keyboard has unused space compared to the SteelSeries Apex 5, which trims down the bezels. The SteelSeries Apex 5’s chassis is made of two materials, the top deck being aluminum and the bottom being plastic. Underneath the Apex 5, you'll find two pop-out feet.

The most unique design choice is the mini-OLED display at the top right of the keyboard, which is a feature on the SteelSeries Apex Pro ($199). To the right, is a volume wheel and the pause/play button for multimedia. These controls are also used to navigate the OLED display (more on that later).

With the Apex 5, you get six macro keys, which double as the Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End and Page Down keys. Complimentary to that, the F9 to F12 keys are used for profile switching, on-the-fly macro recording, and brightness controls. In this case, the key with the SteelSeries logo acts as the function key.

The back of the keyboard has a non-detachable rubber-coated cable and a cable rider for either side that you choose to run it. The keyboard's form factor is extremely solid -- when I pressed down on the frame, it didn’t budge. The Apex 5 also comes with a comfortable detachable wrist rest, which magnetically attaches to the bottom of the keyboard. This wrist rest has eight rubber feet and is made of a faux-leather material similar to what you'd find on a SteelSeries earcup.

Here's my gripe - the cable cannot be detached from the keyboard. That's it. I didn't even realize how much that mattered until I went back to using my personal keyboard. When packing laptops and going to events, I like having the ability to fully detach the wire from the keyboard because it prolongs the life of the cable and you don't have to worry about it bending in odd ways as you travel with your peripheral. 

SteelSeries Apex 5 keys

The SteelSeries Apex 5 uses what the company calls Hybrid Blue Mechanical Switches. That means the keys use the same sort of springs clicky switches use to give them that snappy feel. But what makes it a “hybrid” is that SteelSeries cut costs by replacing the traditional gold-plated circuits with a super durable membrane actuation. 

On board the SteelSeries Apex 5 are 104 mechanical key switches and they all have what SteelSeries calls MX stems, which means that you can fit just about any keycaps on them. Lift up one of the keys and you'll see the TTC letters underneath. Unfortunately, the keys have a matte coating, which leaves fingerprints behind. 

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

I managed 52 words per minute with a 97% accuracy on the typing.com typing test. I ran the test again on 10fastfingers.com and got 53 WPM with a 98% accuracy. SteelSeries’ hybrid mechanical switches  actuate at 2 millimeters but have a total travel of 4 millimeters. The Apex 5’s hybrid keys provide a comfortable typing experience. They felt similar to typical Cherry MX Blue switches, which are tactile and very clicky. However, the hybrid switches aren’t nearly as loud, so keep that in mind if you enjoy hearing those satisfying clicks. While using the movement keys (W, A, S, D), I realized that I prefer the loud-sounding Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches.

In terms of durability, Steelseries guarantees 20 million key presses on its keys.

The Steelseries Apex 5 Features

The coolest feature the Steelseries Apex 5 has is its 128 x 40 OLED screen. It can control your music volume, let you view Discord messages and even display your favorite gifs, which can playback at 10 frames per second. You can configure five profiles in the Steelseries Software engine for all of the customized lighting, macros and gifs that you have. 

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

You don’t have to tune everything via the OLED panel. Instead, you can head over to the Steelseries Engine software to customize the  keybindings, Illumination and OLED & Settings. In the keybinding section, you can customize all of your keys, from the function keys all the way to the numpad. You can also customize your per-key RGB lighting in the Illumination section and choose from effects like breathing or color shift.  Meanwhile, in the OLED and Settings tab, you can edit and set the image or animations that you’ll see on-screen.

SteelSeries Apex 5 performance

The SteelSeries Apex 5 performed well when gaming. Keys were very responsive, and being able to set macros on my favorite games was incredibly helpful. I played the side-scrolling beat-em-up gameRiver City Ransom Underground, and the keys responded swiftly to each of my movements. I also played the hero shooter Paladins and I could easily hit my ultimates when I needed to, thanks to the quick response time. 

However, when I played The Division 2 on the Steelseries Apex 5, I noticed that compared to my Logitech G Pro X, the keys were aligned slightly more to the left. As a result, I had to readjust the alignment of the keyboard on my desk.  While I prefer the sound of the Cherry MX Blue switches, overall, my gaming experience didn't take a hit using the hybrid keys.

Bottom line

The SteelSeries Apex 5 is a great keyboard that packs solid switches with per-key lighting, a minimalist design and a badass OLED screen to control your cosmetic settings and media, all for $100. However, keep in mind that you’re not getting a detachable cable nor are you getting true Cherry MX Blues.

If you’re willing to spend an extra $50, you can shell out for the Logitech G Pro X, which offers a detachable cable as well as tactile Blue switches that you can fall in love with. Of course, you’ll be missing out on the OLED screen as well as a numpad. 

But overall, if you’re looking for a feature-packed keyboard, you can’t go wrong with the SteelSeries Apex 5.