Steelseries APEX Review

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  • Brand: Steelseries
  • Model: APEX Gaming Keyboard
  • Website: http://steelseries.com/products/keyboards/steelseries-apex-gaming-keyboard
  • RRP: £67.99 (at time of review)

Introduction

Steelseries are one of the largest and most popular gaming peripheral brands in the world, with products ranging from keyboards and mice to mobile phone controller accessories and earphones. They are also known for their branded accessories for games like World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 and Counter Strike, and they also feature some products branded and endorsed by some professional gamers like Fnatic. Steelseries are not new to us here at Play3r, having already taken a look at their Sensei RAW Frost Blue Gaming Mouse and Flux In-Ear Headphones, I’ve also owned their Merc Stealth keyboard for a while, which proved to be a formidable keyboard, despite the gimmicky “game pad” area.

Today I will be taking a look at what Steelseries claim to be the “world’s fastest keyboard”, the APEX gaming keyboard. The APEX is the current flagship non-mechanical keyboard for Steelseries, with a smaller brother known as the APEX RAW, which has less features and comes in slightly cheaper than the RAW version. Recently we’ve seen a large influx of mechanical keyboards, with many new companies jumping on board the bandwagon, so it’s good to see some variety going on (and something more affordable).

Before I take a closer look at the RAW, here is the spec of what I’ll shortly be unboxing and a comparison to it’s smaller sibling:

Specifications:

FEATURES APEX APEX [RAW]
Low profile keys
Backlight color 16.8 mill. at 8 levels Bright white at 8 levels
SteelSeries ActiveZone 5 zones
Anti-ghosting 6 simultaneous keypresses of 20 antighosting capable gaming keys 6 simultaneous keypresses of 20 antighosting capable gaming keys
Macro keys 22 17
Macro layers 4 2
W-key with tactile bump
Media keys Dedicated Through modifier key
Adjustable keyboard tilt Two angles (7° & 10°) Two angles (7° & 10°)
SteelSeries Engine support*
Surface material/treatment Textured/Glossy Textured/Glossy
Braided, anti-tangle cord
Rubber dome keys 5 mill. keystrokes 5 mill. keystrokes
USB hub 2 ports
OS compatability Windows, OS X, & Linux** Windows, OS X, & Linux**
Recommended price $99.99/€99.99 $69.99/€69.99

As you can see there are a few differences between the APEX and the APEX RAW versions. So now we know what to expect, let’s take a look at the keyboard.

Packaging

The APEX comes in a large flat box, which is a fair bit larger than other keyboards, no doubt due to the extra macro keys and built in wrist rest. The whole packaging design is the typical shades of grey, with a large UV spot (glossy) image of the keyboard dominating the front, with a few highlighted features in the corner.

The back contains a more detailed list on the right side, with a graphic of some of the more important features on the left.

Inside the box you have the keyboard, a quick start guide, a sticker and the two feet required to raise the height of the keyboard.

Closer Look Part 1

The APEX keyboard is fairly large by today’s standards, mainly due to the additional keys found on the left, right and top sides of the keyboards and the built in wrist rest. The whole keyboard is black, with translucent lettering to allow the backlight through. The outer edge of the keyboard has a matt, textured design, whilst the plastic around the keys is gloss black. The keys themselves have a smooth matte feel to them.

The top of the keyboard has two USB ports, which if you want to use, must have both of the USB connectors connected to the PC. The cable is fairly thick, with a densely woven braid.

You may have noticed the space bar in the first image of the APEX. This is twice the heigh of the rest of they keys, no doubt to make it easier to press.

The left edge of the keyboard contains the “layer” or profile switching keys (L1 – L4) and 10x macro buttons (MX1-MX10)

The top of the keyboard features 12x more macro keys that have a slightly higher profile than the F keys, but are much more narrow.

The right edge of the APEX has the media keys and the brightness keys (dual function with the volume keys).

The base of the keyboard is relatively plain except for the standard product sticker you get in the middle and four rubber feet.

To adjust the height of the keyboard you must first remove the top rubber feet. You can then swap it out with taller version to increase the keyboard’s height.

Continue to the next page for more features and some images of the lighting in action.

Closer Look Part 2

The APEX requires two USB connectors if you want to use the USB hub.

Unlike most of the keyboards currently hitting the market, the APEX features a full compliment of rubber dome switches for each key. The keys have a flat, low profile design, which results in a smaller gap between each key.

There are 8 different brightness levels for the APEX (including off). Along the edges of the keyboard there are also LEDs which light the sides up.

There are five lighting zones on the APEX; The left macro keys, the main section (middle), top row, numpad and the logo/sides. These are all controlled by the software, which I’ll take a look at later.

The Steelseries key replaces the right windows key (who uses that anyway?). Pressing this key in conjunction with the volume keys, adjusts the brightness levels.

Software

To make the full use of the keyboard’s features, you need to download the Steelseries Engine program. This enables you to modify the macros and lighting of the keyboard and any other Steelseries product that is Engine enabled.

The left section lists the connected devices that are Engine enabled (in this case just the Ape keyboard) and the different profiles. The main section of the Engine program allows you to customise each key, across the different layers (profiles). When you select a key, it lets you assign a macro to it, change the delay and even the mapping.

The second tab allows you to customise the backlighting colours by the different zones. You can also control the brightness levels for each zone or overall. There is a different layout for each zone, which can be selected by the “L1-L4” keys. The keyboard has 16.8 million colours, so you can customise it to however you like.

The third tab allows you to change the polling rate and the layout of the keyboard. If you manage to really mess the keyboard mapping up, you can also restore it back to default settings here.

The fourth tab allows you to create different profiles which kick in when certain applications are active.

The fifth and final tab is certainly an interesting and unique feature that I have never come across before. This statistics tab allows you to record key presses, which can then be used to identify the keys you are not using as much, so you can then fiddle around with their properties until you get the maximum efficiency. The images below displays how many times I pressed different keys within 9 seconds of recording.

So that concludes our closer look at the keyboard and its software, now it’s time I put it to the test and see how it performs.

Performance

The APEX keyboard works straight out of the box, you merely plug in both of the USB connectors and away you go! The L1-L4 keys allow you to change between the different layers and the brightness of the LEDs can all be controlled straight off the bat. However, if you want to make full use of the keyboard, one must first download the Engine software from Steelseries’ website. This then allows you to fully access all the features mentioned in the previous pages.

Typically it takes about a week to get the most out of a keyboard when testing, however with the APEX I have had to use it for slightly longer due to the amount of features, and the amount of beneficial and negative points that I kept on discovering. First up, I put the keyboard through many hours of gaming tests, so as per usual, I used the APEX for several different genre games, like FPS, RPG and RTS. This normally provides comprehensive testing results so is the best way to discover any flaws or major benefits with the keyboard.

Gaming

First up for the tests is First Person Shooters, so for this I chose to play Bioshock Infinite and Battlefield 3. From first impressions, the keyboard felt great to use, it’s not quite your typical rubber dome keyboard, the key presses required relatively little force to actuate and have a fairly tactile feel to them. The larger, flatter keys also made it easy to press the right buttons and the small tactile bumps on the W key made it easy to locate without looking at the keys. I didn’t really have any need for the addition directional keys, so these were wasted when playing this format.

The APEX performed perfectly during both games, however it wasn’t until I jumped in a jet in BF3 that I discovered the first major flaw – it’s anti ghosting capabilities! I was unable to deploy any counter measures whilst holding down the Shift, W and A key – it just would not let me press the X key! To delve into this further, I fired up notepad and put it through the quick test, by holding both shift keys and pressing the keys on the main section of the keyboard. This is what I got:

¬!”£$&_
YUOP{}
ASDFGHJKL:@~
|ZXCVBNM<>?

As you can see this is a fairly disappointing result; no QWERT or certain number keys (like “^, *()_” ). This is discouraging considering this is a gaming keyboard!

The next genre was RTS, and I was right in being confident that the anti-ghosting keys wouldn’t effect gameplay due to the lack of  button combinations being required. As usual I put the keyboard to test by firing up Supreme Commander 2, after I had played around with some of the macro keys beforehand. Again, just like the FPS gameplay, the keyboard was generally really good to use, and those additional macro keys came in handy as I had previously bound them to issue certain commands like selecting certain groups etc. This was useful and saved a fair bit of time when trying to micro-manage my forces.

To finish the gaming tests I played a bit of MMO, so I fired up Star Wars: The Old Republic and put the APEX to the test. The APEX provided me with a decent advantage over the standard keyboard I normally play with, mainly due to the fact that I could have many more keys bound to activate abilities. This proved great when in combat and really put me a head of my fellow team mates. The additional macro keys across the top of the keyboard were a nice touch, especially as they are raised slightly to avoid accidental function key activation.

General Use

To conclude the testing I used the APEX for the varying everyday tasks, such as web browsing, typing, listening to music etc. For typing, I’ve used the APEX to write this particular review (great way of killing two birds with one stone), which whilst it feels nice to type on and each key press is nice and satisfying, the shapes of the key caps meant I kept pressing the wrong keys, so subsequently resulted in a lot of errors and corrections being made. The macro keys were also great for general use, as I bound most of them to open certain applications. I didn’t have to worry about other macro configurations interfering also, as I had set them to only work whilst playing that particular game.

The APEX is currently Steelseries’ leading rubber dome keyboard aimed at gamers as opposed for general use. After putting it to the various tests, it  was clear to me that this is indeed the case. It is jam packed full of features, from millions of colours for the back-lighting, to additional macro keys and media keys, all to aid you whilst getting those frags in.

The overall design of the keyboard is very nice; with its sleek curves around the LED lit sides, the different zones that can have individual colours and the large flat key caps, all of which make it look modern and very appropriate for the gamers out there. The software was very easy to use and had some interesting features that would certainly help improve a gamer’s performance by monitoring key presses, to locate those under used keys. Be warned however, the APEX is a very wide keyboard, coming in at 500mm wide, make sure you have the desk space!

That said, the APEX could well be a good example of form over function: whilst it is aimed at gamers, its performance wasn’t so great in certain areas – for example, the anti-ghosting keys didn’t really work that well during games like BF3, which use keys outside of the anti-ghosting key selection, resulting in not being able to press some keys without letting go of others. That said, during RPG/MMO and RTS games, the additional macro keys were great for increasing the amount of actions per minute, so you don’t have to keep using the mouse to activate various abilities.

For general use the keyboard felt great to use, but it’s performance was inadequate for lots of typing. The flatter keys results in smaller gaps between each key, so many errors were made during the typing up of this review. It was however, very comfortable to type on, with each key requiring about the same force as a Cherry MX Red switch. The integrated wrist rest also aided comfort for those long hours of use and the large space bar was, whilst unnecessarily large, great to use.

Overall the Steelseries APEX was a great keyboard to use, with many of it’s features actually being useful as opposed to just a gimmick. The additional macro keys were useful inclusion and the ability to customise the back-lighting was a great touch. The keyboard did have it’s performance issues however, the anti-ghosting capabilities neglected certain keys, which were used a fair bit in some games. Typing on the lower profile keys did result in many errors, although this could just be down to the myself not having enough practise on it. At £67.99 Steelseries have dropped the APEX into the mid level of gaming keyboards, providing the user with a plethora of features at a reasonable price. However, at this price, they are bordering into the mechanical keyboard level, that provide better performance, but less features. Whilst I have enjoyed using this keyboard, I don’t think it really hits the mark for me, so I will not being giving it any awards, but thanks again to Steelseries to providing us with a different, yet decent rubber dome keyboard.

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value

Summary

Jam packed full of features for a reasonable price, albeit with a sacrifice to performance.

3.8

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