SteelSeries Apex Pro Keyboard Review 1

SteelSeries Apex Pro Keyboard Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • The SteelSeries Apex Pro keyboard costs $199.99 from the SteelSeries webshop, as well as their retail partners, includingAmazon.com, for customers in the USA. There is also an Apex Pro TKL at $179.99 without the numpad and a shorter volume wheel.
  • Good implementation of the Hall effect for actuation point control
  • Integrated OLED display for real-time notifications and customization
  • Very powerful software driver with a lot of third-party app support
  • Full programmability allows for the use of different OS/typing/language layouts
  • Per-key 16.8 M RGB backlighting with extensive options
  • Dedicated media keys and volume scroll wheel
  • USB pass-through and cable-routing channels
  • Nice build quality with an aluminium alloy frame and thin bezels
  • Very expensive relative to the average mechanical keyboard
  • Software driver needs to be more unified in all the features it offers
  • OmniPoint switches are only in the alphanumeric section
  • Stock keycaps are mediocre at best and will wear out sooner rather than later
When SteelSeries first talked about the Apex Pro to the media, and indeed the entire Apex series of keyboards, they did so via a cryptic message with the tagline "Experience the next big innovation from the makers of the original mechanical gaming keyboard". Those were strong words, and certainly intriguing to those visiting the brand at Computex last year. The Apex Pro is the culmination of all the features built into the entire Apex keyboard series, with the adoption of the Hall effect powered SteelSeries OmniPoint switches and the integrated OLED display being the innovations the company had claimed.

Hall effect switches are not new to the retail keyboard market necessarily, having being used in the 1960s and 1970s before in multiple countries, but they have only recently come back to this field with some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts starting the trend with small batches before (Mass)Drop took the lead, partnering with one and then two different analog keyboards using these switches and slated for release sometime this year. The use of magnetic sensors to detect changes in electromagnetic-induced currents allows for a more precise measurement over the travel depth of a switch stem, even more so than with the optical sensors used before by Wooting. SteelSeries is not going the analog control route here, and perhaps that has been what has enabled the company to bring a new and arguably the first mainstream Hall effect switch keyboard to the PC gaming market. This is restricted to the Apex Pro and Apex Pro TKL, and even then only to the alphanumeric section with the other keys getting their Gateron-manufactured SteelSeries QX2 linear switches based on the Cherry MX Red.

The rest of the keyboard is a sleeper until plugged in and backlit. The relatively clean aesthetic on the front coupled with the larger, non-gaming/aggressive font used for the legends and the matte aluminium alloy frame make for a well-built keyboard that would be at home in any environment. Functionality and customization is where the Apex Pro really shines with a very powerful software experience; it has integration with other applications via the so-called "Engine Apps" as well, which are more than just profiles or configurations. But all this also makes for an awkward arrangement of items spread across multiple tabs, menus, and even windows. For what is otherwise a well-implemented UX design, this is slightly off-putting, and I urge SteelSeries to work on accommodating everything under a more cohesive umbrella, and also redesign the lighting control menu that can be overwhelming to end users. For those who prefer onboard functionality, you have a good set of functions pre-programmed for volume and media control, but that integrated OLED display is just the icing on top of a delicious cake that happens to cost $200; not one many can afford, but one with enough to back their original claims. I do wish the company would back it further with a warranty longer than just a year.
Innovation
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