Steelseries Apex Pro review

Steelseries Apex Pro review

Quick Overview

FEATURES

QUALITY

CUSTOMIZABLE

PRICE

Pros

  • Customize the actuation distance of the switches
  • Programmable rgb lighting
  • Smooth key switches (omni-mechanical)
  • Save 5 different keyboard setups
  • Great build quality
  • Includes a premium wrist rest 

Cons

  • No dedicated macro keys.
  • Would have preferred double-shot PBT over the ABS keycaps
  • Pricey

Overall rating :  4 / 5

During our Steelseries Apex pro review we found this keyboard to be a premium gaming mechanical keyboard aimed at casual and pro gamers that want to take their gaming experience and skill up a notch. Right off the bat two standout features are its ability to save different keyboard profiles and it's fast omnipoint switches that let's you change the actuation point (key's response speed). Throw in programmable RBG lighting, USB pass-through, built-in OLED screen, and a free magnetic wrist rest and you've got a real winner.

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SteelSeries Apex Pro Review

To say we are fans of the Steelseries Apex Pro is an understatement. It comes in both a standard and ten-key-less (tkl) keyboard models, both with super smooth and fast omnipoint key switches. Some people mentioned the keys a touch spongy for them but I didn't get that feeling. It actually surprised me how smooth and quiet the keys are. So smooth......and that coupled with speed is where it truly shines while gaming! And if you can afford the more premium price it's worth it coupled with the extra features.

It also comes in both a standard keyboard layout and a Tenkeyless TKL model which is quite popular with gamers due to the saved space for your gaming desk setup and more mouse movement space. 

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“ It's super smooth, and I especially like how quiet it is. I am often typing in a room where my wife sleeps and this keyboard without O-rings installed is quieter than my Corsair K95 is with O-rings. ”

-  Comment from Reddit user: OwThatHertz -

The Apex Pro has the usual premium features you would expect from a gaming mechanical keyboard like fast key switches, programmable RBG back lighting, USB passthrough and Multimedia controls. And of course 100% anti ghosting and N-key rollover on all 84 keys. And with an onboard OLED smart screen display thrown in for good measure, what's not to like.

But a major feature which till now has set it apart, is the Apex pro's ability to adjust each key's activation point. It's like having multiple keyboards at once, and being able to change them effortlessly to suit the task at hand.

Dimensions

Height  1.6" (4.0 cm)
Width 17.2" (43.7 cm)
Depth 5.5" (13.9 cm)
Weight 2.1 lbs (1.0 kg)

The full size standard layout version is quite large, but the tenkeyless (TKL) Apex pro version is shorter (with exact same features) and likely better for gaming if you're looking for more space for your gaming area setup and mouse to roam.

Video - Apex Pro review

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Adjustable switches - Multiple keyboards in one?


Above and beyond it's impressive feature list, the Apex Pro is the first gaming keyboard from a big keyboard brand that has adjustable mechanical switches. That means you can adjust the actuation point in its keys. That's a great leap forward for keyboard advancement, and I expect others to start copying it in the next couple years. 

This allows  you to make some keys fire faster for rapid firing situations during gaming and other keys slower and less sensitive if they are sometimes pressed by accident or when wanting to use the keyboard for general typing. 

This dynamic switch actuation trigger control is really useful in MOBA, MMO and FPS games. And for RPGs and action/adventure games, and you can then set up a different profile where more deliberate keystroke may be needed.

If you want a different keyboard setup for different games or you have a number of people using the same keyboard then it's a must buy - because you can save all these different setups as a different keyboard profile and simply restore the one you want at any time at the touch of a button. Each saved profile can have totally different key activation speeds and customized RBG lighting using it's proprietry Steelseries software.  And you can use the built in OLED keyboard screen to view and change between the different keyboard profiles on the fly.

Keep in mind that the Apex Pro isn't a wireless keyboard and doesn't support Bluetooth. So wired only, but if you're using it mainly for gaming that's fine because you would want to use it plugged in for responsiveness in any case.

Build Quality

The build quality on the Steelseries Apex Pro is also right up there, especially with it using aircraft grade aluminium for the keyboard body. The keys have omnipoint switches that reported to take over 100 million keypresses - which is way more than the usual gaming keyboard of around 50 million.

You also get a premium rubber coated aluminium wrist rest. It's not as soft as others I've used but it worked fell well and was comfortable enough.

The keycaps are ABS which is alright, but for a premium keyboard I'd have expected maybe doubleshot PBT keycaps to be used.

Steelseries Apex Pro Keycaps

Both the Apex Pro standard and TKL keyboards come with ABS keycaps. You could consider replacing the standards ABS keycaps with better quality double-shot PBT keycaps. Cherry MX compatible keycaps should work but some people on Reddit and elsewhere have complained that some keys catch on the led mechanism of the switch, and that DSA and SA profile keycaps worked better.  

The Apex Pro RGB feature uses a small type of led bulb that sticks out a little at the back of the switch and seems to stop some keys from bottoming out. So if you were going to replace your Apex Pro keycaps I'd suggest doing a little research first to make sure it's really compatible.

Includes a Wrist rest

The Apex pro also comes standard with a fairly premium wrist rest for more comfort and ergonomic use over time. The wrist rest uses magnets for a smooth attachment to the keyboard body. Being still of the harder brushed aluminium type it helps for wrist support but it's not quite as soft and comfortable as the wrist rest that comes with the Razer Huntsman Elite for example.

USB Passthrough

steelseries apex pro usb passthrough cable

Something else we like is the included usb passthrough port which illuminates. The usb cable is sturdy, maybe a little bit thick I'd say, but it does have a channel provided underneath the keyboard to route it neatly.

Note that the SteelSeries Apex Pro is a wired-only keyboard, so no bluetooth wireless option. 

At  5.9 ft (1.8 m) the cable is long enough and is rubber coated. The cable has two plugs on one end, one is for the keyboard pass-through.

OLED Smart Display

The Apex pro comes with a built in keyboard screen. At first you may think it's a bit of a gimmick, but we played around with it more in depth and it's actually pretty cool if you really get into it. The main big use is as a screen to view and customise the apex keyboard settings like actuation distance and RGB lighting colours etc.

But you can do a whole bunch more like:

  • Adjust the actuation point distance
  • Set the keyboard RGB lighting colours
  • Control Volume and equalizer
  • Show custom animated gifs
  • Show Tidal music track info
  • Discord integration

And there are Steelseries smart display apps for games like CSGO and others that can let you view current KDA, money, and more on the Apex keyboard's OLED screen. To be honest there's not a lot of games right now supported and we found it's not something we actively used. Looking down at your keyboard to see your game stats just didn't come naturally. 

Steelseries has a good blog post on the different ways to use the Apex Pro OLED screen.

And if you really want to be hardcore, you can implement Flappy bird like this guy on Reddit below, well played good sir!

Apex Pro VS Apex Pro TKL

The Apex Pro comes in both full size and TKL keyboard layout models. The full-size Apex Pro is a pretty standard keyboard layout. The tenkeyless keyboard Apex pro version is the same except numberpad section of the keyboard so about 80% the size of the full keyboard version. 

Both the standard and Apex Pro TKL models are otherwise exactly the same, and include the same features and both come with the magnetic wrist rest included in the package.

The price difference between the standard Apex Pro and Apro Pro TLK model is about $20.

TKL keyboards are great for small work areas or users who don't rely on the extra ten keys (dedicated numbers, home, number lock, scroll lock etc). Many also favour TKL and 60% keyboards for the shorter distance to the mouse.

So for gaming, for the extra space, I'd suggest going with the Tenkeyless TKL size to give you more room for your mouse action.

Apex Pro VS Apex 7 keyboard

apex 7 vs apex pro

The Steelseries Apex 7 model has all of the same features as the Apex Pro, except for the switches used. The difference is the Apex Pro is kitted out with patented OmniPoint Adjustable Mechanical Switches (with a customisable 0.4mm to 3.6mm activation distance), where the Apex 7 offers you a choice of red, blue, or brown mechanical gaming switches with an activation point of 2mm.

The Apex 7 (M750 model) actually seems to have less resistance on the keys compared to the Apex pro which seems a bit heavier so the M750 might even be a better option for some people because of that too.

PRO TIP: Besides faster adjustable keys, the Apex 7 is identical to the Apex Pro and you still get everything else including RGB backlit, premium magnetic wrist rest, OLE smart display screen and passthrough USB.  But get the TKL version of the Apex 7  which is about $40-$50 cheaper than the Apex Pro TKL version.

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To be honest if I was on a budget, I'd go for the Apex 7 TKL gaming keyboard so long as you're happy with a slightly slower keypress response time.

What switches does the Apex Pro have?

Steelseries uses hall effect omnipoint switches for their Apex pro series of keyboards. And I've pleasantly found the Apex pro switches to be really smooth and quiet, often even quieter than keyboard that have o-rings installed.

The omnipoint switches with magnets is better since it has a bigger activation range. These omnipoint switches have adjustable actuation points, so you can set where in the switch travel a key stroke is registered. You can customize it yourself to activate the key when pressing down between  0.4mm to 3.6mm for a more to less sensitive response time, represented by a 1 to 10 scale in the SteelSeries Engine software. Set your Apex Pro to 1, and the lightest touch will activate a key. Set the keyboard to 10, and you'll have to bottom out a key before it triggers a command. Compare that to a Cherry MX speed switch which has a 1.2mm activation point and you can see the difference. That means a faster response time of 4.2 milliseconds on the Apex pro versus which could be enough to give you the edge in the heat of battle, especially when you're repeatedly hammering the same keys.

What's even better is that you can set these activation points to be different for each key. That means you can make keys more sensitive for gaming, but less sensitive for general typing requiring them to be more deliberately pressed. And then you're able to easily save those as two different keyboard profiles that you can switch back-and-forth between at any time.

You can save up to 5 different keyboard profile setups with different actuation points and different RGB colour setups

Steelseries Apex Pro - Omnipoint Switch Comparison


Response time

Actuation Point

Durability

Omnipoint switch

0.7ms

0.4mm

100 million keypresses

Cherry MX speed switch

5.0ms

1.2mm

50 million keypresses

Standard Mechanical

6.0ms

2mm

50 million keypresses

How do I set up SteelSeries Apex Pro?


Steelseries Engine Software

The Apex Pro has a built in OLED screen that you can use for many of the custom settings on the keyboard. But you'll need the Steelseries Engine software to fully customise everything on the Apex Pro keyboard like key bindings, OLED display, Switch actuation point, Keyboard illumination etc. The software supports both Windows and MAC OS.

Steelseries Engine Apps

There's also the additional Steelseries Engine Apps that you can use to integrate games directly into the keyboard's onboard OLED screen. At the time of this writing it supports CSGO, Dota2, NeverWinter and Utopia but I'm sure they will keep bringing out more. For example, with CSGO you can use the Engine App to  get your life, ammo, kills and other things generate reactive illumination, tactile alerts, and OLED messages on your supported SteelSeries devices.

And then the PrismSync app allows you to coordinate the lighting and effects on all of your Prism-enabled devices. Other apps include an audio visualizer and image sync to add animated gifs etc to the OLED keyboard display - which can be super fun to see triggered during games.

Steelseries Development Kit

And if you're a developer you can use Steelseries Gamesense Developer SDK to build and integrate your own apps into your Apex Pro keyboard or other Steelseries peripherals.

Apex Pro TKL Manual

And then you should obviously checkout the Apex Pro TLK manual for more info and settings.

How to adjust the actuation distance settings

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Best Alternative - Razer Huntsman Elite

Razer Huntsman TE vs Apex Pro tkl

In spite of its kitchen-sink approach to design, the Razer Huntsman Elite is ultimately a good keyboard, and the switches have the potential to be something special. It has fairly fast key activation depth at 1.5mm which is faster than standard gaming keyboards but not faster than the Apex pro at 0.4mm. 

Things we like about the Razer Huntsman Elite:

  • Clicky Optical Switches
  • Chroma RGB Lighting
  • Magnetic Plush Wrist Rest included
  • Dedicated Media Keys & Dial
  • Fully Programmable Macro Support

Apex Pro TKL vs Razer Huntsman Elite


They both have a plastic and metal construction with floating keys and contactless switches but the similarities end there. I tried both and use the Apex Pro more often. The omnipoint keys on the Apex Pro feels better and quieter for me. The ability to adjust keys is also a plus and can be useful in games like Overwatch where you can set your Q and E keys to lower sensitivity so that you're not hitting them by mistake. 

The ability to have a low sensitivity typing profile and high sensitivity gaming profile allows the wife and I to both have the keyboard experience we want in a single keyboard. The apex also comes with a volume wheel which was less of an issue for me, but others may find useful.

Apex pro also has the OLED screen built into the keyboard which can be used as an screen to customize the keyboard, a HUD for supported games, adding customized animated gifs and discord integration. 

So overall it's paying the extra $40 to upgrade to the Apex Pro TKL for the key customization and the faster and smoother keys.

Apex Pro TKL

Razer Huntsman Elite

Metal and plastic body

Metal and plastic body

Floating linear switches
(hall effect - omnipoint)

Floating linear switches (optical) 

Customizable actuation distance

Cannot customize actuation distance

0.4ms response time

1ms repsonse time

ABS keycaps and stabilizer

Stronger keycaps and stabilizer (Doubleshot PBT)

OLED Screen

No OLED Screen

Volume Wheel

No volume wheel

Is SteelSeries Apex Pro worth it?


The Steelseries APX Pro TKL keyboard is worth it if you're looking for a premium gaming keyboard to take you to the next level. You're paying for the great build quality of aircraft grade aluminium and advanced features like saving different keyboard layout profiles, customizable activation force per key and built-in keyboard game-sync screen and software.  It's at a premium price but the Apex pro delivers!

That said, if you're not necessarily worried about the slightly smoother keystrokes, looking to dynamically adjust the responsiveness of the mechanical omnipoint switches and not too concerned about the built-in keyboard screen then the Razer Huntsman Elite might be a better alternative for you.

On the other hand if you're a fan of the Steelseries brand and really want all the extra features the Steelseries Apex Pro offers like Macros, RGB Backlit, USB Passthrough, OLED smart display then it's still a great keyboard to buy.

And if you like the TKL model of the Steelseries Apex pro but not worried about adjustable key activation, then definitely go for the Steelseries Apex 7 TKL keyboard instead which is physically the exact same, with all the features (except adjustable switches) but a lot cheaper.