I’ve been on the SteelSeries mechanical keyboard train for quite a while now. Couple years at least. Their sleek design and durability have always appealed to me, and most recently I’ve been using the Apex M750 from their lineup. That keyboard has treated me well, but I cycle through high-end keyboards annually, if not faster, so the Apex Pro was a welcome arrival. After taking it for a thorough test drive, it might just be my new mainstay keyboard, even if I don't fully utlize its capabilities.
When I opened the Apex Pro package the box came with three things: the keyboard itself, the magnetic wrist rest, and the product information guide. As someone who despises wrist rests on their keyboards, my only concern was the Apex Pro itself.
It’s a heavy-duty peripheral that lives up to the expectations set by SteelSeries with its aircraft grade aluminum alloy design. The cable connecting the keyboard to your PC is meaty and features two USB connectors. One of those powers the keyboard itself, and the other is to power the USB port on the left side of the keyboard. There’s a volume dial, illumination switch, and OLED smart display on the right side. Beyond that, there’s not a lot going on. It’s a straightforward piece of hardware on the surface.
On the bottom, the Apex Pro has two legs that can be extended or folded away depending on preference, as well as cable routing options if you’re finicky about such things. I had no desire to use either one, but the options exist for those who seek a bit more customization.
What’s the big deal?
Out of the box, without any configuring, the Apex Pro and the Apex M750 are very similar. Both require the same force and have the same actuation for a keypress. The only differences were the distinct audible feedback I was used to after each keypress on the M750, and typing on the Apex Pro feeling softer between the two keyboards.
While they seem similar out of the box, the Apex Pro starts to set itself apart from other keyboards with its actuation customization options. You see, actuation is basically the distance a key needs to travel to register a keypress. Out of the box, the Apex Pro is configured to have a 2mm actuation point, which is the same for the Apex M750 I just retired. However, the Apex Pro can be configured to use an actuation point between 0.4mm to 3.6mm. When gaming, players tend to want a keypress to register faster (less actuation), giving them the edge in those moments that require split-second reactions. However, those who type tend to want a bit less sensitivity (more actuation), which can lead to increased typing accuracy.
There are other keyboards out there that feature similar customization, but the SteelSeries Apex Pro is the first one I’ve taken for a spin. The entire point is those who struggle to find a keyboard that meets both gaming and typing needs can configure separate profiles that work for both. This would theoretically eliminate the compromise for those that do extensive typing and gaming on the same keyboard.
Shooting and looting
Using the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, gamers can customize the actuation. You can set up a profile with all OmniPoint compatible switches set to 0.4mm, and another with them all at 3.6mm. You can set it up so WASD is set to one actuation, whereas the rest are set to something else. It’s an impressive level of customization that goes beyond configuring RGB lighting, which you can also do, of course.
Just for giggles, I set the actuation of all switches to the highest setting of 3.6mm, which was a nightmare. I couldn’t type to save my life, a great showcase for how impactful the adjustable actuation really is. I then dialed it back to 0.4mm. This felt like typing on a cloud, but I can certainly see how it might be a bit too sensitive for the office.
The real test came when I set the actuation to 0.4mm and loaded into Destiny 2. A simple bump of a key is all it takes, which might be ideal for some but was overboard for me. I’m relatively new to using a mouse and keyboard for gaming (five years or so), and often struggle to press keys precisely. With actuation at 0.4mm, I’m tripping over my fingers while trying to press the appropriate key to melee or toss a grenade. Give this option to someone on the competitive scene, though, and they are going to find an impressive amount of customization on a key-by-key basis.
The problem with the Apex Pro is that the only real selling point to it is customizable actuation. If you’re like me and have no issues with a static setting for both typing and gaming, the Apex Pro loses its appeal. The $199.99 USD price tag is a bit steep for a feature you don’t need, and by default the Apex Pro isn’t a whole lot different than the Apex M750, except the Apex M750 is currently selling for $99.99 USD, which is half the price. During my time using it with Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2, I noticed no real differences in performance unless I cranked the actuation to one extreme or the other, which I had no need to do.
The key to success
Whether or not someone should buy the Apex Pro comes down to how well they understand their needs. If you’re an average user who doesn’t have a problem typing or gaming, figure out your keyboard’s current actuation and seek out something with a much lower price. As this is SteelSeries’ first big dip in the pool with customizable actuation, expect future iterations to feature the same technology, but perhaps with more bells and whistles, or at least a reduced price when the initial excitement dies down.
However, if you’re struggling to find a keyboard that works for both typing and gaming or want to set the actuation differently for each game or application, this might be for you. The price is a bit on the high end, but perhaps that’s a not an issue based on your budget and needs. The SteelSeries Apex Pro is a fantastic keyboard, it’s just built to solve a very specific problem you might not have.
This review is based on a SteelSeries Apex Pro provided by SteelSeries. It is available in retail and digital stores now, for $199.99.
SteelSeries Apex Pro
- Sturdy design, as expected
- Adjustable actuation is the big sell
- SteelSeries Engine 3 software is easy to use
- USB port on the keyboard can be handy
- The only selling point is adjustable actuation
- Price will scare away some buyers