Gaming keyboards are an interesting investment for gaming PCs in this day and age where laptops can continuously do more to match desktop quality, but sometimes there’s still nothing like the tip-tap feel of a well-built board. That said, they’re also an investment that you’ll often pay $100 or more for any level of real quality. That’s where the new SteelSeries lineup is trying to appeal to players. Their new budget gear of keyboards and mice offers familiar SteelSeries quality and durability, but with gentle price points to make them more accessible to players looking to keep a buck or two in their bank account. The Apex 3 is the cheaper end of the keyboard lineup, coming in at just $49.99 USD, but does it do enough to make it an acceptable entry-level option for a gaming keyboard? I would argue yes at that price.
The layout of the SteelSeries Apex 3
The SteelSeries Apex 3 is a membrane keyboard coming in at 17.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches long with an additional 3.1 inch wrist rest that magnetizes to the front end of the board. It features RGB lighting along the base of the keys, a button for recording macros, a rolling cylinder switch for easy volume control, and a multimedia button for starting, stopping, and other functions in music player programs. It also features extendable rubber feet near the back of the keyboard to raise its elevation and angle.
Overall, it’s a well-built feeling board. As a membrane keyboard, the key presses are rather quiet, so it likely won’t satisfy those looking for an audible tapping experience in typing and gaming, but it’s still got responsive feedback and satisfying bounce to keypresses with only the softest of sound between presses. The magnetic rest feels nice too. It’s nothing spectacular as a plastic rest, but the soft texture along the top of the rest feels good on the wrists. I’d also say the volume control switch is a nice touch. It works on the volume no matter what you’re doing, which makes it very convenient when you’re in a game and don’t want to alt-tab out to adjust volume between activities.
The multimedia button is cool in theory but less practical in action. It works on PC programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player, allowing users to play, pause, or skip tracks, but it doesn’t work with online programs like YouTube, Pandora, or Spotify, so it ends up being less useful than it really ought to be. I wish it had as much wide-ranging application as the simple volume control knob. Even so, the keyboard is neatly designed. It’s rated for 20 million key presses and feels like it has the durability to last through at least a good chunk of that lengthy mileage.
RGB and functional customization through SteelSeries Engine 3
Like many products of the SteelSeries, the Apex 3 features functionality with the SteelSeries Engine 3 app. Relatively easy to use, Engine 3 allows you to customize keybindings, create custom macros, and customize the extensive RGB features of the keyboard. The RGB is maybe the most notable function. The light and colors of the Apex 3 are nice, if not just slightly dull in comparison to the dazzling glow of other SteelSeries budget devices like the SteelSeries Rival 3 mouse, but you can still do a lot with them in Engine 3, including customizing color zones, programming different effects, or even raising or lowering the overall brightness of the keyboard. You can turn the RGB off altogether if you want, which is a nice option for those uninterested in the colored lighting.
The keybinding customization and macro creator are interesting, allowing you to bind various key presses and functions to one key or a combination of them. It’s worth noting that you can make macros without Engine 3 though. The Apex 3 has a macro recording function that will allow you to record and save macros on the device’s built in memory. It’s cool to have the visual function in front of you on Engine 3, but it’s also neat that you can access macro creation and customization separate of the program in a self-contained option of the device.
The double-edged sword of the Apex 3’s raised buttons
One feature that easily came into notice and became a subject of interest in my time with the Apex 3 was just how raised the entire deck of keys are. The Apex 3’s keys aren’t embedded in any kind of frame, leaving them sort of freely suspended about a half centimeter over the board. From the get-go, this gave me concerns that the board would be more susceptible to dust and dirt.
I was correct in my assumptions. It seemed easy for particles to come to rest within the open gaps of the Apex 3’s keys and base. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand that means the Apex 3 is more prone to getting dirty in its small spaces with such openings. On the other hand, it’s also easier to clean up with air dusters, q-tips, and other supplies that would otherwise be more difficult to manage on a more tightly framed keyboard. Also, the Apex is water-resistent, so despite its gaps, you don't have to worry so much about the device being ruined if you have an unfortunate spill on it.
SteelSeries performance, cash-strapped pricing
Ultimately, the SteelSeries Apex 3 is a straightforward and well-built peripheral. Its membrane build means its not going to give the audible response and feedback per key press, but those looking for a more silent board will probably enjoy that. Its RGB lighting seems a bit more reserved compared to other products of the SteelSeries budget line and the raised keys make issues of dust and particles a more prevalent concern, and I wish the multimedia button had more practical application. That said, the overall keyboard is still satisfying, the customization inside and outside of SteelSeries Engine 3 is widely varied, and the durability of the device feels like it's built for the long haul. Put all these things together and it seems fitting of the extremely light $50 price tag you’re paying for everything the Apex 3 offers.
This review is based on a product provided by SteelSeries. You can purchase the SteelSeries Rival 3 gaming mouse for $29.99 from SteelSeries and participating retailers.
SteelSeries Apex 3 Keyboard
- Quiet, yet responsive key presses & feedback
- Excellent customization options for RBG lighting & keybindings
- Water-resistant & easy to clean
- Feels durable, yet comfortable for both work & gaming
- RGB lighting isn't as good as on other SteelSeries budget devices
- Large gaps in raised keys allow for dust and particles
- Multimedia button less practical than it could be