Occasionally keypad companies find the “membrane” and “mechanical” labels too restrictive and promise to shake off the categorization closures once and for all. We had Topre switches; we had the Razer’s Ornata; now, we have the latest SteelSeries Apex 5 ($100). This is our SteelSeries Apex 5 Review.
This keyboard successfully combines spring-loaded mechanical switches with a membrane design beneath, although I can’t quite find out why. It’s not that much cheaper than an entirely mechanical keyboard, and the comfort and performance aren’t entirely different from other keyboard’s price range. The RGB lighting is a bit boring, and the built-in OLED screen doesn’t do much.
Overall, Apex 5 is not bad. It types well and reacts perfectly in the game. The software allows you to reprogram each key, and the multimedia button is a smart alternative to a full range of media keys.
SteelSeries Apex 5 Review: Design
The SteelSeries Apex 5 measures 17.5 x 5.5-inches, with a 3.1-inch removable wrist rest. I need to give some props to the magnetic wrist rest directly from the bat because it is easy to attach, easy to detach, and extremely comfortable to use. It is rigid support with a matt surface and provides excellent wrist support without the use of foam, which is susceptible to wear and tear.
Besides, the Apex 5 is a reasonably standard full-size keyboard, with only two new additions in the top right corner. One is a small, clickable volume button, which is very useful; the other is what SteelSeries calls a “multimedia button.” Instead of cluttering up the valuable keyboard space with three or four separate media buttons, this single button allows you to play, pause and skip tracks, depending on how many times you press them in quick succession.
My learning time was less than a few hours, and I began to wonder why other keyboard manufacturers have settled for the fact that multiple buttons take up so much space. The other exciting feature is the small OLED screen on the top right. On this black and white screen of 128 x 40, you can program a small animated icon, which is useful to keep multiple profiles apart.
But you might as well distinguish profiles with colored lighting, and it’s hard to find images that look decent on such a small screen. Also, after shrinking a United Federation of Planets logo to the right size and resolution, it looked grainy and unclear. As with the previous keyboards in the SteelSeries, I feel that the OLED screen of the Apex 5 is likely to cost a lot without providing many benefits.
The strangest thing about the Apex 5 is the inclusion of the “hybrid mechanical gambling switches” from the SteelSeries. These blue-capped switches try to make the loud sound and tactile feel of Cherry MX Blue keys and come about halfway. There is indeed a bit of noise, and you only have to press a button halfway to register a command, but the SteelSeries Apex 5 doesn’t feel like a traditional mechanical model.
That’s because there is still a series of electrical membranes under the switches that process everything. SteelSeries claims that this combines the “feel” of a mechanical switch with the “smoothness” of a diaphragm version. I don’t see the advantage, but your mileage can vary.
In any case, the keys do pretty well when it comes to typing. The Apex 5 keys didn’t jump back as fast as I would have liked, and the keyboard’s layout made it easy to press an adjacent key accidentally.
SteelSeries Apex 5 Review: Features
Besides the OLED screen mentioned earlier, most of the functions of the Apex 5 come from the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. A significant advantage of the Apex 5 compared to some similar keyboards is that you can reprogram each key on the whole device, not just a row of function keys. You can also make individual profiles for different games, program macros, and distinguish between onboard profiles and profiles that you save to your computer. These are all excellent features.
I have a more mixed opinion about RGB lighting. Like many full mechanical keyboards, the Apex offers 5 lightings per key with a full RGB spectrum. But, unlike many full mechanical keyboards, the lighting is not as bright. In a well-lit office, the rainbow wave pattern of the keyboard looked a bit washed-out – the bottom row of keys looked only half-lit, especially the larger icons on the Windows and SteelSeries function keys.
On the other hand, you can program some adorable patterns, with extra options for what the keyboard should do during periods of inactivity. (Most other keyboards turn off the lights; you can set a dormant Apex 5 to a static color, or even a pattern). This is perhaps the most persuasive argument I can come up with for buying the Apex 5: Full RGB mechanical keyboards can cost up to $180. Here you can get a similar feel and most of the same lighting options for a full $80 less.
SteelSeries Apex 5 Review: Performance
One area where I had no scruples about the Apex 5 was the in-game achievement. I turned the keyboard upside down with Overwatch, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, and World of Warcraft, and the keyboard did well in several genres. I was able to activate special skills on a first-person shooter battlefield, and I was able to command the villagers to build buildings in a real-time strategy game. The Apex 5 performed precisely as expected.
Hardcore massively multiplayer online (MMO) game fans could invest in a keyboard with an extra row of macro keys, as the Apex 5 adheres to a fairly standard format. But because you can reprogram any button, you might as well design macros for the function keys or the numeric keyboard, and you might as well.
Besides the slightly lower price, I can’t think of a good reason to combine mechanical key switches with a membrane frame. The device feels like a compromise, both tactile and metaphorical. But as a compromise, the Apex 5 is quite pleasant. Typing and gaming feel relatively good, and the device is admirably straightforward. The bells and whistles are usually worth the effort, and those that do not hurt the total package.
If RGB lighting isn’t a problem, you can get fully mechanical models from companies like Razer, Corsair, and Logitech for about $120. In the long run, they can turn out to be more durable – and more comfortable – than the Apex 5. But if you want something that looks good too, the Apex 5 can be one of your cheaper options. For more options, check our list of Best Gaming Keyboard
If you want a taste of the mechanical keyboard lifestyle without committing yourself fully, the SteelSeries Apex 5 will get the job done.
- Reasonable price
- Good in-game performance
- Smart multimedia key
- Somewhat dull lighting
- Superfluous OLED screen