SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL Review
Some would say that mechanical keyboards have been pretty much perfected. You can get them in a massive variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from budget picks to fully custom built boards with high end switches and top quality materials of your choosing. But once you have a switch installed that's pretty much it. Sure, you can swap switches (some keyboards allow you to hotswap switches) but that involves some work and can become quite costly, so if you're someone who likes variety or a different setup for gaming and working things can get pretty complicated.
SteelSeries has been working to resolve that issue, and the Apex Pro TKL is the result of that work. Ever since it cames out we've seen tons of Fortnite professionals switch to this particular product, so we're definitely not the only ones who got their heads turned by this new product. At first sight it's 'just' a flagship gaming keyboard, but under the hood are their new OmniPoint switches which allow you to customize the actuation point for each individual key. This is the first keyboard of its kind, so naturally we decided to take a look and see if this keyboard is worth your hard earned cash or if it's more gimmicky than anything else.
"The Apex Pro is the biggest leap in mechanical keyboards since the invention of the mechanical switch over 35 years ago. Each key can be adjusted to meet your preferred sensitivity level, whether it’s for gaming, work, or anything else."SteelSeries
SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL - First Impressions
The first thing I noticed is how light the Apex Pro TKL is. It's not a featherweight by any means, but I somehow expected it to weigh much more given the amount of features it has. It's definitely not what I'd call a compact board though, and that's almost entirely down to the extremely thick and rigid (non-detachable) cable. It has to be like that because it ends in two USB connectors and SteelSeries doesn't exactly market this board as compact and portable so no harm done, but just be wary that this isn't a board that you can quickly drop into a cramped backpack.
The frame is made out of an aircraft grade aluminum which looks and feels great, and the look of this board is enhanced by the fact that the switches and keys sit directly atop the housing as opposed to 'inside' the case. This is personal, obviously, but I really like the way it all looks, except for the fact that the font that they used isn't completely my kinda thing.
Obviously you can't talk about first impressions without mentioning the OLED display. It's not often that you get a separate display on a keyboard, and while it looks kind of cool it could have been a bit brighter and sharper if you're asking me. More on the display later on in this review though.
As mentioned earlier this case is made out of an 'aircraft grade aluminum.' I read this quite often (you'd start to wonder if there's enough aluminum left for the actual aircrafts with all these keyboards using up their materials) and to me it just means 'it's sturdy.' And that it is.
It's pretty much impossible to make this keyboard flex, and while it does creak a bit if you apply lots of pressure to it I wouldn't worry about the durability of this thing for a second.
Inside the box you will find the keyboard, the included magnetic wrist rest, and a standard user manual. That's it.
This doesn't really bother me (who uses these stickers or reads the 'thank you' notes anyway) but I do always like it when companies include at least a keycap puller with their boards, especially if it's one of their top of the line offerings. No harm done, but it's something they could consider for the future.
Size & Dimensions
Features and build
The Apex Pro comes in two sizes: a full sized board and this tenkeyless version that I'm reviewing here. Most TKL boards make some compromises when it comes to functionality, but not this one. The Apex Pro TKL comes complete with a volume dial, multi functional media button, OLED screen, and USB passthrough. Not every TKL board needs to appeal to pro gamers who need portability and compactness above anything else, so it's nice to see a premium keyboard without a numpad but with all the bells and whistles intact.
There's little to no bezel action on the sides of the board, but the case does flare out quite a bit at the back and the front, resulting in a slightly larger footprint than you would perhaps initially assume. Again: this board isn't being marketed as a super compact travel-style keyboard so this isn't criticism, I'm just mentioning it for the sake of being complete.
Included in the packaging you get a wrist rest that attaches to the board via magnets, and while this isn't the most comfortable wrist rest I've ever used its rubberized texture does feel pretty good to the touch and it's angled nicely.
On the bottom of the board you'll see a bunch of rubber elements that are meant to keep the keyboard in place (and they do a good job at that) as well as two feet that allow you to change the angle at which the Apex Pro TKL sits on your desk. SteelSeries has included a pretty extensive cable routing system too, and that's something that I really enjoy on a keyboard with a non-detachable cable.
By far the most disappointing aspect here are the keycaps. They're not the worst ever, but I don't like the sort of powdery coating that's on them and they started to develop a shine very quickly which, in my opinion, cheapens the look of the board. I'm not one to care all that much about keycaps to begin with and these aren't straight up bad, but for a top of the line keyboard I would've liked to see a bit more effort on this front.
Also important to note: only the 'main' area of keys has SteelSeries' OmniPoint switches. The navigation cluster and function keys all house a standard mechanical switch. This isn't a huge deal, but you can definitely feel the difference between the two and I'm just kind of wondering how much of a bother it would've been to make the entire board customizable by adding OmniPoints everywhere. I get the idea here; these keys aren't used often and pretty much no one uses them for gaming so there's no need to make them customizable, but it would've been cool to see some uniformity here.
Performance and every day use
I'll get started with the selling point of this board straight away: the OmniPoint switches. With these you can change the actuation point of each individual key. Sensitivity levels range from 1-10, with 1 being the lightest (at 0.4 mm) and 10 being the heaviest (at 3.6 mm) and let me tell you this: you definitely notice the difference.
This isn't just some gimmick; going from 1 to 10 is a pretty huge difference. But of course the question is 'does it make a difference ingame,' and the answer is 'it depends.' To really test this I spent some time in various games, and with everything set to 1 I often found myself accidentally reloading or moving because the keys are just so feather-light, while 10 made me miss some crucial inputs, so for me the ideal sensitivity lies somewhere in between, initially leading me to the conclusion that I would just leave the sensitivity at whatever 'middle point' works for me and call it a day.
But then I also tried various setups where I messed around with having WASD at a different sensitivity than other keys and this produced some interesting results. In Overwatch, for example, having my crouch key set to the super sensitive 2 while having the Q button at a heavier 8 meant that crouch spamming became way easier and the risk of fat-fingering my ultimate (which is bound to Q for those of you not familiar with Overwatch) was way lower.
In a sense it's the best of both worlds, and while I'm not gonna pretend that I shot up the ranks because of this I can sort of see where this ability to tune the sensitivity of each individual key becomes useful. Had this been keyboard-wide (so that you could only adjust the actuation point for the entire board at once) I would immediately discard the whole thing as a useless gimmick but as it stands I'm actually pretty impressed. It's not for me per se but I can't deny that it's nicely done and I can vividly imagine some people who would absolutely love to have a keyboard with this kind of functionality.
The switches themselves pleasantly surprised me. They're linear, so if you like a clicky sensation this ain't it but they do feel and sound pretty darn good. The Cherry style stabilizers are also satisfying straight out of the box. To be honest I was kind of expecting to be let down on this front (what with this being their first attempt at creating a customizable switch) but I'm happy to say that my expectations were wrong. I still prefer clickier switches, but that's just that: a preference.
Another eye catcher of this board is the OLED screen and, contrary to the OmniPoint switches, this is definitely a gimmick. I don't mind that it's there but it honestly doesn't do anything useful. Yes, it displays certain stats in games and so on but I can see those in said game myself. I will admit that it's pretty cool that you can completely customize what's on that OLED screen to create that custom-looking board with your name on it just like the pros have or whatever, but if you removed this thing halfway through my review time with it I honestly wouldn't have noticed. It's a nice extra, but nothing more than that.
The volume wheel feels nice to use with its defined steps and textured surface and the button underneath it serves as a multifunctional media button; press it once to pause the track you're listening to, double press it to skip to the next track, triple press it to go back (to the beginning of) a track and hold it to bring up an onboard menu to customize your keyboard. The wheel itself can also be clicked to mute whatever you're listening to or to navigate the on screen display of the keyboard. Simple, but it works.
The board has room for up to five on-board profiles and has full macro functionality as well as fully customizable RGB backlighting. This can all be arranged on the board itself, as mentioned, but you can also do this through SteelSeries' software. This works well and isn't too confusing, so even beginners won't have any issues making this board their own. The lighting isn't anything super special (there's no white backplate to help bring out the colors or anything) but it does look really pretty and the possibilities that the SteelSeries Engine offers are near endless.
Conclusion & Recommendation
The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL definitely has a lot to offer. It's got everything that you'd want out of a 'stay at home' TKL board: a USB port, media controls, wrist rest, nice (linear) switches, and a more than solid case. The price that this is sold at definitely betrays that this isn't your regular TKL though, so whether this board is gonna be for you or not will depend entirely on how useful you think the customizable OmniPoint switches are going to be.
I definitely don't think that these are just some marketing trick; the fact that you can customize each switch separately means that you can have certain 'spam keys' (such as crouch or jump or whatever) be super light whilst setting keys that you don't want to fat finger (ultimate ability, reload, ...) to feel heavier. Again: this won't be useful for everyone, but if this sounds like a dream to you then this is definitely a great board since almost everything about it is done to a pretty high standard, except for the subpar keycaps. If these switches sound useless to you then I'd skip this keyboard altogether since the switches are what you're paying a premium for.
If they drop the pretty gimmicky OLED screen (and with it the price of the overall product) and include some more satisfying keycaps and perhaps offer the option to get tactile OmniPoint switches in the next iteration of this product I have no doubt that it'll be a straight hit for a lot of people.
In conclusion: I'm sure that this will be a pretty polarizing product but it can't be denied that SteelSeries is trying to innovate here, and I truly think that they're on to something. I'm excited to see what the future brings for this kind of switch and technology. Because of this innovation and the overall quality of the board on most fronts it gets the Staff's Choice award, with the notion that most of the value of this board is in the customizable switches, so if you have no intention of using those you should look elsewhere.