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Actuate This – A SteelSeries Apex Pro Keyboard Review

By on Oct 18, 2019 at 3:21 pm. Filed in Reviews under Hardware.

SteelSeries' latest gaming keyboard, the Apex Pro, features per-key actuation levels, gorgeous backlighting, and an OLED Smart Display that feels like a throwback to the good ol' days.

Gaming keyboard manufacturers are in a race to the fastest key actuations possible. From proprietary mechanical switches to ones utilizing the speed of light to track your keystrokes, faster is better. While SteelSeries is undoubtedly attempting to set a new speed record with the Apex Pro (0.7ms claimed), it also adds a unique feature: adjustability.

Customizable Key Actuation

The new Apex Pro gaming keyboard from SteelSeries attempts to combine fast switches with customizable actuation distances to give gamers the freedom to configure their keyboard experience to their specific preferences. The fact is that while fast switches are great for gaming, they can be less than ideal for more generic tasks, such as writing review articles.

Using the SteelSeries software, you’re able to configure the actuation distance, the amount of physical travel that is required of the key to perform the action requested. The distance can be as short as 0.4mm, ideal for hair-trigger gaming scenarios, to 3.6mm. The longer the length of switch travel required, the more deliberately you’ll have to strike the keys. Typically, in gaming, you’ll want things to happen pretty instantly, while during typing, you may not want every slight touch of a key to trigger an actual keystroke.

During my initial testing, I found it difficult the tell the nuanced difference between anything but the most extreme actuation settings. The more I began using the Apex Pro, however, for everything from gaming in Destiny 2, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, and Control, to everyday writing of articles, the more I noticed the differences. In fact, whenever I forgot to switch back from my super-sensitive gaming mode to my typing mode, I would find myself clumsily making typos at a far higher frequency than usual. This proves to me that not only do adjustable actuation switches have a noticeable impact, but it’s also convenient to have these different settings for different tasks. Mice have been doing this with adjustable DPI settings for years, so it’s about time that someone accomplishes this in a keyboard.

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OLED Smart Display Comes in Handy

The SteelSeries software is one of the better applications when it comes to configuring your device options. The new features around the custom actuation for keys work quite well, and you can set up several different profiles. The Apex Pro features an OLED Smart Display instead of the typical media buttons, which reminded me of Logitech’s series of keyboards that first added LCDs panels more than a decade ago. This Smart Display is more functional than what I remember those being, thankfully. Not only can it be used to quickly switch between profiles and even adjust actuation on the fly, but it can also be used as an information panel.

Third-party software supported includes the popular voice chat application Discord. Using the Smart Display, you can get a glance of who’s in the room and who’s talking at any given time. It’s a handy little option for those that frequent busier hangouts than me. Unfortunately, I found the angle at which the display is mounted to be a little bit awkward, given my usual seating position. The better part of the bottom half was usually obscured by the number pad keys. This may be because I prefer a flat keyboard and didn’t utilize the keyboard feet, so your mileage may vary.

What a Smooth Operator

The Apex Pro uses a similar design to SteelSeries’ other gaming keyboards. It comes in an unassuming flat black and includes a magnetically attached wrist wrest. About a year ago, I weened myself off using wrist wrests, but I know there are people out there that swear by them, so having this option is a bonus. I found the wrist wrest to be exceptionally comfortable when I did try it.

As with all of SteelSeries’ keyboards, the RGB lighting of the Apex Pro is second to none. The lights are crisp, and the keycap cutouts are precise without suffering from any light leaks or uneven coverage. The surface of the keyboard itself causes the lighting to reflect in this beautiful soft sheen and made me play around with the many colorful preset options. My keyboard now flashes across the rows every time I hit a key, and I’m in love with that for the first time.

I did, unfortunately, run into a few issues with some of the Discord support when it came to actively changing the Apex Pro’s RGB lighting. There is support to flash individual keys on the keyboard when someone is speaking. You can also have keys turn red when you’re muted, for example. This all worked for about ten seconds before getting stuck and becoming completely non-functional. Hopefully, this is a minor issue that can be addressed with a future software update. Aside from a slightly thick and rigid cable, the overall design of the Apex Pro is excellent. A built-in USB port provides a convenient way to connect a USB stick or other device on the fly.

Luxury Design and Features Come at a Price

Overall, I love the Apex Pro. It’s become my new daily driver, and I enjoy its simple, sleek design, coupled with high-quality lighting, and solid software support. The customizable actuation of the OmniPoint switches has made it possible to get the perfect level of responsiveness, regardless of what activity I’m performing. The price point of the Apex Pro, while in line with other luxury high-performance gaming keyboard, will be prohibitive to some. Investing nearly $200 into the device you use the most, next to a mouse and headset, is not unheard of these days, but it still makes me pause. If you’ve got the budget for it, though, the SteelSeries Apex Pro is highly recommended.

Gaming keyboard manufacturers are in a race to the fastest key actuations possible. From proprietary mechanical switches to ones utilizing the speed of light to track your keystrokes, faster is better. While SteelSeries is undoubtedly attempting to set a new speed record with the Apex Pro (0.7ms claimed), it also adds a unique feature: adjustability. Customizable Key Actuation
Each individual key's sensitivity can be configured to your liking.

Each individual key’s sensitivity can be configured to your liking. © SteelSeries

The new Apex Pro gaming keyboard from SteelSeries attempts to combine fast switches with customizable actuation distances to give gamers the freedom to configure their keyboard experience to their specific preferences. The fact is that while fast switches are great for gaming, they can be less than ideal for more generic tasks, such as writing review articles. Using the SteelSeries software, you're able to configure the actuation distance, the amount of physical travel that is required of the key to perform the action requested. The distance can be as short as 0.4mm, ideal for hair-trigger gaming scenarios, to 3.6mm. The longer the length of switch travel required, the more deliberately you'll have to strike the keys. Typically, in gaming, you'll want things to happen pretty instantly, while during typing, you may not want every slight touch of a key to trigger an actual keystroke. During my initial testing, I found it difficult the tell the nuanced difference between anything but the most extreme actuation settings. The more I began using the Apex Pro, however, for everything from gaming in Destiny 2, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, and Control, to everyday writing of articles, the more I noticed the differences. In fact, whenever I forgot to switch back from my super-sensitive gaming mode to my typing mode, I would find myself clumsily making typos at a far higher frequency than usual. This proves to me that not only do adjustable actuation switches have a noticeable impact, but it's also convenient to have these different settings for different tasks. Mice have been doing this with adjustable DPI settings for years, so it's about time that someone accomplishes this in a keyboard. OLED Smart Display Comes in Handy
A small LCD can be configured for quickly switching profiles or even other app integrations.

A small LCD display can be configured for quickly switching profiles or even other app integrations. © SteelSeries

The SteelSeries software is one of the better applications when it comes to configuring your device options. The new features around the custom actuation for keys work quite well, and you can set up several different profiles. The Apex Pro features an OLED Smart Display instead of the typical media buttons, which reminded me of Logitech's series of keyboards that first added LCDs panels more than a decade ago. This Smart Display is more functional than what I remember those being, thankfully. Not only can it be used to quickly switch between profiles and even adjust actuation on the fly, but it can also be used as an information panel. Third-party software supported includes the popular voice chat application Discord. Using the Smart Display, you can…

Review Summary

Guide Stash received this product free of charge.

Features - 8
Build Quality - 9
Responsiveness - 9
Software Support - 8
Customization Options - 9

9

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Jan Ole Peek
Reviews Editor

Jan has been playing video games for nearly 30 years and been a passionate geek for the better part of his life. He's grown to become rather cranky, however, and tends to point out the things that annoy him in games more than the things he loves.

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