It has been some time since I have reviewed a keyboard, with my last one bring the Razer Huntsmans Elite which you can read here. At the time the Razer Huntsman Elite was my No1 choice for a gaming keyboard, if you can afford one as they are sold for around £189.99.
Now in 2020 SteelSeries has released a number of new keyboards, the Apex 3, 5, 7 and Pro, starting at a reasonable price of only £59.99. Nathan has already reviewed the SteelSeries Apex 3 which you can view here if interested, he scored the budget keyboard a nice 8/10. We originally passed this keyboard to another member of our team however, due to CORVID-19 his family thought it was best to send it back to us to review and for us to send back once he is feeling healthy which we will do.
As with all my reviews I start with a sort of unboxing, so lets start with packaging which includes all the sales information.
On the front of the box, SteelSeries have chosen to show off the keyboard, its lighting, and on the far right mentioning the OLED SMART DISPLAY.
But what is an OLED SMART DISPLAY? In basic terms it can show off your favourite gifs, view on-the-fly game info, incoming Discord messages, current profile being used even what music track you are listening to. For more interesting ideas, there is a SteelSeries blog post dedicated to their Smart Display here.
Keeping with the front of the box, SteelSeries note that this keyboard uses Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Switches, What? I have never heard of such a switch so let us deep dive into what SteelSeries are trying to sell us.
Well first off they are Hybrid blue mechanical gaming switches guaranteed for 20 million keypresses, but still what are Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Switches? So there is a massive amount of information here, but in basic terms it is a membrane switch with a coil and spring so its feels and acts like a mechanical switch, they are cheaper to make and you can customise the switches. What makes it a “hybrid mechanical” is how the circuit connects after you press the key. SteelSeries saved costs on the inside of the board by replacing the traditional gold-plated circuits with a super durable membrane actuation.
And that is it and here is a picture of the switch below.
The Apex 5 can be used on PC, Mac, Xbox One and PS4 and there is only final thing to mention SteelSeries big up themselves making note that they are the Most Winning Brand in eSports.
Now we move to the back on the box and see what selling points SteelSeries have decided to use, and there is a lot.
They mention the OLED SMART DISPLAY, Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Switches, Magnetic Wrist Rest, Aircraft Grade Aluminium Alloy Frame, Five customisable on-board profiles, Three Way Cable Routing, Dedicated Multimedia Console and Per-Key Illumination. Everything comes in English as well as 4 other languages, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
You might already have questions, like I do, so lets deep dive into some key features that even I wonder what they mean.
- First off the Aircraft Grade Aluminium Alloy Frame is manufactured for a lifetime of unbreakable durability and sturdiness, nice my little one will not be able to break it, if I was keeping it that is.
- Dedicated Multimedia Consoles is a metal roller and media keys which allow you to adjust volume and settings on the fly: change brightness, rewind, skip, pause and more, all at the touch of a button.
- Five customisable on-board profiles is simply a way to save profiles that you have created within the software that SteelSeries provide and save them to the onboard memory so you can take your keyboard anywhere and have access to your top profiles without the need of the software.
Boring tech specs next
- Top Material – Aircraft Grade Aluminium Alloy Frame
- N-Key Roll Over – 24-Key
- Anti-Ghosting – Gaming Grade
- Illumination Dynamic – Per Key RGB Illumination
- Weight – 2.04 lbs
- Height – 40.5 mm
- Width – 442.8 mm
- Depth – 139.2 mm
- Type & Name – SteelSeries Hybrid Mechanical RGB Switch
- Switch Actuation – 2 mm
- Total Travel – 4 mm
- Force – 50cN
- Lifetime – 20 Million Keypresses
The packaging is simple and does not require too much waffle, lets say everything was packaged well with coverings, so if ordered online, you will be happy to know that your new peripheral will be safe and sound.
So the next thing I will discuss is the software
Steelseries uses their own software called SteelSeries Engine 3 which can be downloaded here, for free of coarse.
This software controls everything like key bindings, that allows you to bind any key you want to any other key, create macros and assign them to any key including the dedicated macro keys, record a set of keys strokes and assign that set of stroked to any key and finally even launch applications, it is glorious.
Illumination is simple to understand, you have the Base Effect Set which includes 4 custom effects;
- Single Boring Colour
and 7 whole keyboard effects which include
- Chasing Ghosts
- Eclectic Orange
- Vapour Dreams
- Warp Drive
- West Coast
You also get a reactive layer, which simply implies, when a key is pressed you will get an animation effect, this incudes;
I, either prefer Line and Ripple the other two are not so great, especially off.
Then we have the AFK Effect, which includes everything you get from Base Effect Set above and finally the lock key colour.
Here is a video of them all in action.
The final option available within the software is OLED configuration, which allows you to upload custom-made gifs or create your own, there are few on the SteelSeries Blog here, but do a simple search online and you might find loads more created by the community.
So that was all the software, not bad right, plenty of customisation, the only issue I had was creating my own illumination effects and saving them.
OK now the keyboard
The keyboard comes in at around 2 pounds (0.91 kg) in weight and is only 17.4 inches (44.2 cm) x 5.5 inches (13.97 cm) x 1.6 inches (4.06 cm) in size which makes it about the same size as any other full size keyboard, but on the other hand its is super light. You get a handy but small instruction manual to help you get started if you are new to PC Gaming, otherwise you do not need it.
The OLED SMART DISPLAY is in the top right and just next to that is the volume wheel, and the play and pause button. F9 and F12 control the profile switching (F9), Macro recording (F10) Brightness Console (F11 and F12). If you are into creating macros for your games there are 6 dedicated macro keys, which also act as INS, HOME, PG UP, DEL, END and PG DN.
One thing I like about this keyboard is how SteelSeries allow you to cable route to your desired direction left, right and middle see picture below for more details.
Not forgetting the legs that offer just the one keyboard height adjustment, which is a shame, I would have liked to have seen more choice, maybe two heights.
One thing I shout about a lot these days is providing a wrist rest with ALL keyboards and finally SteelSeries has got on board and added one, not only that they are magnetically attached.
When it comes to using the keyboard, and de-pressing these new Hybrid Mechanical Blue Switches, I must admit I was impressed they feel great, I even typed up my review using the keyboard instead of my Razer Huntsman Elite. However, the actuation force required to actuate a key press, does require more force, this is not to say you will be slamming your fingers down to get any actions on screen. The Razer Huntsman Elite keyboard just requires less force to action a key press, nothing else. The best thing about the new Hybrid Mechanical Blue Switches, they are nowhere near as loud as STD Blue Switches, so this keyboard might be great for PC streamers, that get complaints about keyboard sounds.
Here is a video of the keys in action
This is difficult as I do like this keyboard, the illumination is bright, colourful and is better than the Razer Huntsman Elite, however lacks personal customisation or if it is there I was dumb enough not to find it. The onboard OLED I feel is more of a gimmick than something that is required, however, having it show the song you are currently listening too, or what profile you have active is a great way to keep track of. Dedicated Macro Keys are always needed and thankful they are here, 6 I feel is just enough, and if they are not you can assign more keys though key bindings.
The wrist rest is well-received as I always look for a keyboard with one and never go for a keyboard that does not have one recently. Cable management is nice to have and helps keep your desk tidy, but not a huge selling point. The size is great and is around the same size as any full size keyboard, but the main aspect I feel is warranted here, its how light it is, this will allow you to carry it around with ease.
You can purchase the SteelSeries Apex 5 here for £109.99
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SteelSeries Apex 5 Keyboard
Full gaming experience The SteelSeries Apex 5 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard has innovative hybrid switches that combine the smoothness of a membrane ...
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 109.99
Product In Stock: Not Available