Keyboards fall in a class of reviews that is often overlooked.  Mice, monitors, sidecar accessories, and keyboards are the sorts of things can enhance your gaming experience, but when faced with the pricetag that has players deciding between a new keyboard and a pair of full-priced games, it ends up being last in the upgrade path.  People are often happy with a crappy Dell keyboard they swiped from the office, or a Packard Bell keyboard they’ve had since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.  It’s a shame too – they don’t know what they are missing.

Today I’m taking a deep look at the Apex from Steelseries.  At this point I’m a bit of a keyboard connoisseur as I have a diNovo Edge from Logitech, a Tarantula from Razer, and yes, even a busted up old Dell keyboard, just to name a few.  When I find one that makes it easier for me to type, and enhances my gaming experience, I tend to stick with it for a while.  I’ve been using a Logitech G-15 for quite a while (though the keyboard might be considered an antique at this point).  Even though the little screen on top is practically useless, I like the throw of the keys and the function keys are all mapped to productivity goodies or specific things for a few PC games.  When I pulled out the Apex and and saw that it had 10 MX keys, four L keys, 12 M keys to match the 12 standard function keys, two diagonal keys, and a full set of media keys, I was interested to see if I could find a practical purpose for all this extra craziness.

Plugging in the keyboard to write this review (because, why wouldn’t I?) I immediately fell in love with the throw of the keys.  While my desktop uses the aforementioned Logitech G-15 keyboard, I have a Steelseries keyboard on my MSI GT70 laptop and I love it.  The short throw of the keys feels pretty natural on the laptop keyboard, but they are perhaps a little too shallow – not so with the Apex.  The Apex keys have an easy press which has to be felt to be understood.  To achieve this feel they’ve skipped out on mechanical keys switches, instead using rubber dome spring system.  This makes for a softer press without all the clickity-clack of a standard keyboard.

Beyond the keythrow of the keyboard, I’ll readily admit it looks pretty cool.  Like the MSI GT70 keyboard, the ligths on the keyboard can be changed to any color you can imagine.  In fact, there are over 16.8 million color combinations with eight levels of intensity.  There are five zones, and each of them can be individually changed.  I like making the whole thing a deep red when I play Diablo III.

If there is one area where your cheap Dell keyboard will fail you, it’s ghosting.  Ghosting is an issue where multiple keys are pressed, but some of them don’t show up – they are “ghosted”.  This is a problem in the gaming world as you’ll often be using multiple keys at the same time (diagonal movements, crouching, rolling, etc.).  Keyboards that advertise “anti-ghosting” typically will accept any 3 keys pressed simultaneously without ghosting, but obviously gamers can occasionally find themselves hitting more than that in a short span.  Put simply, cheap keyboards suffer from ghosting in a big way – the Apex does not.  The Apex keyboard supports anti-ghosting for up to six simultaneous keypresses, with the hotzones spread between the 20 most frequently used keys in gaming.  Specifically 1-5, Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, F, left CTRL, left Shift, the space bar, and four arrow keys.  Not once did I see ghosting in the last two weeks of testing.

Unique to this keyboard are small bumps on the W key.  Since most PC players have claw-shaped hands ready to map to the WASD keys, those little bumps allow you to feel your way back to the left-hand home position without taking your eyes of your screen.

The keyboard has a cable that sports two USB ends.  You don’t have to use both, but if you do, you’ll activate the two USB 2.0 slots in the back of the board.  You aren’t gaining any extra ports, but moving them from the back of your tower to something more in reach is certainly a nicety.

The Apex ships with two swappable rubber feet to help you find the right height.  It’s not as easy and quick to flip back and forth as the little plastic feet you’ll find on the cheap keyboard you are using, but honestly – unless you work in an office, how often are you using those?

Diabling the Windows key is job-1 for most gamers.  Nothing ruins your epic killstreak faster than accidentally hitting the Windows key and effectively alt-tabbing out of your game.  My MSI GT70 solved this problem by moving the Windows key between the right Ctrl and Alt keys, but on the Apex it’s in the same position on the left side of the keyboard.  Thankfully, without the need for software of any kind, you can press the SteelSeries key and Windows key simultaneously to disable the irritating thing.  It’s a little more elegant than the physical switch on my Logitech G-15.

There are a total of 22 total macro keys on this keyboard.  Using the SteelSeries Engine software and the four L keys, you can switch between layers of macros, giving you 88 macro combinations without touching the main board.  On the other hand, the software hands you tools that give the board far more intelligence than that.  Tying your board layouts with specific programs (your browser, specific games, etc.) via their .exe lets you build a profile that switches automatically, using any macros you’ve built in the programming section. Of all the macro engines I’ve seen, this is one of the most robust while still retaining simplicity and ease of use.

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I’m rather surprised at overall quality and utility of the Apex. This keyboard, for all of the amazing tech in it like the anti-ghosting and the 16 million color options, is priced at $100 bucks.  There are mechanical keyboards at just slightly above that price point, but the Apex competes nicely in this price zone.  The software is easy to use, the keys have a solid feel to them, and the extra diagonal keys are an interesting novelty, even if my fingers refuse to use them.  I’ve had a lot of keyboards come across my desk, but none have stayed there – until now.  The SteelSeries Apex with it’s slick wide profile is now the new centerpiece of my desk, and that’s saying a lot!