Here’s the thing. I don’t own a gaming PC. Yep, I’m not a true gamer. I spend the vast majority of my PC gaming and work on a powerful laptop of some sort. But I’m also a writer. So the keyboard is the one thing I probably use the most, after my mouse. Thankfully, our friends at Steelseries reached out to us with a pair of keyboards for review — the Apex 5 and Apex 3.
I’ll get to the Apex 3 in another review.
But this review is all about the Steelseries Apex 5, a premium-ish full-size mechanical keyboard. It sits in between the flagship Apex Pro and the more budget Apex 3. What you get is an extremely solid hunk of tech made from aircraft-grade aluminium alloy housing Hybrid Blue mechanical gaming switches.
You also get an OLED screen to display your custom graphics or just silly GIFs.
But in a sea of excellent gaming keyboards, is the Apex 5 worth its $200 asking price?
SteelSeries Apex 5 Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Review
The big thing about the Apex 5 is its Hybrid Blue Mechanical Switches. The “TLDR” is that it combines a traditional blue mechanical switch that bottoms out on a sort of traditional membrane to complete the circuit. You still get the tactile and clicky feel of a mechanical switch but the way it bottoms out makes the key feel more, cushiony.
These keys are a big reason for the Apex 5’s lower cost. Most modern mechanical switches require traditional gold-plated circuits to transfer signals when pressed. The Hybrid replaces those with a cheaper but durable membrane actuation.
While it might sound like a gimmick, it feels really smooth and satisfying. The keys actuate at 2mm which is about halfway in the keys overall travel and you can feel the slight bump and resulting click. The keys need the gentlest of touches to actuate. Steelseries says 50cn of force if you want to be precise but all that really means is you don’t have to mash the keys like a madman.
Oh and as for gaming? Well, I’m a controller guy(yeah, boo, don’t @ me) but by jolly, the Apex 5 really did click for me(see what I did there?). I felt more confident and accurate in controlling my agent in The Division 2 while the fast response helped me to keep on top of demons in Doom. And don’t worry about breaking the keys if you do mash them, they are guaranteed for up to 20 million keypresses.
But…damn these keys are so loud.
I work in the family room and my usually enthusiastic wife couldn’t stand it and quite frankly, neither could I – at least not without headphones on. The clackety-clack is a racket that most people will not appreciate. Sure, when you are gaming it’s perfectly acceptable but for any kind of writing or productive work? Forget it.
The Apex 5 is definitely not office friendly.
Built like a stealth bomber
The Apex 5 is made out of a single, solid block of machined aluminium which weighs a bit under a kilo. Steelseries calls it the Series 5000 chassis and its made from an aircraft–grade metal alloy. It’s extremely rigid with no hint of flex anywhere. I think it could probably stop a bullet, or ten. The Apex 5 is a full size keyboard and while it isn’t massive, I wish there was an option for a tenkeyless. I prefer more compact keyboards.
The floating keycap design looks stunning, especially with the backlighting on. In the dark, the keys look like the are hovering above a shifting lake of molten colors. I really like the lighting on the Apex 5. It’s bright and punchy but strangely very dull through the keycaps. In fact, the lettering is so dull that without the surrounding light, you might have a hard time reading.
Thankfully, there’s lots of ways to adjust and tweak the backlighting using the SteelSeries Engine software. It’s not the most attractive or intuitive software but it gets the job done though you might spend a bit of time trying to get what you want.
The Apex 5 also comes with a very welcome wrist wrest. It’s a sort of soft plastic that doesn’t feel terrible but SteelSeries could have sprung for some synthetic leather here. Regardless, I appreciated the wrist support since I do a lot of typing. The wrist wrest is magnetic and easily snaps to the Apex 5’s metal chassis. It also comes with some rubber feet to stop it from sliding around.
Underneath the Apex 5, things remain rather clean and non-fussy. You have two height adjustable legs with rubber feet that keep the keyboard from sliding around whatever surface its on. A handy three-way cable routing channel offers a simple but clever way to manage the keyboards cable. Lay the cable through the middle, left or right channel to choose how it exits the keyboard. It’s a small touch that’s a lot more useful than you might immediately think.
And speaking of the USB cable, it’s non-detachable. So if you’re the kind who moves your keyboard around a lot, this might be an irritant. Thankfully, it does appear to be durable and it doesn’t tangle much. I like the included Velcro cable tie as well. Speaking of USB, the Apex 5 doesn’t have USB passthrough which is, disappointing for something that costs this much.
OLED is cool but why though?
One of my favourite things on a keyboard is tactile volume rollers and I’m so glad there’s one here on the Apex 5. It’s kinda small unlike the massive one on the Alienware 510K keyboard. However, it’s nicely textured and can also be clicked for added controls. Next to that is another headlining feature of the Apex 5 – the OLED screen.
The black and white OLED screen on the Apex 5 can display anything from animated GIFS to more useful things like Discord notifications. You can use the Steelseries Engine software to change up what is displayed. It also helps you navigate through the keyboards various on-board controls and lighting profiles.
But honestly I didn’t find the OLED useful on a daily. It’s hard to actually see the OLED screen because the tall floating keys of the numpad blocks your view of the screen. You have to keep leaning forward just to read what’s on it which becomes rather tedious. It’s a small ergonomic fail that would be better suited to low-profile mechanical keys than this.
Verdict: Should you buy?
The Steelseries Apex 5 won me over to gaming on a keyboard thanks to the excellent response and tactile feel but it’s the typing experience I love the most. Not only that but it’s very well built and quite fetching to the eye with its great lighting.
But the OLED screen isn’t nearly useful enough to justify the added cost. I’m using the Apex 3 currently and I don’t even notice the screen’s absence. Perhaps when it gets wider third party support and integration with Windows OS native notifications.
Also, as good as the hybrid blue switches are, they’re just way too noisy for me. Even if I could get past that by using headphones, the people around me certainly couldn’t.
At the Apex 5’s $220 price, I’d like the choice of red or brown switches at the very least. However, if the noise doesn’t concern you, then absolutely get the Apex 5. It’s great value for money.
The Steelseries Apex 5 was provided to PowerUp! by Steelseries Australia for the purpose of this review.
Product Name: SteelSeries Apex 5 Hybrid Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Product Description: Hybrid mechanical gaming keyboard
Offer price: $250
- Design is handsome especially floating keys and lighting
- Hybrid mechanical keys offer excellent typing and general feel
- Keys are way too loud for most environments
- OLED screen is a novelty for now, needs more support