SteelSeries Apex 5 Review
The SteelSeries Apex family is perhaps the most diverse range of gaming keyboards on the market — Are you a hardcore gamer who wants performance at no matter the cost? The Apex Pro features everything you could ever want from a keyboard, including quite possibly the best mechanical switches on the market- OmniPoint Switches. Want performance and features but on a budget? The Apex 3 offers whisper quiet performance at an extremely competitive price. But what about all the gamers in between who are happy to pay a bit more for performance, features, and perhaps some innovation? Let’s take a look at the latest entry into the SteelSeries Apex range of keyboards, the Apex 5.
The SteelSeries Apex 5 could be best described as the little brother of the Apex 7. At first glance it looks the same — Same dynamic 16.8 million per-key RGB illumination, aircraft-grade aluminium alloy chassis, magnetic wrist pad and dedicated multimedia controls, but it is what is under the hood (or key caps) that separates these products. The Apex 5 features Hybrid Blue Mechanical gaming switches that combines the smoothness of a membrane switch, but with the performance and the satisfying click of a mechanical switch that gamers demand. The question is, are these Hybrid switches any good?
This is where SteelSeries have gotten technical — Hybrid Blue Mechanical switches can be misleading as many will think it is just a membrane switch that clicks, which is far from the truth. SteelSeries began the design of their Hybrid Blue Mechanical switch with exactly that, a blue mechanical switch; spring and all. What makes these switches a hybrid is due to what happens once you have pressed the key.
SteelSeries have forgone the traditional gold-plated circuits that connect the switch actuation to the board, instead replacing this with a super durable membrane. The result of this means that the action of pressing the key is all mechanical, while reaction resembles that of a membrane switch.
What does this mean in the real world? You get the same performance of a blue mechanical switch (2mm actuation point with a 4mm bottoming out depth), but with the softer, more comfortable feedback when you hit the bottom of the key stroke and most of all, perhaps the most satisfying click I have ever heard from a keyboard. I am honestly in awe of how good these Hybrid switches feel — Everything from the cushion-like feel when you full extend the key stroke to the high-pitched click is first class and honestly makes it hard to go back to using a keyboard that features a traditional mechanical switch.
Mechanical switches obviously mean that the Apex 5 doesn’t get the same IP protection as its little brother, the Apex 3. This due to the rubber dome membrane providing a dust and liquid proof seal around the exposed circuit, despite the Hybrid mechanical switch featuring some membrane properties. Mechanical switches utilise a spring mechanism that is prone to water and dust ingress, thus offering no IP protection. This shouldn’t be an issue for most people, unless you are like Jimmy who often spills his Coke Zero over his keyboard in fits of rage over his inability to send emails.
OLED Display- Gimmick or Not?
I absolutely love the OLED display. Originally, I thought it was a gimmick where I could write naughty words (which I obviously did for a couple of
hours minutes), but I soon discovered it actually served a number of useless features such as providing real-time feedback for apps such as Discord or TIDAL. I particularly found it useful for changing profiles on-the-fly. This allowed me to instantly change between my custom profiles as I switched from playing Dota 2 to CS:GO with a push of a button (well, a couple pushes and a scroll). This saves you having to alt+tab, open the SteelSeries Engine 3 software and change your profile each time you switch to a new game. The OLED display can cater for gif images, along with your standard jpeg.
The multimedia buttons act as an interface for the OLED display that allow you to adjust pretty much everything you can with the SteelSeries Engine 3 software such as illumination (presets, brightness, and basically create your own colour profile), load and save profiles, and adjust various settings such as brightness, timeout settings and even factory reset. Let’s not forget the primary use of the multimedia controls… controlling your multimedia (I know, mind blown!). The controls provide all the basic functions you would expect such as volume control and audio output muting. It would of been nice to incorporate a ‘previous/next track’ button, but I am probably one of the few people in the world that still listen to music on their desktops.
The Apex 5 looks amazing, keeping the aesthetically pleasing design that is prominent across the entire Apex range. The Apex 5 is a step up in quality from the Apex 3 thanks to its aircraft-grade aluminium alloy chassis. It feels strong, strong enough to withstand the rage that comes with gaming, while its rubber feet and 3-way cable management design are core features of the Apex range. Like the Apex 3, there is no USB-passthrough. Is this a deal breaker? Not at all as this is obviously a feature that SteelSeries have kept for the premium range of Apex keyboards, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to connect a USB flash drives or the option to simply charge your phone through the Apex 5.
After experiencing the Apex 5 for a few weeks, I was impressed with the 16.8 million per-key RGB illumination. Sure, it is a pretty standard feature in high-end gaming keyboards in this age, but the difference between this and some of its competitors is its software support that comes from SteelSeries Engine 3. There are a HEAP of pre-installed effects such as colour shift, gradient and breathe, along with the ability to create custom RGB zones, reactive layers that respond to press of a key input, reassign keybindings, even AFK effects can all be set from this software. SteelSeries Engine 3 also provides some nice interaction with apps such as Prismsync, Discord and Audiovisualizer for your Apex 5, along with support for all the games that matter such as CS:GO, Dota 2, and Minecraft.
Much like the Apex 3 and Rival 3, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software allows you to go a step further with your customisation and macros, but like the Apex 3 there is no physical designated macro keys. In reality, how often would you ever use all 104 keys on the keyboard and need extra macro keys? Probably never, but I still like the idea of having my macro keys far away from the traditional keys thanks mainly to my
fat manly fingers.
This Isn’t SteelSeries’ Flagship Keyboard?
The SteelSeries Apex 5 has all the features and performance of a flagship keyboard — OLED Display, innovative switches, ultra-durable chassis, and sex appeal. But this premium keyboard is missing one thing, a high price tag. Its $249 RRP is not exactly cheap, but nothing about the Apex 5 is and in my opinion easily justifies its price tag, especially when compared to other keyboards in this price bracket.
- PERFORMANCE - 93%93%
- QUALITY - 92%92%
- DESIGN - 90%90%
- VALUE - 85%85%
The SteelSeries Apex 5 does everything right- Performance, looks, and functionality. Is there a better keyboard for under $250? If there is, please show me as I don’t believe you.
For more information on SteelSeries, please check out our previous coverage here.