SteelSeries Apex [RAW] Gaming Keyboard Review
By André Gordirro on April 23, 2013
SteelSeries removed all the bells and whistles from the regular Apex keyboard and released a [RAW] version of the peripheral – without the spare USB ports, cloth-wrapped cable, and selective illumination by zone, among other things. However, it kept the basics: 17 macro keys (that can store 34 macros), the excellent configuration software, and the stylish angled design. Let’s describe it first and then see how this “less sophisticated” Apex fared.
The Apex [RAW] is a big membrane keyboard, with rugged dull black borders and a smooth glossy black interior that houses 125 rubber switches. The wrist rest is integrated to the angled body. A white frieze runs through the front and ends up on both laterals in an elegant detail that gives a cybernetic touch to the keyboard.
The keys are slightly separated, and some have a very different shape. The space bar is more a block than a bar per se; and there are two extra arrow keys that point up to each diagonal, right and left.
The Apex [RAW] features 17 macro keys: a horizontal set (M1-M12) rests above the function keys F1-F12; and there are five more macro keys (MX1-MX5) on the left side. Right above them, the user finds the L1-L2 buttons that change “macro levels” – essentially doubling the number of macros, from 17 to 34.
Turning over the Apex [RAW], we can see four round rubber feet, and the upper two can be exchanged for two slightly bigger ones. This increases the angle of the keyboard from 7 to 10 degrees on the desktop.
From the upper side emerges the rubber USB cable.
In a market dominated by the current trend in gaming-grade peripherals – the mechanical keyboards – the Apex [RAW] stands out by being an old style membrane keyboard. In a mechanical model, each key works individually, while in a membrane keyboard the whole ensemble of keys rests over a circuit board. The white light illumination has eight levels of intensity, controlled by the configuration software or by pressing the SteelSeries logo key with the F5 and F6. The multimedia controls (F7-F12) are also engaged the same way.
Speaking of the software, the application is simple and objective, but it is quite elegant at the same time. Not only the 17 macro keys (M1-M12 and MX1-MX5) can be programmed, but all the others can be remapped to other functions. The software also associates the macro profiles to a certain executable file; for example, the user can gather all the macros created for Battlefield 3 and associate them to the Battlefield3.exe file, so once the game icon is clicked on, the macros are run along the game itself.
Some keys have different shapes to facilitate typing. Beside the extra-large space button, the macro keys M1-M12 are slightly higher than the function keys F1-F12 below them. The W key has two small raised bumps so the user can quickly locate the WASD cluster without the need of some special colored lighting (as on the regular Apex that features selective illumination by zone).
After testing a lot of mechanical keyboards, it was strange going back to what was the market staple: the membrane keyboard. The main difference is the tactile feeling: in a rubber switch keyboard, there is the impression that you use more force to type (however paradoxical this feels) and that the product will not survive the frantic pacing of a good FPS match. The small separation between keys also led to some typing mistakes, but time erased that as we got used to the Apex [RAW].
The macro key layout is excellent. For those who like to hit them with a quick hand move to the left, there is the five-key set on the side that can store up to ten commands. And the slight elevation of the twelve upper macro keys makes them easier to hit.
The space bar, used to jump on almost every game, has a great response, and the blocky format makes it easy to hit with the thumb. The other keyboards should abandon their traditional space bar and adopt this shape, which is better suited for gaming.
The overall response of the keyboard was precise, with no communication glitches. We just had to better position the Apex [RAW] on the desktop because the integrated wrist rest makes it a little big. The keyboard was very stable due to the rubber feet, but we would rather have flippable plastic feet because they make altering the angle of the peripheral much quicker then changing the rubber feet.
In terms of programming, the product deserves high praise. The association of game executable files and the macros is a neat and handy trick.
Of the differences between the Apex [RAW] and the regular Apex model, we just missed the extra USB ports, because they are useful to keep the mouse by the keyboard.
The main specifications for the SteelSeries Apex [RAW] keyboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
Not everybody jumped on the mechanical keyboard’s bandwagon. For those who prefer membrane models, the Apex [RAW] is an efficient no-frills product that sticks to the basics. The ease of programming and the key layout make this peripheral ideal for macro enthusiasts. The design is elegant, and although it doesn’t have the sturdiness of a mechanical model, the Apex [RAW] endures hours of gaming. The rubber feet make it very stable, but they are not as practical as having flippable feet.