The Bottom Line
- + Sturdy build
- + Keycaps have a nice feel
- + Optical switches are fast and responsive
- + Spacebar has a great bouncy quality
- + SteelSeries GG app offers in-depth customization
- - Not much difference between Gaming and Typing modes
- - Replacement switches aren't yet available
- - Secondary functions can be hard to read and don't light up
Should you buy it?AvoidConsiderShortlistBuy
Introduction & Specification Details and Close-up
How much force it takes for a key press to register varies from keyboard to keyboard, and there are no one-size fits all approaches to suit everyone and every application. When it comes to gaming, specifically strafing and moving and jumping in a first-person shooter, the less actuation force needed, the better.
Couple this with a shorter travel distance, that being how far a key moves before the switch does its thing, and a near instant and linear response pairs well with fast-paced gaming. Change the activity to typing in an office environment, and a more tactile response and measured force might be the most comfortable. And lead to fewer incorrect or accidental key presses.
That said, some might prefer a more tactile response for gaming and, likewise, a more linear and faster feel for productivity. The new SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini, which presents the SteelSeries Apex 9 in the popular 60% form factor, allows for the actuation point to be adjusted in a way that attempts to offer a best-of-both-worlds approach. A rather short and speedy 1mm travel distance for gaming and a longer 1.5mm that mimics a more traditional keyboard key press. Being able to switch between these two modes on-the-fly is a great bit of easy-to-access customization on the part of SteelSeries and a pretty rare thing to see.
Even so, the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is geared more toward responsive gaming than being an all-rounder. Thanks to the low 35g of actuation force required, no matter the option, the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini never loses its speed.
Being a Mini does bring some excellent versatility and portability to the table, especially as an easy add-on for laptops or those with limited desk space. The trade-off is that the 60% form factor loses out on quite a few keys, but like many other Mini keyboards out there, the Apex 9 Mini relegates what's lost to secondary functions. There's a definite learning curve if you haven't tried a mini keyboard, but there's a lot to love about the small 60% form factor.
Specifications & Close Up
- Product Type: Wired Gaming Keyboard
- Size (Full/TKL): TKL
- Form Factor: 60%
- Switch: SteelSeries Linear OptiPoint Optical
- Switch Rating: 100 Million Keypresses
- Actuation Points / Force: 1.0-1.5 mm / 35g
- Interface: Detachable USB Type-C
- Platforms: PC (Windows), Xbox, PlayStation, and Mac
- Lighting: Per-Key RGB Illumination
- In the Box: Apex 9 Mini Gaming Keyboard, Detachable Braided USB-C to USB-A Cable, Keycap Puller, Product Information Guide
- Dimensions: 293x103x40 mm
- Weight: 676 grams
Kosta's Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: MSI MAG X670E Carbon Wi-Fi
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 7900X
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition
- Cooler: Corsair iCUE H100i RGB PRO XT Liquid CPU Cooler
- RAM: 64GB (4x32GB) Corsair DOMINATOR PLATINUM RGB DDR5 DRAM 5200MHz
- SSD: Kingston FURY Renegade PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD 2TB
- Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower GF1 850W
- Case: Thermaltake Core P3 Tempered Glass Snow
- OS: Microsoft Windows 11 Pro 64-bit
Design & Software
Inside the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini, well, underneath the excellent double-shot PBT keycaps, you'll find SteelSeries' custom OptiPoint optical switches. Going the optical route versus pure mechanical means the response times are fast, latency low, and without the need for mechanical parts to trigger and recognize keypresses, there's more room for customization and modification.
Compared to linear mechanical switches, even those from SteelSeries itself, there isn't a whole lot of difference in how the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini feels to use - especially when compared to keyboards with similar switch travel distances. As mentioned above, the OptiPoint optical switches found here have been tuned and designed for gaming, so going the optical route makes sense.
The 1.0mm travel distance takes a little time to get used to, but the nearly instantaneous response and low latency are impressive once you do. And with only 35g of force required, there's an almost "touch type" quality to using the Apex 9 Mini from SteelSeries. The OptiPoint optical switches are fully replaceable too, which is another cool feature, though as of writing, replacement or alternate OptiPoint switches aren't available to purchase. It remains to be seen what different options might become available and how transformative they might be.
The SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini features a durable aluminum top plate, but this is located underneath the nothing-but-the-keys form factor. All you can see and touch, outside of the great feeling keycaps, is the plastic shell. Granted, it's sturdy and well-built and in line with the USD 150 and AUD 299 price points, but plastic nonetheless. As expected, the design is minimal to a fault, with the only real flourishes being the per-key RGB lighting and the rubberized feet and underside flap housing a keycap puller.
Weighing in at under 700 grams, there's some definite sturdiness going on, which is great because even though the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini won't take up much in the way of desk space, it won't slide or move around, even when you're frantically circle-strafing and dodging incoming enemy fire.
As a 60% form-factor keyboard, you do miss out on dedicated function keys, arrow keys, and the Numpad. Going the 60% route is going one step further than a TKL keyboard, with all the missing keys mapped as secondary functions. Arrow keys are wisely mapped to WASD, a nod to the gaming chops of the Apex 9 Mini, with media keys, lighting controls, function keys, and more mapped elsewhere.
Secondary functions are clearly labeled, though you'll need to be in a brightly lit room to make them out. Again, it does take some getting used to - but more so when it comes to productivity versus gaming. Well, on that front, it's now two key presses to snap a screenshot in Steam.
As with all SteelSeries products, the Apex 9 Mini makes full use of the SteelSeries GG app, which is where you'll find the tools to set up and manage up to five separate profiles. Plus, change the lighting and quickly switch between 'Typing' and 'Gaming' modes.
Setup is a breeze. After a quick firmware update (which is now the norm no matter what it is you're connecting to your PC), you're pretty much good to go. The UI is basic but cleanly laid out for you to make changes to all key bindings, with the ability to easily switch between and save up to five different profiles.
As a nice little movie, even though secondary functions are printed onto the keycaps, you can still switch and change these under 'Meta Bindings'. As you lose out on a bunch of productivity-specific keys with the 60% form factor, this is a handy addition, and as it's given a similar-looking separate tab in SteelSeries GG, a welcome one to boot.
Finally, you can make changes to the RGB lighting with the detailed Prism section of SteelSeries GG. Here you can choose between several presets or drill down on a per-key basis to make changes for active, reactive, and idle settings. It's a powerful bit of lighting customization software, and like with the key binding stuff, the UI layout and design are more functional than stylish or aesthetically pleasing.
Gaming Performance and Productivity
No matter if it's in Gaming or Typing Mode, the fast and rapid response of the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is impressive, with the keys having a great feel and the spacebar being bouncy in a way that's pretty much always satisfying. The best way to describe the overall feel of using the Apex 9 Mini is "bouncy", with the optical switches being well-suited for most games.
For this review, the Apex 9 Mini was tested with the recently released Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, the original Quake (I just couldn't resist firing up the new real-time ray-tracing mod), and many, many hours of the excellent Marvel's Midnight Suns.
As expected, SteelSeries' custom OptiPoint optical switches excel when paired with first-person games, and even though the 60% form factor is more cramped than a full-sized keyboard, it's still comfortable enough to use for long gaming sessions. After several hours with the Apex 9 Mini, we did notice one feature that initially read more like a footnote than something worth highlighting.
And that is one of the benefits of going optical for the switches - there's no debounce. This means an accidental double press won't occur on account of there being any moving mechanical parts.
There's a satisfying click to the OptiPoint optical switches, and in terms of overall feel, the low actuation point feels in step with linear mechanical keyboards. That said, the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini's 'Typing Mode' doesn't feel all that different from the default 'Gaming Mode' in that it's difficult to tell the difference between 1mm and 1.5mm when only 35 grams of actuation force is required.
That said, after you get used to the sheer speed and accuracy of the Apex 9 Mini, the low latency does make for a great productivity keyboard. The only real drawback comes from what's missing when you opt for that 60% form-factor keyboard. No arrow keys, no Numpad, no function keys. If you tend to use those keys a lot in your day-to-day typing, then perhaps the full-sized Apex 9 could be the way to go.
Keyboard Click Sound Level
To test the overall sound level of a keyboard, we use the Ozito Digital Sound Level Meter capturing the sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" multiple times and recording the maximum dB level. This is to indicate how "loud" the switches used are for everyday usage. The following chart showcases where the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini Gaming Keyboard sits.
The SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is fast, responsive, and durable. A 60% form factor keyboard that is designed for speed and, as such, is great for gaming. The shorter travel distance and optical switches present a different approach than most mini keyboards, which also helps give the Apex 9 Mini a feel all its own.
On PC, this is backed up by the comprehensive customization available through the SteelSeries GG app. With five profiles, there's plenty of room to make full use of secondary functions or tailor a layout per game, per genre, or activity.
That said, even though it features two distinct modes, one for Gaming and one for Typing, it's hard to tell the difference between 1mm and 1.5mm. In the end, if you're a fan of the mini-style keyboard trend and prefer a faster linear response, then the SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini is certainly something to consider. A minimal, no-frills wired keyboard with great per-key RGB action and a physical design and build that will go the distance.
The SteelSeries Apex 9 Mini takes the latest Apex 9 keyboard and presents it in a smaller 60% form factor. With its fast and responsive optical switches and sturdy build, it's tuned for gaming, and delivers.