For some reason or another, I'm not sure if I missed the release of it, or if it was a bit before my time, but as I look now, the APEX keyboard was quite the full featured offering, even in today's market. With the APEX, there were things like 88 Macro keys over four levels of the software and five LED color zones with full RGB options with 16.8 million colors. While it is based on rubber dome switches, it offers anti-ghosting of up to 20 keys, and it even offered a dual port USB hub built into the keyboard to allow users to keep the mouse and headset all tied right into the keyboard. While this version of the APEX is super full in its feature list, it may have been too much for most users to even need or really even use.
That leads us to why we are here with SteelSeries today. They have taken a look at what the APEX offered and stripped it down to the essentials without giving up what honestly matters to most gamers out there. While fully customizable LEDs in various sections are cool, one color is just fine for most users. Most users will have a hard time programming, using, or even remembering the sheer amount of Macro potential, so that was slimmed down along with the amount of layers you can add more Macros to. One last major change to the new version is that SteelSeries has done away with the USB ports on the keyboard and has users plugging additional peripherals directly into the rear I/O of the PC now.
I know I pretty much spilled the beans as to what the new APEX [RAW] gaming keyboard we are about to look at brings to the table, but there is still more to come in the review. There are quite a few things I have yet to cover about this new submission, but as I say, with the [RAW] naming, the idea is to deliver the basics of the original without overwhelming the user with a bunch of fluff that everyone may not be able to take advantage of in normal usage.
Along with this idea comes a good reduction in price as well, so if your interest is piqued at this point, continue reading as I show you what the new APEX [RAW] offers and if it is worth the price.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Before we get into the chart above, I want to set the stage a bit and discuss the looks of the APEX [RAW]. There is a mix of textured black plastic used for the outside edges of the top, on the wrist rest, and along the sides and on the bottom. As you get closer to the 125 key layout of this keyboard, SteelSeries switches it up and offers a very shiny black plastic to surround and weave in and out of the sections of keys. I did mention the wrist rest, as it is incorporated right into the keyboard and starts the front edge with a very thin profile and starts the seven degree angle. To make this angle, the sides of the keyboard are designed with a wedge in the back, but SteelSeries adds a grey material that not only is visible in the sides, but makes a thin stripe across the front as well. I will say this, I don't typically like typing on a non-mechanical keyboard, but there is something about this one that has me hooked aesthetically and functionally.
Getting to that chart, we can now discuss some of the features of the APEX [RAW]. It does offer the same low profile keys of the original, but this time the entire keyboard is backlit, but only in white, and does not offer the five zones of control, although you do have eight stages of LED brightness from off to full intensity. With this version you keep the 20 key anti-ghosting that comes in handy with any gaming keyboard, but you can see the layers of Macros have been halved, and the APEX [RAW] has only 17 Macro keys for a total of 34 possible settings at one time, but what is really cool is that this keyboard is completely map-able via software, for each key. You do get multimedia and LED intensity buttons with the use of the SteelSeries modifier key in the layout, and each and every key on the board is backed with rubber dome switches that offer five million keystrokes each. Then there are a couple of handy things like raised bumps on the W key to more readily feel where you need to be to continue gaming, and the addition of two angled arrow keys for some additional love for the arrow key movers out there.
The nice thing to most buyers about the APEX [RAW] is the drop in the MSRP. Going from the original design to this one, there was also a reduction in the pricing of $30. The cheapest place I could locate this keyboard was at a place called CostCaptain.com for $66.99 and when I clicked add to cat, it said it qualified for free shipping. Newegg has everything else SteelSeries offers currently, but there were no signs of the APEX [RAW] in their listings. If you want a good deal and don't want to worry if it is from a fly by night operation, I was able to find the keyboard at Amazon.com for $69.95 and also comes with free shipping.
So for those of you out there that admired the APEX, but didn't want to fork out $100 for a rubber dome based keyboard, the APEX [RAW] now gives you a much better price point to get quite a bit of the original, without losing what really matters.
At the top left corner the SteelSeries name is placed above the bold red letters of the APEX [RAW] name. The rest of the front panel is black, but offers a large image of the keyboard. It also addresses the low profile keys, its Macro ability and LED lighting.
This is a look at the left side of the longer side. It gives you the naming again, then a pair of images of the APEX [RAW], one from the side, and one from the top.
The right half of the longer panels shows an image of the keys being illuminated, I think the next one it is to show the low profile nature of the key caps, and then you get the SteelSeries name and logo. In case you were wondering, both longer sides offer this same information.
On the sort ends you will find the manufacturer and keyboard names again, but this time you are given a white sticker that shows the part number, serial number, and states that this was designed in Denmark and manufactured in China.
The back panel starts off with smaller images showing the W key bumps, the shape of the key caps, and a hint of the software followed to the right with an image of the keyboard again.
I got in much closer so that you can see the English version of the short story about what makes the APEX [RAW] special, followed by a list of nine features discussed in some detail.
There is a box inside of a box with this keyboard, and once the inner plain black box is opened, you can see the APEX [RAW] is shipped inside of a plastic liner, and the USB cable is kept separated as it gets tucked into the back section of folded over cardboard.
SteelSeries APEX RAW
SteelSeries APEX [RAW] Gaming Keyboard
If the images on the box didn't set you straight, now you can see for yourself, fresh out of the box, what I was talking about with the mix of textures, the thin look to it, and the 125 key layout of the APEX [RAW].
The sides of the APEX [RAW] have this odd shape to them so that users get the typical seven degree angle for the keyboard. Inserted for some contrast is a grey rubber that not only goes and makes the shape pop out more in the back, but it also runs right across the front edge.
On the extreme left of the keyboard you will run into the L1 and L2 keys to select which layer of programming you want to use. Below those are the MX1 through MX5 keys. In all honestly they are just Macro keys, but I guess going to 17 was odd, so they added the X and continued with new numbers.
Moving back a bit you can see the raised M1 through M12 keys that are other Macro keys at the top. Other things that stick out are the enlarged Escape key and space bar, oh and the wrist rest at the front that is built right in. There is also the SteelSeries modifier key next to the right ALT key.
While the key caps are very low profile, they aren't very concave, and don't really caress your fingertips. You can see the home keys have bars on them, but if you look off to the left at the W key, you can also see one of the bumps added to it.
The top right corner of the keyboard is reserved for the SteelSeries name and logo that will also illuminate with white LED light just like the rest of the keys, when this is plugged in.
On the right side of the keyboard, there is the more typical layout of command keys and the full number pad.
What is a bit different is that the APEX [RAW] offers six arrow keys, with two new angled keys being added. These work not only in gaming to allow those who use the arrow keys a bit more option in movement, but even in text documents, they work and move the cursor in the specified angle, one up, and one over.
The right side of the keyboard is the same as the left, but I took the shot from the reverse angle to give you a feel for the thickness in the back, as well as showing off the incorporated design in the side.
Under the keyboard you will find a serious amount of screws, a few drip holes to allow liquids to pass through for accidental spills, and the four corners are supported with large, round, thick rubber feet that give the APEX [RAW] very good footing on any surface.
Where the original APEX had a braided cable coming from the back of the keyboard, with the APEX [RAW], you get two meters of rubberized cable, with a very ordinary looking USB 2.0 connection at the end.
Accessories and Documentation
Under the keyboard, shipped in the inner packaging, you can locate the thicker feet for the back of the keyboard along with a quick start guide. The guide is very basic, and most of the bulk is needed for translations of the same information. What you find is a list of features, the OS support list, and a step by step of how to plug in a USB connection, then it said to visit the site for the SteelSeries Engine software.
They also send along a pretty good sized case badge, this one is roughly 1.5" tall. Sort of a shame though, whoever or whatever was cutting the stickers apart got a little offline and wacked off some of the sticker on the right side.
Getting back to those thick rubber feet that were sent along; as you can see they are thick, round, and even if they got scratched, it's just more rubber under it to keep on gripping the desk top. The undersides of them are relieved with a pair of grooves to allow getting them in and out of the keyboard a little easier.
I know why the groove is leading into the circle, but it is just short another arm and a head from being the logo. What the groove is intended for it to allow you to slide something under the edge of the feet to pry them out of the holes. Replacing the shorter feet with the taller ones will increase the desk angle from seven degrees to ten degrees, and is how I used this keyboard for most of its time on my desk.
Inside the APEX RAW
Inside the APEX [RAW]
Removing what must have been about a dozen and a half screws, I was able to pry apart the top and bottom half, as there still were clips to keep it in one piece. This allowed me to remove the switches and key caps so that you can see the white plastic sheet that lights up the keys with the traces for the magnets in the switches lying on top of it.
If I remember correctly there are seven PCBs like these along the back edge. Some hold a pair of LEDs while the ones at the ends contain a single light. They are all powered with individual clips and will come out easily if you had ideas of modding the color of the LEDs.
Here we have the 8-bit, 48MHz, MC9S08JM16 USB2.0 microcontroller. Along with doing the task of controlling the key inputs and delivering them to the PC, it also includes flash memory to keep those Macros handy.
The key caps are actually locked into the top plate, so if you accidentally turn this over, you aren't going to have to reset all of the keys. You can also see the thin membrane that contains the magnets to make contact with the traces we saw on the other side.
With the photo lighting it is really tough to tell, but these keys are all illuminated now. I also made sure to include the majority of the W key so you can now see both bumps on it and it makes it easy to feel your way back to it when you are in the heat of the moment and don't have the time to look for it.
Stepping back to take it all in, the APEX [RAW] is now illuminated to the brightest of the eight selections. While it isn't overly bright in any way, with white LEDs, it doesn't seem to take as much to see them in the dark, as say blue or red.
After downloading and installing the SteelSeries Engine software, this is what you are given upon opening it. While in the Buttons tab, I did click on the M1 key to open the lower half of the window. As you can see I am on layer one of the software, but I now have the ability to name the key, add a tooltip, change the color of the text if it is a text Macro, and you can change the key color as far as the software is concerned, not on the actual lighting of the keyboard. On the right there is a drop box that shows disabled now, but offers Keypress Macro, Launch Application, and Text Macro for the setting of what you plan to do, from there a new section unlocks and is where you can record the Macro you intend to set for each of the 17 buttons for 34 Macros to use at once.
The settings tab offers a much simpler setup of things to change. With the APEX [RAW], you can set the Illumination intensity here, which it the same eight settings that the buttons offer, along with adjusting the polling rate from 250Hz to 1000Hz in four jumps. The last option it to pick the keyboard layout, but since I am in the USA, I will stick with what I have.
The properties tab is a bit of a misnomer, and should have been called Profiles since that is what you do here. This allows you to name a profile, let's just say I name it Battlefield 3. Then I could go in and browse for the EXE file and set it. Also once profiles are set, they carry over to the programming section so that you can have Macro sets for each application you wish to add them to. Tying things together here with the EXE will make the profile auto load and makes things much easier.
As with all of the SteelSeries input devices in the software is a metering system. This, once turned on, can be run in the background to see what sort of damage you do when typing or gaming. It does have a timer, so you could test your words per minute, but there is nothing to say you typed anything correctly. When you come back to this after running the test, you click stop and then the Key Press button will have a range from zero to the max number of strokes. It then color coordinates the keys in this window to show which were used most often, and those that weren't used at all remain black.
I'm going to start with some serious honesty here. I have gotten used to mechanical keyboards, and now I really don't like using rubber dome keyboards all that much. I usually go through a couple weeks of testing in games, keeping up with IMs and such, maybe even some random Facebook'ing here and there, but I don't do all that much writing on them, maybe just a review or two, but I definitely use them when I write the review for each keyboard. What I am finding with the APEX [RAW] is that when done right, the keys don't have to feel like mud, and the keyboard as a whole doesn't have to be some super flexible piece of crap that a lot of companies offer these days. What I am finding very strange is that I have both the Logitech G710+ here as well as my Cherry MX Green based Cooler Master, but I am finding myself not wanting to set the APEX [RAW] to the side just yet.
There really wasn't anything about the keyboard that I didn't like. I was able to game very well on it, I am more than happy writing on it, and I don't seem to mind the low-profile nature of the keycaps either. I thought that the lack of curve on the top of the key caps, and the fact that I thought they would feel gross when depressed, but it wasn't the case. During gaming where I was mashing multiple keys as I was trying to use the arrows to move around along with the usual suspects like reloading and swapping spells, the keyboard didn't miss a stroke. The Logitech illumination with the G710+ is much brighter, but I find that the lighting level offered in the APEX is more than sufficient. The software did take me a few tries before I had everything down with the programming, but even there, allowing every key on the keyboard to be remapped is awesome, most keyboards you need to go find third party software for that sort of programming.
I know I never had the original APEX, but to be blunt, $100 is way too much for a rubber switch keyboard. I mean honestly, for $20 more you can get into some really nice mechanical keyboards. That is what I like most about the APEX [RAW]. SteelSeries cut out the fat, and definitely brought a leaner and meaner contender to take your money. It left plenty of options for setting the keyboard to your exact requirements of it, and it can hold 34 Macros at one time along with as many in storage as you need, if you are a Macro maniac.
Considering you get a really nice keyboard with the APEX [RAW], the $69.99 it is going to set you back, is in my opinion so worth the asking price. Coming from a guy who is seriously pro-mechanical when it comes to keyboards, the fact that the SteelSeries APEX [RAW] is still on my desk after two weeks of use says a lot right there.
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