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SteelSeries APEX M500 Mechanical Keyboard Review

SteelSeries APEX M500 Mechanical Keyboard Review

We haven't reviewed a SteelSeries keyboard in a while, but it seems good things come to those who wait. Here's our look at the APEX M500.

@chad_sebring
Chad Sebring
Published Fri, Oct 7 2016 12:50 PM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: SteelSeries

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

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VIEW GALLERY - 28 IMAGES

SteelSeries has been in the peripherals game for what seems like forever now and has always had a knack of offering the right products at the right time. Whether you are looking for a mouse, headset, or a keyboard, it is highly likely that SteelSeries has what you want. In our experiences with them over the years, we have always been handed impressive products in which they not only suits our needs but are one of the select few companies which try to cater to the makers out there as well. As we look around the office, we realize that we are still sporting the Wireless H headset, as well as using the Sensei as our daily drive with the laptop. Not many companies get long term usage, and with the age of both of these products at this time, it says much about their products, as they have to be great to stick around this long.

Sadly, though, while many mice have been tested up to now from SteelSeries, we only have one keyboard on record up to this point. Anyone who reads our keyboard reviews knows we push mechanical keyboards as the go-to product for typing or character movement in games, and the APEX RAW keyboard which we have seen did not fall into that market with its rubber dome switches. SteelSeries is no beginner when it comes to mechanical keyboards, as they have offered a couple of them over the years, it is just this is our first ride with one of theirs. That being said, we already expect a certain level of build quality and reliability which we have seen with various other products. With what we have seen in the past, these are the least of our worries, as the history of what we use day to day already precludes that SteelSeries has this aspect covered well.

One of the newest mechanical keyboards to hit the market is the APEX M500 Pro-Gaming keyboard we are showing off today. This keyboard boasts things like NKRO support, remapping of the entire keyboard, profiles which can correspond to games, and will automatically be selected once the game has been loaded - the list covers most things gamers are looking for. What takes this keyboard a step further is that SteelSeries designed this keyboard with direct input from professional eSports gamers. This means that not only is the keyboard ready for gaming, but has been tweaked within an inch of its life to deliver the best experience possible. Stick with us as we cover the APEX M500 gaming mechanical keyboard from SteelSeries, as it may be exactly what you are looking for, and it comes with a reasonable price tag, so that near anyone can afford and enjoy this new product.

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We grabbed this chart from the SteelSeries product page, and it seems that SteelSeries covers all of the major aspects in which customers will scrutinize a keyboard. The top third of the chart is dedicated to the switches used in the APEX M500, and we find right away that Cherry MX Red mechanical switches are used. The full throw of each switch is 4mm, but it only takes 2mm of that to reach the actuation point of the switch. It seems that weighting of the switches is not rated in grams for this keyboard, but rather we see that it takes 45 Centinewtons of force to move the switch downward. The last thing, and lends to the longevity of the M500, and that is that each switch is rated for 50 million clicks worth of a lifespan.

The layout of the keyboard is traditional with a QWERTY setup on all versions except the French version which sports an AZERTY layout. The M500 offers full Anti-Ghosting, NKRO support for all 104 keys, and each key is individually LED lit in blue. There are multimedia keys, we find LED brightness keys, and all of the keys in this design can be remapped or reprogrammed for Macro support. The underside of the keyboard offers a groove for cable management support, and while we are discussing the bottom, we also find extendable feet with rubberized tips. The weight of the M500 is near three pounds, and dimensionally it is 136.43mm from front to back, 440.56mm side to side, and is 39.52mm in thickness. The last bit from this chart covers the length of the USB cable at two meters, but does not mention the standard rubberized cable, the pair of cable ties, or that the USB 2.0 connection on the end is not gold plated.

The only thing we see obviously missing from this design and layout is the fact that it is not RGB LED backlit, but SteelSeries offers the APEX M800 to cover that, if it is a must have with your mechanical keyboard purchase. As for the APEX M500, we see that the MSRP is set at $99.99. If you do need RGB backlighting, the M800 will cost, at a minimum, an additional $60, but there are a few differences in the model's design and layout. As for the APEX M500, we are looking at specifically today, we feel that the asking price is fair, and should put this product within the grasp of more customers looking for the best bang for the buck when it comes to a technically flexible mechanical keyboard for gaming.

Chad's Peripherals Test System Specifications

Packaging, Accessories, and Documentation

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The top of the box for our APEX M500 uses dark grays for the background, with a bold splash of orange to the right to attract your attention. SteelSeries also provides a large image of the keyboard across this panel, with small notations at the bottom for the use of Cherry MX switches, and the fact it is backlit with blue LEDs.

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On the left end of the box, we look at a view of the left end of the keyboard sporting the SteelSeries name, which is molded into the plastic frame. We also see that this is the APEX M500, and is noted as a mechanical Pro-Gaming keyboard.

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The majority of this side of the box carries the color bands of gray over from the front, but at the far end, we see this notation. It says here, that the M500 has been designed with the world's best eSports teams, and lists the teams who had a hand in developing this keyboard.

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While we fully expected to see the right end of the keyboard on the right side of the box, we see that SteelSeries simplified the imagery and used the same image and text on this end as we saw on the opposing small panel.

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The majority of this panel off to the right delivers an image of the M500 illuminated, as well as the products naming, but this end shows off the key features. We see mentions of the switch type, the LED color, the lifespan of the switches, and that this keyboard offers NKRO support by default.

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The back of the box uses a large image of the APEX M500 taking up most of the space. To the left, SteelSeries mentions the switches used and their lifespan, at the bottom features, are listed in a few languages. At the right side, this is where we get a hint at what is capable via the SSE3 software that accompanies the APEX M500.

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Inside of the box, we find that the M500 is wrapped in plastic to protect the finishes applied to it, and in the gap near the back, the cord is slid into it and wrapped under the keyboard for transit. Simple is sometimes better, and in this matter, our SteelSeries APEX M500 arrived in perfect condition with not a mark on it.

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Along with the cable found under the keyboard, we also found the literature and sticker set. The guide is exactly that; it simply shows how to connect the product, and where to go to get the software downloaded. The sticker sheet offers three stickers, two of which are company logo and names, one in black, and one in white. It is hard to see, but on the right end, there is also a larger logo with a much smaller company name on that sticker. These can go anywhere your heart desires.

SteelSeries APEX M500 Pro-Gaming Mechanical Keyboard

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The left end of the APEX M500, when set flat on the desktop, leaves the keycaps at an angle which leans away from the user. We also see along the top section of the frame that SteelSeries pressed their name right into the frame. The bottom edge has been angled back, and while it looks nice like this, it also helps when you need to move the keyboard around.

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The larger section of the keyboard offers all the basics, and some dual functionality along the top, in this QWERTY layout. Two other things to point out are the blue painted steel plate showing from between the keycaps, and the second is that a large and clear font has been used for those who are visual typists.

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As far as dual functions go, they start with the F5 key, where we can lower the intensity of the LEDs. F6 allows us to raise the intensity in six levels, and the F7 and F8 keys start the multimedia functions, where we see the last track and play/pause buttons.

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Moving to the next group of four function keys, we find the rest of the multimedia keys. F9 is the next track key, while F10 is used to mute the sound. F11 allows you to turn down the volume, leaving the last of them, the F12, to raise the volume.

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The right side of the keyboard offers all of the icons, commands, and numbers we are used to seeing. Above them, we find the SteelSeries naming on the keyboard along with the Number Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Windows lockout LEDs. Left-hand gamers will be stuck using the arrow keys by default, as there are no arrows on the number pad, but this can be changed via software.

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We have extended the feet below the keyboard as we look at the right end of the M500. This puts all of the keys in an angle that makes typing much easier on the hands. We also notice that the SteelSeries name is not present in the frame on this end.

SteelSeries APEX M500 Continued

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It may seem moot to most, but we love it when cords are wrapped like this rather than being folded. This way there are no stresses on the cabling from the bends we usually see. SteelSeries offers two straps to help manage the wiring if you have to travel with the M500, and this rubberized cable terminates in a standard USB 2.0 connection.

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Under the M500, we find a highly stylized panel across it. Three chunky feet across the front along with the flip out feet along the back keeps it in place. In the middle, we find the cable extending from near the front edge and is trailed out the middle of the back. There are also trails to either side, to help manage the wiring, and keep the cable out of the way when it's being used.

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Whether these feet are still lying down into the bottom of the keyboard, or whether they are extended as we see them here, the rubber tips roll over the edge to offer secure footing. These feet also flip out to an extreme angle, and we found them tough to collapse.

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Removing a few key caps, we indeed find individually backlit Cherry MX Red switches used with the APEX M500. We can also see that the torsion bars for the larger switches are hidden, and we get a great view of that bright blue steel back plate.

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The caps use standard Cherry MX studs in them, making it easy on those looking to replace these with custom keycaps. We also see that each cap is molded in white plastic, and are then painted black. They leave the legends clear on top and is what allows the glow of LEDs to shine through.

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Once powered, the APEX M500 comes to life with a bright glow of blue across the entire keyboard. The LEDs under the lock LEDs are a bit more intense without a key cap blocking them, and it is easy to see if you have a lock active.

Typically, we would have opened this two part plastic frame, but after removing all of the screws we could find, there was either a screw hidden in this design or a clip that refused to let go, as something kept us from looking at the internal components.

SSE3 Software

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After installing the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, this is the first window that is presented. It does state on this Window that the software recognizes our APEX M500 as being connected, and we can also see that there is an upgrade to the firmware ready for us to flash onto the M500.

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By clicking on the name of the keyboard in the last window, we are taken to this. Here we are offered the Macro Manager at the top left, above a column clickable to start the keyboard remapping. The image of the keyboard in the middle is on a live preview status, so any changes will be made visible once set, but to the right, we can adjust the brightness of the LEDs, we can adjust the polling rate, and we can even pick the region in which the keyboard is used.

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By clicking on a letter in the left column, a second window appears to start with the key remapping. Ten preset categories offer many options in each one - it is also where you would apply a Macro. This is also where delays, repeat rates and even chose if the command is activated with the key being pressed or being released.

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The Macro Editor can be opened by clicking the "Launch" button near the top of the main window. On the left is where the Macros will be listed, and is where you will add them starting new Macros. The larger window to the right is where the key presses will be recorded with the use of the big red button at the bottom right corner. Along with being able to clear a Macro completely, there is a gear icon which brings up the smaller menu for the three recording methods you can choose to use.

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In the tab marked library, it allows users to add games and programs into this section. This way when creating Macros and remapping things, you can tie them to specific tasks. Once an application has been added, you may then start to program the keyboard, tied to said profile, and it will automatically load once the specific application has been started.

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While the SSE3 software offers something called Gamesense, it does not apply to our APEX M500. The message in the middle clearly states to connect a compatible product, and with SSE3 already recognizing our product, it obviously lacks the support for. In essence, Gamesense is a way to put real-time information onto the keyboard. Think along the lines of health status, potion readiness, or environmental effects.

Gaming and General Impressions

DOOM

We found our time gaming in DOOM with this keyboard very pleasant. Not only are the keys easy to use, but the silence of the Cherry MX Red switches was nice after so much use of clicky switches normally.

Changing direction and moving around could not have been simpler. With the ability to remap the keyboard, any keys can be used to keep your hands in the most comfortable position on the M500, or for the left-hand users out there, this is where you can adjust things to suit your needs better as well.

After a few maps, we got very used to the APEX M500, but we did notice that once in a while, resting our hand did cause accidental movements due to the lack of pressure required to activate these switches.

Overwatch

The game feel with Overwatch is much the same as with Doom, but we did notice one thing we do not typically feel ourselves doing much. Due to the confines of some of the maps, with all players in a gunfight, we were rolling the keys quite a bit. By this, we mean that we found ourselves using our W finger to roll over to the A, S, and D keys. Since the actuation pressure was light, this is easy to do.

With the action as fast paced as it is in this game, we did not see so much in the way of accidental movements, but we did like the almost joystick feel of gaming FPS titles when in the heat of the battle.

Windows and Productivity

This is where we tend to delve into Macros, as a lot of the games we play are pretty straight forward shooters. The Macro Editor is easy to work with, and you can fine tune the Macros to a certain point, but we have seen better options available for this. Using Macros here increases productivity for editing, and with the amount of images we do, this saves large amounts of time, rather than hunting around with the mouse for the same commands.

When it comes to typing, in our opinion, this is where the APEX M500 falters a bit. If you have lots of speed in your hands, but either have fatter fingers or not the best with finger placement, you will find the fault of using Cherry MX Reds for this avenue. They, to us, are just too soft, and ended up editing a lot of text from multiple keys being pressed at once. However, it does lend well to the anti-ghosting and NKRO, as every key, we accidentally rolled onto with the intended presses, got recorded.

Final Thoughts

The SteelSeries APEX M500 is built like a tank. While we were not able to tear it apart as we usually do, the feel is solid, everything works as intended, and with this layout, it looks more professional than those with huge add-ons of a frame, or an overload of buttons which we could easily remap to unused keys while gaming. Painted key caps do not tend to last as long as the keyboards do, and while we do wish the market would move from this, we can appreciate the savings that using these brings to the end-user. The convex shape of the caps makes for a comfortable feel when attacking the keys, and for gaming, they will nestle your fingertips to help to keep them in the correct placement. The APEX M500 also brings sleek styling in a design anyone can appreciate, and the bright blue painted steel plate and blue LEDs delivers all the lighting you will need to master a game, even if in a completely darkened room.

Just on a basic level, we found that the M500 would get most users by, all within the standard QWERTY layout and 104 keys it offers. The multimedia and LED brightness adjustments are handy at the press of the function key, and again covers everything a normal user would desire. However, once we grabbed the SSE3 software and got to messing around with it, it raised the standard feel to a whole new level. Of course, we have seen such features before, but having the ability to remap the entire keyboard, down to every last key, makes things interesting, and opens the possibilities to an almost endless level.

Allowing users to set profiles based on games and programs is also handy, and we took advantage of it where we could. The Macro Manager is straightforward in its presentation, and the editing options are enough to get by, but we would have liked to see more in this aspect. Outside of just a few minor things we would have liked to have seen in this product, we feel that SteelSeries is on the right page, and you can sense that actual gamers had their hands in the development stages of this keyboard.

At the end of it all, it has been a pleasure to game on, but we still would recommend stiffer switches if you type on a keyboard more than you game on it. The APEX M500 being a Pro-Gaming mechanical keyboard tells you right in the name its true intentions, and for games, and at this price, we feel SteelSeries is on point. The fact of the matter is, after a couple of weeks on the desk, we got very comfortable with the APEX M500. Even if you have to pay the MSRP of $99.99, we feel you are getting your money's worth, and will likely enjoy this APEX M500 Pro-Gaming Mechanical Keyboard as much as we have.

Chad's Peripherals Test System Specifications

TweakTown award
Performance94%
Quality including Design and Build96%
General Features95%
Bundle and Packaging94%
Value for Money95%
Overall95%

The Bottom Line: The SteelSeries APEX M500 looks simple, but there is much more to it than meets the eye. All of the built-in features, the brilliant LED lighting, and options which the SSE3 software delivers makes the investment totally worth it.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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