The SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL brings a smaller form factor to the brand's line of budget gaming keyboards. At $49.99 / £49.99, it's certainly hitting its price point well, but there are some noticeable sacrifices helping this deck achieve such a position.
Of course, nobody's expecting the next go-to competitive rig here. This is a cheaper version of SteelSeries' cheapest Apex keyboard, there aren't going to be any boundaries broken. However, picking up a cheap gaming keyboard can be a risky affair with so many bargain bucket models vying for a spot in your Amazon cart. It might not be one of the best gaming keyboards on the market overall, but I took it out for a spin to see just how much you're getting for your cash.
While you're picking up a TKL keyboard here, you're still getting access to the function row up top which means the SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL is a little taller than other reduced-size gaming keyboards we've laid our fingers on. The whole deck still feels spacious enough to offer plenty of functionality, but will still provide more room for sweeping mouse movements as well.
Keep in mind these caps are very much on the budget end of things, though that might not be a bad thing for everyone. The smooth texture (combined with the softness of the key actuation itself - more on that later) made for a pleasant feel under the fingertips. However, it also meant there was very little grip as I slid across the deck; while not an issue when typing or running slower games, not being able to hold onto WASD keys during more frantic moments was a little tricky to get used to.
Those keys are encased in a plastic shall with a fairly large angled bezel running along the top and bottom. The additional height that this provides meant that foregoing a wrist rest wasn't too large of an issue though, I still found a comfortable resting place for my palms with the slight curvature of the deck itself.
There's also a panel of RGB lighting situated underneath each key, with plenty of customization options in each of its 11 zones. That's an excellent level of personalization that we don't tend to see in this price point. The Roccat Magma, for example, pulls off a similar look but with only five customizable zones for $59.99.
The biggest feature splashed across the box of the SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL is its waterproofing. This device has been designed to offer the most protection against accidental spills possible, which is fantastic for the price and well worth the peace of mind.
The deck itself does feature a surprising amount of macro customization. On-the-fly macro recording and plenty of personalization options in the SteelSeries Swarm software means this is an excellent setup for anyone looking for some faster shortcuts on a budget. Plus, you're still getting dedicated media controls packed in; albeit in the form of a small (but still clicky and satisfying) scroll wheel and single unmarked media button.
The switches employed in the SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL are rubber-dome based, which means you're not getting the satisfying snap of a mechanical deck, or the long-lasting quality. However, the 'Whisper Quiet' switches that I got my hands on are certified for over 20 million key presses.
These are fairly stocky switches, and while certainly not as clacky as the blue ones featured in the SteelSeries Apex 5, they still pull a considerable thud on bottoming out. The main keys are offer the quietest experience, but I still found the backspace and enter keys to offer a louder noise.
There's no doubt about it, these are some heavy keys. While the snap and response are nice and springy, there's some considerable force required to actuate the switches I was testing. That meant repeated presses were a little cumbersome, and the overall experience wasn't as fast as some of the lighter options on the market (available within a similar price bracket).
That meant my typing speed was down a little over something like the super fast HyperX Origins 60 (and slightly down over the similarly priced Roccat Magma). However the additional force required here did negate any accidental key presses, which means those looking for precision over speed will likely find better use here.
The SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL wasn't built for speed, but at this price, it doesn't have to be. This isn't the gaming keyboard that's going to win you any ESL championships, but at $49.99 nobody is expecting it to. In fact, during slower titles like Planet Coaster and Cities: Skylines, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall feel and the bountiful macro settings available.
Should you buy the SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL?
There are very few gaming keyboards on the market for under $50, and even fewer that actually offer anything above some fancy LEDs and an awkwardly angular design. The SteelSeries Apex 3 manages to lift itself out of that bargain bin with plenty of macro functions, 11-zones of RGB lighting, some satisfying media controls, and a strong sense of durability and solid design.
The heavier keys here may be enough to dissuade against use in longer typing sessions and faster-paced action titles, but if you're looking for an everyday keyboard that will help you get into some of the functions of your game with a little more ease, there's little to lose in this low price.
There are plenty more options out there if you're after a lighter typing experience - there are cheap Razer keyboards in this budget range, like the Razer Cynosa V2, and the Corsair K55 RGB Pro XT also carries a similar price tag.
If you're after more PC gaming peripherals at fantastic prices then we advise you to keep an eye out in November for the Black Friday gaming keyboard and mouse deals.